Fall Colors in Silver Falls State Park

Fall Colors in Silver Falls State Park

Whenever Fall rolls around and the leaves begin changing their color, I make plans for visiting several locations around my area to photograph the color.  This year was no exception and I made several trips to capture what I feel was a “average” year for Fall colors.  The mixture of temperature change, and, period of sun and then rain, led to a normal type of Fall in the Pacific Northwest.

One of my go-to locations for consistent fall colors, along with other quintessential elements of the Pacific Northwest, is Silver Falls State Park just outside the Oregon state capital of Salem.  It’s about an hours drive from my house to the very large park.  One can take either the freeway, or the country back roads to arrive there in roughly the same amount of time.

Silver Falls State Park is located near Silverton Oregon, about 20 miles from Salem. It is the largest state park in Oregon and has roughly 24 miles of trails and paths. It’s a multi-use park, so some trails are open to bicyclists, while others are just for hikers only.

I planned my outing based upon the maturation of the fall color cycle, and, the arrival of a rain storm to the area.  It was getting towards to the end of the color for some of the trees, so I knew it wouldn’t be “peak” time, but felt it would be good enough to make the drive. The weeks previously we had enjoyed glorious sunny weather in the area, which was fantastic to hold on to the last memories of summer, but was not so good for photography.  The direct sunlight would cast too many harsh shadows and make the scenes too difficult to photograph.  So, watching the weather forecast, I found the soonest day  that would have cloud cover to act as “natures softbox” to provide nice diffuse lighting conditions.  And the bonus is that on my planned day there would be rain forecast in the area.  Normally folks don’t like to go out in the rain, but hey, this is the PNW and if you don’t like being out in the rain you better find another place to live.  For photography, the rain provides some nice quality to images and help the colors to really pop.

Driving along the backroads of Oregon, between Canby and Silver Falls, I was immersed in the sights of the farm country, looking for any possible compositions as I travelled.  I crested a small rise and immediately off to my left I saw a field that had been recently “worked” that had some amazing red trees in the background.  I slammed my truck to the shoulder, thankfully nobody was behind me, and hopped out to see if I could get a shot out of it.  Since I was in-transit, I didn’t want to go through the whole process of the tripod, so I handheld the GFX50s with the 120mm lens to take a few frames.  By no means is this a small camera rig, it is medium format with a long macro lens, so it’s heavy!  However, with a fast enough shutter speed, there isn’t much of a worry about handholding and getting the necessary sharpness.   To add to the scene, the flat skies above provided perfect lighting and a nondescript backdrop to the scene.

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm 120mm macro, f/16, 1/340, iso 3200

I thought that they vertical orientation of the shot complimented the rows nicely.  After that quick stop, I was eager to get to the park so I continued on through the country.

The first stop I made was in the North Falls area of the park.  Here there is ample parking, restrooms, and a wonderful path to access the north falls.  This area also connects via hiking trails to the rest of the parks waterfalls, so it can be a great jumping off point for exploration.

I had brought 3 different camera bodies with me on this outing to accomplish different goals.  I brought my trusty Fujifilm X-T2 and a quiver of lenses to shoot a video that I will post on Youtube.  I brought my Fujifilm GFX50s with 32-64mm and 120mm lenses.  I also brought my new Fujifilm X-T3 to shoot still images and video segments.  It was quite a feat packing all of this gear in to my Gura Gear backpack which turned out to be a bit heavier than normal 🙂

Less than 1/2 mile from the parking area you will come face to face with the North Falls. At around 130 feet, it’s a magnificent waterfall.  I spent close to an hour here shooting segments of video with the X-T2 and X-T3 as well as shooting still images with the GFX and X-T3.

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm 32-64mm, f/10, 1.4 seconds, iso100

There was ample fall color in this area, so besides the most obvious shot of the waterfall, I slowed down and took some time to compose images from different scenes.

Fujifilm X-T3, Fujifilm 16-55mm lens, f/11, 1.8 seconds, iso 160
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujifilm 16-55mm, F/11, 3.1 seconds, iso 160

Having gotten my fill from this area, I begin the walk back towards the parking area.  The trail was beautiful and I continually scanned for nice compositions. The shot below was handheld in lower light, so I cranked up the iso a bit to get a sharp shot.  Not worrying about higher iso with the Fuji systems, especially the GFX, I still practiced good handholding techniques to get the best shot possible.

