Igwazu Falls

This wall of water greets the visitor when emerging from the elevator on the lower level. © Jerry Ginsberg

Story and Photography by Jerry Ginsberg

Water is much on our minds these days. From discussions about climate change to concerns over adequate supplies of drinking water in some areas of the planet, water is a hot topic. Without question, life would not be possible without it. Whole civilizations have risen and prospered on its reliability and several have fallen without it.

If you want to see and photograph more fresh water in one place than ever before, think about going to immense Igwazu Falls on the Argentina – Brazil border. These enormous cascades, the very largest waterfall system in the entire world, flow through a total of 275 drops in the Rio Igwazu as they straddle the international border. In order to see them all, you will need to visit both Igwazu National Park on the Argentine side and Parque Nacional Foz Igwacu in Brazil.

This type of aerial view can be seen from a helicopter.  Short rides are available near the border. © Jerry Ginsberg

In my experience, the light on the giant cascades in Argentina is better in the morning, while the vast expanse of the falls on the Brazilian side will show better in afternoon light. Since these two sides are just a short drive apart, this turns out to be a very happy arrangement. With the use of a rented car, taxis or a hired car and driver, you can just keep crossing and re-crossing the international border while following the light.  If renting, make sure to check insurance regulations on crossing the border.

When you arrive at the park entrance in Argentina the very first thing in the morning, board the little tram train and head for El Gorga del Diablo (Throat of the Devil).

This is an immense width of falling water seen from a large viewing platform filled with your fellow tourists. To maneuver your way to the railing at the front, just go slowly and keep smiling and nodding. “Permissio” is the Spanish word for “excuse me” and comes in very handy.

It may not be possible to eliminate the hotel on the left in the far distance from your composition, but it is tiny and easily dealt with in post-production.

Twin falls on the Argentine side in morning light. © Jerry Ginsberg

In addition to this prime spot, make sure to get to the twin falls called Dos Hermanos (Two Brothers) and the vast and often crowded Salto San Martin.  After spending at least half the day exploring the Argentine side of mighty Igwazu, it’s time to head north to Brazil and Parque Nacional Foz Igwacu.

When arriving at the border, you will need to show the visa in your passport, required to enter Brazil, and may be asked to park your vehicle and step into the border control station. This is perfunctory and should take only about five minutes.

Immense width of the falls on the Brazilian side.  From the lower level of the elevator. © Jerry Ginsberg

After arriving at the park’s visitor center on the Brazilian side, buy your ticket and board the mandatory bus for the short ride to the first of three or four stops along the short route through the falls.  Distances are relatively small, so after the first stop, walking along the small road from one location to another can be your best option.  Some of the locations feature elevators affording the opportunity to descend to a lower viewpoint, so make sure to check the compositions from both above and below.  Don’t miss either!

Rainbows appear here on sunny afternoons. From the lower level of the elevator. © Jerry Ginsberg

Afternoon light is best here, but as when photographing most any moving water, when a passing cloud softens the otherwise harsh direct sunlight, your prospects of coming away with a winning image are greatly improved. Using a split neutral density filter, exposure bracketing and / or some mild HDR will help to even out the illumination from a bright sky often present here when shooting from some of the many viewpoints. A polarizer or solid ND filter will be very helpful in slowing down your shutter speed to provide just the right degree of blur in the falling water. On the other hand, with this great volume of water, shutter speeds that are too slow can create a harsh white mass that can ruin your image. Speeds of around 1/4 – 1/3 second should work pretty well. Exposure bracketing using aperture priority will provide needed insurance. Make sure to use a solid tripod, even if you have the very latest in stabilization technology.

Even though the subject is water, water and more water, the many different shapes and configurations of the various cataracts will themselves become compositional elements. Take the opportunity to go slowly and use them to their best advantage.

Morning on the Argentine side of this enormous complex of cascades is a popular tourist draw. © Jerry Ginsberg

All of this falling water generates enormous amounts of mist. Add direct sunlight and you have the two ingredients needed to create rainbows. The trick in capturing these wonderful natural phenomena lies in knowing where to stand.  Once the light strikes the mist directly, you will need the light source (the sun) at your back in order to achieve the maximum effect.

Even with this front light, using a polarizing filter can increase the spectral colors of your rainbow. Make sure to rotate the filter completely before deciding on a position: using the wrong axis can significantly diminish or even lose the rainbow. Of course, the polarizer will also affect your shutter speed so you may be juggling conflicting priorities here.  You might also wish to carry a chamois or micro fiber cloth to wipe the quickly accumulating spray from your gear.

Don’t be deterred by concerns over language. Having a command of Spanish or Portuguese is certainly not necessary. A few very basic words and lots of sign language will prove more than adequate. As in most Western countries, the folks involved in tourism speak lots of English.

Important Note: While U.S. Passport holders can enter Argentina very easily without a special visa, a separate visa is required to enter Brazil. Make sure to apply for it at least 8-10 weeks in advance of your departure.

“Brazil requires U.S. citizens to carry a valid U.S. passport and a Brazilian visa when traveling to Brazil for any purpose. You must obtain your Brazilian visa in advance from the Brazilian Embassy or Consulate nearest to your place of residence in the United States.” (From U.S. Department of State.)

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs.  He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards in competition.

Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.

More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at www.JerryGinsberg.com

Or email him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com