Getting the shot: Rainbow Falls at Ausable Chasm

by John Haywood

Anyone who knows me, knows I love Ausable Chasm.  I visit multiple times each year attempting to capture its unique beauty, and every time it would offer something new and exciting.

For this particular trip, I was there with guidebook author Russell Dunn as we were just beginning to put a book together about Ausable Chasm’s history and geology entitled “Ausable Chasm: In Pictures and Story”. Little did we know at the time that this would be the first of dozens of books we would work on together.

rainbow 1 (1 of 1)And2more_tonemappedWhen we got there, we met with the General Manager of Ausable Chasm, who is an all-around great guy; then made our way down to the Chasm. (Going down that very tall staircase was much easier than coming up!) We made a left turn and walked around the corner to head toward Rainbow Falls in the distance. Carefully, we maneuvered over large chunks of fallen sandstone that had accumulated along the bank of the Ausable River until we reached the remains of the former horsenail factory. That is the ruins of the large tower on the left as you view the falls from the Route 9 bridge.

Once there, Russell inspected the ruins and I ventured up near the base of the massive, 70-foot waterfall looking for potential cover photos. I wanted to capture the true essence of this grand place and was intent on being extremely picky. Elephant’s Head, Hell’s Gate, The Grand Flume, and the Punch Bowl are all icons of the Chasm, as is of course Rainbow Falls but, I wanted more. Something different. An image the masses don’t see every day.

This wasn’t about a book cover, it was about sharing the experience.

I made a few photos at that spot, but then recalled something that caught my eye on the walk up. I made my way back to Horseshoe Falls which is formed just below the bridge, and looked around for the perfect place from which to capture this photo.

Fox FarmB
Original bridge to cross the river. Courtesy: Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company

I settled in to a spot that faced upriver to the falls, just in front of a tiny waterfall of about four feet that branched off of Horseshoe Falls. To the right was the hydro building and to the left was an abutment for the old railroad bridge that once spanned the river. From the foreground, where you see the sandstone formations and small waterfall, you are led upriver where Rainbow Falls is seen flowing strongly, as is the outflow from the hydro-electric plant. Behind the falls is the old bridge, now closed, that was once the main road across the river that led to former center of industry and entertainment.

I felt this scene had a little bit of everything – history, geology, and action. I felt this was a scene that most people would never experience in person, yet could be easily identified as Ausable Chasm.

I set up the tripod and attached my cable release; then metered the scene. It would be a tough one as I didn’t see too many clouds. I was hoping for one or two small ones to make the sky above a little more interesting since I was going to be including more of the sky to allow space for the book title.

I made the settings and decided to wait a bit in hopes of getting some kind of cloud to drift through the shot. Fortunately, my patience was rewarded as a nice group of clouds not only came through but, came through right where I wanted them!

20130605-_DSC7273-2I made a few exposures at different shutter speeds to give different looks to the water. I was looking for a long exposure to make the water look “silky” or “smokey” and I also didn’t want to freeze the place into 1/8000th of a second. I wanted to convey the sense of being there; standing at riverside hearing the water flow and crash over the waterfalls and rocks; feeling the cool breeze and mist from the falls on a hot day, and the awe of standing inside the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks”. This wasn’t about a book cover, it was about sharing the experience.

I found myself hitting the shutter release countless times as I got caught up in the moment. I felt as though I would miss something if I stopped. In the end, it was the very first image I captured that would go on to be my favorite, and the cover.

Exposure Settings:

Camera: Nikon D7000

Lens: Nikon 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 kit lens

Aperture: f/27

Shutter Speed: 1/10 sec.

ISO: 100

Exposure Bias: 0

*Ausable Chasm: In Pictures and Story is available at Ausable Chasm.

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