Postcard from Maine (4)

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4-20-14Pemaquid

Color. It can make or break a photograph, and for those of you who have been following my photographic journey over the past couple of years, you’ll know that I have become more and more intrigued with removing colors and distilling a scene down into the most important of elements… lines, shapes, contrasts, textures and how they all interact compositionally within that little rectangle that is the view finder… in black and white.

All concepts around trying to create a good compositional scene apply, as does my mantra of trying to make any scene your own and not just a mimic of someone else’s photography. As suggestions to help achieve this, I’d recommend experimenting with placing important elements nearer the edges of the frame, using the rule of thirds where appropriate, and if you latch onto something interesting… leverage it… go for it. Really try to accentuate what you find… just look at those incredible textures in the striated rocks of Pemaquid Point, and depending on when you visit, you might just get a chance to shoot some cool reflections.

This is a remarkable location… one that I’d highly recommend spending some serious time exploring. It’s one of those places where someone interested in practicing their craft has ample opportunity to spend time on a variety of compositional choices. I’ve spent a whole day here feeling like a kid in a candy store – there are all sorts of textures and elements that can be used to create a variety of compositions. This place can be shot wide, tight with a telephoto lens, and of course… in unique conditions and with a little imagination it can really shine. In the color version I used a long shutter to help streak the clouds a little and add another element… maybe it helps and maybe it clutters? It’s OK to question.

Color in the first and a more simple black and white composition in the second… I’d be curious if you’ve shot this location, and what you think about the different impact each has. If you have shot Pemaquid, drop a link in the comments and show us what you got!

4-20-14Pemaquid Point

Early days and Maine lighthouses…

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marshall_point_light

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.

Pemaquid_Light

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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My favorite photographs from 2011

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As each year draws to a close, I enjoy taking a moment to go back through photographs made during the past twelve months and highlighting those that mean the most to me. I usually choose my favorites based on the physical and emotional experience I have, and it really does feel good to reflect on time well spent in places I enjoy. I have to admit, I also get a kick out of using the camera to technically create something I like to look at… making memories that will forever feed my soul. I hope that as each year passes my photographs get better – whatever that means – or at least that they invoke stronger feelings within me, both while breathing in and out perched on the rocky Atlantic shoreline, or now, as I sit here typing and reminiscing about early morning wake up calls and fingers crossed in anticipation of dramatic clouds and good light. Anyhoo… most of my 2011 favorites are – surprise, surprise – from Acadia National Park and the coast of Maine, although this year I also have a couple from a memorable March trip back home to Ireland with my oldest son Sam. Drum roll…

I had been itching to get out with the camera again, so I decided to visit one of my favorite places and see if I could capture some snow blanketing the famous round rocks below Otter Cliffs. An early start this morning got me here about 45 minutes before the sun was scheduled to crest at 6:36am, and as always, I had the place completely to myself. Though the temperature was certainly chilly, there was little to no wind blowing, and since I was dressed in several layers, the 13F actually felt quite comfortable.

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I spent a very enjoyable late afternoon exploring the area around the Marshall Point Lighthouse in the mid-coast community of Port Clyde. Originally established in 1832, the present lighthouse was built in 1857, and this is the same lighthouse Forrest Gump visited when he was traversing the country. This lighthouse is pretty unique in it’s design, with a 31 ft tall white granite and brick tower perched on the rocks at the end of a narrow walkway. A distinctive and striking black cast iron lantern houses a fresnel light that does not flash any more. The Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum on the first floor of the light keeper’s house was opened in 1990, and the whole area is meticulously cared for and maintained.

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Standing near the ocean as the night rolls in can be a somewhat unnerving experience, especially with the wind trying to knock you over and huge waves crashing in the not too far off distance. At the end of the day, the warm light from the beacon was quite comforting as I made my way back toward the car. I stopped one more time to soak in the scene… that’s when I saw this view of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.

