Winter Waterfall Wonderland: A Weekend in New York

Icy stream © Allison Richards

Just because it's winter doesn't mean you should stop taking photos! Even though we don't take people out to far-away places in the snow and ice on workshops, we wanted to get out there and make some new images and video for our own sake - we are photographers after all. Paul had been to Watkins Glen and the Finger Lakes region before in the summer, and picked this location for our winter getaway.
It’s a six-hour drive from Eastern Massachusetts to the Lakes. We began on Thursday evening and drove through the night so we would be able to spend the whole weekend shooting. We made a few stops on the way: most notably Justine’s, an Italian restaurant in Cobleskill, NY which supplied us with what seemed like a limitless quantity of carbohydrates for the trip, just like Strega Nona's magic pasta pot from our favorite childhood story book. And it was so, so good. This seemed like a promising start...

Being careful © Allison Richards

...Until disaster struck. I came down with the beginning of that terrible cold or flu or whatever it is that’s been going around. There couldn’t be a worse time for it. What started as an itchy cough in the morning became a full-on contagion by the evening. This was for sure going to make what was supposed to be a fairly easy-going weekend into a primary caregiver job for Paul. Nope – I wouldn’t be helping with breakfast, lunch or dinner. But too late – I was in for the ride.
After some hours and lots of coughing, we made it to the first location – Taughannock Falls State Park. Of course, it was well after dark. Within seconds, literally seconds, two police cars pulled up behind us, lights flashing. This is actually a pretty common occurrence when "camping" in a parking lot to get a head start on a sunrise shoot the next morning. Most times, “we’re photographers” will suffice and they let us on our way. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay the night in the lot, so to the Wal-Motel it was.
You might think it’s pretty weird that someone would 1) sleep in the car and 2) in a Walmart parking lot, but lots of people do it – especially when your job is making the best image you can, and the best images are almost always made at sunrise. Some people even live in the Walmart parking lot; there are documentaries about it, check it out. And don’t worry Mom – we’ve got it figured out. We were plenty warm and comfortable.

Paul's winner shot of the weekend - Taughannock Falls © Paul Nguyen

With the morning comes a short drive and an oatmeal breakfast at the trailhead. Here we met up with our fellow photographer friend from Worcester, Kris Simard, who tagged along with us for the rest of the trip (Wal-Motel included). Yeah – he’s on our wavelength. We made the short ¾ mile hike to the falls, and came upon an icy waterfall on par with the ones you’d see in Iceland or the Rockies; blustery snow included. We made some really killer video here.
On overcast days like this, you can make great wispy waterfall shots using neutral density filters. Paul and I got to use our Wonderpanas which we had to buy so we could make these kinds of shots with our awesome and enormous bubble lenses. With the snow and wind, the biggest challenge was actually keeping our lenses and filters clean and not frozen over with ice - and not falling in the river.
Aaand that was it for me for the day. Time for a nap. I would not be coming out for the next shoot; I was down for the count.

As I was sleeping, Paul took us all to nearby Buttermilk Falls (which I skipped) and then to Treman Falls (which I also skipped). Paul made some pretty good shots though!

And with that, the first full day was over. We made our more-than-regular visit to Panera Bread for some tea to warm up, and did our best to reheat the now-refrozen dinners from Justine’s. I think it was about 15 degrees that night, but it felt much colder with the wind.


Icyyyyy © Paul Nguyen

An entire wall of icicles © Paul Nguyen

Shooting icicles by Shequaga Falls © Paul Nguyen

And here's one of Kris

Paul pretending to be impaled by an icicle

And after night #2 in the parking lot, we checked out Watkins Glen, which was mostly closed. It turns out that most of New York’s Park system shuts down for the winter, whereas Massachusetts’ does not. Lame. So instead we were off to Lick Brook at Sweedler Preserve to see the massive and frozen Lick Brook Falls. After a steep hike down in the snow, we made some more shots and video:

Lick Brook Falls; Paul for scale © Allison Richards

Lick Brook Falls; Paul for scale © Allison Richards

And I managed to sink my foot in the ice. And then Paul with his curiosity was dumb enough to do it too, just after I told him I fell in and not to come my way.
The hike back up was a lot tougher. Paul taught me the English Posting Gait – another outdoor skill to add to my repertoire. At the car we made some gourmet hot cocoa to warm up, and some noodles, and after a nap we began the journey back to MA.

Sweedler Preserve © Allison Richards

Since many of the New York falls were closed, we made the spontaneous decision to visit Bash Bish Falls, which is located right on the border of New York and Massachusetts. Actually, the park is split half and half across state lines – which can be confusing. First thing in the morning we hiked to the falls, but not without ice spikes – which were a necessity. The whole trail was nearly frozen over and we wouldn’t’ve made it down in one piece without them.

Our still photographs from here weren’t our favorite, but Paul made some more great video. Maybe we should just be videographers instead. Just kidding. (Am I?) No really though no one gets paid to do that.

Long exposure with the Wonderpana on the way home © Paul Nguyen

The waterfalls were just so big they really didn’t look right without some sense of scale – the ones with people in them actually came out best. Capturing panned video of the falls represented their size much better.
Our last stop was the Mass Pike Rest Area near the border where we rewarded ourselves with hot steak & cheese subs and coffee. All those calories we burned in the cold had to be put back somehow.

And a big thank you to Paul for keeping me alive with the Echinacea and Propolis throat spray from Whole foods and the vitamins and the Tylenol and soup and cocoa!