Postcard from Maine (10)

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Finally… as we approach the middle of June, everything around these parts begins to green up, and there’s a special little place in Acadia that I always love to visit this time of year. Bubble Pond, nestled between Cadillac and Pemetic, is a jewel of a landscape location, and as you can see from this image, it comes alive after the winter displaying an array of earthy colors that are pretty sweet to see. Made mid-morning, this photograph always reminds me that even though winter will be long around here, springtime will eventually arrive, and when it does, it will bring with it opportunities to enjoy colors that sparkle.

Postcard from Maine (7)

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Coming soon! I always love when spring finally really springs and the landscape begins to green up. Though it take it’s sweet time to get here, the fresh breath of post-winter life that eventually washes over the landscape is well worth the wait. The greens can be electric, and the smells and sound of new growth are intoxicating. By early June we have an additional bonus where swathes of purple and pink begin to dot the landscape, and I have to admit, it’s a favorite time of mine. If you’re in Acadia looking for Lupine, you’ll of course find it scattered randomly in places all over Mount Desert Island, but there are also several cool places – that I know of – where you can find it in abundance.

There’s a lush and full field of Lupine that grows wild in the heart of Bar Island, just offshore from Bar Harbor. The good news… at low tide you can access this treasure by walking across an uncovered spit of land. Be careful though, the ocean waits for no-one and you need to pay attention to the time and tide. Tread with care and make nice photographs.

Another beautiful example of Acadia Lupine can be found along the Beech Hill Cliffs Road. When coming onto the island, travel south through the quaint village of Somesville and look for a right turn toward Beech Hill. After about quarter of a mile make a left and follow the road toward Beech Hill… at the end of this dead-end route there are some wonderful views from above Echo Lake on some very pretty quiet side trails that also offer ocean views to the south of Acadia – and along the way you’ll see two large fields that will be overflowing with colorful Lupine in June. Enjoy!

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.

One of my angels…

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4-13-14 Cadillac debbie3 Cancer is a bad thing. It has obviously struck our family out of the blue, and as it did so, make no mistake that it has rocked our foundation to the core. We’re asking questions and looking for answers… answers that we’re learning aren’t necessarily there for us just yet. Our friends and family are asking questions too, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the desire of others to provide us with help and support. It’s hard… what do you say to help someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer? It’s a frustrating situation for all involved… everyone wants to help, but there’s only so much one can do. Tremendously frustrating for all involved.

4-13-14 cadillac debbie2People want to help, and we want people to know that their encouraging words and support are indeed helping. How do we let our friends and community know how much their support is appreciated… that’s hard too. Hopefully by posting on the blog I’m able to – even in some small way – pass along our gratitude? I mean it when I say that we feed off of that positive energy every day, and we are truly and eternally grateful for the generous outpouring of love we are experiencing every day. In addition to the incredible support our entire local community is nurturing us with, as we navigate this sometimes unpredictable journey, we’ve been especially blessed with the additional and remarkable support of certain individuals.

4-13-14 cadilac debbie1 Here’s one such individual… Debbie. Debbie is one of my angels. Debbie and Jeff have the most beautiful family of three wonderful boys and a gorgeous, black standard poodle named Sidney. I have had the very good fortune to coach one of their boys on my high school soccer team, and in doing so, I have also had the even better fortune of getting to know this wonderful family just a little bit better.

Debbie is a nurse –  wow, that’s such a short word that in no way describes the role that Debbie has helped play in my dealing with this situation – she has meant so, so much more to our family. I’ve had a few hiccups (literally and figuratively) along the way, and as one of the angel nurses on the sixth floor of the Eastern Maine Medical Center who has been trusted with my care on more than one occasion since the diagnosis, I feel as though Debbie has indisputably influenced my very existence.

So… how to thank someone for giving so much? Impossible. But when I’m able to reproduce an image of mine that means a lot to me – this canvas of an early summer morning sunrise from the summit of Cadillac in Acadia National Park – and see Debbie so happy to receive it as a small token of thanks and hang it in her home… that makes me proud, honored and very humble. One of my angels… Debbie. Thank you.

In search of a foreground element…

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*Taking a break from the Chemonotony 😉

Here’s a rare sighting of me in front of the camera! Not from recent times, this is from the fall of 2002… wait, let me go check that. Ayuh, seems like this was made by my friend Monty all the way back on 9/14/2002 – now that’s quite some time ago! This little vignette of a scene gives a good idea of what it takes for me to come away with a likable photograph.

Nice backdrop – check (The Beehive in Acadia National Park)

Nice light – check (I’m in the shadow of Great Head, and as the sun rises from behind it, the Beehive is slowly bathed in warm color)

Nice composition – here’s where the challenge begins! Those are my bare feet in the chilly Atlantic Ocean showing a definite willingness to do what it takes to get the photograph 😉

So… when attempting to create a pleasant composition, one of the first things I look for is an interesting foreground element. For some strange reason, I seem to be drawn to vertical compositions versus landscape oriented scenes. Don’t get me wrong… I always look for – and enjoy discovering – landscape compositions that showcase the width of particular scenes, but there’s something special about the effect that can be derived from using a wide-angle lens in portrait orientation. A wide-angle lens can make foreground elements seem larger than they actually are, and by making them appear closer to the camera than they really are, it can also help create depth from front to back within the scene.

