Sunrise at a snowy Great Falls

February 09, 2011  •  Leave a Comment

For some time now, I've been wanting to get some good shots of Great Falls in a wintry setting. So, when it snowed here a couple of weeks ago, I figured that I should take advantage of the opportunity. Because the snowstorm hit during the middle of the week, I was initially inclined to wait until the weekend, but I was afraid that the snow would melt before I could get to the falls. So, I got up early and drove out to the falls before sunrise. I figured that if I was fast enough, I'd be able to get out there, shoot the falls, and then drive back into town and get to work before the office opened. I was rewarded with the following:

Snow covers Great Falls, Virginia, after a major snowstorm.Sunrise at a snow covered Great Falls I like the color and texture of the water. It looks very cold and I find the blurred movement of the water quite striking.

I took this image at 7:43 a.m. using a 12mm focal length and an extremely small aperture of f/25. I also used a Nikon circular polarizer II stacked on a Hoya Pro1Digital 0.6 neutral density filter. This was necessary to get a super slow shutter speed, which I needed to obtain that smooth blur effect with the water. With this image, I was able to achieve a 2 second exposure. While I think it looks fairly nice, I do think it would have looked a bit better if I had been able to get a 3 or 4 second exposure and thereby blurred even more of the water's movement.

Shortly after 8:00 a.m., the sun broke through some low-lying clouds and projected some nice light on the cliffs. I took the following at 8:14 a.m.:

The light was too intense to obtain a shutter speed of more than a second, even with stacked filters and a super small aperture. So, for this image, I used a more reasonable aperture of f/11. With the neutral density filter and without the polarizer, I obtained a shutter speed of 1/40s.

While the water isn't as striking in this second photo, I like the early morning light on the rocks. The light is much less flat, giving the rocks more character. Also, this second image is significantly sharper than the first because it doesn't suffer from diffraction, which on my camera, affects images taken with apertures smaller than f/11.

While most of the images I shot were taken with the same composition as the first two photos, using wide angles and such, I decided to experiment with some longer focal lengths. I think the following turned out nicely, though not as well as the first two:

On another note, while we didn't get more than a few inches of snow the previous night, the storm caused quite a few problems for the D.C. region. The snow was very wet and heavy. All of the Federal offices opened late because of the snow, including my own, and many homes lost power and heat. The drive at 6 a.m. out to the falls was somewhat treacherous. Many roads were closed and unplowed. Of the roads that were open, I had to be careful and navigate around abandoned cars and fallen trees. I was very grateful to have all-wheel drive.

The following is a photo of Old Dominion Drive, the road in Virginia leading to and from Great Falls Park. I took this on my way out of the Park, driving just behind two snowplows. If you think the road looks bad in the image, just imagine what it might have been like at 3 hours earlier, before any snowplows had touched the street.



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