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!

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    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. says

    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. says

    (“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. says

    @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. says

    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. says

    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. says

    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.

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