Red Fork Falls(4/21/2010, 18 mm, f/20, 0.8 sec, ISO 100)
This waterfall is fairly well known locally. Located on top of Unaka Mountain, the drive and scenery to and from Red Fork Falls is spectacular, especially in the Fall when the views from Unaka Mountain rival anything in the Smokies. After going to the waterfall I highly recommend heading on up the mountain and taking in the view at Beauty Spot and other overlooks. You won't be disappointed. See Mark Peacock's excellent description on the drive.
The waterfall itself is very nice, albeit a bit challenging to photograph. The terrain is very steep along the side and certainly not appropriate for small children - or clumsy adults for that matter. However, the waterfall is worth the effort and there is more room at the base to relax and enjoy the view. At the right time of year, the rhododendrons will make this a spectacular photo op. There are many smaller waterfalls both upstream and downstream of the main drop but I didn't have time to explore this time.
High resolution versions of the pictures seen here can be found in my waterfall photo gallery.
The waterfall is not signed, nor does it have an official parking area of any sort, so grab the GPS coordinates and/or use the map below for exact details.
FFrom I-26 head south/east, take Exit 32 for TN-173. Turn left (east) and head towards Unicoi, TN. At the three-way, turn right to continue on 173. In about 0.7 miles turn left on TN-107. Follow this highway up the mountain and into the Cherokee National Forest. After about 7.7 miles you will turn onto Red Fork Rd (also known as Unaka Mountain Rd). After about 1.1 miles start looking for a small parking area on the right. It looks like an old 4-wheeler trail starts there and also has a tree with a big red dot spray painted on it. There's your sign.
You can also use the following link to customize your own directions to Red Fork Falls.
View Red Fork Falls in a larger map
From the parking lot head down the 4-wheeler trail. At the bottom it gets a little tricky to find the trail. Cross the creek and continue to the right. Cross another creek and then if you keep meandering to the right you should start to hear the waterfall. You are at the top of Red Fork Falls. I don't recommend messing around here. The rocks are slick and the view of the waterfall isn't any good. Just keep going down. It is a steep climb - a combination of tree and root holding, rock climbing, and praying. Ok, maybe it isn't that bad but still, be very careful. Wear good shoes.
Try working the rhododendron bushes into the composition. Also, the "trail" goes right by the side of the waterfall so a close-up photo from the side is easy to do with a tripod. See the third photo on the left.
As always I recommend the use of a polarizer to cut down on reflections.
You'll need a wide-to-normal zoom lens here in the 18-55 mm range because of the proximity to the waterfall and its size.
Without cloud cover this waterfall will be exposed at mid-day. However, since it faces mostly north it will be shaded for significant portions of the winter months.
A slow shutter speed will blur the waterfall and make for a nicer picture, especially with the moderately low water flow. In summertime a slow shutter speed will be a must. Again, you'll need a tripod for any exposures over about 1/60th second and you'll need shutter speeds in the 0.25 seconds or greater to do justice to this waterfall.
The dynamic range or contrast at this waterfall is high with the combination of white water and very dark bedrock. Most of my pictures are actually multiple photos that I combined in Photoshop. If you expose correctly for the waterfall so it doesn't wash out the dark green leaves and rocks end up very dark, whereas exposing for the leaves and rocks will wash out the waterfall. Again, using a tripod allows one to easily take multiple exposures with the same location and composition. Bracket, bracket, bracket.
There were obviously more small waterfalls that could be seen and heard from here but I didn't have time to explore. Next time, right?
Here you go.