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm GF32-64mm lens, f/7.1, 1/13 second, iso 800

There was one mossy grotto alongside the trail and I stopped and took off the pack, sure that I would find a shot here.  The forest floor was blanketed with leaves and as I looked closer at the patterns, colors and textures, I decided I would shoot a couple of close up shots of the leaves.

Leaf Blanket
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujifilm XF60mm macro, f/16, 1.9 seconds, iso 160

After passing the parking area, I decided to continue on the trail for a bit longer to see what I could see.  There is another waterfall close by I knew, so I set that as my destination.  The trail follows the river and along the way I was able to stop and take a few shots that moved me as I walked by.  I’m normally a fast hiker/walker, seeing it as exercise and getting to the destination, but when I’m out shooting, I make a conscious effort to slow down, keep my eyes up and look around at my surroundings to spot potential shots.

Fujifilm X-T3, Fujifilm XF16-55mm, f/11, 3.2 seconds, iso160

Arriving at the next waterfall, the trail at this point is carved in to the side of the cliff and has risen above the valley floor.  The trees had grown up since the last time I was here, partially blocking the view and I didn’t feel that there was anything worth photographing, so I headed back to my truck to drive to the main area of the park.

As I was driving south along the winding road, the clouds and fog closed in around the road and at times it was difficult to see more than 30 yards ahead.  I started getting excited at this because I LOVE photographing in foggy/cloudy conditions.  You can do some amazing things with atmospheric conditions in a forest setting.  About 5 minutes of driving I came around a corner and saw a splash of color in the forest, lots of fog and a place to park, so I pulled over and got out my tripod and camera.  Deciding I wanted the utmost in quality, I picked the GFX50s to shoot with at this location.

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm GF32-64mm, f/16, 2 seconds, iso 100

As I shot, the fog began to lift a bit, providing more visibility through the forest

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm GF120mm, f/16, 3.2 seconds, iso 100

I put on the 120mm lens for a bit more reach in order to isolate different elements of the scenes.   There was also a break in the forest allowing a view of the waterfall that I had earlier hiked to, but didn’t shoot.  So I decided to compose a shot and see how it came out.

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm GF120mm, f/16, 1.3 seconds, iso 100

Finishing up there, I made the short drive to the South Falls area of the park.  This is a widely visited park so there is ample parking and facilities, however on this rainy weekday, there were few people there.  As I got out of my truck, I looked around and immediately saw a stand of trees right next to the parking lot that were a brilliant red and I knew I wanted to shoot them.  See, you don’t need to go far afield and struggle on an epic adventure to capture compelling images.  I grabbed my camera and spent 10 minutes shooting alongside the parking lot 🙂

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm GF120mm, f/16, 1.9 seconds, iso 100

Heading out along the trail, there is a vast network of trails through the park and the most famous one is the Trail of 10 Falls, that you can see and even walk behind 10 different waterfalls.  I knew from prior visits that the South Falls would have some nice color around it and is a quintessential shot in the park, so thats where I headed.  After less than 1/2 mile I arrived at the falls. The park management has done a good job providing great locations to view and photograph the falls, and I shot from several different locations.

Each shot I experimented with vertical and landscape orientations, including a lot or a little of the nearby fall color.  Lots of great compositional possibilities of this amazing waterfalls if you work it.    The South Falls plunge 177 feet down to the valley floor.

Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm GF32-64mm, f/16, 7 seconds, iso 100
Fujifilm GFX50s, Fujifilm GF32-64mm, f/16, 4.3 seconds, iso 100

As time was running a bit short, I did not hike down the hill and explore the trail, as much as I wanted to. I was happy with the shots I had so far and could feel like it was a worthwhile trip for me.  And, I wasn’t too keen on lugging a 40lb pack of camera gear on the hilly, muddy trail 🙂

Here is a short video showing a bit more of this magnificent location.     VIDEO HERE

John Pedersen





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