Back for more…

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Another early run to Portland for a work meeting, and another chance to stop by the most photographed lighthouse in Maine. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to spend some time here with local photographer Moe Chen. Moe showed me how to access the rocky shoreline on the opposite side from here, so on this visit I wanted to spend time exploring the more traditional – or at least more photographed – side of the lighthouse.

6:22:16 a.m.

When I left the house at 4:00am, twinkling stars were alternately obscured and revealed by high clouds screaming by overhead, and although I was excited about the possibility of drama that those clouds might bring at sunrise, I wasn’t too thrilled about the effect the wind might have on the temperature. My fear was that the 22 degrees of warmth outside would be further impacted negatively by a biting wind chill… and believe me, it was.

6:35:33 a.m.

I’m going to sprinkle in a few different compositions throughout this post… same scene, but each with a slight variation on the landscape as the morning began. Some people might only include one composition in a blog post… maybe they have the “eye” to visualize the single best composition and create only one photograph… but in a situation like this, I tend to move around, exploring my surroundings looking for a slightly better angle, a more interesting foreground, or a different arrangement in how each of the elements included within the frame interact with each other. Anyhoo… here are a few from what was a cold and blustery morning at Portland Head Light… in the order they were made as the light unfolded, and with actual times attached.

6:37:23 a.m.

By the time I got to Portland there was a soft glow in the sky off to the east. I drove through the darkened downtown streets – probably faster than I should – in a frenzied attempt to get across the bridge to Cape Elizabeth and Fort Williams Park before sunrise. Knowing that the gates to the park might not be open, I was anticipating an additional but fairly brief hike in from the road to the lighthouse which would mean cutting it close for sunrise, but whadyaknow… the gates were open!

6:40:50 a.m.

Stepping out of the warm car and into the darkness told me two things; 1) the crystal clear sky meant that there weren’t going to be any nice clouds to include in compositions; and 2) it was going to be cold… bitterly cold. I usually like to be at a location at least 45 minutes before sunrise to take advantage of the earliest light, but on this morning I had arrived just in time. Since sunrise was now only minutes away, I hopped the fence and quickly scrambled down over the rocks to find a composition I liked. While clouds can certainly add drama to a landscape, I have come to appreciate – and dare I say enjoy – the beautiful pre-dawn gradient of colors in the clear sky seen here.

6:50:19 a.m.

My wooly hat and glove/mitten combo would come in handy, as a northeast wind ripped in over the water and absolutely chilled me to the bone. Strong wind gusts meant that I had to steady the tripod during what were often long-ish exposures, but more importantly, the wind chill and cold air were literally making my fingers ache… not a good feeling. Despite trying to find sheltered spots within the rocks where I could gain some respite from the icy wind, my senses (and my fingers) quickly succumbed to the conditions, and after spending maybe 30-40 minutes total here, I retreated back to the welcoming warmth of the car.

A great granite hill…

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…that’s how author Christopher Camuto describes the mountains of Acadia in his book, “Time and Tide in Acadia – Seasons on Mount Desert Island”. Anne Mourkas (thanks Anne!) loaned the book to me through Lori, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading someone else’s well-chosen words as they described their most intimate feelings toward a place that I too love.

“The mountains of Mount Desert Island – really no more than great granite hills – will school you in the art of walking.” - Christopher Camuto

As the temperatures unexpectedly spiked to near 80 degrees last week, Sam and I set out on our first hike of the season with the goal of conquering the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain (1,532 ft). Normally this hike might be considered no more than a brisk walk, but I hadn’t done anything that even resembled exercise for the previous six months, so not surprisingly, it kicked my backside. In hindsight, perhaps for the first hike of the season we were rather ambitious in tackling the 7.5 mile up and back route, especially on such a hot day. For those of you who scoff at such normally manageable temperatures, here in Maine we should be experiencing low 40′s right about now, so it’s all relative, and the “heat” we felt was definitely real! Anyway, as I lumbered up and down the mountain, I couldn’t help but think of some of the words I had read in Camuto’s book.

