Stirling Falls in Milford Sound is surely one of the world’s most unique waterfalls. It’s a tall falls, stretching nearly 500 feet in a single, elegant drop from its precipice down to 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. Secondly, the waterfall 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. And on the day I took this photo I felt that electricity extending from the waterfall directly to me.
The only way to reach Stirling Falls is by boat. I’ve taken that voyage many times, and the experience is always exciting. But on this particular day the patterns at the base of the falls were the best I’ve ever seen. As we rounded the cliff to reveal the falls I dialed in my settings and snapped a few quick test shots to ensure my exposure was perfect. I knew the boat would only spend a few minutes at the falls, so I had to be prepared. As we drew close to the base of the waterfall and I saw the stunning patterns radiating from the bottom, my adrenaline surged and I began shooting purely on instinct. The roar of the water, the dancing mists, and the elegant grandeur of the scene gave me goosebumps, and caused energy to course through my body.
It was a matter of composing, focusing, taking a shot, then wiping spray from the front of my lens. I repeated that cycle as quickly as I could, but I still had only enough time to capture 20 frames over the course of one minute before the boat started to rotate out of position and back away from the falls. But that one minute was one of the most breathtaking and exciting I’ve ever had in New Zealand, and it kept me smiling the rest of the day. Even now when I look at this photo and recall my experience that day, the exhilaration of the moment washes over me in electric waves.