Photography at Swallow Falls

Ready to explore! Swallow Falls State Park, famous for it’s ancient hemlock forest and spectacular waterfalls, is an unbelievably picturesque park situated deep in the mountains of northwestern Maryland. As I photographed the emotive scenery, I found that including people in a composition helped to express the thrilling atmosphere of the park. This photo of our family at the trail head uses different elements like the hemlock, fence and van to suggest the transition from every-day travel to on-foot adventure.

Listening to the roar of the highest falls in Maryland The first falls we visited in the park was Muddy Creek Falls. At 53 feet, it is the tallest waterfall in Maryland. For this picture, I could have easily cropped out Daniel and the boardwalk,  but having someone just standing there gazing at the falls helped to evoke a feeling of remote seclusion and aural amazement. Technically, this picture was hard to capture. To make the water look like it was flowing, I needed to use a shutter speed slower than 1/15th of a second. This almost allowed too much light for an aperture of f/29 to compensate for. But thankfully the sun was still deeply shrouded in clouds and there wasn’t an overabundance of light to hinder capturing the desired effect.

The end of the trail I was laying flat out on the rock on top of Swallow Falls trying to get a dynamic shot of the the twisting valley below. Well, Michael just so happened to be standing in my way and as I waited for him to move, I couldn’t help but snap a few shots.
If you ask me, I think the picture turned out better than if he would have moved. Now it doesn’t just speak of beauty, it speaks of determination and durability as well.

A quick portrait While we were at such a beautiful park, we figured that while we were at it, we might as well try to get a good senior portrait of Daniel.
I wasn’t exactly prepared to do this but we
took a shot at it anyway. One interesting thing I remember about taking this picture was that to get the right perspective, I precariously positioned myself and the tripod on a few rocks half off the shore of the Youghiogheny River. We also had to wait patiently for the harsh sunlight to be defused by the thick clouds which rolled quickly by.

Taking in the scenery I liked this candid photo of the family just standing in awe of the mighty power and overwhelming beauty of the sight and sound of a rushing waterfall. The only thing I regret is the fact that you can’t see what they are looking at too well. It could have been a more dynamical image if I had heightened my angle of view or even completely changed my viewpoint to be looking up at them from somewhere in the canyon below.

A resting place by the trail Even though this composition doesn’t include any people, it might look appealing to the next one who goes hiking by. It’s just a simple, moss covered log sitting next to the trail, waiting for the next weary hiker to sit down for a rest. In this case,  I was glad for the sun to be shining
as it added depth and texture to the image.

As a family, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and recommend you stop there on your next visit to the Appalachian Mountains.


  1. Matthew Garfat April 13, 2008 at 6:29 pm #

    Wow, the weather sure looks nice and cozy warm down there, compared to our snow up here! But our snow is melting fast and the temperature is rising to about 5 degrees at noon with the sun shining at it’s brightest.
    I’m sure it was easy to know that God is real and also made you want to burst out in singing “Oh Lord my God” down there at the falls.

  2. Michael April 17, 2008 at 2:14 am #

    It was raining when we left home and constant rain was predicted all day. We almost decided not to stop there. I was amazed at the change in weather and as it turned out there was almost no one else there… and the conditions for photography were perfect! It was a huge blessing from God and a great time together as a family.

  3. Donald April 17, 2008 at 2:44 am #

    Excellent portrayal of that careful balance between manipulation and contentment with what’s there!

  4. Esther April 18, 2008 at 2:00 pm #

    Very fun pictures James! They are not only beautiful but, like you mentioned, the people in them add a whole new dynamic!

  5. Daniel April 19, 2008 at 3:04 pm #

    I’m really liking the picture of Michael’s boot! (I mean, the beautiful picture of the twisting river with Michael’s boots in it… 🙂 ) An excellent example of how to think out of the box.

    You are right – including people in the pictures really adds character to them. It really makes you want to look at them longer and appreciate them more.

  6. Elliot April 30, 2008 at 8:03 pm #

    Thanks for the pictures and the insights, James. I appreciated the technical info too. 🙂 Just wondering: does the shutter speed need to be 1/15th of a second or faster as a rule of thumb to capture moving water, or does it depend on the speed of the water, etc.? Thanks in advance…

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