We chose the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain Trail for several reasons; a) we figured since a good part of the trail was going to be on exposed granite, that it would be relatively dry. For those of you familiar with mud season in Maine and the impact of the spring thaw, you will understand our concerns about trekking through the lower part of this trail where it is usually quite wet, and b) quite simply, this is one of my all-time favorite hikes in Acadia… in Maine… anywhere.

We began our hike just above Blackwoods Campground on Route 3, and any concerns we had about it being muddy were soon dispelled as we made good time through the dense forest. We did encounter a couple of wetter spots as we criss-crossed a seasonal stream, but this was nothing more than you would expect, even on a rainy day in the summer. I really thought that there would be more water making its way from high to low, though after the warm day we had, even the wet spots we found are probably now gone. The first mile or so of this trail meanders through a lush forest carpeted with pine needles, tree roots, and boulders of all sizes, though before long you start to step out onto huge slabs of exposed granite… a precursor for what you will find further into the hike.

Before long the coolness and shadows of the pine forest give way to almost treeless granite slabs where the sun’s rays are welcomed and absorbed. Rock cairns guide you upward toward the summit, but before you get there, you have more than a few sights to take in. Scattered all over the ridgeline are glacial erratics deposited here some 18,000 years ago by an immense and powerful ice sheet. Their presence and origin seems remarkable to me, and I can’t help but stop to touch and photograph them. To read more about the geology of Acadia National Park, check out this information sheet from the National Park Service.

Despite my lack of preparation for the upcoming hiking season, I immediately felt right at home on the mountain trail. There’s something magical about being on the granite ridges that stretch from north to south in Acadia, and with 360 degree views all around you, there’s always something interesting rest your eyes on. On the way up, to the right there are spectacular views of Gorham and Champlain Mountains, with Schoodic Penninsula beckoning from further off in the distance across Frenchman Bay. To the left is an up close view of neighboring Pemetic Mountain, the equally stunning Sargeant and Penobscot Mountains, and then the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. Don’t forget to turn around… for that’s where the many islands dotted throughout the Blue Hill Bay can be found sparkling in the blue water for as far as the eye can see.

“Walking across these granite domes, enjoying spacious hours, you will feel keenly related to the sky and to the sea, to the rock underfoot and to the life of things here.” - Christopher Camuto

As we made our way above the treeline, we saw more and more examples of the geological forces that helped shape this island, and about 45 minutes into our hike, we arrived at what is probably my favorite part of the trail. Just before reaching the small glacial pond called “The Featherbed”, and just off the trail to the right, there is an unusual little area of life tucked away. Water catches here in hollowed out areas of rock, forming what appear to be mini-tarns. There is abundant life here that has survived the harsh winter and is now just waiting for springtime. Patches of grasses and wildflowers grow here, and if ever you get a chance to explore this area later in the summer, you will be in for a treat.

Just shy of two hours into our hike we passed the Blue Hill Overlook on our way toward the summit of Cadillac. It was kind of eerie being there on such a gorgeous day with not another soul in sight. The road to the top of Cadillac isn’t scheduled to open until mid-April, so the parking lot was strangely quiet. We enjoyed the delicious Dysart’s sandwiches we had carried to the top for lunch, and as always, the views were absolutely stunning. Though my muscles and joints were definitely hurting by the time we got off the mountain, we both agreed that there is nothing better than spending time exploring and appreciating this most majestic of mountains… or as Camuto called it… “a great granite hill.”

Frozen Jordan Pond

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It was raining pretty hard as I made this last photograph of the morning, and as you can see, the sky was threatening to unleash even more. I hadn’t ever seen Jordan Pond while it was frozen, so despite the inclement weather, this was a treat. I used a 6-stop neutral density filter to hold back some of the light – my goal was to gain a long exposure time to try to render some movement in what were fast-moving clouds in the background above The Bubbles at the end of Jordan Pond. Mostly monochromatic originally, I tried converting the scene to black and white. Am still not sold on the composition, but I did like how the rocks in the foreground turned out in the colorless version.

