As someone who spent more than half his life growing up in New York City and living in some of the densest cities in the U.S., you could imagine my awe when I saw my first waterfall. It was in 2009 and I had flown out to Portland, Oregon, for work. A coworker took me into the Columbia River Gorge and our first stop was Latourell Falls. Up until that point, the closest thing to a waterfall that I had ever experienced was the log flume ride, Splash Mountain, at Disneyworld. After seeing the beauty and regality of that waterfall, I was immediately enthralled and became obsessed. Fortunately, I ended up moving to Portland about six months later, making it much easier for me to explore the multitude of waterfalls throughout the Pacific Northwest.
One of the reasons why I love waterfalls so much is because of the experience that leads up to actually seeing one. In most cases, especially with the larger waterfalls, its presence is felt well before you actually see it. As you make your way down a trail, you begin to hear the faint yet distinct sound of crashing and rushing water. It’s one of the most exhilarating sounds because it’s a clear indication that something awesome is up ahead. The closer you get, the louder the sound becomes and the greater the anticipation gets. Eventually, the temperature will drop a bit and spray will begin to hit you. That’s when the real fun begins.
The first few years that I had spent photographing waterfalls were some of the most pivotal when it came to learn how to find strong compositions. At first, I exclusively focused on the waterfall itself. Almost all of my photos were of the waterfall and very little else. Over time, I realized that I was left with a very homogenous collection of photos that all looked sort of the same.
That’s when I began expanding my understanding of composition and looked for ways to incorporate my surroundings. I also got more comfortable with letting the waterfall become a supporting cast member in an ensemble instead of being the main attraction. In fact, those sorts of compositions quickly became my favorite, because it provided the viewer with so much more to explore.
Now that I live in the southwest, I’ve traded waterfalls for red rock, but it’s a subject that I’ll never get tired of and I’m counting the days before I can visit that region again with my camera.
See more of Brian Matiash’s work at matiash.com.
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