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September 16, 2012

Majestic Falls

by Jim

Majestic FallsThis is Majestic Falls, the main waterfall at McDowell Creek Falls county park, just outside Lebanon, Oregon.

(Click here to view the interactive picture in a new tab.)

Majestic Falls is about 39 feet high, and runs year-round. This picture was taken in November 2008, when the flow was starting to increase. There is another, larger viewing platform at the top of the falls, not quite visible in this picture. A trail starts at that viewing area and loops through the forest, veering away from the creek a little. It’s very beautiful, and this VR shows what it looks like on the trail.

The park itself has four nice waterfalls of different types. Two of them have good access from developed trails, while the other two are a little less developed but still accessible. Royal Terrace Falls is a 119 foot waterfall that flows down layers of rock forming a natural terrace. The bottom of the falls can be easily viewed from a bridge that crosses the creek, while stairs lead to a beautiful area at the top. Crystal Falls is a 14-foot cascade that is easily viewed at a distance from the trail, but requires a scramble to get to the waterfall itself. Lower McDowell Creek Falls is a 20 foot cascade that has no developed paths to it, but the bottom is accessible at several areas by some well-worn and easy unofficial paths.

The park is very easy to get to. A sign on Highway 34 shows where to turn, just a couple miles east of Lebanon. For the most part, just follow the road up into the hills. For details, here is the location on Google Maps.

There are three parking areas. The first is near Lower McDowell Creek falls, and only a short walk from Royal Terrace Falls. It is the only one with rest rooms, and has a number of picnic tables among the trees. The second parking area gives access to several trails, and is between Royal Terrace and Crystal Pool falls. The third parking area is at the top of Majestic Falls. Stone steps lead to the upper viewing platform, while sturdy wooden stairs take you to the lower one, where this VR was taken.

Maps of the park are hard to find online, but here’s a copy of the one on the signs: McDowellCreekFallsMap.pdf. Also, here is the county’s web page:

This particular picture was one of my earliest spherical panoramas, in which the viewer can pan up and down as well as left and right. Early enough that I had not yet learned how to remove the tripod at the bottom. Also early enough that it was before the mount was carefully calibrated. I had just bought a new mount for taking spherical shots. New mounts require some calibration to produce pictures that stitch together well. Without that, there is a danger of artifacts in the final result, and in fact, there is a small error in this picture. I’d be curious to know how many people can spot it. 🙂

Controlling the shutter speed is really important when taking waterfall pictures, because they look much, much different with different exposure times. Short exposures freeze the action, while long exposures give the kind of flowing look seen here. Taking a VR generally requires a small aperture in order to get large depth of field. All other things being equal, this will result in slower shutter speeds for a given exposure. That’s the case here, which is why the waterfall’s appearance is smooth.

This is another example of how VR pictures can result in huge dynamic range. In this case there is a dark shadow area on the underside of the ledge, while the sky is very bright. This picture was only a single exposure (no HDR), so there was no way to make both of those work. These days I tend to use HDR, and take many different exposures in order to generate a single shot. It definitely takes more work, and I’m still figuring it out.

I hope to take more pictures in this park, and may eventually make a virtual tour.

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