2011 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Creatures of habit

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I’m not sure if this qualifies as a tradition, but any visit to Granny and Grandpa’s house on Long Island wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t make a pilgrimage to the All-American Hamburger joint in Massapequa. A juicy double-double cheeseburger, lightly salted french fries, and a creamy strawberry milkshake are usually followed by a short drive down to Robert Moses State Park and a walk on the beach beside the Fire Island Lighthouse. This was Christmas Eve, and the low winter light still provided some warmth, the ocean views were spectacular, and the quiet stroll helped work off what was a very yummy lunch.

My favorite photographs from 2011

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As each year draws to a close, I enjoy taking a moment to go back through photographs made during the past twelve months and highlighting those that mean the most to me. I usually choose my favorites based on the physical and emotional experience I have, and it really does feel good to reflect on time well spent in places I enjoy. I have to admit, I also get a kick out of using the camera to technically create something I like to look at… making memories that will forever feed my soul. I hope that as each year passes my photographs get better – whatever that means – or at least that they invoke stronger feelings within me, both while breathing in and out perched on the rocky Atlantic shoreline, or now, as I sit here typing and reminiscing about early morning wake up calls and fingers crossed in anticipation of dramatic clouds and good light. Anyhoo… most of my 2011 favorites are – surprise, surprise – from Acadia National Park and the coast of Maine, although this year I also have a couple from a memorable March trip back home to Ireland with my oldest son Sam. Drum roll…

I had been itching to get out with the camera again, so I decided to visit one of my favorite places and see if I could capture some snow blanketing the famous round rocks below Otter Cliffs. An early start this morning got me here about 45 minutes before the sun was scheduled to crest at 6:36am, and as always, I had the place completely to myself. Though the temperature was certainly chilly, there was little to no wind blowing, and since I was dressed in several layers, the 13F actually felt quite comfortable.

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I spent a very enjoyable late afternoon exploring the area around the Marshall Point Lighthouse in the mid-coast community of Port Clyde. Originally established in 1832, the present lighthouse was built in 1857, and this is the same lighthouse Forrest Gump visited when he was traversing the country. This lighthouse is pretty unique in it’s design, with a 31 ft tall white granite and brick tower perched on the rocks at the end of a narrow walkway. A distinctive and striking black cast iron lantern houses a fresnel light that does not flash any more. The Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum on the first floor of the light keeper’s house was opened in 1990, and the whole area is meticulously cared for and maintained.

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Standing near the ocean as the night rolls in can be a somewhat unnerving experience, especially with the wind trying to knock you over and huge waves crashing in the not too far off distance. At the end of the day, the warm light from the beacon was quite comforting as I made my way back toward the car. I stopped one more time to soak in the scene… that’s when I saw this view of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.

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I can remember visiting the Gap of Dunloe some 20+ years ago with Lori and some friends, and on that occasion we traveled in style with Dolly… the farting horse. Locals provide horse-drawn traps for the ride up to the gap, and the day we went we had a wet and windy journey up the hill, pulled by our horse who tooted all the way. This photograph is from when Sam and I visited Ireland last spring, and even though the classic greens associated with the Emerald Isle weren’t yet in full force, this was still a striking scene.

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Every single time I pass over the bridge that spans Marshall Brook I find myself staring at what I consider to be a breathtaking scene. There is something about the view laid out before you that catches my eye every time… no matter what the time of day or the prevailing weather conditions, I find myself always having to pull over. Looking north across the Bass Harbor Marsh toward Bernard (left) and Mansell Mountains (right), the eyes are treated to a snaking river that gently winds its way off into the distance.

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I spent an immensely peaceful early morning perched on a ledge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and I couldn’t help marvel at how this is a very cool way to start the day. The sun rises before 5:00 a.m. in the summer in Maine, and as you can see from the photograph above, the pre-dawn light on this particular morning was pretty special. When the sun eventually crested over Great Head behind me, it bathed the scene in amazing warm light, with the granite absolutely lighting up with color. This view is looking south along the rugged Acadia coast toward Otter Cliffs, and other than a couple of seagulls who kept me company on the ledge, I was here all by myself.

