This is one of the best pictures I have ever taken. I wish I could say there was a lot of forethought involved in getting the composition, backlighting and focus exactly right. This picture was really a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I recognized the opportunity and took a single exposure. The fortunate result is breathtaking.
The photograph works on a number of levels. It has a moody quality I like - that is a dropoff over a waterfall, after all. That patch of light on the little mountain maple at right is the perfect counterpoint in the shade of the hemlocks to all that sunlight in the evergreens on the other side. The eye darts about like a speckled trout as the stream comes out of the woods, into the light and over the brink.
Consistent performance, however, cannot be left to chance. On another day, I took another picture near the same spot. This was three years later around the same time of year, but so much is different. There is much less subtlety, no shifting shadows. The light is flat, as the day was mostly cloudy. The leaves have turned and there is no backlight to enhance their natural color. The water level is much higher and the water itself more assertive in steely blue. The vantage point is farther back from the edge, and the edge itself is sharply defined. The motion here is entirely in the brook, and the focus is not as sharp.
I do not care much for this second picture, especially because such a finer one was possible and does, in fact, exist. It is serviceable, but it is not art.
Recognizing opportunities and having the means to take advantage of them are hallmarks of success. With photography, it comes down to skill, light and luck. This was a better day to take portraits than to animate landscapes. Sometimes inspiration comes from knowing the odds and seeking the right moment, and sometimes you just know.