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I can remember visiting the Gap of Dunloe some 20+ years ago with Lori and some friends, and on that occasion we traveled in style with Dolly… the farting horse. Locals provide horse-drawn traps for the ride up to the gap, and the day we went we had a wet and windy journey up the hill, pulled by our horse who tooted all the way. This photograph is from when Sam and I visited Ireland last spring, and even though the classic greens associated with the Emerald Isle weren’t yet in full force, this was still a striking scene.

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Every single time I pass over the bridge that spans Marshall Brook I find myself staring at what I consider to be a breathtaking scene. There is something about the view laid out before you that catches my eye every time… no matter what the time of day or the prevailing weather conditions, I find myself always having to pull over. Looking north across the Bass Harbor Marsh toward Bernard (left) and Mansell Mountains (right), the eyes are treated to a snaking river that gently winds its way off into the distance.

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I spent an immensely peaceful early morning perched on a ledge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and I couldn’t help marvel at how this is a very cool way to start the day. The sun rises before 5:00 a.m. in the summer in Maine, and as you can see from the photograph above, the pre-dawn light on this particular morning was pretty special. When the sun eventually crested over Great Head behind me, it bathed the scene in amazing warm light, with the granite absolutely lighting up with color. This view is looking south along the rugged Acadia coast toward Otter Cliffs, and other than a couple of seagulls who kept me company on the ledge, I was here all by myself.

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So… I wasn’t expecting the conditions to be particularly special on this morning, but as the light slowly climbed from the east up and over my shoulder toward the lighthouse, I started to wonder if I might actually be in for a show? There were some soft, wispy clouds behind the lighthouse, and as the day began to brighten, my jaw literally dropped as I marveled at how the high clouds were being illuminated with a phenomenal pinkish hue. Knowing that the light probably wouldn’t last long, and with a big grin on my face, I worked quickly to try to combine all of the elements within the frame into something I liked. I couldn’t have ordered better weather conditions, and the impressive lighthouse that welcomes returning mariners to Bass Harbor certainly did its part.

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Taking the Slea Head Road further west out of Dingle, we spotted a little harbor tucked into the rocks with a pretty beach. From a distance it was beautiful, and up close… even nicer. Looking over our shoulder though, we saw what looked like a path winding its way up the hillside toward the ocean. Eager for an adventure and the possibility of a nice view, we started hiking. I thought I was going to have a heart attack… too many Irish breakfasts and too much Guinness lately had me struggling to keep up with Sam. When I finally did get to a flat spot, I dropped my backpack and told him to go on ahead… I needed a rest. The headland we were on was called Dunmore Head (I think), and from here you can see Great Blasket Island straightaway, Inishnabro and Inishvickillane off to the left, and to the right is Beiginis and then Inishtooskert.

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There’s something about the fleeting appearance that Lupine make here in Maine which I really like. They explode onto the scene as the weather warms up at the start of June, but by the time July rolls around they are already starting to fade away. They are scattered all over the side of I-95 as I make my way down and back to work, and maybe it’s because they brighten my commute at this time of year, but I love the splash of color they add to the landscape. We went camping one weekend in mid-June… and despite the rainy weather, a good time was had by all. Late on the Friday afternoon we wandered up to the Beech Hill Road to hike the Canada Cliff Trail, and along the roadside we encountered a field absolutely brimming over with my favorite Maine flower… Lupine.

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If you want to discover examples of fall foliage colors in a pretty Acadia location, look no further than the path that runs alongside the Jordan Pond Stream. Starting out behind the Jordan Pond House restaurant, find the stepped trail entering the woods leading down to where the carriage road meets up with the stream, cross the bridge and make a left turn to follow the stream downhill and you will be treated to not only the soothing sound of running water, but also the wide array of foliage colors typically associated with a classic New England fall season.

