Standing sentinel over Casco Bay, and the most photographed lighthouse in Maine, Portland Head Light is one of those places where I don’t think it is possible to take a bad photograph. Instantly recognizable from any angle, the striking white pillar contrasts wonderfully with the rocky headland it protects against.
Though the conditions on this visit were vastly different from when I made one of my favorite photographs, I never get tired of seeing this picturesque and photogenic Maine landmark. We were spending a relaxing family weekend in the Portland area when we visited on this occasion, and as we wandered along the coastal path away from the lighthouse, we got a true appreciation of the reason why this magnificent beacon was created in the first place.
Ever since Chad Tracy and I “discovered” this little cove a few weeks back, I’ve wanted to return at sunrise to photograph it. There are big rocks and little rocks, jagged rocks and smooth rocks, and the view is undeniably quintessential Maine. Two times I’ve returned here at first light, but on both occasions I was far from impressed with how a very low tide had transformed the cove. A large swath of dark, seaweed-covered rocks made for an un-photogenic landscape, and both times I ended up punting and going here and here – where luckily I witnessed some gorgeous early morning light on those classic Schoodic round rocks. However, when I checked the tide charts for this weekend and noticed that high tide was going to coincide with sunrise, I figured it was time to return.
As I’ve mentioned fairly regularly, sunrise comes early to Maine in the summer months, and when you factor in a 75-90 minute drive to be in a particular location about an hour before the sun actually rises… well, you can imagine how jarring that 2:45 a.m. alarm sounds. I’m always wary when driving on rural roads at that time of night – or is that considered morning – since on more than one occasion I have encountered wildlife trying to get from one side of the road to the other. Animals I’ve seen include moose, deer, porcupine, raccoon, woodchuck, bobcat (my buddy Steve swears it was a mountain lion though)… and those are just the large-ish critters that have crossed my path!
Today though, I got to add another animal to my sightings list… a coyote. About ten minutes into my pre-dawn drive I saw a scrawny looking creature running across the road just on the furthest edge of my high beams. I’m fairly used to seeing deer while on the Maine roads at night, so initially I just assumed that’s what this was… a small deer. As I caught up to him though, it became obvious that it wasn’t a deer and that I had just seen my first Maine coyote! Looking for luck, I immediately convinced myself that a landscape photographer hoping for a glorious sunrise who spots a coyote crossing his path must be similar to anyone else having a black cat cross their path. That’s supposed to bring good luck, right?
While I appreciate the drama that high tide and lively surf can offer compositionally, I also enjoy exploring the secrets that are revealed at low tide. All sorts of normally submerged goodies become exposed, and quite often the palette of color on display is striking. On this particular morning, the soft, even light of what was actually an uninspiring sunrise created a kaleidoscope of earthy colors that I really liked. As the incoming tide softly washed around my feet, I couldn’t help but smile as the ocean once again temporarily reclaimed possession of such a beautiful landscape.
It is very easy to miss an amazing little stretch of Schoodic that is tucked away out of sight – unless you know where it is of course. Previously oblivious to its location, I have driven by an area known as the Raven’s Nest many times, but with a bit of sleuthing by Chad Tracey, directions were obtained and a visit planned. Ever since a recent trip to Schoodic, I can’t seem to get the place out of my mind. Feeling restless, and not having the patience to wait for the weekend, I hopped in the car mid-week and made the trek to the coast.
A short walk through a gnarly and wind-sculpted forest brings you quite quickly to this rather dramatic overlook. The NPS doesn’t seem to publicize this location, and I can sort of see why. Though some care has obviously been taken in the curation of the thin trail around the craggy headland, this place definitely isn’t for the faint of heart, and I certainly wouldn’t bring my kid here. Tree roots and coarse vegetation – both interested in snagging your every step – abound all along a narrow trail which is at times mere inches from a precipitous fall. I’m not so good with heights and taking risks, so let’s just say I was leaning heavily to one side with my center of gravity pretty low as I explored this gorgeous area!
