Landscapes,  National Parks

Photographing Roaring Fork Waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Roaring Fork Auto Tour is a popular destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Roaring Fork is just a few miles from downtown Gatlinburg. 

Grotto Falls Cascade

Grotto Falls

Roaring Fork has several old cabins to photograph, but I enjoy photographing the waterfalls on the Auto Tour.  There are 3 waterfalls accessible from Roaring Fork, but not all of them are right along the road.

Let's start with the easy one.

The Place of a Thousand Drips – Stop 15 on the Auto Tour

 This waterfall is right along side the road.  The Place of a Thousand Drips gets its name from the numerous cascades following down the rock face.

It is difficult to set up a tripod as there is a very small shoulder on the side of the road.  You may need to shorten the legs of the tripod so they are not too far out on the road.  I photographed "the drips" from the opposite side of the road for the best compositions.

Place of a Thousand Drips, Smoky Mountains

Place of a Thousand Drips, Roaring Fork

Grotto Falls – Stop number 5 on the Auto Tour

 The trail is a moderate 1.3 mile hike up to Grotto Falls.  Photos can be composed from the right and left side of the falls. The nice thing about Grotto Falls is that the trail runs behind the falls, making it easy to get side view photos of the waterfall.  I prefer the right side of the falls as a tree has fallen on the left side.

In my opinion, the best compositions are below the falls with the cascades from the falls composed in the foreground.  However, this composition requires climbing down  on the boulders below the falls. 

Grotto Falls , Side View

Grotto Falls , Side View

There are also a smaller falls downstream from Grotto Falls.  You can also climb the boulders to the base of these falls.

The Grotto Falls trail is also very busy, so it's best to hike to the falls early in the morning.  I arrived at the trailhead just after sunrise.  I had about 45 minutes to photograph the falls by myself before the first visitors arrived. 

Also, don't forget your macro lens.  In the spring there are plenty of wildflowers to photograph on your way back to the trailhead.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is located just outside the Roaring Fork entrance.  However, Rainbow Falls requires a 5.5 mile strenuous hike.

Using Slow Shutter Speeds for a Silky Look to the Waterfalls

To get the slow shutter speeds needed to give the waterfalls a silky look, I use a selection of Tiffen neutral density filters.  The top Grotto Falls photo was taken at a shutter speed of 3.2 seconds while the Place of a Thousand Drips was taken at 1.3 seconds.  This also requires a sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release.  You can also use the delayed shutter release settings on your camera if you don't have a remote shutter release.  

I use the following selection of Tiffen Neutral Density Filters for long exposure photography.

Written by Martin Belan

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