Taken at Stirling Falls in Milford Sound, New Zealand on May 4th, 2018.
Stirling Falls in Milford Sound is surely one of the world’s most unique waterfalls. First of all, it’s tall, stretching nearly 500 feet in a pure, elegant drop from its precipice down to the rocks at its base where it crashes and splatters in cacophonous melody. If it ever looks small it’s only because it’s being dwarfed by the mile-high mountains surrounding it that erupt almost vertically out of the fjord. Secondly, the waterfalls leaps into space only to land directly on the ocean below it. There is no land to interrupt the descent; it’s a free-fall with a salt water landing. The height of the falls and the ocean landing contribute directly to the third unique thing about the waterfall: if the flow of water and the direction of wind is just right, a marvelous display of interference patterns appears at the base of the falls, radiating out from the crash zone like so many jagged rings of electricity. The electricity extends from the waterfall to you. Something about the sounds, the grandeur, the dancing mists, and the beauty of the location makes your hair stand on end, and causes energy to course through your body.
I’ve photographed Stirling Falls from a boat about half a dozen times now and while the experience is always incredible, this particular voyage was the first time I saw these radiating lines of force. As we rounded the cliff to reveal the falls I was dialing in my settings and snapping a few quick test shots to ensure my exposure was spot on. The boat spends 3-4 minutes at the falls, though in the moment it only feels like seconds. And so for me it’s an adrenaline-fueled race against time. My senses start to tingle and my fingers get itchy. On this trip I started off photographing some intimate scenes with my longer lens but as soon as I saw the patterns at the base of the falls I switched over to my wide angle and began snapping away. I had only enough time to create 20 frames over the course of 55 seconds before the boat started to rotate out of position and back away from the falls. But those 55 seconds were some of the most breathtaking and exciting of that particular trip to New Zealand, and they kept me grinning the rest of the day. Even as I write this I am reliving the excitement of the moment and feeling the joy and exuberance wash over me in little electric waves.