Great Falls Park

Watching the Falls by Todd Henson

A lone photographer watching, and photographing, Great Falls along the Potomac River.

One morning years ago I was photographing the falls at Great Falls Park in Virginia. This is the location where the Potomac River narrows and drops in elevation, creating these amazing rapids and water falls. You can return to this location over and over and see something different each time as seasons change, water levels fluctuate, atmospheric conditions shift, and people enter or leave the scene.

I love photographing these falls. They are such a grand and powerful example of nature so very close to Washington, D.C. This morning there was a layer of fog hugging the river, obscuring the distant elements in the scene. Fog can be a natural way of simplifying a photograph, helping to focus our attention on one element or another.

What drew me to the scene this day was the lone photographer standing on the rocks to the upper left. He was framing a shot of the falls just as I was, but my shot included him. I like the lone figure, hunched over his tripod, concentrating on the falls. Such a grand scene, enveloped in a layer of fog, and this lone photographer.

There are times I prefer including only the natural elements of the scene, just rocks, plants, water, wildlife, but not people. Other times including a person can add a sense of scale to the scene. It can also affect the mood or emotion of the image. Perhaps the viewer will imagine themselves as the person in the scene. Or maybe they will wonder about the person and their story, what brought them here, what they are thinking or feeling.

Watching The Falls is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products.



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2017 Great Falls Race: Working the Race by Todd Henson

The Potomac River rushes by as people prepare for the race. A slalom pole can be seen to the left hanging over the river.

In previous posts I’ve shared photographs of the racers in the 2017 Great Falls Race, an annual whitewater event on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. where kayakers and canoeists compete on the Class V rapids. In this post we take a look at some of the people who work the race, setting it up, monitoring and running it, and providing safety support when needed. Without these people there would be no race.

Working the race involves first getting to the edge of the river. People arrive by boat, haul their boat onto land, then set up at the edge of the river.

The folks who work the race arrive just as the contestants do, by kayak, canoe, or boat, over the river to the rocks on either side of the race lines. They have to haul their boats out of the water then hike over the rocks to the waters edge.

Some locations are more difficult to get to than others.

Setting up near the finish line to the race. This is below the last large fall.

Some of them run lines across the river to mark parts of the race. Some of the lines will hang the slalom poles which can be lowered during the slalom portion of the race and raised back out of the way during the classic race.

Lines are run across the river before the race.

Securing one end of a line to the rocks.

Some of the lines they run are safety lines to assure they don’t get swept away if they fall into the water. These are world class rapids with large volumes of water moving very quickly. You can see many of the people on the rocks have these safety lines.

People setup on both sides of the river.

Notice all the lines, some marking parts of the race, some hanging slalom poles, others for safety.

There are also people strategically staged along the course in kayaks ready to assist anyone who needs it in the water. Thankfully, it isn’t needed very often, but it’s good to have that support there when it is needed.

Sometimes people need assistance in the water when their boat overturns and they get pulled out into the river.

These races involve a lot of people, both in the race and behind the scenes. To any of you out there who do work these events, setting them up, tearing them down, working the river, know that your efforts are noticed and appreciated.

These amazing whitewater events are possible because of the hard work of the many people who work behind the scenes, along the river, and on the river.

A wide angle view showing the large numbers of people on the rocks. Some are race contestants, others are working the race.



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2017 Great Falls Race: Classic Race Winning Run by Todd Henson

Geoff Calhoun won the Classic race and was the overall race winner in the 2017 Great Falls Race, part of the annual Potomac River Festival. This is a whitewater event where kayakers and canoeists from all over congregate in the Washington, D.C. area to run some of the amazing Class V rapids along the Potomac River. The Classic race is a race for speed that in 2017 was run along the Virginia lines, which included the features: U-Hole, S-Turn, and the Spout.

Great Falls on the Potomac River showing major features. The 2017 race ran the Virginia lines.

Below are a sequence of photographs I captured showing Geoff Calhoun during his downriver final. Click on any of the photos for a larger view.

U-Hole

The race began just above U-Hole. Watch as his kayak dips down after going over that first rapid. You can see one of the suspended poles that was used during the slalom event, but it has now been raised up out of the way of the racers. Also notice all the crew and fellow racers along the rocks, most tethered to the rocks.

S-Turn

With U-Hole behind him, Geoff maneuvers his way into S-Turn, taking it from the top for a fast run straight through. He runs a line very close to the rocks on the left side before almost completely disappearing in the center of the turn. After emerging from S-Turn he straightens himself out quickly to continue moving downriver. In a couple of the latter photos you can see another of the slalom poles suspected high over the river.

The Spout

The Spout is the last major feature of the race and is the tallest individual drop at around 20 feet. Geoff angles himself right into the heavy flow of water and flies over the waterfall. The heavy spray of water at the base of the fall almost completely obscures him and his kayak, with just his helmet and paddle visible. That’s when I lost sight of him. It was a short sprint from there to the finish line.

Geoff Calhoun won the race with a downriver final time of 53.89 seconds, bettering his qualifier run of 56.88 seconds.



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