Stretching the legs

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After celebrating Thanksgiving Day with the extended family in Northampton, Massachusetts, we made the long drive back to Maine this afternoon. The food was better than good, and as always, it was great to have the entire family together. At just over five hours from door to door, this trip isn’t as long as the usual drive to New York, but it’s still a long time to spend in the car. Crossing the Piscataqua River Bridge and into our home state, we decided to take a break from driving and stop off at a pretty little lighthouse along the coast. As we stretched our legs and grabbed some welcome fresh air, the wind was howling and the waves were pounding the shore of Cape Neddick, home to one of the most picturesque of Maine lighthouses.

Afternoon de-light ; )

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Some say you can’t make a decent photograph outside of the “golden” hours of early morning or late afternoon, and while I enjoy the soft light of the morning as much as the next person, I say that’s not necessarily true. The light around sunrise and sunset can certainly be beautiful, elevating a decent composition to something special, but there are plenty of photographs to be made in the middle of the day.

I really like the textures in these two black and white images of Bass Harbor Light in Acadia National Park. The jagged rocks provide an interesting foreground with lots of lines leading to the lighthouse, the choppy ocean looks alive and full of energy, and the dappled clouds in the sky create a nice backdrop for a classic New England coastal scene.

Like I said… afternoon de-light ; )

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?

Reaching out into the ocean

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It has been a while since I was out with the camera. These photographs are from a wonderfully calm evening spent at Marshall Point Lighthouse in late August. That’s almost six weeks since I tripped the shutter : (

The New England fall foliage season is in full swing around these parts, but it doesn’t look promising for me to be able to get out to make any photographs. This will be a busy week with work and with soccer season winding down, but you never know, maybe I’ll be able to steal away for a few hours later in the week.

In the meantime, here are a few black and white renditions of what is a particularly striking lighthouse on the Maine coast. This is the lighthouse that Forrest Gump ran to and ran to and ran to in the movie as he traversed back and forth across the country. It is a unique structure, one that just begs to be photographed.

Marshall Point Lighthouse

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Can you imagine just chilling on the rocks at the ocean’s edge watching the sun go down on a view as pretty as this? As I have said many times, I feel quite fortunate to live in a state as beautiful as Maine, and it’s when I can slow down and enjoy a scene like this that I am most content. I have a couple more photographs to share from what was a very peaceful late afternoon spent here, but it wasn’t until the sun had gone down that I began to truly appreciate my surroundings. As the tide washed in around the lighthouse and jagged shore, I perched myself just out of its reach and watched as the day slowly and delicately gave way to the night.

The most photographed lighthouse in Maine

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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.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse sunset

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Bass Harbor Light in Acadia National Park – a neutral density filter and a long-ish exposure (6 seconds) made for a very peaceful sunset scene at my favorite lighthouse. I’ve photographed this lighthouse many times, and it never seems to get old. Though the sunset colors on this particular evening were quite nice, when I converted this scene to black and white I immediately found the photograph more interesting. When this photograph was made, the sun went down way off to the right and behind the lighthouse, though as we enter into the fall season, I’m looking forward to the end of this month when the sun will actually set in view from this spot. I’ll have to see about returning then, and who knows, maybe the pretty colors will trump my fascination with black and white?

Instagramming

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I believe that it was late May when I last lugged my camera to the shore and saw the sun rise. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to get up and take advantage of the pre-dawn light that I love, but lately I’ve been choosing to hit the snooze button rather than get up (really early) for first light. I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t been able to motivate myself to get my act in gear photographically, but whatever it is has conspired to send me into probably the most prolonged photo slump ever.

Even though I haven’t had my “real” camera out in a while, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been making photographs though. Both Sam and Lori have iPhones, and as we travel around on our family adventures, I admit to hogging Lori’s phone (camera). Just recently I found the Instagram app, and although photographs rather heavily filtered and automatically cropped to square are frowned upon by many… I’m totally hooked. Excellent landscape photographer Nate Parker seems to agree with my sentiments about it not being such a bad thing, and I got a chuckle out of reading his recent post titled: “Why Hipstamatic and Instagram are totally awesome.”

I love having the iPhone camera with me all the time. I carry it everywhere I go… to places where in all likelihood I wouldn’t bother carrying my “real” camera. Having access to a camera at all times has me looking to make photographs pretty much constantly, and it also has me making photographs of subjects that I might not otherwise try to photograph. Some work, and some (many) don’t. I love experimenting with the canned filters in Instagram, and I also love how with one touch you can make subtle (and not so subtle) adjustments to colors, style and depth of field. Transforming boring photographs into something you might have expected from a toy camera 15 years ago, I find Instagrammed images to be fun, quirky and interesting (sometimes). Here’s a quick sample of some of my first Instagrammed photographs… and since I’m in a “real photo” slump of late, I’m just happy that it at least keeps me clicking the shutter.

*I’m off to spend the night in Acadia right after I hit the publish button on this post, and I’m determined to see the sun rise tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll finally have a new photograph to share…

Morning paddle in Acadia

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My time in Acadia National Park usually consists of an early morning drive down to the coast for what I always hope will be a glorious sunrise with amazing light. Rarely do I actually stay on the island, and in the summer when the sun rises before 5:00 a.m., that invariably means a very, very early start. So when granny and grandpa recently rented a cottage in Bass Harbor, I felt like I had been given a free pass to photographing some of the beautiful and classic local Acadian landscapes – without having to sacrifice much of highly my cherished sleep.

