Vacation, Niagara Falls and the Dynamics of Post-Processing

A week or so ago I took off for the east coast with three intentions close to my heart:

1.  Take lots of photos.  Not just random touristy crap but shots with a sense of artistry in mind.  Shots that make me think when I get back.

2.  Do #1, but be patient and let the art come to me rather than trying to force it.

3.  Make time each day to sit down and write about whatever happened during the day.

As I sit back here in Indiana after a week…. yeah, I have to give myself a complete F-.  I took lots of photos but it was, frankly, lots of random touristy crap.  I wasn’t patient and I sure as shylock didn’t write about anything on vacation.  So here I am a week later trying to piece together the fragments of a vacation that, admittedly, was a lot of fun, but left me with more bullet points than I started out with.

One major addendum to #2 has been opened and it came to me as I sat at the kitchen table processing photos from the trip.  I realized that I was in some sort of bizarre race with myself to just put out product.  Like a McDonalds fry cook I was pushing out identical hash browns rather than trying to savor the details.  I recall during various points in the trip that I was shooting for the purposes of HDR but when I got home I couldn’t be bothered to actually do the processing required.  I’m happy to drive 20 hours across the country to take a photo, but that 60 seconds required to process it correctly… well, screw that.  I have a Facebook audience that demands instant gratification… or… wait… maybe it’s just ME that demands instant gratification.  So here we pick up a #4

4.  Be patient with post-processing, taking hours or days or weeks to generate a quality finished product rather than just a quick one.

What does this mean?  Well, many things.  Sure, you want to take the time to balance everything visually in a proper manner but this also means tagging and adding descriptions and taking the time to put down the words that go with the picture.  Sure a picture may be “worth 1,000 words” but a few scant words go a long way to making those 1,000 “words” much more meaningful.


The words I should have written last night about Niagara run somewhat along the following lines….

The night before we drove from Vermont to Buffalo in an bleary 6-hour stretch that lasted until 3am.  We pulled into the hotel in a state of paranoia about whether the desk clerk would have held our room for us so late into the night.  Luckily for our sanity, he had received instructions from his predecessor so we were not unexpected at that ungodly hour.  Mercifully, checkout was not until 12 and we used every minute of that in our beleaguered journey to the land of wakefulness.

Rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we motored onward to Niagara and my impressions of the place warrant another spate of bulletpoints.

a.  When I was a wee lad in the early 80’s traveling with my grandparents, we roamed from west coast to east and the world seemed an open book.  Sure there was kitschy  randomness but it was the exception.  Arriving at Niagara  I was stunned at just how… commercial… the whole thing had become.  My mind wandered to times 400 years previous when Samuel de Champlain stumbled upon the site and discovered this monumental natural phenomenon. It really puts into perspective how much we’ve sanitized the natural world for our consumption. We’ve taken the awesome spectacle of nature and enclosed her in guard rails. It makes a one rather sad, to be frank.

b. The number of languages spoken by the people in evidence here made me want to go back and study my German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Danish with much more attention. We spent many hours wondering “what language was that?” as we walked around listening to the varied cacophony. As a xenophile who appreciates other cultures much more than his own, it was endlessly gratifying to see people from all over the world enjoying the same bits of America which held our attention.

c. The falls is a rather striated locale. On the Canadian side, you have a casino and what looks like the most abundant accommodation. From the American side, it looks like the Canadians really have their shit together. This could be a totally wrong impression since we were passport-less on the American side and thus, completely stuck, but the other side of the river… yeah, it looked like flipping Nirvana. On this side, we had a view of the falls, mostly under construction and a huge 7-story building that someone built without any knowledge of who would actually bother to rent space in it. The first floor is a souvenir shop worthy of any good flea market and the second floor is a “made in America” shop that offers t-shirts and random unsavory food items. I’d heard that the Canadian side was “better” but I had no idea it was this unequal.

d. The American side of things offers several “attractions” for an extra fee. For $15 a person you can go out on a boat and get closer to the falls. This is the “Maid of the Mist” that’s been running for ages. The boats do go fairly close to the base of the falls and I guess… well, we didn’t choose this particular option for our extra $50 but it seems like it would be tolerable. We chose instead “The Cave of the Mist” in which you can walk up a wooden stairway and get right under the hellacious torrent of the falls themselves. Part of me is disappointed that they did this at all really. They took a natural wonder and put stairs under it after all. Another part of me … well, the part of me that stood there under the falls getting drenched was delighted by the idea. It should be noted that I intentionally didn’t take my camera to “The Cave” because of the risk involved in taking $2,000 worth of camera equipment under a waterfall. As it turns out, except for the “Hurricane” platform, my camera would have been fairly safe.

