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 (1)

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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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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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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.

“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.

Revisiting a favorite photograph

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Not every favorite photograph has to be of a grand vista. I’m re-publishing one of my all-time favorite photographs in this post, an image that – at least for me – is quintessential Acadia. This is a more intimate view from the field of round rocks on Boulder Beach located just below Otter Cliffs. No ultra wide-angle, sunrise color-popping, wave-crashing excitement here… just a calm composition that accentuates the wonderfully shaped rocks that are strewn all over a place that is special to me. I can remember spending several hours on a foggy morning experimenting with a variety of compositions before discovering what you see in this frame. Like I said… one of my favorite photographs from one of my favorite places.

A Window to the World

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I’m celebrating the fact that I actually got off my you-know-what and made a new landscape photograph – one that I’m actually prepared to share! I hadn’t visited Acadia in several months, but all that changed this past weekend when local photographer Chad Tracy and I cruised down to MDI for a quick photo expedition. Despite the below freezing temperatures and the biting wind, standing on the rocky shoreline of my favorite national park never felt so good!

I’ll share a few more photographs from what was a beautiful sunrise over the next few days, so stay tuned. After exploring a part of the granite “ledges” along the Loop Road near Thunder Hole, our original plan was to meander back toward Sand Beach to maybe do some long exposures with the surf. We got sidetracked though when I realized how close we were to this unique location, and since the sun was already up, I was excited to visit at a time when I wouldn’t get the willies from it being too dark.

The ecosystem within this sea cave is extraordinarily delicate, so Chad and I were extremely cautious about making sure to walk only on the solid rock. Although not a huge secret, and relatively easy to find, to further protect this little gem I made Chad swear not to divulge the location to anyone else. The approach to the cave – and the floor inside – was quite slippery and tricky to navigate, and to add to the mystique, this location is only accessible at low tide. It was quite an experience to spend some time in here, and as we looked through the window out onto Frenchman Bay, we appreciated the shelter from the chilly winter air. I like this photograph, and I’m going to add it to my portfolio.

If you haven’t seen my full portfolio yet – if interested – you can click on over and check out a selection of my favorite images on Acadia and Beyond (in addition to Acadia, I’ve shared images of Maine, Ireland, Death Valley, Yosemite). If you do visit the site, drop me a line… I’d love to hear your thoughts. If interested in purchasing from the site between now and the New Year, to save some cash be sure to type in the discount code “Acadia” when checking out. A bargain… Happy holidays!

And yes… I’m trying out a new blog theme. Feedback appreciated on that too 🙂

It’s official…

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I’m officially “retired” from the landscape photography game… or at least it feels that way. It has been a long, long time since I raised my camera at a sunrise or sunset in earnest. Between work, family, Oliver and the recent soccer season… I’ve not even given my tripod a second look in months. In fact, the last “serious” photograph I made was way back in July when I visited the area just beyond the cliffs at Otter Point in Acadia National Park. The good news? I am determined to get back in the saddle and make a few runs down to Acadia before the end of the year in the name of landscape photography. In the meantime… you guessed it… here’s an impromptu photo shoot of Oliver relaxing after a long walk! Happy Thanksgiving.

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Waiting for the snow…

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It’s that in-between stage of the year when fall foliage colors are gone and the trees are left standing stark and bare. Though there are certainly landscape photographs to be made at this time of year, especially on the coast where the lack of leaves on the trees has minimal impact on potential compositions, I find these last few weeks of fall rather dull and uninspiring. As we make the transition into winter, it’s also becoming much colder, and when the wind picks up like it has been lately, the challenge to get out and about with the camera increases. The carpet of downed leaves loses its vibrancy, and the landscape in general looks (to me) quite drab and thin. That all changes though when the snow comes… and mark my words, here in Maine it will definitely come! A fresh blanket of the white stuff will transform the landscape, covering up the ordinary scenes currently littered with dead leaves, and with it will come renewed inspiration and a rekindled desire to photograph the surroundings. I’ve made a resolution to spend more time in Acadia this winter to try and capture the beauty of my favorite National Park in the snow. In the meantime, as we wait for the snow, from a few years back here’s a famous and iconic Acadia scene blanketed in winter…

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Even in the midday sun…

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…this place is beautiful. From a recent day-trip to my favorite national park, Acadia, this location is commonly known as Boulder Beach, and lies just below the striking and iconic Otter Cliffs. I’m usually photographing this scene at first light when as the sun crests the horizon it almost magically lights up the famous pink coastal Maine granite. In the right conditions, these rocks literally sparkle when low angled light hits them, but on this occasion, the overhead midday sun created a contrasty, but no-less-beautiful, scene. The round rocks, the deep blue Atlantic Ocean, and the chiseled outline of Otter Cliffs can hold their own at any time of the day, and I couldn’t help but photograph what is a favorite place. As I experimented with my iPhone camera while making these images, I turned the phone upside down so that the camera was closer to the ground than normal. This accentuated the foreground elements and helped make a more interesting composition… at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

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Prints and time to pay up!

