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Photographing Englishman River Falls on Vancouver Island

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

Wildfires in British Columbia interfered with our plans to combine a visit to Jasper with wine tasting in the Okanagan, so Nancy and I stayed closer to home and traveled to Vancouver Island to photograph rivers and waterfalls.

Logs wedged at the base of Englishman River Falls

Logs wedged in the deep cleft created by Upper Englishman River Falls. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

It was a short drive from our house to the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen, where Nancy and I drove our car onto the Queen of Nanaimo ferry and headed for Duke Point on Vancouver Island. From there, it was a short drive to the city of Nanaimo, our base for five days of photography on the island's east coast.

For us, Nanaimo has never been a destination. It was simply the town where the ferry docked — a town to pass through on our way elsewhere on the island. This time, we stayed downtown, near the museum. The location exceeded our expectations. The neighborhood was clean and friendly, several good restaurants were within easy walking distance, and traffic was generally light.

We would drive to another provincial or regional park each day. Photographing Englishman River Falls Provincial Park was our first choice. The last time we were there was at Christmas two years ago. That winter was cold and saw a lot of rain, so the river was raging, and no one was in the park. The water level was lower this year, and the weather was delightful.

The park features a deep, narrow gorge carved by the river between the upper and lower falls. A well-maintained trail follows each side of the canyon. Fences prevent people from getting too close to the abrupt edge, and bridges span the river near the lower and upper falls, connecting the trails to make a loop.

Large volume of water pouring over Englishman River Falls

Upper Englishman River Falls in winter. I felt a more blurred rendition of the water better illustrated the enormous volume and velocity of the falls. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

Water flowing between boulders in Upper Englichman River Falls

A portion of Upper Englishman River Falls in late summer. With lower volumes of water and various paths taken, I opted for more detail in the water — and that meant a somewhat faster shutter speed. The whiter, more blurred water in the upper center may have benefited by making a second exposure at an even faster shutter speed and "painting" the more detailed result into the image using Photoshop. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

The area surrounding the river was heavily forested, but the photographic attraction for us was the water. We experimented with shutter speeds to get the desired amount of blurring of the water — somewhere between stop-motion and silky. For the most part, we found that a shutter speed of about 1/5 of a second produced the most pleasing effect.

However, different parts of a waterfall travel at different speeds, depending on the volume of water and the path it takes. Typically, the greater the volume of water and the more vertical the drop, the faster the water travels and the shorter the shutter speed required for a desired effect.

Most waterfalls are complex — not simple drops — and have a mix of water velocities. A single shutter speed thus results in a photo with varying degrees of water blurring in different parts of the image. Most of the time, this is insignificant, but occasionally, areas of fast-moving water have enough reduction of detail from exaggerated blurring that it becomes objectionable. In that case, another exposure at a faster shutter speed can get the degree of blur right in that portion of the image. That area can then be "painted" into the original image using standard techniques in Photoshop.

Next stop: Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park!

large boulder in front of a drape-like waterfall

Photographed during our earlier winter trip, this scene combined the static and dynamic elements of the falls. In this case, in a bit of a reversal, the subject is the static boulder. The dynamism of the waterfall has been tamed by using a slower shutter speed to blunt fine detail and "solidify" the water, transforming it into a drapery-like backdrop. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

Chockstone at Gorge's end. This is the downstream end of the Englishman River Gorge. The fallen, car-sized boulder partially obstructs the gorge, creating roiling rapids during periods of high water, but is not likely to be disgorged anytime soon. Behind me, the river widens as it escapes the confines of the gorge. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.


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