Thursday, November 22, 2012

Best Whitewater Photos - 2012

Here we are again, the end of one boating season and the start of another. This marks the time of year where I go back into my hard drives and gigs of photos to find my favorites taken throughout the passing year. Some of these photos have been selected for technical reasons (i.g. composition, lighting, etc.), some were picked because they brought me back to the place & time, and yet others where simple reminders of why I boat. So without further ado and in the order they were taken, here they are:

 Riding the Snake
One of my first shots of the season, as well as one of my first shots with a fisheye lens. Here, Shawn drops into The Snake on Upper Brice Creek (OR), and this perspective really shows you how the drop got its name. This, along with some others shots I was able to capture using this style of lens, has convinced me that it is an invaluable addition to the camera kit. For my trip report of Upper Brice, go here.

Sony NEX-3 with 16mm Lens + 10mm Fisheye Coverter
1/640 sec @ f/5 (ISO-800)

End of the Road
I love the dramatic contrast of brightly colored boats against a snowy forest backdrop, which this photo does a pretty good job of capturing. The bonus was the snow falling from the trees, which was quite timely. Another reason that I love this photo so much is that it happened to be during one of my proposed exploratory missions, on Portland Creek. Even though it’s always a gamble, it’s one of my favorite types of boating. To see my first documented descent of Portland Creek, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 18-200mm Lens (E-Mount)
1/1600 sec @ f/6.3 (ISO-800)

Kinetic Energy
Another shot from an exploratory style run, this time in the Oregon Coast Range. Here, Jacob Cruzer bags the “First D” on Osmosis Falls, who also had the honor of naming it. Although I didn’t run Osmosis that day, I got to be part of the team that made it happen, which to me is almost as thrilling, especially when you get to see your buddy run it with perfection! For my trip report of this amazing stretch of whitewater, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 18-200mm Lens (E-Mount)
1/800 sec @ f/5.6 (ISO-1600)

Flyin' Aces
This photo is simply a reminder of what kayaking is all about, having fun! Due to the sensitive nature of this drop, the location and boaters shall remain anonymous…

Sony NEX-5N with 18-200mm Lens (E-Mount)
1/1600 sec @ f/7.1 (ISO-800)

Dante's Fire
Three of my favorite things together: multi-day/self-support, big campfires, and the Middle Fork Feather! This photo was taken on the last night of our trip down the Devil’s Canyon section of the MF Feather. We found ourselves camped on an island in the middle of a class IV rapid, with plenty of driftwood for a rager that night. This is also my crew, I trust these boys with my life, and memories like this will last as long as I’m around. For the trip report of our run, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 16mm Lens + 10mm Fisheye Coverter
Anti Motion Blur mode

Bird's Eye View
Here, Alex Kilyk cuts the corner at one of the first drops on McCoy, a fantastic steep creek, located in the Cispus drainage in the Washington Cascades. As you can see from the photo, the creek runs through a lush forest setting that this area is known for. I really wanted to frame the shot with surrounding trees, as well as give the feeling of being watched, either by a bird, Colombian Guerrillas, or Bigfoot. I feel like this was achieved, which is why it found itself on this list. For a trip report of my first (and only) descent of this run, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 18-200mm Lens (E-Mount)
1/3200 sec @ f/4.5 (ISO-800)

Passion & Sorrow
2012 was a tough year for the boating community, with quite a few fatal events. Two of the most prominent runs in the Pacific Northwest, The Little White Salmon and The Green Truss, were the location of two of these. I happened to be on the river the day Jenna took her first and final trip down the LW. This was a huge loss for her family and friends, as well as the entire boating community, and reminds us all just how fragile life can be. I do take comfort in knowing that she left us doing what she loved, and the experiencing the adventure she craved. Jenna was an amazing woman that I only wish I would have gotten to paddle with a bit more and gotten to know a little better – although I know she’s with us every time we dip our paddle in the water.


Exit Light
Boulder Sluice, located on the Little White Salmon (WA), is one of the greatest drops on the planet! This quintessential water boof is about as good as it gets, assuming you nail the line. This photo of me was captured by Chris Arnold, with amazing lighting that perfectly highlights the subject matter, leaving most everything else in the shadows. I may be a bit biased, but this is one of my favorite shots of all time – Thanks Chris!