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I had looked at the weather, and with a forecast of light rain and cloudy skies, it seemed like the perfect time to make a quick run down to Acadia before the fall foliage was all gone. I knew that the overcast weather and foggy conditions would offer nice even light in which to photograph the changing autumn colors at the top of Cadillac and the rejuvenated, rain-fed Jordan Pond Stream. First stop Cadillac… there is something special about being on top of a mountain when it is socked in with clouds and you have it all to yourself, and when that mountain is Cadillac, I’m in heaven.

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Fall foliage season comes and goes pretty fast around these parts, and when you factor in the potential for poor weather and the usual work commitments, chances are I might only have a couple of opportunities to try to make some photographs displaying the changing colors. This was the first photograph I made on a cool, rainy morning spent exploring the banks of the Jordan Pond Stream in Acadia National Park.

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As the night rolls in

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Standing near the ocean as the night rolls in can be a somewhat unnerving experience, especially with the wind trying to knock you over and huge waves crashing in the not too far off distance. At the end of the day the warm light from the beacon was quite comforting, and as I made my way back toward the car I stopped one more time to soak in the scene… that’s when I saw the view in these two photographs. All afternoon I had been focusing on using the wide end of my 17-40mm lens to accentuate the lines of the spectacular rocks at Pemaquid, but in these two views I went the other direction and extended the focal length as far as I could. Dramatic clouds were hanging out over the ocean, and the last remnants of the sunset were adding a subtle pink hue to the horizon. These ended up being my favorite photographs from the afternoon I spent here, and hopefully they convey the serenity I experienced in person. Isn’t this a gorgeous structure?

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Maine

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Surely there can’t be a more dramatic or photogenic lighthouse anywhere? Commissioned in 1827 by John Quincy Adams, Pemaquid Point Light is a striking and picturesque lighthouse located at the tip of the Pemaquid Penninsula in mid-coast Maine. The rocks at Pemaquid are some of the most dramatic around, with layers of jagged and impressive striations all seemingly pointing to the classic white lighthouse perched on the ridge above the roaring Atlantic Ocean. The winds were howling as I made this photograph, and as the low winter sun momentarily bathed the lighthouse in warm light, I was able to squeeze off a few frames. Not a bad detour on the way home after work on Friday, eh?

Doing a 180

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Standing on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean at Pemaquid Point in winter, there were huge waves breaking just behind me, so I studied the pattern for a while to make sure I wouldn’t be surprised. The clouds overhead were cruising by at speed, and I was especially interested in using my ND filter to extend the length of the exposure and capture the effect of their movement. In what felt like 40 mph winds, I could hardly keep my tripod steady – which is kind of important when creating long exposures – so I used my body to try and shield the tripod, and I kept one hand on it constantly to add some weight and stability. As I was making the photograph above, a little birdie told me to turn around 180 degrees and see what was going on in the opposite direction. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the moment while photographing a pretty scene, but I always try to remember to turn around and appreciate the entirety of the landscape. So… two views from the same spot… just 180 degrees apart.

And for good measure, here are a couple more examples of what are probably pretty familiar views – each with it’s counterpart at 180 degrees:

I’m still here…

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4:54pm, 1/15/10 Canon 20D, 17-40mm f4 @ 19mm, iso 100, f18, 0.6secs.

… though I haven’t been posting much on the blog lately. As usually happens this time of year, my camera sits quietly in the bag and doesn’t get much of a workout. Back to school related work commitments and coaching high school soccer both conspire to somewhat limit my opportunity to spend time making landscape photographs. I miss everything about the landscape photography process, and I think the last time I was up before dawn and standing in a pretty place with my camera in hand was way back in the middle of the summer. So as the the weather gets cooler and the fall foliage season approaches, I am looking forward to getting back out into the field.

In the meantime, as I was searching through an old hard drive for some work files, I stumbled across a folder of images from a past cold January afternoon spent at one of my favorite lighthouses. These photographs were made with my trusty old Canon 20D, and although the leading lines in the foreground are distinctive, I am determined to get back here to Pemaquid with the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II so that I can really accentuate the wide angle effect. The first photograph in this post was obviously made earlier in the evening when there was still some nice light, and the one below is the very last frame from this particular day, a long exposure of 531 seconds made at 5:54pm… well after the winter sun had set.