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So… I wasn’t expecting the conditions to be particularly special on this morning, but as the light slowly climbed from the east up and over my shoulder toward the lighthouse, I started to wonder if I might actually be in for a show? There were some soft, wispy clouds behind the lighthouse, and as the day began to brighten, my jaw literally dropped as I marveled at how the high clouds were being illuminated with a phenomenal pinkish hue. Knowing that the light probably wouldn’t last long, and with a big grin on my face, I worked quickly to try to combine all of the elements within the frame into something I liked. I couldn’t have ordered better weather conditions, and the impressive lighthouse that welcomes returning mariners to Bass Harbor certainly did its part.

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Taking the Slea Head Road further west out of Dingle, we spotted a little harbor tucked into the rocks with a pretty beach. From a distance it was beautiful, and up close… even nicer. Looking over our shoulder though, we saw what looked like a path winding its way up the hillside toward the ocean. Eager for an adventure and the possibility of a nice view, we started hiking. I thought I was going to have a heart attack… too many Irish breakfasts and too much Guinness lately had me struggling to keep up with Sam. When I finally did get to a flat spot, I dropped my backpack and told him to go on ahead… I needed a rest. The headland we were on was called Dunmore Head (I think), and from here you can see Great Blasket Island straightaway, Inishnabro and Inishvickillane off to the left, and to the right is Beiginis and then Inishtooskert.

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There’s something about the fleeting appearance that Lupine make here in Maine which I really like. They explode onto the scene as the weather warms up at the start of June, but by the time July rolls around they are already starting to fade away. They are scattered all over the side of I-95 as I make my way down and back to work, and maybe it’s because they brighten my commute at this time of year, but I love the splash of color they add to the landscape. We went camping one weekend in mid-June… and despite the rainy weather, a good time was had by all. Late on the Friday afternoon we wandered up to the Beech Hill Road to hike the Canada Cliff Trail, and along the roadside we encountered a field absolutely brimming over with my favorite Maine flower… Lupine.

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If you want to discover examples of fall foliage colors in a pretty Acadia location, look no further than the path that runs alongside the Jordan Pond Stream. Starting out behind the Jordan Pond House restaurant, find the stepped trail entering the woods leading down to where the carriage road meets up with the stream, cross the bridge and make a left turn to follow the stream downhill and you will be treated to not only the soothing sound of running water, but also the wide array of foliage colors typically associated with a classic New England fall season.

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I had looked at the weather, and with a forecast of light rain and cloudy skies, it seemed like the perfect time to make a quick run down to Acadia before the fall foliage was all gone. I knew that the overcast weather and foggy conditions would offer nice even light in which to photograph the changing autumn colors at the top of Cadillac and the rejuvenated, rain-fed Jordan Pond Stream. First stop Cadillac… there is something special about being on top of a mountain when it is socked in with clouds and you have it all to yourself, and when that mountain is Cadillac, I’m in heaven.

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Fall foliage season comes and goes pretty fast around these parts, and when you factor in the potential for poor weather and the usual work commitments, chances are I might only have a couple of opportunities to try to make some photographs displaying the changing colors. This was the first photograph I made on a cool, rainy morning spent exploring the banks of the Jordan Pond Stream in Acadia National Park.

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As the night rolls in

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Standing near the ocean as the night rolls in can be a somewhat unnerving experience, especially with the wind trying to knock you over and huge waves crashing in the not too far off distance. At the end of the day the warm light from the beacon was quite comforting, and as I made my way back toward the car I stopped one more time to soak in the scene… that’s when I saw the view in these two photographs. All afternoon I had been focusing on using the wide end of my 17-40mm lens to accentuate the lines of the spectacular rocks at Pemaquid, but in these two views I went the other direction and extended the focal length as far as I could. Dramatic clouds were hanging out over the ocean, and the last remnants of the sunset were adding a subtle pink hue to the horizon. These ended up being my favorite photographs from the afternoon I spent here, and hopefully they convey the serenity I experienced in person. Isn’t this a gorgeous structure?

