Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The Upper Falls at Letchworth

with 63 comments

On July 27th we visited the three main waterfalls at Letchworth State Park.
These are the Upper Falls photographed at 1/5000 of a second:

To let you sense the water’s movement I made an animation
from two consecutive frames taken less than half a second apart.

Come closer to the churning water at 1/2000 of a second:

The plants on the far side of the gorge enjoyed what amounted to constant sideways rain:

Here’s a view showing part of the top of the falls at 1/2000 of a second:

In contrast, at a slow 1/13 of a second I recorded this view of a nearby side waterfall
that some visitors ambled down to for pictures of themselves at a more-human scale:

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 20, 2019 at 4:03 PM

63 Responses

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  1. I love that park. I’ve been there several times.

    automatic gardener

    August 20, 2019 at 4:10 PM

  2. I’m glad you’re enjoying western New York state, my birthplace. Very interesting study of the falls and different shutter speeds.

    Michael Scandling

    August 20, 2019 at 4:28 PM

    • I grew up on Long Island and lived for half a year in the Finger Lakes but never made it to Letchworth till July 27th. I had a list of more scenic places in western New York than we could visit in the time available; we did what we could and I certainly enjoyed the places we did get to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2019 at 4:55 PM

  3. I’ve been to Letchworth many times and I’m always impressed by the beauty. Excellent shots, Steve. Next time stop by for a cuppa.


    August 20, 2019 at 4:34 PM

    • If I lived in New York State now I expect I’d go to Letchworth every so often, especially at various times of year. My recollection is that you’re up near the St. Lawrence, and we never got farther north than the Rochester area on this trip. Maybe a future trip will take us your way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2019 at 5:01 PM

  4. Brilliant!


    August 20, 2019 at 5:44 PM

    • It was quite a place.
      Your Gravatar picture accords nicely with the post that came right before this one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2019 at 5:48 PM

      • Oooo!! I’ll look at that post.


        August 20, 2019 at 5:50 PM

      • Saw it! Wow! Been a long time since I’ve seen a field full. Bet that was neat.


        August 20, 2019 at 6:00 PM

        • It was, and in the field where the Wright Brothers perfected flying. I’d never seen so many echinaceas in the wild.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 20, 2019 at 6:01 PM

          • Can’t imagine how extraordinary that was. That’s very cool about the Wright Brothers. Grace, perfection, and beauty all in one spot.


            August 20, 2019 at 7:00 PM

            • I read David McCullough’s biography of the Wright Brothers in preparation for our trip. That’s how I learned about Huffman Prairie. I’ll be showing a few more native wildflowers from there in a future post.

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 20, 2019 at 7:18 PM

              • Awesome. I hadn’t heard of that book- looked it up. Sounds great.


                August 20, 2019 at 10:32 PM

                • McCullough is an excellent popular historian. I recommend all his books.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  August 20, 2019 at 11:29 PM

                • I’ll check that out. I hadn’t even heard of him– thanks for the recommendation.


                  August 21, 2019 at 1:55 PM

                • This will help you get started:


                  Steve Schwartzman

                  August 21, 2019 at 3:00 PM

                • Thank you. Very impressive resume he has. Have you read the latest book about the pioneers? That one piqued my interest. We are rereading the Little House Books. We reread them every year. Also, I was hunk I will read the one on the Wright Brothers. I appreciate the link.


                  August 21, 2019 at 3:44 PM

                • A few months ago I watched David McCullough on BookTV giving a talk about his latest book but I haven’t read it yet.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  August 21, 2019 at 4:06 PM

  5. At 1/5000 of a second the water seems frozen in time, unless you turn your frames into a video. I almost prefer the last shot at 1/13. It seems more natural. Great post, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    August 20, 2019 at 10:41 PM

    • I’ve generally gone for the moment frozen in time. Other people, you included, favor the silky look that slow shutter speeds impart to moving water.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2019 at 11:30 PM

  6. So what’s the geological event that made that scenery?


    August 21, 2019 at 1:41 AM

  7. Amazing photos!


    August 21, 2019 at 3:02 AM

  8. You got all the angles covered. The layers of rock that have been carved through the centuries give the gorge a lot of texture that is so attractive. Again, before I leave this life.