5:54pm, 1/15/10 Canon 20D, 17-40mm f4 @ 17mm, iso 100, f22, 531 secs.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Maine

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We haven’t seen the sun around here for days, and during that time it has been bitterly cold. More snow is on the way, but today the sun was shining, so I grabbed the opportunity to make a stop at this marvelous scene on my way home from work.

There weren’t any real clouds to speak of, so as darkness fell I hung around to shoot a couple of long exposures in the waning light. By the time I had returned to my lovely heated car seats, the temperature had dipped to 9 degrees farenheit, and by the time I arrived back home it had fallen further to -1 degrees farenheit – for those paying attention, that’s a healthy -18 degrees centigrade!

The striated rock formations that point to the lighthouse make for very impressive compositional opportunities, and when you add in the blanket of snow, I figured an hour or so here before sunset would be time well spent. I have photographed this lighthouse several times, but never before with my full-frame camera. I wanted to explore using a wide angle lens to see how the remarkable lines might be used to create a striking image, and despite the chilly temperatures I enjoyed having the scene all to myself.

 

 

My Favorite Photographs from 2010

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I tried my best to resist the urge to follow along with the trend of posting favorite photographs of the year, but in the end I couldn’t stop myself. On a positive note, I do believe that reflection is one of the strongest learning tools one could ever employ – so I do this little exercise in the name of improving my photography skills.

Looking back over the year and picking favorites is not an easy task, and as you can see below I wasn’t exactly able to whittle it down to a top 10! Also, I know that just because I like a photograph it doesn’t mean others will like it, so though these aren’t necessarily my best photographs… they are my favorite photographs!

For me, there is usually a story to accompany each image, and it is more about the experience of having been there… hearing the early morning sounds that no-one else does, being amazed by the beauty of nature in a new place, or simply seeing something in a familiar place that I hadn’t previously noticed… these are why my photography expeditions are so personal.

Anyhoo… some from far away and some from close to home here in Maine… here they are, not in any particular order… my favorite photographs from 2010… enjoy!

Lighthouses of Maine

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Stumbling over the image of Marshall Point Light (I think that’s what it is called) from my previous post got me thinking about photographs I have made of other Maine lighthouses such as the one of Portland Head Light above. This also brought back vivid memories of the bone-chilling cold temperatures and icy wind from when I made this image late one January afternoon.

Anyway,  I went back into the archives and did some digging around to see what I could find on lighthouses, and the selection posted below is a small sampling. Most of the images seen here are from a few years ago when I was still shooting slide film, which gives me incentive to re-visit some of these places to see what I can do digitally. Pemaquid, West Quoddy, Portland Head, Rockland Breakwater, and Bass Harbor are just a few of the classic and iconic lighthouses standing guard along the Maine coast, with many more to be explored. Hmmm… perhaps this could be my project for the next few winter months?

Peekaboo at Pemaquid

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I was in southern Maine on Friday for a work-related meeting, and any time I am down that way I try to build a photography side trip into my journey home. On this occasion based on where I would be about an hour before sunset, I settled on visiting Pemaquid Point to shoot the famous lighthouse there.

As the afternoon wore on and I drove up Route 1, high clouds started to roll in ahead of the wet weather that had been forecasted for the weekend.  Making a right turn in Damariscotta and heading down Route 130 toward the ocean, I thought the light was still nice enough to make it a worthwhile trip. The clouds were moving fast with intermittent streaks of blue racing across the sky, and I wondered if this might present a good opportunity to use my neutral density filter to create some long exposure shots. Pemaquid is an incredibly photogenic place, with striking linear patterns of rock between the ocean and the lighthouse affording many possibilities for interesting foreground compositions. Combine some nice light on the rocks with “moving” clouds from a longer exposure, and bingo… we might have favorable conditions.

