A waterfall in Idaho

No Guts, No Glory in Landscape Photography

Waterfall photo from a bad angle.

Not much of a photo, is it? This gorgeous landscape photography location requires perseverance to get the shot.

Several years ago, I was driving down an old dusty road in rural Idaho when I happened to glance out my rear-view mirror and saw a little waterfall.  I parked the car and hiked over to where I had seen the little stream.  All of the sudden, the trail lead to the top of the cliff overlooking the most beautiful waterfall I had ever seen.  It was a photographer’s dream!

I searched everywhere for a place that I could get around to the side or down to the bottom of the cliff so that I could get a decent angle.  Nothing.  There is a forty foot (12 meter) cliff with a rapid river flowing underneath.  I forgot about the waterfall, thinking it was impossible to get a good shot of without a helicopter.

Last week, I was going to bed and something inside me wanted to go back and conquer that photo that I thought was impossible.  So, I woke up at 3AM and drove 2 hours to get to the waterfall.  When I arrived, it was the same old story.  Cliff.  Raging river.  No decent angle.

So, I strapped on my Clik Elite camera bag and started scaling down the rocky cliff to the bottom.  Scary?  Yes.  But I made it.

Upon reaching the bottom, I carried my bag above my head and crossed the stream to a little island.  The bottom of the creek was muddy and I was wet up to my chest.  I had three more little streams to cross before I finally got to a fairly decent angle on the waterfall.

I stood there covered in dust and mud in my jeans that were soaking wet.  Oh, and did I mention that it was 45 degrees (7.2 degrees celsius) outside?  Then, I snapped a couple shots before hoofing it out of the pit of despair.

The photo of the waterfall that I took was fine, but not perfect.  I am going back tomorrow morning at 3 AM again and I’m determined to capture this photo in perfect lighting.

My point in writing this article is that, unlike portrait photography or macro or pretty much anything else, landscape photography often means getting muddy, bloody, and sweaty.  If you really want to capture that 5-star landscape, hike up your skirt and get out there.

A waterfall in Idaho

Not quite the glory shot, but a beautiful location. Tomorrow I'm going to conquer this place. Wish me luck!


  1. John Voss

    You must have been using a digicam, because everyone who uses large format knows that if it’s more than 50 feet from the car, it isn’t photogenic! 😉

  2. Joshua Gunther

    Dude thats Awesome! Good luck tomorrow! I know rite aid sells small little rafts for 20 bucks. That might at least keep you dry! hehe. By the way, where in Idaho is this? I grew up in McCall ID so its nice to see images from my favorite state!

  3. sonja saywell

    (“Not quite the glory shot, but a beautiful location.”) r u kidding the pic just above this is beautiful , i love the shot , that blue sky makes the waterfall pop, and the green is so lush looking and i like joshua’s Idea , a raft can get u closer to the falls and better angles

  4. Author
    Jim Harmer

    @Joshua Gunther. This is in eastern Idaho near Swan Falls. It’s called Falls Creek Falls. I worked at the Camp Morrison in McCall when I was a teenager.

  5. Mike Victorino

    Jim. I applaud your effort to get this shot and it is a beautiful shot. I also understand your desire to get this vantage in different light. This would look spectacular with the sunrise! (provided of course, it is facing the right direction.

  6. Michael Hauck

    Good luck on your return trip. We have a nearby falls called Tews Falls (Along the Niagara escarpment). 99.9% of the people go to the viewing station and snap a photo. First time I saw the photos I said to myself “how do I get to the bottom?” It took a good amount of research but finally I found a route down – yes, wading through and by a stream. It’s a 90 minute trek from the top – but worth every bit.

  7. Jon Akelaitis

    Love the story! That’s the part of nature photography I like the best, the adventure.

    Michael, care to share your research? I’ve been trying to find a way to the bottom of Tews falls for a while now with no luck.

  8. emile

    wow, that’s a really wonderful picture. To me, that would have been my best picture every. I have a long way to go. :)

  9. Mark

    Those folks who went over the falls at Yellowstone were trying for that perfect photo. Danger sometimes leads to death when you test the edges.

  10. Ed

    I completely agree with you.

    About 30 years ago when I was a kid I went to a nature photography camp at a nature preserve. I learned a lot of things that week but one of the first things we learned and best pieces of advice I remember was, “Do whatever it takes to get the shot.” Climb a tree, a rock, a cliff, a rope, a friend or whatever. Endure mud, water, snow, ice, heat, cold, thorns, scrapes, scratches, bug bites, etc. Yes, they did tell us to not be stupid about it and not to take unnecessary risks.

    That week I went home with my clothes filthy, wet, and tore up, and I have never since had so many bumps, scrapes, scratches, bruises, bug bites, sprains & stitches. However, the shots I got that week were fantastic.

  11. Irv

    I find Google Earth to be a big help in planning routes and even finding great photo ops! Oftentimes heavy shadows indicate cliff or other dramatic outcrops! And to paraphrase something I once read: I didn’t “take” a beautiful picture, the picture was the reward for the effort I put in getting to the spot of the picture.

  12. Ben Heys

    Very true, although in all genres it’s the ones that go above and beyond that get the great shots. Whether it’s getting muddy and cold for landscapes, doing the same thing for the perfect location model shoot or just merely the thousands of hours of practice and learning that becoming a great photographer truly takes.

    Keep working hard!

  13. virgo

    I’m just a beginner in photography. your web is really helpful. this picture is awesome. Indonesia has a lot of great waterfalls and other scenery, hope one day i can take a good picture like yours.
    have you take the new picture of that waterfalls in sunrise? can’t wait to see it.

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