Anyhoo… this is why – when composing a landscape photograph – you’ll likely find me (even in 2002) scouring the ground in search of something interesting that might help introduce the viewer to the scene and hopefully compel them to curiously explore my composition further. In the photograph above, you’ll notice my sturdy tripod plopped apparently randomly right in the middle of a bunch of jagged rocks that are littered across the edge of the shoreline. The boundary of where the ocean meets the land is eternally intriguing, one that uncovers and reveals infinite possibilities. In the shot below, hopefully I was able to unearth some of those wonderful possibilities?

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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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Early days and Maine lighthouses…

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The rugged coast of Maine is dotted with many picturesque and photogenic lighthouses. When I first started taking landscape photography seriously maybe 10 years ago, these lighthouses were a popular subject of mine. Now when I dip back into the archives, I can find several examples that I think stand the test of time. Very much a beginner when it came to composition, I can remember being ultra-conscious of trying to arrange the elements within the frame into a cohesive and pleasing composition. Compositional skills can always be improved, and even today, one of the challenges of landscape photography that I perhaps enjoy the most is using the camera viewfinder to create an interesting photograph.

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Back in the good old days I was shooting 35mm Fuji Velvia 50 slide film, and for those of you who can remember Velvia, it was renowned for the deep contrast and saturated colors it rendered. I have to admit, I almost miss waiting several days for slides to be processed and picked up from the lab – the anticipation and excitement of discovering if I had been successful or not only added to the magical moment when I fired up the light table and peered eagerly through the loupe. I said that I “almost” miss those days… but nah, methinks I definitely enjoy the instant gratification (and benefit of immediate feedback) of digital imagery more.

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In order from the top of this post… a foggy sunrise at Marshall Point Lighthouse with a cheap Cokin Filter and a coincidental lobster fisherman. Pemaquid Lighthouse at dawn with typically vibrant Velvia saturation, lying on my belly at the Rockland Breakwater Light on a cold and blustery morning, and then finally, a brave lobsterman is welcomed home on an icy Bass Harbor blue-sky winter day. Maybe I should renew my relationship with some of these picturesque Maine lighthouses… during the winter months they’re relatively accessible without having to trudge any real distance through a foot of snow. Hmmmm… stay tuned.

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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.

Distilling the scene

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1-5-14 bass harbor3 BWTake away the color and you’re left with basic elements like lines, shapes, textures and tones. Certain photographs lend themselves well to being converted to black and white and others don’t, and in this case, I kinda liked how this scene looked in monochrome. Distinct and obvious in shape, the jagged granite rocks add drama to an already iconic view, and in each of these compositions, I tried to wed the foreground, mid ground and background together in a cohesive way. Hopefully I succeeded.

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The pick of the litter

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Though proud of the black and white rendition of this scene, I’m going to say that I like the color version slightly better. So, what makes this image the pick of the litter for me? I like the foreground. I like how the rocky shoreline zig-zags as it recedes through the mid ground. I like how the waning twilight-induced longer exposure smoothed out the mighty Atlantic. I like the classic Acadia granite, and I especially like how it looks with a dusting of snow. I like how the local evergreens frame the spectacular and pulsing beacon, and I like how the longer exposure impacted the clouds that were streaking overhead. I like how even the tones are throughout the scene, and I like how, compositionally, all roads lead the eye through the scene and back to the lighthouse. Most of all though, I like how, when I look at this photograph, I can vividly recall the personal and intimate experience of spending time in a favorite place.

Tweaking a composition

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I hope you’re not getting tired of this place? This particular location – at least when perched out on the ice-covered rocks like I was – doesn’t leave a lot of room for maneuvering and making adjustments to a composition. Depending on the tidal conditions, there are only a couple of tight ledges/rocks that can be used to park one’s self and gear. I always enjoy making decisions about which elements to include within the frame and how they should be arranged in relation to each other – in doing so I’m always trying to tell a story, convey what it felt like to be there, display the beauty on show – for me, that’s all part of the fun of landscape photography.

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When confined to this specific location, if interested in including the lighthouse, the rocks, and maybe a breaking wave, then a wide angle lens is a must. Changing focal lengths will give you the ability to make a few compositional adjustments, but this particular scene is definitely one where creative choices are somewhat limited. I’m a sucker for using a wide-angle lens to accentuate the foreground of any scene, and in this particular location, there is no shortage of interesting elements to include. The lines in the rocks can be used to help steer the viewer’s eyes toward the lighthouse, and on this chilly winter day, I wanted to try and include some of the ice-encrusted foreground.