Other than a soggy 4th of July, the two weeks at the cottage were filled with nothing but blue skies and spectacularly warm temperatures. For vacationers the weather was perfect, but for someone looking for skies filled with dramatic clouds, it was a little bit disappointing. The first few days of the vacation I set my alarm for early o’clock, only to wake up each morning and see clear and cloudless skies. Not particularly conducive to interesting landscape photography, after a while I decided to give up on the photography part, and I reverted to vacation mode where I simply relaxed and enjoyed what was a very revitalizing time.

One of the benefits of spending family time near Bass Harbor Lighthouse is being able to take the kayak out onto the ocean to get a different take on a familiar scene. I have photographed this lighthouse many times, though most of my favorite images have been from the more traditional location on the jagged rocks below the cliffs. Both of these photographs were made at about 8:00 a.m. on an amazingly peaceful morning as the tide was going out. Lori paddled while I photographed… what a way to start the day!

My first “real” photograph

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From a few years back, and then a couple of days ago… these two photographs are of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Lubec, Maine. When I first became seriously interested in landscape photography, I can remember making a very early morning run to see the sun come up at this location. I had viewed other photographers’ impressions of the red-and-white striped beacon, and was of course then intrigued to see it (and photograph it) for myself.

The photograph above was originally made on Fuji Velvia slide film and then scanned, and it was probably one of the first photographs of mine that I really liked. I can remember being excited to get the film processed, and when I placed the slide on the light table and looked through the loupe and saw something I liked… old school, but priceless.

The photograph below was made with my fancy, modern Canon 5D MK II DSLR, and was more of a “happened to be in the area” type shot this time around. Even though the middle of the day light was a little harsh, I enjoyed reminiscing about my previous visit to this location and my journey over the past few years making landscape photographs.

Different conditions for sure, but I still marveled at what is an incredibly striking landmark, and I couldn’t help but appreciate how very lucky I am to live in a state as beautiful as Maine.

The Easternmost point in the United States

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West Quoddy Head is a little spit of land near Lubec, Maine, that just happens to be the easternmost point in the United States. It is also home to one of the most striking lighthouses to be found along the coast of Maine. Built in 1858, the impressive red and white striped beacon stands guard over the Quoddy Narrows which stretch between the US and Canada, and it also sits on the piece of US soil closest to Europe. Not only do you get an amazing view of the downeast Maine rocky shoreline, but off in the distance you also get a glimpse of Grand Manan, the largest island in the Bay of Fundy. There were some pretty wildflowers growing in the immediate vicinity of the lighthouse, and those red-and-white stripes were quite remarkable.

As the sun goes down…

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This time of year the sun sets directly behind the Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park, creating a wonderful opportunity to use the famous silhouette of the headland compositionally. In this photograph, I slapped my 6-stop ND filter on to get a long-ish exposure of 6 seconds, and I think it somewhat simplifies the scene. I like how the smoothed out ocean mirrors the tasty color gradient in the sky, and I also enjoy the almost monochromatic look and feel of this one. I have other versions where the lighthouse is completely silhouetted, but I preferred this one where I think enough detail is maintained to show a glimpse of why this classic lighthouse exists – the jagged rocks that it stands on.

Light through a window

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I adore this lighthouse. I hadn’t been here in a while for sunset, so on this visit I enjoyed becoming reacquainted with a favorite landscape in the waning light. This time of year the path of the setting sun takes it behind the headland, and as I approached the scene, I couldn’t help but notice the light streaming through the window of the lighthouse. There weren’t any dramatic clouds to be had on this occasion, but I liked how the smooth gradient in the sky simplified the scene. The family and I are getting ready for two weeks in a rental cottage right next door to this location, so there’s a good chance I’ll be re-visiting if the conditions seem especially interesting… stay tuned.

Afternoon light at Bass Harbor

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Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park is one of those iconic picture postcard type locations that every visitor to Maine should see. Perched high above the Atlantic Ocean, this classic New England lighthouse does it’s job proudly as it both welcomes and warns mariners navigating the waters of the Blue Hill Bay. A short walk through a coastal forest leads you to a series of steep stairs, but once you make it to the bottom of those stairs you are right here… with an awesome view.

From a landscape photographer’s perspective, this scene is a dream. It works at all times of the day, and the impressive foreground rocks leading toward the very photogenic lighthouse allow for many compositional possibilities. This is a favorite place of mine, and one that I return to quite often at different times of the day and in different conditions.

As you can see, these particular photographs weren’t made in the early morning, nor were they made in the waning, golden light of the evening. Although spectacular in morning or evening light, this place is just so beautiful that it works in all conditions and at any time of day. So, even in the afternoon light, make sure to have your camera fully charged and at the ready… you never know what you might find!

Stormy skies…

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A familiar scene… the sunrise didn’t quite materialize as I had hoped on this particular morning, though the dark and ominous clouds offshore certainly made for a dramatic backdrop to the Prospect Harbor Lighthouse. The white of the lighthouse structure and the red of the actual beacon “popped” really nicely against the darker background, and the gloomy early morning light helped paint an interesting scene. In addition to the stormy skies, I was drawn to the foreground reflection of the lighthouse which was visible, but at the same time was being broken up by waves gently lapping the shore.

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.