Landscapes,  Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear,  Travel

Putting OM System / Olympus Live ND to the Test at a Crowded Great Falls Park in Virginia

I was driving home from southern Maryland on a Sunday afternoon and decided to check out Great Falls Park and hopefully photograph the waterfalls.  Great Falls Park is located in McClean, Virginia just 18 miles from Washington D.C., and is known for its beautiful, cascading waterfalls.

The conditions were not great for waterfall photography.  The park was very crowded; the parking lot was full and people were driving around waiting for a parking spot. This is to be expected on a weekend, being located very close to Washington D.C.  It was so crowded, I didn’t even take my tripod out of the car.

It was also a bright sunny day that can make is difficult to get those, silky waterfall shots at slow shutter speeds.

Overlook #1. ISO 200, 80mm, f/9.0, 1/3 second, Live ND
Overlook #1. ISO 200, 80mm, f/9.0, 1/3 second, Live ND

Handheld Silky Waterfall Photographs with the OM System OM-1

So, how did I get these silky waterfall shots in bright, sunny conditions in a park loaded with people?  Live ND is terrific but under these conditions, it wasn’t enough.  I combined Live ND with a Variable ND Filter (ND8-ND128). 

I shot handheld using Sync IS with the OM System OM-1 and the Olympus 12-100 f/4 lens.  Sync IS gave enough stabilization for these longer exposures.  However, it is also helpful if you can rest the camera against a fence, railing, or rock.  For Live ND, I used settings from ND8 to ND32. 

Make sure to program Live ND to a button on your camera.  By pressing and holding the button and during the Front or Rear Dial, you can quickly change Live ND settings.

Overlook 2. ISO 200, 66mm, f/8.0, 1/3 second, Live ND
Overlook 2. ISO 200, 66mm, f/8.0, 1/3 second, Live ND

The variable ND filter allows you not only to vary the Live ND settings but also to quickly adjust the strength of the ND filter by just turning the filter.  Make sure to take the time to take photographs using multiple settings on both Live ND and the variable ND filter to ensure you get the exposure, composition, and water flow that you want.

If you don’t have Live ND in your camera, you can still get these silky waterfalls shots using the variable ND filter coupled with the image stabilization of your camera to get slower shutter speeds.  You may just need to look for more opportunities to brace your camera.

Great Falls Park Map
Great Falls Park Map

Information on Photographing Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park is a great quick stop to photograph some magnificent waterfalls on the Potomac River just outside of Washington DC.  The falls have a high waterflow especially right after a rain, and in the spring.

The park has 3 overlooks that are a short hike from the visitor center.  I found that Overlook 1 is good for closer compositions of the falls.  With Overlook 2 and especially Overlook 3, you can get a better wide angle composition of the falls.  Overlook 2 and 3 are also good for close up compositions of the falls.

I used my Olympus 12-100 f/4 lens (24-200mm Full Frame Equivalent) exclusively to photograph the falls.  I found this was wide enough for wide angle vista shots and 100mm got me close enough for detailed compositions.  I’ve included the focal length and the Overlook number in the captions for the blog photos.

The settings for the featured photograph at the top of the blog are: ISO 200, 47mm, f/9.0, 1/3 second using Live ND.  This photograph was taken from Overlook #3.  Try converting your waterfall photographs to black and white.  A high contrast black and white image can accentuate the waterfalls and rapids.

The fee to enter Great Falls park is $20.  You can also use your national parks pass like the America the Beautiful Pass to enter the park.  If you want to avoid the crowds, you may want to visit on a weekday morning.  However, if you photograph from the Virginia side of the park in the morning, you may be photographing into the sun.

Written by Martin Belan

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  • Linda Krugman

    Thank you for this informative oost. I’ve used Live ND when I happened upon a scene that was unexpected, and was glad I had it in my OM-1. I’m curious which brand of variable ND filter you use.

    • Martin Belan

      It was definitely nice to use both Live ND and the ND filter and still be able to handhold the OM-1. I am using a Newer 72mm Variable ND Filter ND8-ND128.

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