However, as I came around the last bend in the road and entered the lighthouse parking lot, I couldn’t help but smile at what I saw…

Obviously some much-needed renovation work was being done on the old whitewashed structure, and I immediately realized that the cherry picker that was going to be idle all weekend was sure to be smack in the middle of the compositions I had been planning. Admittedly disappointed, rather than unpacking all of my gear, I grabbed my little Canon 580 point and shoot and headed off to explore.

The image below is a composition from the location I had planned on checking out, and as you can see there is an element in the frame that kind of doesn’t belong there. I could of course quite easily remove the cherry picker in post-processing, but my initial disappointment (and the diminishing quality of light) prompted me to surrender any ambition to come away from this situation with an image I might consider worthy of keeping.

Resigned to the fact that what was now merely OK light on a scene with a cherry picker smack dab in the middle of it wasn’t going to render anything special, I started climbing over and around the wonderful rocky shoreline just for fun. Any time spent on the Maine coast, especially in a place so picturesque, is time well spent, and over the next half hour or so I experimented with different compositions, all the while playing peekaboo with the unwanted cherry picker. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to develop compositions that I liked from this occasion, and I ended up kind of liking the first and last images in this post.

In the first photograph in this post, I positioned myself where the cherry picker was hidden behind the little belltower in front, and for me the conversion to black and white enhanced the mood of the scene with the grainy, open sky helping convey the sense of place that I enjoyed. In the last image below, I boiled the scene down to some pretty basic elements, and I find the wide angle perspective generated by pointing the camera pretty much straight up to hide both the cherry picker and the setting sun not too distracting. Though not converted to black and white, this last image almost has a monochromatic look to it that works well for what I was seeing at the time I made the image.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

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My camera hasn’t exactly been getting a workout lately when it comes to landscape photography. I know the winter season offers a very different perspective, but I just don’t like the cold.

I figured though with my upcoming trip to Death Valley right around the corner, that it was time to dust off the camera and get back out there and make some photographs. I had to make a 2-hour drive to Portland for a job-related meeting, and since I knew I would be finishing up early in the afternoon, I packed my gear and planned a little detour on the way home. The photography gods were definitely shining on me when I pulled into the parking lot at Pemaquid Lighthouse to sunshine and a balmy 45 degrees.

Commissioned in 1827 by John Quincy Adams, Pemaquid Point Light is a striking and picturesque lighthouse located at the tip of the Pemaquid Penninsula. The rocks at Pemaquid are some of the most dramatic around, with layers and layers of ragged rocks all seemingly pointing to the classic white lighthouse perched on the ridge above the ocean.

I had been here one time before with my camera, but I hadn’t come away with any images I really liked. This afternoon’s light was pretty special, with some early low-angled winter light followed by some nice pastels as the sun went down. I was determined to come away with something of interest this time, and I was not disappointed.

This is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine, though on this afternoon I had it all to myself. As I navigated the ice and snow on the rocks, I came across a little tide pool that offered a wonderful reflection of the lighthouse. I had my tripod legs fully splayed so that I could get as low to the ground as possible to take advantage of this scene.

As the afternoon wore on, more and more clouds rolled in blocking what started out as some really nice late-afternoon winter sunshine. As the light faded, the temperatures also started to dip. Undeterred by either the cold or the fading light, I decided to experiment with using a 6-stop neutral density filter to capture some longer exposures and perhaps get some movement in the clouds. The longer exposure also sometimes picks up more color than our eyes can see, making for some pretty color palettes.

I stayed on the rocks right up until it was almost dark, continuously shooting and enjoying the sound of the ocean behind me. However, knowing I still had a two hour drive home ahead of me, I eventually packed up my gear and welcomed the warmth and comfort of the car.  Since my eyesight won’t let me truly evaluate images on the camera LCD, I was excited to get home and see whether or not I had been successful. I always loved the anticipation of when a roll of film was returned from being processed, and it was nice to have that feeling again.