Postcard from Maine (6)

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4-22-14 Otter Cliffs 5

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.

4-22-14 Acadia(15)

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Postcard from Maine (5)

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4-20-14 Sandy7BW

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 (1)

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monument cove

Here’s a little something from my home state of Maine. Hope you don’t mind if I indulge myself with a couple of postcard posts of my favorite photographs of Maine, especially Acadia National Park. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to visit in person, but hopefully as the weather warms up and I start to feel a bit better I can get back down there again soon.

Also, rather than me having all the fun, I’d be happy to post any reader requests for images. Is there any particular place in Maine – or Acadia and Beyond – that you would like to see. I’ll scour the archives and see what I can find, and I’d be happy to share any story – technical or anecdotal – that I have behind the creation of the image.

For example, with the image in this post, I wanted to highlight those incredible round rocks that can be found at this location. The flecked pinkish granite in the foreground is absolutely spectacular, and when the waves rock those boulders back and forth the sound is mesmerizing. The sun had already risen when I made this photograph – in fact I had waited until the warm light had kissed the shoreline hanging above the cove. Classic Acadia.

I choose a fairly long shutter to allow for a degree of texture being created within the foreground water, but I also waited for a breaking wave to help create some mid-ground interest. I hope that helps explain the thought process going on as I made this one… and like I said, it’s one of my all-time favorites… Monument Cove in Acadia National Park.

A different angle

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1-18-14 boulder beach

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.

A range of light…

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As promised, here’s a low-tech description of a process I sometimes use to capture a wider amount of dynamic range than the camera is typically capable of handling – all within one photograph. Inside a dark cave like this looking out at a bright sky can present significant challenges when it comes to creating a correctly exposed, relatively natural-looking single exposure, and although this is a pretty extreme example, sunrise and sunset scenes can present similar challenges. Here’s a brief description of a process I sometimes use when dealing with a high amount of dynamic range within a scene.

12-8-13 Acadia1

I know I am somewhat over-simplifying things here, but what the hey, there’s nothing wrong with simple. In scenes where there is a high degree of dynamic range, we can use the camera to basically record:

a) an image with a correctly exposed foreground but a bright, overexposed white blob where the sky is located.

b) a correctly exposed view of the sky through the cave entrance with everything else in the scene jet black and devoid of any detail (actually quite cool and a composition that I made).

c) you can settle for something that averages out the need to expose for both the brighter sky and the darker recesses of the cave at the same time, though in this case, I believe that nothing more than a so-so result is produced.

In another scene where the light is more even, such a single exposure might work very well, but in a scene like this where there is a significant degree of dynamic range, my personal choice to get a relatively balanced overall exposure is to shoot several identical frames while the camera is on a secure tripod and then blend them using the puter. By keeping the size of the aperture the same in each bracketed shot – but adjusting the length of time the shutter is open – I can obtain several versions of the same scene. Stating the obvious here… but depending on how long the shutter is open for, some exposures will be darker, and some will be lighter. Then, taking parts of each frame I think best represent what my eyes could see – all in the name of working around the limitations of the camera and trying to create a fairly accurate representation of what the scene looked like – I combine them into one image.

12-9-13 blend

Just for giggles, here are three typical exposures that each captured a different range of the light in the cave more accurately. All shot at f11, iso 100 and at 17mm using a 17-40mm lens, from left to right, the length of the exposures were 1/100th of a second, half a second, and then 2.5 seconds. As you can see, the shortest exposure (1/100th sec), captured the early morning sky fairly accurately, but the rest of the scene is completely underexposed (not necessarily a bad thing, but my eyes could definitely see more foreground detail than is evident in that one exposure). The 2.5 second exposure captures just a little bit of the spectacular pink color my eyes could see in the foreground tidal pool, but the light streaming in through the cave entrance is totally over-exposed and, in this case, I don’t think all that pleasing. In the middle exposure (0.5 seconds), some of the detail in the rocks on the side of the cave is useful, but overall you end up with an exposure which doesn’t do justice to either the brighter or darker parts of the scene.

So… rather than settling for any one of the above exposures as a final image, one potential solution is to take what you need from each, add a little special sauce, and you’ll end up with a blended image like you see at the top of this post. Imagine layering the three versions of the scene shown here on top of each other, and then erasing the bits from each version that are either under or over exposed. I use Photoshop, but any photo-editing software that has “layers” will allow you the precise control to do this.

And then of course, there’s black and white… happy New Year!

Acadia sea cave2

A splash of color

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12-8-13 Acadia1At first glance, there wasn’t much color inside the dark cave, but as my eyes adjusted to the low light raking in from the right-hand side of the entrance, a range of earthy-toned blacks, browns and subtle greens could be seen on the algae-covered and very slippery rocks. And then there was the pink-colored bottom of one the tidal pools – that’s right, pink.

I tried hard to get an exposure that looked somewhat natural – several frames were bracketed and blended for this image – but no matter what I did, I couldn’t quite convey just how interesting I found the pink, sandy bottom of the tidal pool in the foreground to be. There wasn’t a lot of light in the cave, and in this type of situation the camera has a hard time capturing the range between the darkest and lightest parts of such a scene. In person, our eyes can adjust on the fly, allowing us to see the detail in the brighter clouds AND the wave-sculpted, jagged sides of the cave AND the darker underwater life in the tidal pools.

However, the mechanical nature of the camera means that it cannot make the gradual adjustments that our eyes can, and it can have difficulty creating an evenly balanced exposure of such a scene. In my next blog post, I will describe how I used several exposures to create one image that incorporates the range of light I witnessed, while at the same time hopefully maintaining a natural look.

Making it mine…

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Dec 2013 new fp

It’s funny how some photographs make their way onto the personal favorite list and some don’t. The photograph above is a screenshot of the refresh I just did to my portfolio site, and as you can see, I didn’t choose one of the iconic and more recognizable views of Acadia for the front page, but rather a more intimate – albeit dramatic – view from Sand Beach during a big storm.

Easily accessible, anyone who has ever visited Sand Beach has stood right in this exact spot looking south along the coast toward Otter Cliffs. Although a very popular vista, chances are that few people have witnessed this scene in these conditions, and for that reason, I’m fairly proud of the degree of originality that this image contains. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of photographs from Acadia National Park that are instantly recognizable – Cadillac Mountain, Bass Harbor Light, Schoodic, Otter Cliffs, Boulder Beach – heck, maybe if you’ve visited Acadia you too photographed similar scenes?

One of the most important lessons I ever learned though when making a landscape photograph – and it happened very early on in the process – was to try to be different… to try and make my photographs truly mine, different from what someone else might make. That process might involve the choice of lens and focal length to be used, the choice of a different physical perspective, or maybe just getting lucky one time with the light and weather conditions. Sometimes I’m successful at pulling that all together, and sometimes I’m not… though when I am, it’s usually because I’ve not only made a decent photograph, but because I’ve also had a memorable experience… and that’s when an image usually makes it’s way toward the personal favorite pile.