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A while back I asked for some help in finding “new” places to find inspiration and photograph within Acadia National Park. You guys came up with some great ideas, and despite the not-so-good weather during our vacation, I had a fun time following up on many of your suggestions. I promised if I was able to photograph the location you mentioned, that I’d make you a print. I sincerely do appreciate the advice you all gave me, and I enjoyed the challenge of photographing new – or at least less familiar – Acadia landscapes. Now it’s time for me to pay up. If you were one of the people who helped me with a location suggestion, and if you would like a print from that location, drop me a line via email with your address and mention the location you suggested – I’ll have something nice printed up and mailed to you. If you like anything specific from my “real” site, holler and I can print from there too. I can be reached at pattersond at roadrunner.com

Thanks again!

Printing on metal

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I recently splurged and had the photograph above printed directly onto metal. These days you can have a photograph printed on just about any surface – I’ve experimented with different types of paper, and am a big fan of canvas – but this is the first time I’ve had anything printed on metal, and when I opened the package…  it blew my mind.

The color pops like nothing I’ve ever seen, and the detail rendered makes it feels as if you can walk right into the scene. Almost 3-D, the colors are incredibly faithful to the original file, and without a doubt, this is the most impressive medium I have ever seen a photograph printed on.

The price initially made me swallow hard, but when you consider the cost of printing, matting, mounting and framing a similarly sized paper print, it really isn’t that much more expensive… especially when you consider the serious upgrade in product quality, and the no-hassle ready to hang nature of this type of order. I might not be ready to print everything on metal just yet, but I sure am tempted.

Here’s the original photograph made at the base of Otter Cliffs in Acadia National Park last fall. Epic sunrise.

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A quiet little pond in Acadia

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Bubble Pond remains a quiet oasis in the middle of a heavily traveled summer season in Acadia National Park. Perhaps it’s because the tiny little parking lot only holds no more than a dozen cars, or maybe it’s because people are in a hurry to get to a couple of classic park icons about a mile on either side… Jordan Pond to the south and Cadillac Mountain to the north. Whatever the reason, I’m OK with it – this jewel of tranquility can stay quiet forever as far as I’m concerned. In the first image, the setting sun bathes the lower part of the west face of Cadillac in golden light, and in the photograph below you get a simple view of Bubble Pond Bridge, one of the famous Acadia carriage road bridges. It’s August 1st already… where does the summer go?

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Looking for it to work…

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Every time I drive along the Loop Road in Acadia National Park, my eyes are drawn to this stand of birch trees, and I just know a photograph is buried in there somewhere. I stop and try to compose a photograph maybe one in every three times I pass this spot, but to date I’ve not been able to come away with a composition I’m entirely satisfied with. Looking at these photographs, I’m thinking that maybe I need to get a little tighter? I find the distinctive white bark on the skinny but strong trees quite remarkable, and for me, the dark shadows in the forest add a much-needed element of depth to the scene. Although I’ve tried again and again to make it work, I’m still not thrilled about what I’ve been able to create from here. Certain scenes are more challenging than others to photograph in a personally meaningful way, and in instances like this, I wonder if I’m just trying too hard to make it work, when perhaps there isn’t something there after all. Oh well… I bet the next time I’m driving along the Loop Road I’ll stop once again… and who knows, maybe one day I’ll figure this place out after all!

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A landscape worth exploring…

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This is Otter Point in Acadia National Park, Maine. Despite having spent considerable time photographing in Acadia, this is a location that, until recently, I had not fully explored. The trail from the parking lot leads you to the point in the distance where the trees look like they’re coming down to the ocean, though if you make a left turn, and follow the Ocean Path for maybe 50 yards or so, you’ll be introduced to a wonderfully rocky and jagged shoreline with all sorts of textures and shapes to explore. I was perched here waiting for the clouds overhead to light up as the sun set behind Otter Point, and I did my best to include some of the striking leading lines in a relatively rare (for me) landscape oriented composition. Once again, here it is in black and white… I’m torn between the two this time… on the one hand I like the subtle colors, especially the earthy tones, but the black and white once again accentuates the shapes and lines. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this one…

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