A Slow Morning Down at Little Qualicum River

The grey days of winter on Vancouver Island can be excellent for photographing rivers and waterfalls. With the cloud cover, the light is even and flat so you don’t get the high zones of contrast between the dark sides of the river bottoms and the sunlit trees on the ridge above.

I’ve organized a “Slow Photographers SIG” within the Comox Valley Camera Club (the slow referring to the long exposure times that our group focuses on using when photographing water and other moving subjects, not our collective intelligence) and this weekend three of us headed down to Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park just outside of Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. I’ve been here often in the spring to photograph wildflowers (the calypso orchids are spectacular in the spring), but our objective today was creating images of the water in the Little Qualicum River.

At any time of year the waterfalls are gorgeous and it is possible to photograph them safely from fenced observation areas. The upper waterfall is a massive double drop into a steep canyon. The challenge with photographing the main falls is working to exclude things like the fencing and woody debris. It’s almost impossible.

Little Qualicum Falls
The gorgeous double-drop of the upper falls in Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
ISO 100, 16mm, f/11, 30 sec – Nikon D600, B+W 6-stop ND Filter

After the requisite photographs of the falls, we moved well upstream beyond the fencing and bridge that crosses the river and then worked very carefully down to the edge of the water where the flow was slower. A wide shelf of stone made this a relatively safe place to access the water, but a thick coat of algae made the rocks somewhat slick (and not all together photogenic) so we took things slow and were mindful of our footing and position at all times. A solo American dipper worked its way along the line of rocks upstream as we made our images.

Little Qualicum River
The Little Qualicum River flows over a shelf of rock above the upper falls.
ISO 100, 16mm, f/14, 61 sec – Nikon D600, B+W 6-stop ND Filter

Looping back on the far side of the river you get “peek a boo” views of the water at the bottom of the gorge. We found a spot where the bank was fairly gradual and a rough trail led down to the river’s edge. Again, we were very conscious of our position on the river. This location had a wide flat shelf that provided a good location to photograph the river flowing through some boulders.

Little Qualicum River
Water flows around boulders in a quiet stretch of the Little Qualicum River between the upper and lower falls.
ISO 100, 16mm, f/16, 93 sec – Nikon D600, B+W 6-stop ND Filter

At the lower falls the trail crosses over a second bridge and returns to the parking lot. A spur trail continues to follow the river downstream to another excellent fenced view point. We made our way downstream a bit further and then found a safe place to take one last photograph of the river. Again, we moved very slowly and were conscious of our footing—even the rocks well back from the river were slippery underfoot.

Below the Lower Falls
Well worn logs on the rocks above the Little Qualicum River.
ISO 100, 16mm, f/16, 61 sec – Nikon D600, B+W 6-stop ND Filter

Photographing rivers and streams in winter can be a lot of fun as long as you are well aware of your surroundings and move slowly and carefully along the edges of the water. Water flow can be fast, cold and high. Always best to take a few friends with you in case you get into trouble. Never risk your life for the sake of a photograph!

About the Photographs

These photographs were created with a Nikon D600 and the AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f4 ED lens. Most of the images were made in Manual mode to enable some flexibility with longer exposures. A B+W 6-stop Neutral Density Filter was used to lengthen the exposure time to 30 seconds or longer. The long exposures meant spending a little more time really taking in the stunning landscape. More images from the day will be posted on my portfolio site Dave Ingram Photography — prints of these images and more can also be ordered from there.