Water in the desert—always an awe-inspiring gem to find in the Southwest. Water is a subject I frequently photograph. And, of course, who doesn’t love standing beside a tall waterfall.
Rewind the clock… Remember a particular moment of inspiration? They often come at odd times. That spark of creativity. They come from goofing off, experimenting, exploring possibilities… and risking failure.
One night we were goofing off in camp with our headlamps. We made spooking faces with the light under our chin. Then, I shined my headlamp under a Nalgene water bottle that sat on the perforated metal picnic table. The bright light diffused through the liquid—suddenly the entire water bottle glowed like a giant lightbulb.
What if we shined a flashlight through a waterfall? I had to find out.
The opportunity came as I was guiding a backpack trip across the Grand Canyon rim to rim. On our journey down from the North Rim we would be in the neighborhood of a majestic waterfall—Ribbon Falls—one you can stand behind without getting wet.
My trip assistant, Nina Rehfeld, and I had each carried a high-powered flashlight in our backpacks. She had a large Mag-lite with an incandescent bulb to produce the amber tones. I packed a LED spotlight for the bluish tones. Each unit weighed about 2.5 pounds—certainly extra weight for a six-day backpack trip.
We hiked out to Ribbon Falls at the end of the day from camp, and took our positions. Nina climbed up behind the falls while I set up my tripod and framed the scene. As the natural light began to dim we started to play. She shined her warm-toned incandescent light, moving it up and down directly behind the falls.
Eventually the test shots showed the perfect balance. The cavern wasn’t too light for our flashlights to visibly add the glow and the cavern wasn’t too dark to lose the “sense of place.” The camera exposure was five seconds and the falling water blurred nicely over this time span.
As I shined my LED flashlight onto the bright-green moss covering the travertine hump I explored the warm-cool contrast—right where the water landed. This created an exciting color vibrancy to the scene. We couldn’t wait to see if the risk of carrying two heavy flashlights would be worthwhile. We deemed the results successful for our quirky experiment. Goofing off really works!
Hike specs: Ribbon Falls trail branches off the North Kaibab Trail 7 miles below the North Rim. North Kaibab Trailhead (8,241 ft) to the Colorado River (2,400 feet ft) is 14-miles. We overnight camped at Cottonwood Campground. Allow the side hike to take about 20 minutes once you leave North Kaibab Trail.
Camera specs: Exposure time was 5 seconds Aperture at f5.6
Body: Canon 5D Mk III Lens: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Tripod: Gitzo, Really Right Stuff ballhead
Incandescent light: Mag-lite, 4 D-Cell Battery, model # JS4DH06 LED light: Brinkmann Q-Beam, model #800-2801-S (620 lumen)
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