A fleeting moment…

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Even though the dawn didn’t cooperate by providing epic light, there was a brief and fleeting moment about half an hour after sunrise where the sun broke through the clouds and bathed the landscape in a warm and pleasant colors. Long after the earlier pink hues had disappeared, it actually looked as if the rest of the morning might be a bust, but then all of a sudden we were treated to this scene. This warm light bursting out from behind the clouds literally lasted for about two minutes before the sun once again disappeared out of sight. Luckily I was still set up and prepared for the possibility that we might get a brief glimpse of some nice light… and after I made this photograph we never saw the sun again… in fact, when we moved on to check out the ice-covered Jordan Pond it rained a cold and heavy rain, and that put an end to the morning shoot.

Imagining a scene…

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From the very cool morning I spent in Acadia National Park with fellow photographer Chad Tracey, this is sorta what I had in mind when I persuaded him to go here. It goes without saying that the round rocks are the true stars of the show at this location, so I wanted to showcase them while at the same time incorporate the famous shape of Otter Cliffs against a backdrop of clouds streaking across the sky. Sunrise was scheduled for 6:40 a.m., and although we were treated to some wonderfully soft pink pre-dawn hues, the spectacular light show that we anticipated didn’t really happen.

In addition, I don’t think I have ever been to Boulder Beach at a time when the waves were so benign – after all, this is the mighty Atlantic Ocean, but on this particular morning it was like standing on the shore of a lake… a very calm lake. The 30 second exposure pretty much melted the tiny waves away completely, but I was able to get the effect of “movement” I was looking for in the clouds. This is probably as close as I have come to pulling off the kind of photograph from here that I have been imagining for a while now, but it still isn’t quite perfect. More surf, better color, faster moving clouds… you get the picture.

Oh well… it just means that I’ll have to come back and try again :)

Getting too comfortable?

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6:17 a.m. on 3-18-12. 5D MK II and 17-40mm lens at 17mm - f20, iso 100, 14 seconds

Here’s a familiar sight, eh? As many of you know, I spend way too much time here. On the one hand I feel guilty about not “stretching” and going to other places, but on the other hand I feel a very strong connection here. Besides, I firmly believe that I still have unfinished business at this location, and what’s wrong with spending time in a place you love? I could probably fill an entire house with my photographs made just from Otter Cliffs, but as I have said many times… I can’t seem to get enough of this spot. I have started wondering though… am I getting too comfortable?

Last weekend I made plans to meet and go shoot with another local photographer, Chad Tracey. Chad is a great guy, he’s incredibly enthusiastic about landscape photography, and he has some awesome work on display. We piled in the car at about 4:30am and set off toward Acadia. Neither of us had any definite locations in mind, so when I suggested that we check out Boulder Beach, Chad was all for it. I had this vision of silhouetted Otter Cliffs and a long exposure showing clouds streaking across the sky in my head.

It was still quite dark as we rounded the bend on the Loop Road just past Sand Beach, and as we caught our first glimpse of the ocean, we realized that the early morning pre-dawn glow was probably going to be muted by the offshore clouds. Most landscape photographers tend to be optimists though, so we were of course holding out hope that the narrow breaks in the cloud near the horizon might allow first light to escape the gloom and offer a spectacular sunrise. As dawn got closer, and some beautiful pink hues started to appear, we both worked our gear and compositions in anticipation of what might turn out to be a glorious sight. If only those pink hues could find their way through the sliver of a gap in the clouds, then the whole sky would light up like neither of us had ever seen. If only…

So, while I enjoy getting to really know a particular location, methinks it’s time to expand the portfolio. Rather than get too comfortable with familiar – albeit beautiful – locations, I am putting together a list of ideas I am eager to explore this spring. If anyone has any suggestions – and I’m primarily talking about staying in Maine – I’d be all ears…

Two for the price of one…

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* My last post from what was a glorious morning spent photographing this lighthouse.

Portland Head Light is a magnificent sight, especially when waves are crashing all around it or when the clouds from a clearing storm are rushing by. There’s a reason why we see it included in so many lighthouse calendars and on so many picture postcards… it is very striking indeed. However, anyone who visits here probably can’t help but notice the “other” lighthouse off in the distance. Though it seems like a tiny speck in comparison, the 77 ft tall Ram Island Ledge Light is quite impressive in its own right. Built from granite that was quarried locally from the island of Vinalhaven, it was first lit in 1905, and it was then converted to solar power in 2001. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is accessible only by boat, and since I don’t have a lens long enough to truly reach out to it, I am always intrigued by its existence.

