Learn about beautiful Crescent Falls, Alberta and the story behind the award-winning photograph of a lifetime by landscape photographer Dean McLeod.
Crescent Falls is a spectacular double waterfall, located on the Bighorn River in west-central Alberta, Canada. Skirting the eastern perimeter of the Canadian Rockies, it is easily accessible via a six kilometre grid road that runs northwest off the David Thompson Highway (Highway 11) between Nordegg and Abraham Lake.
With a total drop of 27 metres or 89 feet, each tier of the falls are roughly of equal height at approximately 45 feet each. Crescent Falls is a 'perennial' waterfall (which flows year round) and will render different experiences depending on when you visit.
The spring months of May and June often reveal the heaviest water flow when the snowpack from the mountains begins to melt. During the summer and fall, the volume of water will generally dissipate as the rivers run lower, and while the falls freeze over in winter, a slow flow of water continues beneath the ice, although it may not be entirely visible.
The Crescent Falls Provincial Recreation area surrounding the falls include the Bighorn River Canyon hiking trail with a distant panoramic view of the falls and surrounding mountains, along with a small campground within walking distance. For a day trip or an overnight stay, the falls are a worthy destination to experience nature at its finest.
The Quest For A Compelling Photograph
As a fine art landscape photographer, capturing nature at its best can be challenging, as the appearance of our chosen subjects can change drastically depending on a variety of factors such as season, weather conditions, and time of day.
As many of the world's most iconic and beautiful locations in nature have already been photographed countless times, creating an image of a popular subject that is unique is a tall order. Approaching a subject with fresh eyes often starts with a conceptual image in one's mind, followed by researching the area to determine if the image may even be possible to capture.
As the chances of creating a successful photograph are always increased by careful planning, my first step in researching any subject is to study it with the aid of technology, starting with programs such as Google Earth. Other advanced software designed for photography is also used that can track the position of the sun and moon in any location on the planet, on any day of the year in the past, present, and future.
The directional orientation of the subject quickly reveals whether it may be photographed at its best during soft sunrise or sunset light, or perhaps during the night with the moon and stars. I observed that Crescent Falls, when viewed straight on in many of the images I had seen, faced almost exactly due west.
Obviously, knowing the sun and moon also set in the west, the best chance of capturing the falls with dramatic skies and colourful clouds would be during sunset. But how about a second option of capturing the falls with the moon in the frame?
This was the concept that I imagined would look very unique, as I had not seen any other images of Crescent Falls at night. The moon tracking software showed that it may be possible, albeit only on a few select days throughout the year, when the shorter days of late summer or early fall would render the sky dark enough to present the scene that I was hoping for.
As the falls are in a different province from my home, I chose a day when a full moon would be present. This would give me the best chance of capturing one or both images that I had imagined, with either a beautiful sunset or maybe the moon.
However, the only factor we cannot control is the weather; there was no guarantee of coming home with anything compelling at all.
An Early Setback
After an early start and tiring eight hour drive to the falls, I arrived in mid afternoon which gave me time to orient myself and scout the area for compositional opportunities. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast with light rain, but as the weather can change quickly in the mountains, I remained hopeful for the evening ahead.
I shot the waterfalls with many different angles, positions, and focal lengths over the next few hours, finally settling in an area below the upper cascade and level with the lower tier. With my camera in a horizontal orientation, the canyon walls were not adding anything to the photographs. As the cascades were my main subject, I decided to switch to a vertical composition which focused mainly on the water and sky.
As the afternoon cloud cover cleared, it became apparent that a nice sunset image would not happen. But because I had chosen a day when the moon would be full in the night, all was not lost. I crossed my fingers and hoped that the sky would remain clear after dark, although it would be a long wait over many hours to determine if I would be rewarded.
An Award-Winning Photograph
My memory of the night that followed remains vivid to this day, and although exhilarating, was an experience that I probably would not repeat, at least not without a companion. I have to admit that it was rather unnerving, sitting alone down in the dark canyon for hours on end in the darkness, long after the last tourist had departed.
The loud roar of the water became a sensory overload, my imagination running wild with scenarios of a sudden encounter with a cougar or bear where I was perched on the rocky cliff. I turned on my trusty headlamp many times to scan the area around me for peace of mind, a fresh can of bear spray in my holster, hoping for the moon to make an appearance if my calculations had been correct.
After many hours of waiting, a glimmer of hope presented itself as the sky began to quickly brighten behind the canyon wall, up above to the southwest. My attention diverted from the wildlife to the sky when suddenly the moon appeared from behind the trees, full and overwhelmingly bright, better than I could have ever imagined.
I cannot remember if I cheered out loud, or just inside my head, as the moon slowly inched its way across the sky towards the upper falls. It was setting fast, so I shot continuously with the lingering fear that a rogue cloud would come along and ruin the moment.
I could not believe my luck when at last, the moon positioned itself directly above the upper falls in dramatic fashion. It was so bright that it reflected from the water and illuminated the canyon walls, my camera capturing the scene in sharp detail, as I was rewarded with the image of a lifetime.
Today, my fine art photograph 'Crescent Falls' remains a personal favourite, and has proudly achieved some recognition in Canada and abroad. In 2020, it was awarded first prize in the professional Night Photography category at the Fine Art Photography Awards in London, England.
That same summer, it was also chosen as the cover image for the June/July issue of Reader's Digest 'Our Canada' magazine. Additionally, it was also featured in the digital edition of Outdoor Photographer magazine in 2018 as a 'rivers and waterfalls' assignment winner.
It should be noted that unfortunately, in the time since this photograph was captured, the middle tier location where the image was taken is no longer accessible to the public. As of May 2022, due to safety concerns, access is now prohibited, and this composition is not possible.
However, Crescent Falls can still be enjoyed safely from the public viewing platform above.
Fine Art Prints
I am proud to offer Limited Edition fine art prints of 'Crescent Falls', available in three different mediums or 'Print Styles' such as Lumachrome® TruLife® acrylic, ChromaLuxe® HD waterproof metal prints, and Fujicolor® Pearl paper prints in sizes ranging from 18" to 90" tall.
Additionally, Lumachrome® TruLife® acrylic prints are available with a wide range of custom external wood frames, called Charity Editions. These stunning handmade wood frames are sourced from Italian makers Roma® and Omega®, offering endless possibilities to customize the print while blending it into your décor which adds value, depth, and permanence to the art.
I hope that you enjoyed the story behind the image, and welcome you to reach out to me at any time if you are interested in a Limited Edition fine art photography print for your home.
The world class quality of these amazing art pieces are sure to be a valuable addition to your décor, with the power to transform any room and display as a stunning showpiece to be enjoyed by your family and guests alike.