Having grown up and worked in the Midwest, we did not see many waterfalls. OK, none really. The first waterfall I remember seeing was Hidden Falls in the Grand Tetons. But that is all it took to hook me. Waterfalls were just enchanting to me. The many types – tall, thin, wide, cascading, made them all unique in their own magical way. And the sound, the sound of the rushing water crashing over the rocks. You just cannot get enough of it. It is so relaxing and trance-inducing. I could sit nearby and just let all the day’s worries slip away. So you begin to get the idea that I really like waterfalls.
Photography is something I have always enjoyed starting with snapping family and vacation photos with my little Kodak Instamatic with the square rotating flashbulb. Then came my first 35mm film camera, a little Minolta point and shoot. For its time, it took pretty good photos. But then I moved to digital starting with a Nikon D60, then a Nikon D7000 and finally to my current Nikon D810. Yes, I’m a Nikon guy whose license plate is LUVNIKON. Photography had become a real passion of mine and I love getting out into nature with my photo gear.
So it was only natural that I combine my love of waterfalls with my love of photography. There was only one problem. I lived in the flatlands of the Midwest and there are not many waterfalls in the Midwest. And then there was work. So with no waterfalls and little time for photography, it was a dreary photographic existence.
That is until the magic time called RETIREMENT. Ah, retirement. Freedom to do …. well anything. Without much hesitation, my wife and I left the flatlands for God’s Country – western North Carolina - the home of over 1000 waterfalls across the western part of the state. It is truly a landscape photographer’s dream. So I began my journey to visit and photograph as many waterfalls as my retired legs could carry me.
But of over the 80 waterfalls I have visited during the past three years, Eastatoe Falls, in little Rosman, North Carolina, is perhaps the most beautiful and photogenic waterfall I have seen.
Eastatoe Falls is on private property, which has changed ownership a few times through the years. The waterfall has been known by different names over time too. The wonderful owners allow visitors to come onto their property and park in their backyard. How cool is that? Then the short walk through the yard and you get your first glimpse of it. As the rushing sound of the water pulls you ever closer to it, you can finally take it all in.
It’s a very private and secluded place. Living only about an hour away from here, I have visited Eastatoe Falls perhaps twenty times to show friends and family as well as photograph it on numerous occasions. But by visiting this beautiful place so many times, you really get to experience it in a variety of conditions. From raging torrents of water after heavy rains to very light flows during dryer periods. But no matter when you visit, there is always a way to photograph it to show its many faces.
Surprisingly, during all these visits, I have generally had the falls all to myself. Occasionally, people will come along, take a look and head back out. There have been only a couple of times where another photographer is there but it generally is not a problem with the other person interfering with your compositions. Photographers, as you know, are a pretty respectable bunch and can work around each other.
When you visit, be sure to bring all your lenses, from super wide to telephoto. You will need them to capture the countless compositional possibilities here. The go-to lens in my bag is the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 wide-angle. I love being able to capture a strong foreground up close and personal. I also use the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 and 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lenses for tighter compositions. All of these come in very handy at Eastatoe. Waterproof boots or water shoes come in handy too to allow you to move all around the water pool and to capture it from every angle.
To effectively shoot good photos here, as well as at any waterfall for that matter, you will need the usual “never-to-be-without” tools of a good circular polarizer and various neutral density (ND) filters. You will not need a graduated neutral density filter since the horizon is not much of an issue. In my bag, I carry the Lee 100mm filter system. Their 105mm circular polarizer is very good, not having any sort of colorcast. The slide-in ND filters can come in handy if the sky is bright not allowing you to get multi-second shutter speeds. I carry their 3, 6 and 10 stop ND filters. Typically the 3-stop filter is enough for most lighting conditions.
The springtime and early summer are special times to visit Eastatoe. When the Carolina Rhododendrons bloom in June with their large white flowers, the falls take on a tropical feel.
Many waterfalls lose their appeal during dryer times. Not Eastatoe, however. While you may not get “wall hangers” of the full falls, lower flows open up wonderful opportunities for tighter isolations. During these times, the lower falls show off a distinct triangle stair-step cascade. With the low color levels, a long exposure black and white photo can work particularly well. The photo below was taken at f/16 for 13 seconds at ISO 64.
There are even more isolation potential opportunities by composing the center section of the falls. My telephoto lens came in handy here to get in nice and close using f/11 for 3 seconds.
After heavy rains, more possibilities open up a short ways downstream. As you approach the falls as you first come in, there is a narrow branch trail to the right. In about 40 yards you will come to the stream. Overhanging the stream is a small rope suspension bridge that leads to the little treehouse, which provides a birds-eye view. But just upstream is a little gem of a cascade nestled into it. During lower water levels, this cascade is a mere trickle.
Autumn, with its changing leaf colors provides yet another gorgeous time of year to visit Eastatoe. Always be sure to have a wide-angle lens with you. As you move around the relatively tight confines, there will be many wide-angle photo opportunities for both landscape and portrait orientations.
So you may be wondering what’s the best time to visit Eastatoe Falls? There is no simple answer to that question. But sometimes, as with any photography experience, sometimes everything aligns and you get the best of everything and when those opportunities present themselves, you need to be ready to take full advantage of them. On this day (see photo below), I had such an experience and it was truly wonderful.
The moral of the story is to visit Eastatoe often. Doing so will allow you to catch its many moods and faces. If you only visit once, be sure to allow plenty of time and soak it in and enjoy a truly memorable photographic experience. Should the weather be sunny, visit early and you should have a few hours before the sun is too high in the sky. Especially since this is on private property, please be respectful of the property. Have fun.
How to get to Eastatoe Falls
In western North Carolina get to the city of Brevard, which is about 30 minutes southwest of Asheville. Get to the intersection of highways US 276 and 64. Go west on US 64 until you reach US 178, maybe 20 minutes. Turn south and drive about 3.5 miles looking for a sign that reads Mountain Meadow on the right side of the road. There will be a small pond just preceding the right turn. Turn right into the gravel road and stay right around the house and park in the backyard where noted. At times, you might meet a large but very friendly dog. Walk about 200 yards through the background and follow the sounds of the rushing water.
If you have never been to the south or to a waterfall, please use common sense. Never ever try to climb on or up a waterfall. They are extremely slippery and people have lost their lives doing foolish things. Be careful stepping on wet rocks. They can be as slippery as ice and you can be down before you know you are falling. There are some poisonous snakes around too. Watch where you step and where you place your hands. In my three years of hiking trails in the woods, I have never seen a copperhead or rattlesnake yet. That does not mean they were not there, just that I did not see them. They generally do not like people and will stay away from populated areas.