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Maine

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Surely there can’t be a more dramatic or photogenic lighthouse anywhere? Commissioned in 1827 by John Quincy Adams, Pemaquid Point Light is a striking and picturesque lighthouse located at the tip of the Pemaquid Penninsula in mid-coast Maine. The rocks at Pemaquid are some of the most dramatic around, with layers of jagged and impressive striations all seemingly pointing to the classic white lighthouse perched on the ridge above the roaring Atlantic Ocean. The winds were howling as I made this photograph, and as the low winter sun momentarily bathed the lighthouse in warm light, I was able to squeeze off a few frames. Not a bad detour on the way home after work on Friday, eh?

Doing a 180

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Standing on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean at Pemaquid Point in winter, there were huge waves breaking just behind me, so I studied the pattern for a while to make sure I wouldn’t be surprised. The clouds overhead were cruising by at speed, and I was especially interested in using my ND filter to extend the length of the exposure and capture the effect of their movement. In what felt like 40 mph winds, I could hardly keep my tripod steady – which is kind of important when creating long exposures – so I used my body to try and shield the tripod, and I kept one hand on it constantly to add some weight and stability. As I was making the photograph above, a little birdie told me to turn around 180 degrees and see what was going on in the opposite direction. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the moment while photographing a pretty scene, but I always try to remember to turn around and appreciate the entirety of the landscape. So… two views from the same spot… just 180 degrees apart.

And for good measure, here are a couple more examples of what are probably pretty familiar views – each with it’s counterpart at 180 degrees:

A road with a view

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The Loop Road in Acadia National Park is probably one of the prettiest stretches of roadway in America, and during the summer months it is also probably one of the busiest stretches of roadway. In the winter however, much of the road is closed due to the typical Maine winter weather that we can expect soon, but part of it – the stretch between Schooner Head and Otter Cliffs – stays open all year round. Many people don’t realize this, but if you know how to access it via the Schooner Head Road, then you will get to see what is probably the most striking part of the Loop Road in a totally different light. Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Monument Cove and the rocks at Otter Point are all accessible with spectacular views. There wasn’t any snow yet when I was there earlier this week, but when it does come – and it will – you should really consider exploring this part of the park during winter. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Schooner Head, Acadia National Park

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A winding path with a couple of gentle switchbacks meanders down from the overlook at Schooner Head to some of the more rugged and dramatic Acadia shoreline that you can find in the park. The wind was absolutely howling as I explored this somewhat precarious area, and as I carefully peeked over the cliff, I admired the power of the waves crashing below. This photograph doesn’t do it justice, but the color of the Atlantic on this particular day was a deep, almost Caribbean-like green, topped by a layer of fast-moving, frothing whitecaps.

Wandering back up through the forest with trees stripped of leaves, I came across a neat little scene that immediately screamed at me to photograph it. Not in the traditional way though… I switched to TV mode on my camera and selected a shutter speed of half a second. I let the camera decide what aperture would give me a correct exposure, and I started moving the camera through the scene. The colors and lines are of course what initially drew me here, and as always, I personally really dig how this kind of photograph turns out. Luckily the parking lot was empty, and I didn’t have to worry about people giving me those quizzical stares as I waved my camera up and down!

The importance of practicing

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Growing up as a kid in Ireland all I ever did was play soccer. I didn’t know it at the time, but all of those hours spent playing were actually pretty intensive practices. Getting better at anything demands that you spend time practicing the skills involved in that particular activity, and photography is no different. Even though it is a creative endeavor, the same principles apply when it comes to seeing improvement in your photographs. I spent about an hour on Sand Beach the other day, and even though I wasn’t able to stick around for the best light at the end of the day, I enjoyed the time I did spend there practicing making photographs. I looked for scenes that might be worth making a photograph of… scenes with leading lines, interesting shapes, and elements of interest. I tried a variety of different focal lengths, always attempting to arrange everything together within the frame in an interesting way. Here are a few more of my practice attempts, though to be honest this didn’t feel like practice… it was more like playing to me… just like when I was younger enjoying soccer.