Our budding little photographer

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Please excuse the winter boots and basketball shorts fashion combo… unseasonably warm temperatures combined with melting snow and ice created conditions where the kid was just happy to be able to wear shorts again! Last Sunday afternoon we went exploring locally – it felt just like when I was growing up and my dad would take us for a Sunday drive – after brainstorming some possible locations, we decided to check out Field’s Pond Nature Center in Orrington.

Jack brought his camera with him and he seemed to really enjoy “making pictures” throughout the hike. As we walked and talked, I shared a few basic tips with him… and it was pretty cool to see him listen, learn, and put his new knowledge into practice. Keeping the camera steady, making sure lines that are supposed to be straight are straight, adding something interesting in the foreground – just a few of the ideas he embraced and tried to implement. I got a big kick out of one time especially when he came running over to show me his latest photograph… “Look, look.” he said. “I moved the camera like you do. Come see my photograph!” Below are a few of his masterpieces, and it was neat to see that he didn’t just snap away aimlessly, instead you could almost “see” his little brain cooking up ideas and compositions.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to view a larger version and see the rest of the gallery of awesome Jack photographs.

A double edged sword…

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Using a wide angle lens can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand you can create some unique perspectives by placing important compositional elements prominently in the foreground of the frame. On the other hand though, depending on how much you tilt the lens, your photographs can also be susceptible to distortion, especially near the corners. You can see how the lighthouse above appears to be leaning quite distinctly, though that might also be because I was a considerable distance below it and actually quite low to the ground. In order to fit everything into the frame as I intended, I had to accept that there might be some wide-angle distortion – in this case though, I don’t really mind it.

When I made this photograph, a large cloud bank from a clearing storm had parked itself just off shore casting soft, filtered light over much of the scene. I was perched rather precariously on the rock you can see in the foreground, with the legs of my tripod splayed as wide as I could get them while still maintaining a solid base. I had a blast waiting for wave after wave to break and wash on shore and all around me, and I made several exposures in an attempt to get a composition that I liked. If there was one thing I learned from this particular morning though…  it was that I need to invest in a pair of big rubber boots!

Despite the effect of the wide-angle lens, you might still just be able to pick out another lighthouse in the distance… the somewhat isolated but striking Ram Island Ledge Light which stands sentinel in Casco Bay… more to come about that lighthouse later.

St. Patrick’s Day

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March 17 holds significance for me in two ways. First of all, and most obviously, it is Saint Patrick’s Day. Growing up in Ireland I can remember many a day spent very unproductively celebrating whatever it was we were celebrating… usually from an early hour too! Last year Sam and I were lucky enough to be in Dublin to join in with the locals as they did what they do best… great experience. If you want a quick fix from the Emerald Isle, check out my gallery of Ireland photographs, including the one below from Dunmore Head looking out toward Great Blasket Island.

Secondly, as I check the weather forecast for the coming week, I am pleased to notice that we are expecting a brief spell of almost 70 degree temperatures here in Maine. While definitely abnormal for this time of year, March 17 and St. Paddy’s Day always spell the end of winter for me. The clocks have just sprung forward, we are in the throes of March Madness, and in a couple of weeks we get to enjoy the dogwoods of Augusta during The Masters golf tournament. For me… this is a good time of the year, so cheers!

The most photographed lighthouse

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First lit in 1791, Portland Head Light stands guard over an extremely jagged and rugged shoreline in Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Classic New England, I think it is safe to say that this is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world! Spend some time here and it’s not hard to see why.

I had heard rumors about how the gates to Fort Williams Park where the lighthouse is located might not be open before dawn, so rather than make a wasted trip, I went right to the source… local photographer Moe Chen. Moe is a very talented photographer who lives next door to Cape Elizabeth in Scarborough, and he very generously shared his knowledge about this wonderful place with me. He confirmed that it was indeed pretty random as to whether or not the gates would be open so early in the morning (luckily they were open at 5:15am), and he also showed me how to access some of the better shooting locations. Moe is a great guy, and if you like awesome landscape photography, I would highly recommend checking out his work – you won’t be disappointed.

