The making of Tea Tree Falls

by Bob Simpson (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for the Sunshine Coast)

New England National Park, NSW. June 2013
New England National Park, NSW. June 2013

In June this year I spent a few days camping at New England National Park near Armidale in New South Wales. It was only the second time I’d been there, the first being in 2012 when I arrived to a drizzly 4°C in the middle of the day….the temperature did get up to 8°C the next day but not for long! But despite the chilly weather, the variety of great mountain and forest scenery got under my skin and I’d been looking forward to a return visit as soon as I could make the time.

The image above was captured along Tea Tree Creek, not far from Thungutti camp-ground, on my latest visit to New England NP. I’d walked the Tea Tree Creek track before and found the photo opportunities for general creek-scapes somewhat limited. The creek is narrow and overgrown so it can be hard to find compositions that aren’t cluttered with branches and foliage. I’d heard the sounds of this waterfall on my first visit, but it was hidden away from view of the track and there was no obvious way to get down to it, so I bypassed it to look for other options.

This time I was keen to investigate further, so following the sounds of rushing water I headed off into a tangle of shrubs and vines. After skirting around a steep rocky slope I eventually made it down to the creek downstream of the falls. Mossy rocks and slick, wet logs made every footstep treacherous, but after five minutes of slipping and sliding, I reached the base of Tea Tree Falls.

My first good view of the falls was through a tunnel of overhanging trees and fallen logs as you can see in the image above. This immediately looked like an interesting composition, but I decided to explore further and after scrambling over the big log in the foreground, I had a clear view of the four metre high falls and its sandy plunge pool. I found a spot to take off my pack and sat down for a drink and to take in the surroundings.

While it was a special moment to sit quietly and absorb the sights, sounds and smells of these little falls hidden away from the rest of the world, I could see that it would be difficult to find a clean composition that would do the scene justice. The plunge pool was shallow and littered with woody debris from the forest upstream – the sort of thing you’d expect in a natural setting, but also the sort of thing that can look messy in a landscape image. I set up my camera and tripod and framed and captured several compositions, and then headed back to the tunnel-view through the trees.

It took some manoeuvring to find a stable place for my tripod – it had to be set down low to get a clear view of the falls and the legs were perched precariously on a tangle of wet, springy flood debris. There weren’t many options to vary the composition, other than moving forward or back on the same line of sight, and I settled on this one that includes the mossy log in the foreground to frame the falls and put them in the context of their surroundings. Even though it is still a cluttered composition by most standards, the clutter serves the purpose of framing the falls and providing some bold and interesting shapes in the foreground – at least I’m hoping that’s how people see it!

With my zoom lens set at 40mm and f16 for front to back sharpness, and camera set to ISO200, I captured three bracketed shots spaced at two-stop intervals. Even with a cloud cover the falls were much brighter than the heavily-shaded foreground logs and foliage, so later in Photoshop I blended two exposures (0.6 seconds and 2.5 seconds) to produce a more balanced final image.

There is an article about photographing waterfalls on my website – you can read it here.

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