Chasing Waterfalls Across the Midwest

When I started photography two years ago one priority was to capture waterfalls.  More specifically I was fascinated by the pearly translucence of moving water in a long-exposure shot. It has taken me time to grasp the photography techniques and acquire the equipment necessary for these specialized images.  In search of practice opportunities, I have been chasing waterfalls across the Midwest.


Whether you have photography goals or just love hiking, waterfalls are always a bonus. Waterfalls abound across the states of the Midwest. Below are maps of some of the Midwest States waterfalls.  The Great Lakes States dominate the list but some of the southern states do have gorges and falls along rivers and creeks. These maps were found on



Photographing Waterfalls

The photographic techniques require an understanding of the exposure triangle of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.  This triangle took me over a year to develop a comfort level. I am not going to go into great details here on these concepts. I think the best photography tutorials around can be found on Digital Photography School. Here is a list of their articles on the Exposure Triangle. Suffice it to say, that the exposure triangle works to create a sharp, clear, well-lit image. The photographer needs to find the perfect balance of all three for each shot. As one component changes the others are modified accordingly.


When there is movement in the picture (ie rushing water) the shutter speed must be very fast to avoid blurring.  The silky water look is created by deliberately allowing the moving water to blur with a slow shutter speed.  The trick is that you need to adjust the other 2 components in order to have a properly lit image with only the water blurred and everything else in focus. Two of my early attempts below:


How Not to take a slow shutter shot. The pic turned out blurry and overexposed



Better…the water is velvety and the rest of the image is in focus.

Photography Equipment

The equipment needed is a neutral density (ND) filter to make the lens dark. This filter is necessary to prevent overexposure in a daylight long-exposure  shot. A sturdy but portable tripod is helpful in many photography settings. Long-exposure, bird shots, macro shots and heavy lenses all need a tripod.

You can see the difference in the two shot above with and without a ND filter. I am not totally thrilled with the second shot. The water has the velvety look and the focus is better but the overall image is underexposed, too dark.

Usually my hiking friends don’t tolerate my putzing around with the process of shooting long exposure. They often become mosquito fodder while I find a perfect spot, set up my tripod and get my lens ready.  However, this year my husband has a new drone. Piloting proves to be a great distraction. So, maybe I would recommend adding a drone to your equipment list.  Haha.



Midwest Waterfalls

I know that the Midwest has a reputation as fly-over farmland.  But in the middle of that heartland are the Great Lakes and many river gorges. Check out some of the waterfalls we have found.



Cascade Falls in downtown Oceola, WI These falls are on the smaller Oceola Creek as it drops 100 feet into the larger St. Croix River gorge. More about this area in my St. Croix River Region post.



Rainbow Falls, Ottawa National Forest located in the far northwest corner of Upper Michigan.  This is a long way from mainland Michigan and more likely to be part of chasing waterfalls in Wisconsin or Minnesota. There is a string of waterfalls along the Black River as it makes its way to Lake Superior.  Rainbow Falls is the last one before reaching the Great Lake.


It is about a .75 mile moderately steep hike along the east side of the river to reach these falls.

















Slow shutter as the water dives into a natural pothole





Potawatomi Falls: A short walk from the parking lot these falls are further upstream on the Black River.













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Potawatomi Falls, part of the chain of falls along the Black River flowing to Lake Superior. Can you see the yellow drone down near the water?




Gorge Falls

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Gorge Falls


One more shot of the drone….


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The drone flying down through the Black River gorge.



Now a couple of shots from the drone…


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Drone shot along the Black River in Ottawa National Forest


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Drone “selfie” in front of Rainbow Falls along the Black River



Deep in the wilderness of Missouri we found Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.   Located in the St. Francois Mountains, Taum Sauk Mountain State Park is the highest point in Missouri. We were exploring the  Ozarks Trail and along the way found the Taum Sauk Creek  and Mina Sauk Falls. You can see my chasing waterfalls photos were still green, literally and figuratively.  The Ozarks have a several river gorge areas that create waterfalls.  In addition to waterfalls, the caves in the area are very cool and equally as challenging to photograph.

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Waterfalls yet to be discovered

Ohio: Hocking Hills State Park

Minnesota: Minnehaha Park

Illinois: Starved Rock State Park

Indiana: Clifty Falls State Park


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