Postcard from Maine (2)

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4-20-14 PHL

Probably the most photographed lighthouse in America, Portland Head Light is a stunner of a location that anyone visiting Maine should experience. It’s not difficult to find, is easy to access from a series of well-maintained trails at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, and as you can see… perched on some seriously jagged rocks it occupies a fantastic location to make a landscape photograph. All you have to do is get yourself there at the right time and in the right conditions!

With an iconic location like this, the biggest challenge is making a photograph that doesn’t look exactly like all of the other ones you see in the local calendars and postcards – unless of course that’s what you’re going for. Nothing wrong with imitating other photographs – good practice I say – but my guess is that there will come a time when you’ll want to create something more personal, more unique. And so you should.

Get there early. Stay there late – good light favors those who patrol the edges of the day. Watch the tide charts and try to coordinate your visit with a big surf, and of course… treat the weatherman like your friend and pay attention to the conditions. Despite the fact that I wasn’t able to include any dramatic skies on this particular morning, I was able to explore the foreground area a bit and include some interesting elements along with the beautiful sunrise gradient of color… all in the name of trying to capture something that I could call mine.

Hope you like it.

(A couple of exposures were combined here to deal with the extreme range of light found at this time of day).

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Another early run to Portland for a work meeting, and another chance to stop by the most photographed lighthouse in Maine. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to spend some time here with local photographer Moe Chen. Moe showed me how to access the rocky shoreline on the opposite side from here, so on this visit I wanted to spend time exploring the more traditional – or at least more photographed – side of the lighthouse.

6:22:16 a.m.

When I left the house at 4:00am, twinkling stars were alternately obscured and revealed by high clouds screaming by overhead, and although I was excited about the possibility of drama that those clouds might bring at sunrise, I wasn’t too thrilled about the effect the wind might have on the temperature. My fear was that the 22 degrees of warmth outside would be further impacted negatively by a biting wind chill… and believe me, it was.

6:35:33 a.m.

I’m going to sprinkle in a few different compositions throughout this post… same scene, but each with a slight variation on the landscape as the morning began. Some people might only include one composition in a blog post… maybe they have the “eye” to visualize the single best composition and create only one photograph… but in a situation like this, I tend to move around, exploring my surroundings looking for a slightly better angle, a more interesting foreground, or a different arrangement in how each of the elements included within the frame interact with each other. Anyhoo… here are a few from what was a cold and blustery morning at Portland Head Light… in the order they were made as the light unfolded, and with actual times attached.

6:37:23 a.m.

By the time I got to Portland there was a soft glow in the sky off to the east. I drove through the darkened downtown streets – probably faster than I should – in a frenzied attempt to get across the bridge to Cape Elizabeth and Fort Williams Park before sunrise. Knowing that the gates to the park might not be open, I was anticipating an additional but fairly brief hike in from the road to the lighthouse which would mean cutting it close for sunrise, but whadyaknow… the gates were open!

6:40:50 a.m.

Stepping out of the warm car and into the darkness told me two things; 1) the crystal clear sky meant that there weren’t going to be any nice clouds to include in compositions; and 2) it was going to be cold… bitterly cold. I usually like to be at a location at least 45 minutes before sunrise to take advantage of the earliest light, but on this morning I had arrived just in time. Since sunrise was now only minutes away, I hopped the fence and quickly scrambled down over the rocks to find a composition I liked. While clouds can certainly add drama to a landscape, I have come to appreciate – and dare I say enjoy – the beautiful pre-dawn gradient of colors in the clear sky seen here.

6:50:19 a.m.

My wooly hat and glove/mitten combo would come in handy, as a northeast wind ripped in over the water and absolutely chilled me to the bone. Strong wind gusts meant that I had to steady the tripod during what were often long-ish exposures, but more importantly, the wind chill and cold air were literally making my fingers ache… not a good feeling. Despite trying to find sheltered spots within the rocks where I could gain some respite from the icy wind, my senses (and my fingers) quickly succumbed to the conditions, and after spending maybe 30-40 minutes total here, I retreated back to the welcoming warmth of the car.

The blue hour

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Every morning as the dark night sky slowly loosens its grip and yields to the start of a new day, light that is soft and cool in color stretches across the wakening landscape. On a day that begins with more clouds, this peaceful period of time can produce light that is distinctly blue in color, and is often referred to as the “blue” hour. In fact, this wonderful twilight period can be experienced both in the morning and evening; it’s that time when we are in between daylight and darkness.

Last Friday meant an early start to attend a work-related one-day conference in Portland, so I figured why not set the alarm even earlier than I needed to, and build in a brief photo adventure a little further south than I usually get to explore. I considered a variety of options to stop and shoot between here and Portland, but the more I looked at the schedule I had to keep, the more I realized that wherever I finally decided to photograph, it was going to have to be close to Portland.

The late winter paints much of the Maine landscape with stark and still leafless trees, dull dormant grasses, and streams and rivers covered in thin and often dirty ice. While I appreciate that seasonal changes bring new opportunities for landscape photography, I just can’t seem to get excited for this type of scene. The ocean however, consistently displays its most basic elements steadfastly and regardless of season, so I devised a plan to visit what is a very often-photographed location… Portland Head Light.

Picture Postcard

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I know… another lighthouse! What can I say, they are easily accessible in the middle of winter when much of the countryside around here is buried in snow and ice.

Portland Head Light is probably one of the most photographed scenes in America. As you can see, if offers a wonderful view, even in the less than favorable light seen here. No big surf to add drama to the scene, but I liked how the clouds in the background – and the snow in the foreground – added some depth to the view.

We were heading down south to visit family over the weekend and stopped off to spend the night in Portland. When we got up on Saturday morning the sun was shining very brightly, and since we had a little bit of time to kill, we decided to take a run out to Cape Elizabeth and Fort Williams Park where the Portland Head Lighthouse can be found. A brief snow squall had just blown through the area, the wind was howling, and it was very, very cold!

There is a four feet high chain-link fence all around the cove you can see in these photographs, and it wouldn’t take much to hop over it to get a more original composition with the jagged rocks in the foreground. However, I have never been one for breaking the rules, even if there didn’t appear to be any signs telling me to stay behind the fence. My conservative attitude toward exploring the surroundings meant that I settled for the iconic… and safe… picture postcard view.