Alright, all that diatribe was pursuant to waiting for the upload to finish so let’s get on with the photos.

I was surprised… and yet not surprised… at the crowds. It wasn’t terrible on a weekday but it wasn’t exactly intimate.

From Niagra Falls, NY

It is truly amazing to think that this small overlook is the juncture between two huge lakes, one emptying into another. What’s more, it’s been a focus of human attention for millenia. No matter how the tiny humans may scurry and worry, the Earth carries on in its well-worn groove. Makes one feel more than a bit insignificant.

From Niagra Falls, NY

What strikes me here is the rocky profile under the water. For tens of thousands of years, water has poured over this rocky decline. Yet this sharp point persists, resisting a million, a billion tiny nibbles from every minuscule particle of sediment that made its way over the falls.

From Niagra Falls, NY

The Canadian side has high-rises, a casino, even a Burger King. The American side…. well, it has a flea market. I’m not exactly sure what that says about us, but taking away all that, it is a truly epic sight.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Here are my three traveling companions for the trip.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Ahhhh, the observation deck… This also leads to the “Maid of the Mist”. That attraction costs $15 per person. Luckily, the organizers were nice enough to offer a $1 trip down just to look around. This is what we paid for. It was a $4 well worth it. Not sure $60 to go out on a boat would have been similarly well received.

From Niagra Falls, NY

From the observation deck, I recalled the intent to capture the falls “as if frozen”. This is my attempt at 1/1000 of a second. Doesn’t look much different from the standard.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Here are the “Maid of the Mist” crowd.

From Niagra Falls, NY

One has to admit that taking a step back, the whole area is pretty phenomenal. This has been going on, pretty much as it is now, for thousands of years. Those glaciers did us a favor. Whether you believe in God or not, this is not a place to be taken lightly.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Looking the other direction, we have the bridge to Canada.

From Niagra Falls, NY

Laura is always chippper….

From Niagra Falls, NY

I leave you with the awesome majesty of the falls. Pounding on and on for centuries.

From Niagra Falls, NY


  1. Wow, these pictures really bring back memories! We went to Niagra in 1971 when Aaron was a tiny baby sleeping on Carol’s lap. Scott & my mom shared the cramped back seat of my old Barracuda. I’m sorry you couldn’t get to the Canadian side. The view from the top of the Skylon Tower is spectacular. Scott was four years old and said the glass elevators crawling up the outside of the Skylon looked like “bugs.”

  2. I enjoyed reading your “diatribe.” Sometimes we just have to be a tourist and take touristy photos… yours are great. My one trip to Niagara Falls was from the Canadian side, which I am told is a better view. It was January (I was on a business trip and took an extra day to see the sights) with ice and snow on the ground and pretty spectacular.

    • Yeah, I just have to let go of my need to be “productive” on vacation I guess. 🙂

      And I wondered what the place must be like in the winter. Sounds like another reason for a return trip.

  3. We visited the Canadian side a few years ago, and while the Canadian side may have it more together (beautiful park, great falls attractions) it also had “kitsch randomness”. The town itself is very rundown and overloaded with commercialism. It felt like a bad spring break trip. The little town of Niagara on the Lake, just a few miles north was wonderful and more what I expected. All that said, the Falls are wonderful and something I will never forget. Thanks for sharing your experience and your photographic hopes!

  4. Rob, what a treat to read your thoughts and see the wonderful pictures. It is rare that people open up to others like you have in these reading. I truly feel like I know you better after reading this posting. Thank you.

  5. I have seen both sides of the Fall and I assure you that the Canadian side is MUCH better. We had to crossover to the American side for a night because we had a wedding to attend the next morning, we regretted it very much. The hotels were more expensive, had terrible places to eat and looked like a ghost town.

    Don’t be fooled by the glitz on the Canadian side. It gets expensive, especially when you have a big family.

    Loved your post and photographs.

  6. Niagra Falls is beautiful! Great photos! I went there as child and this post brought back some good memories. I remember my Dad buying us all pens that had the Niagra Falls boat which floated when the pen was held vertically; the little things that amaze you as a kid! 🙂

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