This morning (March 23, 2015) I returned for yet another sunrise at Great Falls National Park in Northern Virginia. Driving down VA-93 (Georgetown Pike) at about 6:00am the clouds above were looking great; picking up tinges of pink and thick with breaks. Of course, I was in the traditional rush hour traffic of morning, rolling painfully slow behind school bus pick-ups and congested masses headed for the Capital Beltway along this two-lane feeder road. Since moving back to the Virginia area I’ve had to relearn patience in travel: no one goes anywhere fast during the morning or evening rush hours! By the time I got myself parked and geared up, I was a bit strapped for time, so, I decided to move briskly down the trail to a relatively close spot that I’ve scouted multiple times just upriver of Cow Hoof Rock Overlook along the River Trail within Great Falls National Park. The vantage looks out over the Potomac River to the well-known Billy Goat Trail and Bear Island areas on Maryland’s shores, as well as further downstream to the Cow Hoof Rock Overlook on the Virginia side of the river. I’ve always believed this to be a decent area to witness a sunrise. This morning was to be my first concerted effort at this location.
Between reading about the place and my own primary experiences within, I’ve begun to form an idea of what this area is about for myself. That knowledge evolves with each hike; each article; each book that I engage about the Potomac River. Over time, as I’ve become a more mature photographer, I’ve also become more responsive to the conditions given versus the conditions I expect or desire (although this is still a work in progress :-)). If you’ve ever been to the Mather Gorge at Great Falls National Park, the river is neither loud nor visually intimidating as it moves between the rocky cliff walls. It flows with purpose, mostly silently, without many breaks in it’s top complexion. A casual viewer might not interpret the power before them. However, the reality is something deeper. Just upstream, the Potomac River necks down from some fifteen hundred feet in width, crashes down seventy plus feet of cascades and waterfalls, and then squeezes into this one hundred foot wide, straight chute known as Mather Gorge. Below the deceptively calm surface, the depths are flowing at much faster clips, creating dangerous and deadly conditions for those who accidentally find themselves within the waters. I decided to adapt my own photographic style on this morning to be more receptive to the nature of the landscape as I understood it. While I typically like to capture the flow of water with adequate detail, on this morning I didn’t find the approach to be ideal in communicating the landscape. Instead, I used a neutral density filter to lengthen my exposures, allowing the river more time to flow and streak through the photograph. While the long exposures provided a more reflective surface to showcase the rocky river banks, I also think, unintentionally (or without intentional foreknowledge), that the longer exposures also lent the river greater weight as a mass within the frame. The filtration further allowed the rich blue tones of morning to saturate the scene. What resulted was a moody photograph that represented, to me, understated beauty mingled with deceptive risk (darker processing & exposures). I did not try to punch light into every shadow in post; instead, I thought the inability to make out every detail helped both the mood and the focus. What are your thoughts? Hit or miss?
Nikon D700, Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8, 22mm, f/14, 13.0 seconds, ISO 200, 1.2 ND
Check out my Virginia gallery for more images of Great Falls National Park!