Postcard from Maine (9)

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5-14-14Portland Head_61seconds From a particularly productive morning… it had snowed on my way from Bangor to Portland. I had a work-related meeting that day in the city, so figured what the hey… I might as well get an early start and see if I could take advantage of the first light.

Take a walk on the path to the left of the lighthouse and you begin to get a completely different view of the scene, especially at low tide since you can scamper down onto the rocks in search of interesting foreground elements. This can officially be called the “blue-hour” – some time before the sun makes an appearance, yet when there is still enough early morning light to illuminate the landscape. There were some fast-moving clouds overhead, and of course the waves washing on and off shore – throughout that, the striking Portland Head Lighthouse beacon illuminated the morning.

I did what I often like to do… experiment with a variety of lengths of holding the shutter open using the remote release… all in the name of trying to capture something unique and different. This exposure was for 61 seconds, and I like how the movement in the sky and tide were rendered. I also like how the white balance rendered the scene so blue… it represents the chill in the air that I felt, and the early hour at which this photograph was made.

Postcard from Maine (8)

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Aha. Another favorite place. This is a view from the quieter part of Acadia National Park called Schoodic. A rocky peninsula stretching out into the Gulf of Maine, there are views like this scattered all along the perimeter… grab your camera, enjoy the far-less crowded surroundings, and make yourself a photograph or two.

Off in the distance is a little gem called “Rolling Island” – and then there’s the classic Acadia (Schoodic) foreground. I’ve been to this specific place several times… sometimes I come away with a photograph I like, and sometimes I just enjoy the scenery. On this particular morning I can remember the colorful sunrise seemed to last for ages… it quite literally lasted for at least a half an hour. What better way to start the day!

Postcard from Maine (6)

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What to do when the weather doesn’t cooperate? I’ve been to this very special location many, many times in search of epic light, but I can honestly say that on the majority of my visits, I usually get skunked with less than stellar conditions. I’ll check the weather forecast, and I’ll plan for favorable tides… but ultimately you’re at the mercy of the light. Sometimes you get lucky, but usually not.

Having said that… less than favorable light can bring “different” conditions, and with those come opportunities to capture images that are more original. Sometimes they’re more unusual simply because others don’t bother making photographs at those times, and sometimes they’re unique simply because instead of making a cover version of someone else’s work you’re making something creative of your own.

Embrace iffy weather. While I have experienced and photographed epic colors and memorable sunrises, some of my favorite images were made in stormy conditions. The color palette in both images in this post don’t necessarily reflect the traditional picture postcard ideal… but I am more proud of them than you might imagine.

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Postcard from Maine (5)

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A favorite of mine. Special conditions when Hurricane Sandy brushed the coast. This is from Sand Beach looking south along the shore toward the Loop Road and Otter Cliffs. Longer lens for two reasons a) for safety’s sake – even on the steps that lead from the parking lot down to the beach it was pretty dangerous with waves as high as my waist, and b) a longer lens compresses the scene compositionally, helping isolate only those elements that add to the strength of the photograph. In this case I used my 70-200mm f4 L at 200mm. For those interested, here’s the EXIF:

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: EF70-200mm f/4L USM Shot at 200 mm
Exposure: Auto bracket exposure, Shutter priority AE, 1/500 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200

Postcard from Maine (2)

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Probably the most photographed lighthouse in America, Portland Head Light is a stunner of a location that anyone visiting Maine should experience. It’s not difficult to find, is easy to access from a series of well-maintained trails at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, and as you can see… perched on some seriously jagged rocks it occupies a fantastic location to make a landscape photograph. All you have to do is get yourself there at the right time and in the right conditions!

With an iconic location like this, the biggest challenge is making a photograph that doesn’t look exactly like all of the other ones you see in the local calendars and postcards – unless of course that’s what you’re going for. Nothing wrong with imitating other photographs – good practice I say – but my guess is that there will come a time when you’ll want to create something more personal, more unique. And so you should.

Get there early. Stay there late – good light favors those who patrol the edges of the day. Watch the tide charts and try to coordinate your visit with a big surf, and of course… treat the weatherman like your friend and pay attention to the conditions. Despite the fact that I wasn’t able to include any dramatic skies on this particular morning, I was able to explore the foreground area a bit and include some interesting elements along with the beautiful sunrise gradient of color… all in the name of trying to capture something that I could call mine.

Hope you like it.

(A couple of exposures were combined here to deal with the extreme range of light found at this time of day).