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Once I settle on a broad concept of what I’d like to include, I’ll make some subtle changes within the frame, all the while trying to improve the quality of the composition. Options include raising or lowering the tripod to change the perspective, moving it from side to side, tipping the camera forward or backward, and perhaps making adjustments to the focal length. I typically end up with maybe a half dozen slight variations on a composition, though it’s usually not until I get back home and fire up the computer that I can contrast and compare what I made. This brief visit to Bass Harbor was fairly productive, and it felt good to be breathing in the winter air and making photographs again. I’ll share my favorite image from this trip in the next post.

Behind the scenes…

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Here’s a little peek behind the scenes as it were. When I arrived at Bass Harbor Lighthouse about an hour before sunrise, I quickly realized that the light, though subtle and quite calming, wasn’t going to produce a lot of action in the sky, so I started to look for ways to make the scene before me more interesting. The little white structure perched high above the Atlantic Ocean is obviously the star of the show, and the jagged granite shoreline plays a solid complimentary role, but without a compelling backdrop, it would be hard to make an engaging composition. I needed to get closer to the water.

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The recent sub-zero blast of Arctic air had left the rocks covered in ice, so I had to be somewhat careful as I navigated my surroundings. If you’ve ever visited this spot you’ll likely remember that although some care needs to be taken, it isn’t that difficult to get out onto the edge of the rocks. On this day however, all of those cracks and crevices were filled with either ice or snow, which made traversing the rocky landscape quite precarious. I knew if I could get myself and my camera out onto the rock to the left of the frame, I would be able to include the waves in a composition. In the photograph above, I’ve diagrammed where my camera was set up.

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Two exposures blended: 0.5s for the sky and 3.2s for the foreground

So, despite being a tad unsure of my footing, I used my tripod to provide stability and set out to get that little bit closer to what would hopefully be a dynamic foreground element. I splayed the tripod legs wide so I could get as low to the ground as possible, and when I turned the camera and wide-angle lens to portrait orientation, I was able to include a lot into one frame. I have to admit, laying down on the rocks with my back to the large ocean swells was just a tiny bit unnerving, but I should note, although it looks like I was balanced in a uncertain place, I wasn’t in any jeopardy. I would never put myself in a dangerous position just for a photograph.

Breathing in the ocean air…

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Canon 5D Mk II, 315 seconds, f13, iso 100, 17-40 mm lens at 24 mm

I was determined to get out with the camera this weekend, but the frigid temperatures of late had made me a little gun-shy about making my usual pre-dawn start. Considering that the recent temperatures had dipped as low as minus 15 F with wind chills down around minus 30 F, perhaps you can understand my reluctance to make an early start to go stand on the icy ocean shore? Anyhoo… Sunday afternoon rolled around and it was beginning to look like another weekend would come and go without me getting my backside in gear. That’s when I looked at the most recent forecast – whaddya know, the temperature had risen by a whopping 35 degrees. It was now a balmy 20 F, and that was my cue to jump in the car and take a run down to Acadia National Park.

Most of the good stuff in Acadia is on the eastern side of the island and ideally suited for a morning shoot, but there are some cool places that lend themselves well to a more westerly view and a sunset composition. One such place is this cute little lighthouse that both warns and welcomes the mariners of Bass Harbor. There were some relatively uninteresting dappled clouds moving overhead in the darkening sky, and since the sunset colors I was hoping for didn’t really materialize, I figured it might be worth experimenting with a longer exposure. Not really sure what I would get by keeping the shutter open for a long time, I set the camera to bulb mode, triggered the remote, and waited. There’s nothing quite like being in a spot like this – there wasn’t another soul around, and as darkness enveloped the landscape, I breathed deeply and made sure to truly appreciate my surroundings.

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.

It’s that time of year again…

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Someone likes the snow!

…where we reflect on the year that was, and choose our favorite images from the past twelve months. Our family welcomed a new puppy this year, and although Oliver has consumed much of my recreational time, I still managed to spend some time in Acadia with the camera. I enjoy the process of reflection. I also enjoy taking a moment to reminisce about places I’ve been, and sights I’ve seen. I never tire of spending time in my favorite national park, and along the way throughout the year, I made a photograph or two to remind me of what were often personal and intimate experiences. Not as prolific as in past years, I didn’t make the quantity of images I usually do. Maybe there’s a New Year’s resolution to be made which might ensure a more productive 2014? Though there aren’t many iconic and instantly recognizable picture postcard views this year, hopefully my favorite 13 images from 2013 are still distinctively Acadia? Oh yeah, and other than the golden-colored Oliver, my favorites from this year are all in black and white. If interested in seeing some high-quality landscape photography, check out the annual Jim Goldstein curation of imagery – here’s a link to the 2012 edition where you’ll be able to browse some seriously awesome work. Happy holidays!

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Wonderland granite sculpted by the Atlantic

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Withstanding the elements at Ship Harbor

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Cairn on Cadillac

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View from Adams Bridge

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Incoming tide at Schoodic

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A glimpse of Old Soaker

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Mitchell Cove – the quiet side

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The Ledges along the Loop Road

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No way… fog on the coast of Maine?

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Last light on Otter Point

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Shelter from the wind

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Two of my boys enjoying Sand Beach

“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.