Oneonta Falls is one of my favorite places. To reach them, one has to traverse a massive tumbled logjam and wade through cold, sometimes chest-deep pools in a slot canyon so narrow that it could give a coal miner claustrophobia.
My good friend Baraka was visiting me from Tanzania. He had shown me the best of his country the year before and climbed to the summit of Kilimanjaro at my side. Despite it being a cool fall day, I thought a trip into Oneonta Falls might be the adventure for us.
Before creating this image, I had been to Oneonta falls many times, but never found good quality light to capture its rugged beauty. The canyon is oriented to the north so the sun only reaches inside for a few hours at high noon. Light and shadow at noon are a photographic nightmare of blinding highlights and evil dark shadows. I had used the falls as a backdrop for strobe-lit environmental portraiture, but never found the right light for a pure landscape photograph.
After crossing the log jam and wading the stream, Baraka and I rounded the canyon’s last bend to find an amazing sight. The late fall sun was far enough to the southwest that it was blasting a perfect shaft of light through the waterfall’s spray like a giant stage-light from above. “Hold on Baraka,” I shouted. “I’ve got work to do.”
I quickly set my tripod up low and slotted a graduated neutral density filter diagonally over the lens to reduce the contrast of the blazing sunlight in the upper left portion of my composition. Once I was finished, Baraka and I stood quietly and watched the light play through the mists over the canyon walls.