Saturday, August 14, 2010

Waterfall (August, 2004)

One of many things not widely known about the city of Hamilton, Ontario, is that is sits snugly in the curve of a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the Niagara Escarpment. An escarpment is a geographic feature involving a sharp drop in the elevation of relatively flat land, forming a kind of "step" that can look like a cliff extending over a long distance. The Niagara Escarpment is very lengthy, winding its way through four U.S. states and through Ontario between (and also through) the Great Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron.

On a satellite image of Hamilton the Escarpment is clearly visible as a dark green thread that snakes from Grimsby in the east, through Stoney Creek and the centre of Hamilton (dividing the "mountain" area from downtown), then west into the valley that separates Ancaster and Dundas. It then travels north toward Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, eventually turning south and ending up on the east side of Lake Michigan.

Close to this conservation area, Hamilton is linked in to the walking and hiking trails that follow the Escarpment, most notably the Bruce Trail and the Rail Trails; the nearby Dundas Valley is also easily accessible (via the trails or by car). On the steep incline where the Escarpment drops off, a line of waterfalls marks its path--and a number of attractive falls are in the Hamilton-Ancaster-Dundas area.

I actually worked for the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority in August-September 2003, so I helped with some of the photography in their brochures. I also ended up unwittingly making an appearance in the "Waterfalls brochure" (which, by the way, took endless amounts of revision work for some reason), sitting at the bottom of Webster's Falls in my orange hat. Thankfully that little piece of PR doesn't seem to be in circulation now--on the web at least--though it was kicking around for quite a while.

It seems almost appropriate that I should have ended up in that brochure, since I've always loved waterfalls--all forms of moving or running water actually. Growing up in New Zealand, I always wanted to play in whatever creek or stream was nearby. Our house in Feilding had a small stream running just behind the fence marking the back edge of the garden; I used to make dams and other waterworks by piling up rocks in the stream-bed.

I'm not sure if the waterfall pictured here has been named. It wasn't readily accessible; I seem to remember something about climbing through a hole in a chain-link fence. I took these pictures with my Minolta SLR, so I must have had fun carrying it in there. Then there was no path, you had to walk alongside the stream and then into/across the water to reach the dry rocks over by the falls, and there was slippery green slime on the red streambed rocks (as you can see in the photos).

I was fascinated by the small boulder (below) that appears poised on the edge of the falls. I wondered what kept it in place--sheer weight, perhaps, or some nook in which it was perched securely? Was it leaning heavily against the rock behind it? At the time I wasn't willing to climb up the side of the waterfall with my camera hanging around my neck, which was probably a reasonable judgment. I could see it was possible though, since there were a few other people also nosing around the area and they had gone further up towards the head of the falls.

I remember crouching to take the picture below, thinking that the backlighting from the sky and trees would probably cause the (reflected-light, automatic) light meter to over-compensate and under-expose the shadowed areas on the right-hand side of the frame. I must have been lucky though--I have a "textured white" (technically a grey-blue) in the sky and visible detail in the shadows.

Remembering that moment makes me realise (again) how different it is to shoot with digital cameras vs. on film, since there was and is no "instant replay" feature. You have to take several shots at different exposure times and apertures and angles, with the number of shots determined by the importance of getting the photo right. Only after negatives and prints have been processed do the final results show up. But there can be equal amounts of serendipity both ways (digital or not) and that's one of the things I enjoy about photography.

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