In the meantime, here’s the portrait-oriented version of a similar view. I had “jumped the fence” to get to this location, and even though the best light had already faded, I was intrigued by the incredible rocks leading from the foreground. After stopping here for a few moments to enjoy the view, I slowly made my way down toward the rocky beach and the breaking waves… more to come :)

61 seconds

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That’s how long the shutter was open when I made this photograph. I find it interesting how a long exposure condenses time into one frame, and as you can see, the effects can be quite striking. During the 61 seconds between when the shutter opened and closed, the path of several waves washing in and out was rendered as a mist, and the fast moving clouds appear to streak across the pre-dawn sky. All the while, the famous lighthouse maintains its place, perched high above the rocky shoreline to warn mariners of the imminent danger that approaching too close would bring.

When first arriving on a scene like this, I like to experiment with longer exposures. I usually switch my camera to bulb mode – where I can keep the shutter open for as long as I want – and I use my remote release to shoot several exposures, each of a different length. The LCD on the back of the camera gives me an idea of how the length of exposure is impacting the photograph, and a peek at the histogram confirms any adjustments I might need to make.

A sturdy tripod is a must in this type of situation, as is a remote cable release. With exposures of this length any vibration of the camera can cause a blurry image, so I will make sure to solidly anchor my tripod, I’ll flip up the mirror, and then use the remote release so that I don’t have to even touch the camera. While the exposure develops, there’s not much more I can do, other than get out from behind the viewfinder, take a few deep breaths, and truly soak in the scene – these are the moments that mean the most to me. I don’t say it that often, but as with the photograph I made last weekend in Acadia… I like this photograph.

The blue hour

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Every morning as the dark night sky slowly loosens its grip and yields to the start of a new day, light that is soft and cool in color stretches across the wakening landscape. On a day that begins with more clouds, this peaceful period of time can produce light that is distinctly blue in color, and is often referred to as the “blue” hour. In fact, this wonderful twilight period can be experienced both in the morning and evening; it’s that time when we are in between daylight and darkness.

Last Friday meant an early start to attend a work-related one-day conference in Portland, so I figured why not set the alarm even earlier than I needed to, and build in a brief photo adventure a little further south than I usually get to explore. I considered a variety of options to stop and shoot between here and Portland, but the more I looked at the schedule I had to keep, the more I realized that wherever I finally decided to photograph, it was going to have to be close to Portland.

The late winter paints much of the Maine landscape with stark and still leafless trees, dull dormant grasses, and streams and rivers covered in thin and often dirty ice. While I appreciate that seasonal changes bring new opportunities for landscape photography, I just can’t seem to get excited for this type of scene. The ocean however, consistently displays its most basic elements steadfastly and regardless of season, so I devised a plan to visit what is a very often-photographed location… Portland Head Light.

The power of the ocean

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I’m sharing the last of the photographs made on a short trip to Acadia on the first Sunday in March… finally you say! Daylight savings time is upon us, and as the clocks spring forward, early morning starts in search of nice light get a little more bearable – at least for a while until the days stretch longer again – and I do have plans in place to visit a few locations I haven’t been to before.

I can’t seem to help myself, even when I make plans to explore other areas of the Loop Road, I invariably end up back at my favorite place… Otter Cliffs. The place seems to draw me to it, and on this particular morning as I soaked in the fairly frisky high tide, I couldn’t help but remember when Hurricane Bill brushed the coast here back in August of 2009. I can still recall the shock and almost fear I felt that afternoon as huge waves violently reshaped this rocky beach right before my eyes.

Relatively calm today though, I noticed how the rocks had again been moved around since the last time I visited, no doubt as the result of a recent winter storm. Seeing the power needed to redesign a seemingly permanent iconic landscape such as this gives you a more humble sense of place within nature… an awareness I think we all should have. As you can see, I’m still on my black and white kick, and this scene seemed like a worthy candidate for my continued creative expression.

Oh what the hey… here’s the color version too :)

I like this photograph

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We all have our favorite photographs, though I would hazard a guess that just because I like this one, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone else will find it special. That’s OK, because as photographers – and I believe that we can all call ourselves photographers – we should be creating images that we like… making connections with nature for ourselves, and not necessarily trying to please anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I love that I am able to share my adventures here on this blog with a wonderful group of people, most of whom I have never actually met. I genuinely appreciate all of your support though, and when someone expresses that they like one of my photographs it is exceptionally humbling, so thank you.

