Chasing Waterfalls: A Location Review of Hopetoun and Beauchamp Falls / by Simon Ng

I love taking photos of things that are moving: water, trains, people, cars. Waterfalls move, and they're often in beautiful places, so I've made it a bit of a mission to photograph all the major waterfalls in Victoria. A project of sorts. I'm going to document each location, tell you what gear you need, and give advice on techniques and timing. And I'll show you some of my shots to illustrate what you'll see. So read on and prep for your next photo holiday.

Destination

In this location review, I'm covering two of the most beautiful waterfalls in Victoria's Otway Ranges, one on the Aire River and the other on Deppeler Creek. Hopetoun and Beauchamp Falls are a little further off the beaten track that the more well known waterfalls in the area, but well worth the time and effort. 

Hopetoun Falls

The two falls in this post are actually really close together--perhaps six kilometres apart. Hopetoun Falls in the Otway Ranges is the better known of the two, and is probably one of the top three watefalls to visit in the Otways, not only because of its fall (between 45 and 49m) and its idyllic location in the wilderness outside the town of Beech Forest, but because of its character and its positioning in a secluded cleft deep in temperate rainforest.

Plan to spend at least an hour on location, and if you're heading here during the peak travel season, don't expect to have the place to yourself.

ISO 100 | 0.8s | F/22 | 28mm

ISO 100 | 0.8s | F/22 | 28mm

Vehicle Access: Gravel road, suitable for most vehicles.

Foot Access: The first viewing platform is an easy walk from the car park, but to get down to the Aire River requires a steep descent. Spend the time to go down to the river, because the best photography is down near the falls. When it's wet, be very careful on the stairs, especially if you have your camera in your hand. People with mobility impairment should not plan to take the descent. Take a torch if you plan to be on the path after dark.

Opening Hours and Cost: Access is 24 hours a day and free.

Time: At least an hour to explore camera positions, soak up the scenery and find a view without any other onlookers in it (unless you want to feature them in your frame). 

Fitness Level: Moderate. Steep inclines on foot.  

 

Beauchamp Falls 

Perhaps less well regarded than Hopetoun Falls, Beauchamp Falls is approximately 10 minutes to drive from Hopetoun Falls followed by a 1.25 km walk from the car park to the viewing platform, with some fairly steep descents. The falls are smaller, a 20 to 25 metre drop, and the less well developed track heading down to it make it a little less popular, although it does have a great campsite at the head of the trail that serves as the perfect place to do an overnighter if you want to explore both falls and other nearby attractions over a couple of days.

I prefer Beauchamp Falls because of the large pool that sits at the base of the waterfall and the heavy fernery that lines the cliff face either side, lending it a fairy tale character. It also has a nice staggered fall that provides extra visual interest. Get away from the viewing platforms (although they do offer great shots) and get a new angle from the middle of the creek for a more individual photograph.

ISO 400 | 13s | f/11 | 19mm

ISO 400 | 13s | f/11 | 19mm

Vehicle Access: Gravel road, suitable for most vehicles.

Foot Access: Access is via a 1.25km walking track that is well maintained and picturesque. Steps and a short footbridge tell you when you're near the fall. After walking down into the valley, you can either shoot from the platform (which is actually a good spot) or jump the fence, walk along a short path that runs parallel to the river, and then wade out into the water. The walk is long and can be muddy after wet weather. I recommend against trying it in the dark without a torch.

Opening Hours and Cost: Access is 24 hours a day and free. 

Time: At least an hour and a half to get to the falls, explore camera positions, soak up the scenery and find the best view. Other travellers are less likely at this location.

Fitness Level: Moderate.  

 

Location and Equipment Advice

Camera, Lenses & Filters

You'll obviously need a camera, but aim for one with a bulb setting to give you flexibility in terms of exposure time; useful if you want to create that silken water feeling. A wide angle lens is preferable as well, with all the photos shown here shot at or below 35mm focal length (see the notes under each photo for settings). A longer lens might work if you want to compress the scene, but anything over 70mm is likely to be too long for the fairly tight space and the height you need to capture.

Take neutral density filters if you have them. You can narrow the aperture and reduce the ISO to lengthen exposure time, but even with these set as small as I could get them I could only get an exposure time of about 1 sec without an ND filter.

Also make sure you have a filter cloth or three so you can dry your lenses between shots. 

Clothing & Umbrella

You can make photographs at both sites from the viewing platform, and actually these are both good spots in terms of composition. If that's the case, all you'll need is a sturdy pair of shoes (preferably hiking boots) and a weather proof coat if the weather is wet.

However, if you want to try alternate positions like the ones I've used, then be prepared to wade into the creek. If you plan to do this, you have a couple of options: either take water shoes, which provide grip, or use your bare feet with rolled up trousers. Either way, pack a travel towel to dry off. 

Take an umbrella or a rain cover for your camera to protect the lens from spray from the fall and from any wet weather.  Shower caps work well as rain covers, although I have the Vortex Storm Jacket.

Consider a rain cover for your backpack: protect your camera gear!. The weather can turn quickly in these mountains, so being prepared for rain is the best policy if there is any indication of possible showers.

Tripod 

You'll want a tripod to take long exposure shots.  Plan on putting it in the flowing water: make sure it's secure, either by using spikes or by wedging it between rocks and using a tether attached to your body. Clean it afterwards. 

Which days?

Overcast days are best for shooting waterfalls: dappled sunlight tends to make these sorts of scenes messy. The hours or days after rain will provide a stronger fall. The falls tend to be thinner in the summer months, but the paths are drier and the spray from the falls is reduced, making it easier to keep your lens dry. I prefer shooting in autumn or winter after considerable rain, and to hell with the damn spray and having to clean the lens constantly! 

Location Photography Advice

Get into the flow of the river at both locations and make it part of your composition. Frame the waterfalls using the heavy foliage that grows up the sides of the valley. Pick a feature in the river as your foreground subject, but make sure you have front to back focus, either by using a very narrow aperture and the hyper focal length or by taking two to three shots and exposure blending. If you can't get at least a 0.8 sec exposure time, use a neutral density filter. Get low if you can with the camera, but watch the water. 

At Hopetoun Falls, walk downstream to get a longer shot of the Aire River as it runs away from the falls. The Aire River itself is a worthy subject for photography. And at Beauchamp Falls, try to take at least one shot from the viewing platform because it does offer a more common but still interesting perspective.

What's Next

After these two falls, I'll be following up in a couple of weeks with two more falls from nearer to Melbourne. Sign up if you'd like to find out about more iconic places to capture nature in Victoria. And please hit that share button...