There are many more compositions to discover in this one tiny part of Schoodic, so this is a place I will definitely be returning to. The two images in this post are from just before, and just after, the last light of the day. In the first, warm light on the classic Acadia granite before sunset was truly remarkable, and despite the absence of any clouds, I loved the view and especially the color reflected onto the ocean. With the horizon so clear, I was hoping to capture the subtle colors of the earth shadow in the second image, but instead, as the night rolled in I settled for some incredibly deep blues. I’d love to hear your thoughts on both of these…
After spending a wonderful early morning near the main parking lot area of Schoodic, fellow photographer Chad Tracey and I decided to extend the morning and do some location scouting for future photo expeditions. We found some big rocks and some little rocks, and as we rounded every headland, strikingly beautiful coves lay waiting to be discovered, with each rocky beach seemingly better than the next.
Although part of Acadia National Park, Schoodic lies across Frenchman Bay from Mount Desert Island, and as such, it receives much less traffic, and could even be considered unspoiled. I love that part of the park which lies within the boundaries of Mount Desert Island, but I have to admit, spending a little time over at Schoodic definitely opened my eyes to the potential for landscape photography. Anyhoo… here’s a quick snap from one of the headlands – I can’t wait to return and get down into those secluded and spectacular Schoodic coves.
John O’Connor, accomplished photographer and assistant to master landscape photographer William Neill, recently blogged about returning again and again to a familiar place. He described how he often returns to Lewis Creek in the Sierra National Forest, not just to photograph it, but to enjoy and experience it. In his very eloquent blog post, John shares a wonderful image, but he also captured much of how I think about Acadia National Park, and specifically the area around Otter Cliffs.
Each of the last three weekends I have visited my favorite place, and each time there I have tried to “see” and capture it in different ways. Spending time alone in a place so beautiful is good for the soul, and in addition to attempting to make some pretty pictures, I have really appreciated the time spent there. On the past two weekends I was lucky to see extraordinary sunrises, but this time around the area was socked in with fog. This brought a totally different feel to the location… eerily blue and still before dawn, and soft and grey even after the sun had risen. I spent a long time on the rocks this time, shooting the obligatory icon shot in what were for me unique foggy conditions, but I also wandered the shoreline searching for more intimate scenes like the ones in this post.
There are certainly classic compositions to be had in the area under Otter Cliffs, and I have returned often in different seasons and at different times of day in search of light and conditions that help convey the beauty of this location. I feel as if I now “know” many of the elements better… individual rocks among the round boulders, the impressive granite cliffs rising up out of the Atlantic, and the usually hidden rocks that become uncovered at low tide. I never get tired of spending time here, and am sure that I will return again and again, photographing and enjoying what for me has become a familiar and favorite place.
When I first started becoming interested in landscape photography, it seemed natural for me to visit Acadia National Park and use it as subject matter. I am lucky to live within about an hour of the park, and it truly is special to be able to spend time there.
My early days in landscape photography involved using a non-digital camera and good old slide film. I had no clue what I was doing, so when a photographer friend of mine told me to use Fuji Velvia for landscapes, I did. He told me that the greens and blues would be quite saturated, and that there was nothing like getting your film back from processing and seeing it on the light table. He was right, very right.
Slide film was quite unforgiving when it came to getting the exposure correct, and many of my earliest attempts did not quite work out. I can recall shooting several rolls of 36 exposures, the outcome of which were quite a few images that were either too dark, or too light. Every now and then I got one right… more than likely due to luck rather than expertise, though I soon learned the value of bracketing for exposure. Using a digital camera today, you can preview your photographs (or even check the histogram) to determine if you have a correct exposure, but in the days of slide film you had to really know what you were doing, or wait until your images returned from processing to see how you did – though the anticipation of waiting for a couple of days was always exciting to me.
The image below is of my absolute favorite place… Monument Cove in Acadia National Park. It was shot on Velvia slide film, and I think I used a cheap Cokin graduated neutral density filter to try to balance out the difference in exposure between the rocks and the sky. The sun rises to the left of this scene sometimes making for spectacular early morning light, but on this mid to late Sunday afternoon in summer I was fortunate to get a combination of shade from the clouds above, and warmth from the sun off to the right and out of the frame.