Back to the photograph…what makes it all the more surprising that I like this one so much is that when I made it the weather pretty much stunk, as did the quality of the light. So why then is this a favorite of mine? It’s a favorite because on this particular morning I proudly refrained from hitting the snooze button on my alarm as I have been prone to doing lately. It’s a favorite because I simply love to be near the Atlantic Ocean, and because this is Acadia National Park and Otter Cliffs, where I like to be. It’s a favorite because when I look at it I can feel the cold rain and spray on my face, my head is filled with smells only found along the edge of the ocean, and I can hear the round rocks rolling and knocking together musically as the tide pushes and pulls, continuing the process that has shaped this landscape for thousands, if not millions, of years. That’s why this is now a favorite of mine.

Draining the color

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Here’s a similar scene to one I posted recently, but this time I am including the “normal” version so that you can see what it looked like before the colors were drained out of it. As you can see, there wasn’t much color to begin with. The overcast sky and damp winter air were doing a very nice job of rendering the scene as almost monochromatic, so rather than fight it, a little voice in my head told me to embrace the conditions and see if I couldn’t come away with a pleasing photograph – one that meant something to me, and one that would ultimately end up as a black and white. Perhaps I shouldn’t show both the color and the black and white photograph side by side… perhaps I should claim to have exclusively envisioned how this would ultimately look without color… perhaps by showing both the color and non-color versions of this image I am “watering down” its impact… but for me, at this moment, and with this image, that’s a little too deep, so I’m comfortable displaying them both so that you can see the differences.

We do not naturally see in black and white, and while I absolutely love the classic work of famous past masters, photographing without color is not something that comes easily to me. I did my usual search for compositional lines, patterns, and shapes, and I tried to arrange the elements within the frame in relation to each other in a way that I thought looked somewhat interesting. I stepped back from the camera and breathed in the air… then I pressed the shutter. I’m no expert in converting photographs from color to black and white, and I’d be interested to hear your response to both of these images, and to the concept of removing color from photographs in general.

Is it grey or gray?

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Growing up in Ireland I’m familiar with a few differences between the Queen’s English and the Americanized version that I have become accustomed to, but I still get tripped up when trying to spell the word “grey” or “gray” – a word I want to use to describe the less than ideal light that prevailed on a recent weekend expedition to Acadia National Park.

What started out as a promising sunrise quickly deteriorated into a raw early March morning where the clouds thickened, the breeze stiffened, and a cold rain then started to fall. I briefly considered cutting my adventure short and heading home early – especially when I got back into my car and turned on the heat. However, when I reached my favorite place along the Loop Road – Boulder Beach – I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose by stopping for a quick peek, so I pulled over, parked the car, and wandered down to the beach. I’m glad I did.

The scene was quite monochromatic, and the distinct lack of color – but obvious beauty – immediately had me thinking black and white. Fading patches of snow were scattered around, and I liked how they contrasted with the famous round rocks and the churning ocean. No early morning golden light to work with, but it just goes to show… you don’t always have to have spectacular light to make a decent photograph. Just recently, Lori had asked me about doing some kind of black and white series for the house, and looky here, I think I might just have pulled it off. Stay tuned for a couple more non-color photographs using only shades of grey… or is it gray?

Saving grace…

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Despite a pretty nice sunrise on Sunday morning, the light quickly deteriorated as I wandered along the Loop Road looking for interesting compositions. A solid bank of cloud literally and weirdly split the sky in half, with of course everything I wanted to photograph over on the side with the clouds! The one saving grace was that high tide was scheduled at the same time, so rather than feeling too disappointed, I started paying attention to the decent sized waves crashing on shore.

My final stop on this particular morning is one of my favorite places on earth… Boulder Beach in the shadow of Otter Cliffs. Although it might not look like it, walking on these rocks was absolutely treacherous. At other times of the year I’m used to dealing with slick, algae covered round rocks here at low tide… rocks that will snap an ankle with ease if you’re not careful. On this occasion though, even the rocks furthest away from the shoreline were wet and covered in a thin sheen of ice, so I was especially careful as I wandered around looking for something to photograph. I like these “head-on” type photographs… there’s something about the straight lines and order in the composition that floats my slightly OCD boat.