Just for kicks…

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Here’s an image just for show. There’s no real story to this post other than I like it. It’s of Nubble Light – sometimes called Cape Neddick – a classic New England lighthouse located on the coast of southern Maine in York. I grabbed the opportunity to soak in the start of a new day, and as the sun slowly rose, I just loved the textures in the foreground rocks and the subtle gradient in the sky. The color version is nice, but I especially liked the mood generated by the silvery black and white rendition. Enjoy!

As the sun rises…

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…it lights up the granite cliffs of Acadia National Park. From a rocky perch high above the Atlantic shoreline, I spent a wonderful, crisp morning witnessing the dawn of another day. Before sunrise, there was a subtle, almost blue hue which bathed the landscape, though I had a feeling, if patient, that some nice light would eventually climb above the clouds that were hugging the horizon, and that the scene would come alive.

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Soft pre-dawn light on the Acadia granite shoreline

A quick glance ninety degrees to the left where the sun was rising presented the scene below… captured in HDR mode with my iPhone, you can see how the clouds on the horizon subdued what might otherwise have been a pretty sunrise. I waited for the sun to get high enough in the sky to peer over those clouds, and the result was a familiar glow on the Acadia granite shown in the last photograph in this post. A high tide – or better still – a high tide that coincides with a big storm – would make this scene much more dramatic, but as with most mornings spent watching the sun come up in Acadia, I can’t think of a better place to be.

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A different angle

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In this location, I can usually be found hunkered down somewhere back near where the ocean meets the round rocks, since that spot gives you a view of the Atlantic Ocean and majestic Otter Cliffs. On this occasion however, I’m a little further along the Boulder Beach shoreline, looking back over my shoulder at a different angle. Looking in this direction doesn’t give a striking view of the cliffs, but the round rocks this location is renowned for are still there, and I love those steadfast trees standing guard over the scene.

“X” marks the spot

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Pre-dawn in Acadia National Park, as the light climbed over the horizon, the colors were to die for. The weathered granite, sculpted by the elements over thousands of years, offered boundless opportunities for exploring engaging foregrounds. On this particular morning, the almost cloudless sky was relatively uninteresting, so in search of a more compelling element, I tipped the camera down toward the awesome granite that Acadia is renowned for. Perched high above the Atlantic at low tide, I took a few deep breaths as I absorbed the scene pictured above. Have I mentioned lately… I love Acadia.

An awkward composition?

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This is a neat spot I found last weekend as I scampered down and across the granite ledges along the Loop Road in Acadia National Park. I was in search of a landscape composition that would get me a) rocks that would glow in the early light, b) a glimpse of the ocean, and c) an interesting foreground, especially since the cloudless sky on this particular morning wasn’t going to be holding anyone’s interest. Though a cool spot, I’m not so sure if these compositions work? In the landscape oriented image above, I’m thinking that there might be too much rock, making the composition a little left-heavy.

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I believe I like the portrait oriented version better, but I’m still not sold. Maybe this is just one of those instances where it was better to have been there in person – walk off that ledge in front and there’s a drop of about 50 feet, so there weren’t many options to move around and make adjustments. Then there was the biting winter wind, the smells of low tide, and the cry of the gulls overhead… all in all, I’d say this was a good place to be, regardless of whether or not I was able to cobble a composition together. For those of you familiar with the area – to give you a more precise idea of where I am – that thin sliver of rock laying off shore in Newport Cove is Old Soaker. And again… there’s black and white. This time, although I do like the foreground rocks in black and white, I think these images actually benefit from the warm/cool color contrasts within the scene. Any thoughts?

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A fleeting moment…

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Morning light moves fast. Right before I made the image above, I was shooting in the opposite direction, focusing on trying to create a composition that showcased the rugged, granite ledges along the Acadia National Park Loop Road. As I was doing so, I remembered to pause and take a quick glance over my shoulder to see if the high clouds rushing in ahead of an approaching front had caught any color… and as you can see… they had.

I love how the granite in Acadia takes on the color of the pre-dawn light. On different occasions I’ve seen it glow anywhere from red to orange to pink… sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s much more than that. On this particular morning, the sunrise over the ocean was mostly a yellow event, but for one fleeting moment overhead, we were treated to a palette of soft, pink light – only for a moment mind you – and as you can see, once again the Acadia granite didn’t disappoint.