    Steve Gingold

    August 21, 2019 at 3:06 AM

    • I found the rock textures at Watkins Glen even more appealing. The good thing for you is that you can get to those places in a day’s drive, whereas I’d have to push hard to do it in three from Austin even if I went straight there. And once you were at Letchworth or Watkins Glen you’d be close to plenty of other scenic sites in the Finger Lakes region.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2019 at 7:26 AM

  9. What strikes me about the last photo — my favorite of the group — is how nicely you’ve managed to combine sharply detailed rocks and trees with the slightly softened water. Sometimes, a slow shutter speed results in a water image that’s beautiful, but less appealing to me. This time, it seems just right. I think part of the reason’s the play of light on the water, and the fact that the rocks behind the falls are visible. The turbulence at the bottom of the falls is nice, too, and, for me, the smaller size adds to the appeal.

    Here’s an idle thought: the difference between expansive waterfalls and smaller falls like the one shown here might be analagous to that between a field of wildflowers and a portrait of a single flower from the field.


    August 21, 2019 at 6:44 AM

    • I know you’re usually not a fan of silky water, and you know that I also generally favor high shutter speeds for waterfalls, as in all this post’s photos except the last one. Even so, when I visit a waterfall I normally take at least a few longer-exposure pictures just to see if I like the results. In this case the light was becoming problematic, with hot spots resulting from bright sunlight coming through openings in the foliage. When I processed the image in Photoshop I evened out the light the best I could by pushing the Highlights slider way to the left and the Shadows slider way to the right. Even then I had to go in manually and tone down what remained of the brightest hot spots. Thank goodness for digital photography.

      That’s an apt analogy between large and small waterfalls versus wildflower colonies and individual flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2019 at 7:40 AM

  10. My goodness, aren’t the falls beautiful? And they afforded you the opportunity for play in how you recorded them. Not a good place for a ford, however. Wildflowers and Waterfalls…yes, I can see that too.


    August 21, 2019 at 8:57 AM

    • Not since New Zealand did we have such a waterfally trip. You’re right about affording and not fording, though a few bridges let people get from one side of the gorge to the other. Being in such a great region for falls and gorges, which I don’t have at hand in Austin, I didn’t take many wildflower pictures in New York this time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2019 at 9:09 AM

      • I don’t blame you. It is wise to take advantage of what is unique in a place, and you certainly did.


        August 21, 2019 at 2:33 PM

        • Also inclining me away from flower pictures was the fact that the two most common wildflowers I saw across the Northeast were Queen Anne’s lace and chicory, both alien invasives from Europe.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 21, 2019 at 3:10 PM

          • I did, however, photograph some goldenrod. I was surprised to see it flowering in many places across the Northeast even in July, which is a good deal earlier than we see any in Austin.

            Steve Schwartzman

            August 21, 2019 at 4:20 PM

          • Yes, things are winding down up here in the northern latitudes native plant wise. Not yet time for the asters and gentians.


            August 22, 2019 at 7:39 AM

            • Up north I also occasionally saw flowers that looked like they could be asters.

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 22, 2019 at 7:44 AM

              • Could be. A bit early here but farther north wouldn’t surprise me.


                August 23, 2019 at 9:48 AM

  11. These are great, particularly the sideways rain, and your animation was a nice surprise!
    A lot of folks in the area make an annual pilgrimage there, to see the fall foliage.

    Robert Parker

    August 21, 2019 at 10:38 AM

    • I can understand an annual pilgrimage at any time of year; the fall adds even more. If you live in the area you don’t even have to worry about trying to time the fall foliage right the way a visitor from far away (like me) does.

      That was my first and admittedly rather simple animation. I found a Photoshop tutorial and followed the steps.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2019 at 10:46 AM

  12. A beautiful set of shots. I’ll echo others in admiration of the combination of movement, structure and color–well done.


    August 21, 2019 at 1:19 PM

    • Thank you. If you haven’t been to Letchworth, as I hadn’t, you can add it to your bucket list and fill the bucket with water from these falls.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2019 at 1:32 PM

  13. I, too, enjoy watching your animation, Steve, it’s mesmerizing. It almost feels as if one were present at the falls.


    August 22, 2019 at 5:01 PM

  14. […] from a faraway overlook. Notice that in the distance beyond the Middle Falls you can make out the Upper Falls , which are indeed upstream and therefore higher up in altitude as […]

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