Brian Stowell: Dry Creek Falls, Oregon

The Image

Brian Stowell

Dry Creek Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, USA

Time / Date:
13:01 / March 11, 2014

The Technical

Camera Body: Canon 7D
Lens: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
Support: Manfrotto 294 Carbon Fiber Tripod

Camera Settings:

Shutter Speed: 1/2s
Aperture: f/11
ISO: 200
Focal Length: 11mm (16mm full-frame equivalent)

The Story


By day, I’m a concert photographer — shooting bands on tour in dark clubs and small spaces. When I return home from long tours I take to the forest where I find silence and isolation and the time and space to think and not be rushed. I saw photos of Dry Creek Falls from another adventure photographer on Instagram and knew I had to see it for myself. I set out on these hikes, primarily to see the sights. Photographing them is just a happy byproduct. I couldn’t really enjoy myself out there if I was constantly worrying about getting “the image”.

The Scene: 

Dry Creek Falls rests at the end of Dry Creek trail, accessible via its own trailhead or the slightly longer, more scenic Pacific Crest Trail (a 2600 mile long trail stretching from Washington state to Mexico!). Starting from the Bridge of the Gods, it’s a 2 mile hike through moss and lichen covered pine and fir forests, volcanic rocks, and chattering birds. The falls’ carved out theatre of moss covered basalt walls sort of envelopes you in and draws you towards the rushing water at the center. I posted up on either side of the creek for my shots.


I packed pretty light for my hike. My Canon 7D, Tokina 11-16mm, Canon 50mm (that I never touched) and a big, bulky Manfrotto tripod. I don’t have a travel tripod yet. So, I looked pretty ridiculous with this huge thing sticking out of the top of my backpack. The ultra wide, ultra sharp Tokina 11-16 makes forests appear bigger and trails look wider. And was almost a requirement for really showing off the beautiful walls surrounding Dry Creek Falls. My 11-16 and I are best friends. I love ultra wide — even when it’s the wrong lens. I just love the space and depth it provides.

Making the Shot:

Even though I don’t own a neutral density filter I HAD to try to get that classic milky water effect. Thankfully it’s darker and colder and wetter at the falls, than in the rest of the surrounding forest, suppressing some of the midday lights, and allowing me to overexpose ever so slightly and not blow out the entire frame. After steadying my tripod and lining up the composition I spent 10-15 minutes taking different exposure lengths. Only about 5 of my shots were actually usable, as the spray coming off of the falls drenched everything around them. I spent a lot of time wiping down the lens.

Editing & Processing:

I was worried I wouldn’t have any usable shots, due to all the spray. But a little sharpening and clarity and contrast bumps really took the few shots that made it to the next level. I also brought the exposure down half a stop to compensate for the in camera overexposure. Concert photography has taught me to edit light and fast. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Looking Back:

Really, all I hoped to achieve was to go on an adventure, see something beautiful, and maybe come home with something to prove I did it. My iPhone photos of the falls look great, too. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t satisfaction in getting a great photo of a natural wonder that will inspire another person to go on their own adventure.


Bring a lighter tripod. Get started earlier in the day. Don’t forget to enjoy the forest around you and not just the hope that your photos came out perfect.


Adventure photography is rewarding on two levels. The sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when you’re tired and sore but remember all of the incredible things you saw. And the few amazing images you might take along the way. I love look at other adventurers on Instagram, Flickr, and Tumblr and where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

About the Photographer

Brian Stowell is a Portland, OR based photographer, who shoots concerts for work and adventures for fun.

Twitter: /@brianstowell
Instagram: @brianstowell

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