I was in upstate New York the week after Thanksgiving spending some time at my parent's cabin and exploring some areas that I haven't been to before. My original plan was to go north to either the Niagara Falls area or the Thousand Islands, but it looked like rain in both of those areas. I did some more research and decided on a few parks in the Finger Lakes Region, an area that I had never been to before and felt like I should.
A major reason I love taking landscape photos is that it gets me out into some beautiful locations and helps me appreciate them more than I would otherwise. When I force myself to focus on finding the best way to show a location I start to notice details that I otherwise wouldn't. Because of that I usually want to be at great places in great light, and today that was kind of a problem because I was trying to visit 3 parks in the area. My reasoning for that was that I knew some of the trails would be closed and they all seemed pretty accessible, so I didn't think I would need much time to get to the icons (mostly waterfalls) in the parks. This would also be kind of a scouting trip, giving me a good idea of what I would want to come back to.
I decided to drive to Buttermilk Falls first because it was on the way to the other parks, and from what I could tell this looked like a nice spot but maybe not as photogenic as my other options. It is a really cool waterfall, and very easy to get to. It may look like I hiked into the woods to get this selfie, but I'm actually about 10 feet from the parking lot. The name of this waterfall seems to fit too, the water flows smoothly across all of the rocks giving a milky appearance. I did take some photos here that I'll have to go through in more detail, but mid day light (and it was right about noon) doesn't often work out for what I like to capture and they really weren't that interesting to me.
I left Buttermilk and decided that the park I was most excited about was Watkins Glen, and when the realization that it's that time of year when the sun sets around 4:30 I thought I should just go there and possibly see the last park the next day. It was about a half hour away, and when I got to it there were only 2 other cars in the parking lot. That's something I really like about exploring these places so late in the season, yes it's colder but you can't beat the serenity. A disadvantage of it being this late in the season is that the fun trails might be closed. At Watkins Glen, which is basically a big gorge leading down to Seneca Lake, the trail running through the gorge was closed. They actually have the few entrances to the trail (which are all stone staircases) locked up. I was a little disappointed, even though I was partially expecting it, and considered just going around the blockades but ended up trying out the trail on the north side of the gorge. Apparently this trail (Indian Head I think) would have some decent views down into the gorge. It was the early afternoon at this point and I figured with how wooded the area was the light would get to where I wanted in a few hours. The whole trail is a little over a mile and is flat most of the way so it was pretty easy to scout out all of the interesting spots that I would want to come back to when the sun was lower. Of course I did get a little confused when the trail seemed to randomly go through this graveyard here:
But further down I did find a few overlooks that I liked. This ended up being my favorite:
Look at that smile, you can almost see it. You can also see the pathway below that is part of the gorge trail. When I came back to this spot in lower light and composed the shot that's at the top of this page I was kind of glad that the gorge trail was closed. Sure I would have loved to go down there and still plan to in the future, I'm sure I would have found some great shots. But if it was open I never would have thought to take this trail and I never would have taken that image, which I was really pleased with. It's kind of a different style than I usually shoot and has a different feel to it that I love.
I took that photo a couple of hours before sunset, which in my experience is a great time to photograph a forest. That's technically a while before the golden hour, but when you're in a forest the golden hour sun is often too low to get through all of the trees. About an hour before golden hour the lower sun will still create some pretty awesome light bouncing through the forest. Because I took that shot at my favorite spot that long before sunset I still had a chance to take some shots from a bridge that overlooked the gorge, my second favorite spot which I still have to decide on the photo for (that process can take me a while and I always post the photos I'm sure of first).
By the time I got back to my car I still had more than an hour left before sunset, and the last park I wanted to go to, Taughannock Falls, was a little more than a half hour away. From the images I saw on Google it also seemed more open than Watkins Glen so I thought actual golden hour, as opposed to my forest golden hour the hour before, would work well here. It would be a little tight to get to the park and walk to the waterfall in time, but I was optimistic.
As you can see from the photo there's me, there's a waterfall, and there's a blown out sky meaning that I was there before dark. This was from a parking lot overlook, it's actually an awesome view of the falls and I would have taken some more shots here if I wasn't still hoping to make it to the base of the falls before the it got dark. So I hopped back in my car and drove down to the start of that trail (the end of which you can see in the lower right corner of the above photo). This trail turned out to be less than a mile and was even marked as wheelchair accessible, so very flat and some great views of the valley made by this river. The water level was low too so you could walk out onto parts of the rock river bed if you wanted to. I made it to the falls probably ten minutes before sunset, which due to the nature of those giant rock walls I wasn't going to see, but I knew what I wanted and this was the perfect time to get it. I didn't care about the colors in the sky because I wasn't even planning on having much sky in my composition, I just wanted the colors in the foreground and a really smooth waterfall with some soft light. At this time of day I was able to get a 15 second exposure and the only filter I used was my polarizer. Because there was still some light bouncing around the valley the colors, though much cooler, were still picking up nicely. I felt that I made it at the perfect time.
I took my photo and sat there for a while enjoying the water flowing through the quickly darkening valley. I walked back in the dark, taking a detour on the dry parts of the riverbed, and got to my car just as it started to rain. I didn't know it was going to rain but it kind of worked out perfectly because I got to see the places I planned on and felt I got some pretty cool shots. Originally I was going to spend another night in the area, and maybe I should have, but this gives me more of a reason to come back and maybe focus on just one of the parks. I'm probably going to go back to all 3 eventually, but definitely Watkins Glen when the gorge trail is open, and I know I could spend a lot of time in the riverbed leading up to Taughannock Falls.