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Photographing a Waterfall in a Flash Flood: A Lesson in Visualization

Flash Flood in Entrajo Canyon, Utah

Several years ago, even before we moved to Moab, I discovered a little side canyon while exploring one of the many four-wheel drive roads in the area.  As I do with all locations I stumble across that have photographic potential I made a mental note and went on my way.  A few weeks ago I returned to the canyon to determine if it still held the potential I remembered from my first visit.  While there I couldn’t help but imagine a torrent of water pouring over the cliff and landing in the pool in a great swirl of mist.   I knew it would only take one good thunderstorm to produce the flash flood that would make it all happen.  This being monsoon season in the desert, I didn’t have to wait long for rain to fall.

On Friday my family and I decided to visit the canyon to see if the recent bout of precipitation was enough to kick start the waterfall.  We arrived in a light sprinkle and I was disappointed to find a dryfall where I’d expected to see the falls.  We stuck around for a while, I threw rocks in the pool with my son and we left to drive down the road to the creek.  Less than ten minutes later we returned to the little canyon.  As we approached I heard the distinctive roar of a powerful waterfall emanating from the canyon.  At the wash I caught my first glimpse of the red, muddy water quickly filling the pool and then rushing toward us – a formidable creek appearing where seconds earlier there had been a dry wash.  I whipped out my iPhone 4S and recorded about 30 seconds of video as the water approached and then passed directly under our vehicle.

Waterfall in Entrajo Canyon II, UtahI parked on the other side of the knee deep creek and started scouting for a way to get back to the waterfall that didn’t involve crossing the flooded wash.  There wasn’t one.  I decided that if I wanted an opportunity to make the photos I’d visualized I would have to cross the wash not once, but twice.  The water wasn’t deep and the wash was wide enough that the flow wasn’t dangerously swift.  I crossed with ease and walked up stream to the second crossing.  This one was narrower, which meant the water was deeper and with a stronger current.  I entered the stream and found myself knee deep at the mid-point.  At the other side I was excited to discover that I had a splendid view of the waterfall!  I set up my tripod and went to work making images for half an hour from beside and in the middle of the flooded wash.

Though I certainly don’t advocate standing in the middle of a flooded wash, the lesson here is simple:  Keep an open mind and think creatively when you’re out exploring.  You never know what photographic wonders you might discover!

If you’re interested in watching a 30 second clip of the waterfall and resultant floodwater here’s a link to it on YouTube.  It’s just a handheld video on my iPhone 4s with no editing but still it depicts some interesting weather phenomenon.

Equipment Used: Canon 5D MKII, Canon 24-105mm lens, Induro CT213 tripod, Acratech GP ballhead, Singh-Ray Ultrathin Circular Polarizer, Adobe Lightroom 4, Nik Software Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

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bret edge

 Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

 

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