On the beach in winter

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There’s something special about being on the beach in the winter time. The light is different, the air is clearer, and then there’s the solitude. I was recently fortunate to be able to enjoy time spent in the late afternoon totally alone in one of my favorite places… Sand Beach in Acadia National Park. A lower than normal tide had uncovered a sheet of wet sand, and at the furthest end of the beach the shoreline was scattered with embedded rocks, each forcing the ocean-seeking rains from overnight to navigate their way toward the waves. The patterns and shapes being drawn in the sand were beautiful, especially when the intermittent sun would sidelight the scene with spectacular highlights and shadows. The deep blue skies overhead were often reflected on the wet sand, and the contrast created when the low, still-warm sun peeked out from behind the fast-moving clouds was soft and calming. I had a grand time walking the beach and putting the camera up to my eye every now and then, and here are a couple of photographs from my day.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

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Growing up in Ireland, I don’t remember ever having a white Christmas, in fact, I can hardly even recall getting much snow at all. Winter weather in Ireland usually meant cold, grey and wet… almost always in the form of rain where the dampness would literally chill you to the bone. On the rare occasion when it did snow, there was usually no more than a dusting, and if you didn’t get outside to enjoy it right away, it’d be gone again within hours. When it comes to winter precipitation here in Maine though, things are a little different, and even though the temperatures dip way lower than what I was used to growing up in Ireland, the cold somehow doesn’t feel as bad… unless of course we get an especially frigid blast of arctic air from way up north of Canada. So, even though a white Christmas might be rare in Ireland, here in Maine the probability of there being snow on the ground come late December is pretty good.

Another tradition from my “growing up in Ireland Christmas” days was putting up a tree in the living room. Ours was never real… trees in Ireland aren’t quite as plentiful as they are here in Maine, though I have to admit I always looked forward to the time when that fake and twinkling little tree was dug out of storage every year, and I can still remember what it looked like balanced precariously on the sideboard. Sideboard… now there’s a word I haven’t used in a while. When we moved to Maine a few years ago we started a family tradition of cutting down our own tree. Not quite a Griswold-ean adventure, but it is nonetheless a highly anticipated day when we visit one of the local farms to harvest our seasonal tree.

This year we decided to change things up a little, and instead of going to Piper Mountain, we headed north toward Dover-Foxcroft and “The Finest Kind” farm about half an hour outside of Bangor. Perched high up on a hillside with panoramic views of the Piscataquis River Valley, the quality of the trees on this farm was exceptional, and we had a grand old time wandering around the expansive property sizing up which tree we were going to bring home. We trekked to the furthest corner of the property just to explore and enjoy our surroundings, and as we made our way back toward the road, we weighed our options and made a decision.

The nice dusting of snow covering the landscape certainly added to the atmosphere, and before long we had settled on the perfect tree. We missed big brother Sam who was busy studying for finals at college, but Jack helped choose and then cut down this year’s tree. He was also fascinated by the rings of freshly cut tree stumps scattered all over the hillside, and he was eager to count and share his findings with us. We talked about what each ring meant, and why some of them might have been larger in some years than others… the poor kid is the son of teachers after all! Just like Sam, Jack loves holidays and the traditions they bring, so he couldn’t wait to get the tree home to decorate it. Didn’t he do a great job? I know that it’s still a little early, but here goes anyway… happy holidays to all :)

Quick Pic

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I haven’t been out with the camera in a while, but I’m excited to be heading back down to Acadia in the morning. I keep getting drawn to the round rocks at Boulder Beach below Otter Cliffs, so that’s likely where I will start the day. Sunrise is officially at 6:49am, and with a high tide listed at 4:58am there might be some good conditions. Our fall and early winter this year have been relatively mild, though the forecasted 31 degree temps at dawn will probably be a shock to the system! I have an idea in mind about using the ND filter for a long exposure… something about streaking clouds over Otter Cliffs with spectacular sunrise colors… we’ll see how it works out.

In the meantime, here’s a quick archive pic made from the shore at Boulder Beach when forest fires burning up north in Quebec had enveloped the area in a thick haze…