Back into the fog… Wonderland

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I cannot imagine how angry and powerful the ocean must have been to arrange these broken, jagged rocks the way it did. Some of these slabs of granite are the size of a kitchen table, yet it looks as though they have been tossed around like little pebbles. Strewn all across the landscape known as Wonderland, I knew when I first set eyes on these rocks that I would want to present the scene as black and white. I hope you like it as much as I do.

My stash has run out

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It has been a long time since I have had a camera in my hand, so long in fact that I am literally out of material for the blog. After this post, I don’t have a single new image to share, so here’s a couple from my most recent photographic excursion. I made these on a wonderfully peaceful later afternoon jaunt to Marshall Point Lighthouse near Port Clyde in Maine. I’m accustomed to having a steady stream of photographs queued up for publishing regularly every 4 or 5 days, and that line usually extends out for maybe about a month. However, it has been about six weeks since I’ve laid my hand on the camera, so my “reserve” is totally spent. Hmmm… so where exactly did I leave that camera bag?

Simplifying the scene…

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5:17:33 a.m.

Simplifying the elements of a scene is always important, and when the weather doesn’t cooperate by providing the anticipated magical light, it becomes even more critical. Over my shoulder there was “almost” some nice first light, but a frontal system had stalled just offshore long enough to dull any chance of a dramatic sunrise. So, instead of warm pinks, yellows and reds lighting up those dappled overhead clouds, I had to settle for the deep pre-dawn blues of what was actually a cold, spring morning.

As soon as I arrived here, I knew immediately that I wanted to make the round boulders the star of this scene. In the second photograph I splayed the legs of my tripod out as far as I could and tried to get as close to the ground as possible. By doing so I was able to place greater emphasis on those beautiful smooth rocks which seemed to stretch forever. In both I liked how the classic Maine treeline and crescent shaped cove help to subtly frame the scene, and I don’t mind how the low-tide line and trees are silhouetted.

In the first photograph above, a longer exposure (80 seconds) added the effect of a little movement in the clouds (which I like), and in the second photograph we see a more traditional rendering of what were billowing and textured clouds. I think both of these are rather simple compositions… rocks, shoreline, trees and sky. I’d be curious about your thoughts on either of these compositions…

5:31:29 a.m.

As the light fades…

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After making a few photographs, I flipped on the video camera and I sat down to pause and reflect. I’ll see you all in a few days 🙂

Prospect Harbor Lighthouse

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Originally constructed in 1850 out of granite, the Prospect Harbor Lighthouse was replaced in 1891 by the current 42 ft high wooden structure. Standing sentinel at the mouth of Prospect Harbor on the Gouldsboro Peninsula just east of Schoodic, this beautiful lighthouse both welcomes and warns local mariners. I had spent a wonderfully peaceful early morning exploring the rocky shoreline of Schoodic, and after finishing up there, I wandered further around the coast toward this little gem of a place. The ocean was calm, the sun was warm, and I think I found another place to return to with better light.

Googly+ and inspiration

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I never really “got” the whole Facebook thing. I opened an account a long time ago, but I haven’t ever updated anything, and the handful of friend requests I got (from people I know in real life) are still sitting there unanswered. Just lately though, I have started investing a little bit of time in a similar social media platform – Google+ – and I admit to being quite intrigued by this new world.

The Google+ community seems to be a fertile landscape for photographers, and I’ve recently connected with several people whose work I admire (many of whom you can find in the “Photographers I admire” links on the right hand side of the blog). As always, people are very willing to share their experiences, ideas and expertise, so for anyone interested in learning from top notch landscape photographers, it is definitely a cool place to be. Actually, I find it somewhat incredible to be connected and conversing with such accomplished photographers – from all over the country and even the world – isn’t technology amazing?

To date, I’ve been able to get much of my social media fix from right here on the blog – thanks to y’all – but I think I’m also going to give Google+ a chance to see if it is an online community I can both contribute to and learn from. I’m still going to share right here on the blog as I always have, and of course I’ll bring the inspirations I get from Google+ back here.

Speaking of inspiration… lately I have been engrossed in admiring the black and white work of some fellow Google+ photographers. Some of you will remember my recent dabblings with this medium, and after spending a little time exploring the work of people like Nate Parker and Moe Chen, I finally pulled the trigger and printed a series of my own Acadia landscapes. I’m very much at the beginning stage of learning how to really appreciate and understand the nuances of black and white photography, but I am eager to learn. For this grouping I settled on 11 x 14 sized prints on paper with a metallic finish, and can’t wait to have them in hand. Here are the photographs I included in my mini-series to be printed, framed and hung on a wall at home…

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.

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.

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.