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.  This summer I am ready for some practice. I have been chasing waterfalls across the Midwest.

Whether you have photography goals or just love hiking, waterfalls sweeten the pot and 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 some of the rivers and creeks. These maps were found on

The photographic techniques require an understanding of the exposure triangle of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.  This triangle has honestly taken me a year to develop a comfort level. I am not going to go into great details here on these concepts.   But suffice it to say that the three work together to create a sharp, clear well-lit image.  The photographer needs to find the perfect balance for each shot, as one component changes the others most be 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.

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.










The equipment needed is a Neutral Density filter to make the lens dark for the long shutter opening in a daylight shot, and a sturdy but portable tripod.  I am not totally thrilled with these shots yet, but I am getting closer.  Usually my hiking friends don’t like to stand around as mosquito fodder as I set up my tripod and putz around with this process.  However, this year my husband the drone pilot has something to keep him distracted.

Back to chasing 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 U.P. 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.
chasing waterfalls
Very cool suspension bridge crossing to the east side of the Black River










chasing waterfalls
A typical shot using fast shutter speed and low ISO to get a crisp image of moving water.







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.












Gorge Falls











And of course no post is complete without a drone shot….


The drone flying down through the Black River gorge.


Taum Sauk Creek: Our trip to the Ozarks Trail in Missouri was last summer and my chasing waterfalls photos were still green.  The Ozarks have a few river gorge areas that create waterfalls.  Honestly, the caves in the area are far cooler and equally as challenging to photograph. Another goal…..

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