Sony NEX-5N with 18-200mm Lens (E-Mount)
1/3200 sec @ f/4 (ISO-200)
Photo by Chris Arnold

Midnight in Paradise
Apparently I like nighttime campfire shots… well yeah! This particular setting was at one of the most spectacular campsites I’ve stayed at – located just above the put-in to the China Gorge section of the Cle Elum River. Its backdrop included a cascading waterfall dropping thousands of feet down the cliff wall on the other side of the river. Along its way, the falls cut tunnels and bridges from the surrounding snowfield, which a few of us hiked up the following morning. The silhouette of this setting as well as the stars sends me back to that campsite every time I look at the photo. For a trip report of our run down the Cle Elum, as well as our hiking adventure up the snowfield, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 16mm Lens + 10mm Fisheye Coverter
15 sec @ f/2.8 (ISO-800)

Green Tongue
This one is of Chris Menges on one of the first drops on the Ohanapecosh, a true summertime classic! I had originally done this shot with a fisheye, but was not happy with the distortion it produced from the angle of the shot. This is where I really rely on Adobe LightRoom during post process to make adjustments. Using the distortion slider, I was able to pull out the barrel and essentially turn it into an ultra-wide shot, which I feel works much better. For the trip report from the Ohane, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 16mm Lens + 10mm Fisheye Coverter
1/1250 sec @ f/8 (ISO-400)

Throwin' Elbows
Here’s another from the same trip on the Ohane, this time of Dan Rubado entering Elbow Room. For this shot I feel the fisheye produced a very interesting shot, especially when combined with the rule of thirds. Once again, post processing saved this shot, where I was able to use fill lighting to bring Dan out of the shadows.

Sony NEX-5N with 16mm Lens + 10mm Fisheye Coverter
1/1250 sec @ f/6.3 (ISO-400)

Taking it in
Some of my favorite whitewater shots are simply capturing the surroundings, rather than a boater huckin’ his/her meat. Here, Chris Arnold takes it in at Shepherds Falls on the Lower Wind River, WA. Another summertime classic, the falls provide entertainment to class V boaters when nothing else is running, as well as allowing up and coming creek boaters to work on running waterfalls in a relatively safe environment (depending on water level). For a trip report of our run down this summertime playground, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 18-200mm Lens (E-Mount)
1/1000 sec @ f/5.6 (ISO-400)

Number 3
Another one from Shepherds Falls, with Chris Menges running the third drop. When taking photos, my goal is almost always to compose the scene differently than anything else I’ve seen. Since so many people take whitewater photos, and there are only so many perches to shoot from, this can be difficult; however, sometimes it only requires you to change a lens or lay/stand. For this one, I used an ultra-wide lens, which flattened and stretched out the drop pretty dramatically – this created a perspective I’ve not seen yet, even though many photos have been taken from this exact same spot. It also doesn’t hurt that Chris is runnin’ it in style.

Sony NEX-5N with 16mm Lens + 12mm Ultra-Wide Coverter
1/640 sec @ f/7.1 (ISO-400)

Making it Count
So here I am again, this time running the big falls on Callaghan Creek, BC. The reason I love this photo so much is that I’d been dreaming about this drop for a long time, and it didn’t disappoint. Since it’s cliffed out, you only get one shot at this bad boy, so I was really glad my line went as planned. Furthermore, the lighting was just about perfect, and fairly rare from what Adam, the photographer, was telling me. For my trip report of Callaghan Creek, go here.

Sony NEX-5N with 18-200mm Lens (E-Mount)
1/1000 sec @ f/8 (ISO-200)
Photo by Adam Frey

Focal Point
Another one of those photo goofs that ended up giving an unexpectedly nice (and possibly better) result. Here, at Big Brother, I had meant to focus on Chris (Arnold), but since I was a little slow on the draw, I inadvertently focused on the wall near the bottom of the drop. What it does is give you is the perspective from Chris’ eyes, as well as leading you to where he will eventually end up – to me, a much better way of presenting the story than if I had focused on him. Bottom line, some of the best shots happen by accident.

Sony SLT-A57 with Tamron 17-50mm
1/1600 sec @ f/2.8 (ISO-400)

If this wasn’t a carnage photo, you could certainly accuse me of being a little vain, since this is the third photo of me in the line-up… So how the hell could this be one of my favorite photos? Well, for one, sometimes a slice of humble pie is good for the soul, and frankly, it’s also a good reminder that no matter how many times you run a drop successfully and/or with style, the river still demands respect. Another reason I like it is, it’s also pretty damn funny. To see the video that this screen shot was taken from, go here.

GoPro screen grab

So there you have it, my favorite kayaking photos of 2012. Stay tuned as I dig though more gigabits to find my favorite mountain biking photos of the year...


  1. thanks for posting these, nate. they're great.

  2. I hate to be the grumpy old guy but the Little Luck was being talked about by some good boaters way back in '99 when the gates were always open. With the waterfalls marked on the map and access pretty easy, it's hard to think these didn't get run then or even earlier when folks weren't blogging unless it was totally jammed with wood. Also, considering the lower section is actually in the guidebook and written by a guy that did some major Oregon exploring....

    Just wish it wasn't necessary to label things "First D" or first documented descent.

    Great pics, though. Love the one on Sneaky Snake.


  3. With photos like this you should have a "donate" link somewhere! Great work!

  4. Thanks for the kind words, guys!