It was 8:03 a.m. by the time I made this final photograph of the morning, and by then a layer of higher clouds was softly filtering the sun as it tried valiantly to make an appearance. Although I intentionally chose a shutter speed which I hoped would render the surf something like this, I have to admit that the light shining through the breaking wave far surpassed my expectations. In an attempt to capture a wave crashing perpendicular to the shore thereby maintaining the straight lines in the frame, I must have made 25-30 exposures. Although perhaps a little simple compositionally, and with somewhat muted colors, I like how the famous and now indigenous round rocks make for a fairly striking and contrasting pattern in the foreground.

Sometimes, less is more…

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Here’s a wide version of the landscape I was enjoying on Sunday morning at 5:53 a.m. Lots going on in the scene, eh? While I love the wide point of view I can get using my 17-40mm lens and the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II, often you have to make tough decisions about what to include in the frame and what to exclude. And sometimes… in the name of creating a pleasing composition… less is more.

Here there is the powerful surf below the ledge, a gentle color gradient on the horizon, some funky high clouds in the top right of the frame, an amazing coastline running along the left hand side of the frame, and a pesky pine tee standing tall over toward the top left corner. Add the precarious vantage point I was perched on overlooking a potentially pretty steep fall, and you can see that some compositional choices needed to be made.

Sticking with the 17-40mm zoom lens (looking back I wish I had used a longer telephoto to zoom in on the waves as they rolled in against the shoreline rocks), I experimented with a variety of compositions. Landscape versus portrait orientation, 17mm versus 40mm and everything in between. Tipping the camera up or down to include more sky or more foreground… all of these choices can lead to quite different photographs… and I have to admit, I really do enjoy the creative process of making sense of these choices and how they impact the scene.

Here’s a vertical-oriented composition from around the same area. This one was made about half an hour (6:20 a.m.) after the previous photograph, and as you can see, simply turning the camera on its side can have a dramatic impact on the composition. For some strange reason I tend to initially get drawn to vertical compositions, but I always try to remember to shoot something I like in landscape orientation too – that way I can take look at all options when I get back home.

As much as I like the two compositions above, neither of them would make the cut if I were asked to pare the collection from this particular morning down. I think I am happiest with the composition shown below where I zoomed in to 39mm and tried to focus on just a couple of the many elements on display. Although I admittedly enjoy the wide angle effect (and might even be guilty of over-using it), in this photograph I think the composition benefits from the tighter focal length. So, yet another example of that well-worn phrase… sometimes, less is more.

Pop Tarts and Mountain Dew

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I know Wheaties are considered the breakfast of champions, but for me when I go out early on a photography adventure… it’s Pop Tarts and Mountain Dew. When you start the day at early o’clock, drive an hour and a half to get to your chosen location before sunrise, and then spend another couple of hours immersed in photographing the landscape, it’s no surprise that the belly starts to grumble. By the time I take a break from shooting, it’s probably close to 9:00 a.m. – that’s a good five hours I’ve already put in, and since I never plan ahead and bring any real food, that’s when those Pop Tarts and that Mountain Dew taste so good.

I have been itching to get out with the camera again, and despite the snow/ice/rain mix we have been having lately, I set my alarm for 4:00am this morning. The forecast at sunrise was for partly cloudy skies, and this coincided quite nicely with the scheduled high tide. I figured if I got skunked with the clouds and light, I would at least be able to focus on the surf along the Loop Road. The photograph above is a little deceiving in that immediately to the right out of the frame there was a huge bank of clouds which almost completely ruined the sunrise. My original plan had actually been to shoot in the other direction along the coast toward Otter Cliffs, but I soon realized that my best chance at something interesting was going to be looking back the other way where there was a relatively small window of nice light in the background.

In an attempt to render some motion in the lively surf, I experimented with shutter speeds of between half a second and several seconds. I liked how the power of the waves is still somewhat visible, but at the same time the longer exposure creates an ethereal effect on the moving water. This is looking toward Sand Beach from the rocky ledges just to the left of Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park.