Why am I blogging?


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I’ve been asking myself that question lately? This isn’t a reveal-type post about the benefits of blogging – it’s just me saying out loud (or at least in writing) something I’ve been contemplating recently. While I firmly believe that it’s always good to reflect and wonder why we do anything… I also don’t have an answer to my own question this time. It’s kind of ironic that I don’t have the mojo to create a blog post about why I don’t have the mojo to write a blog post, eh?

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As I work through this… here are a few iPhone pix from this morning’s walk with Oliver. As we approached the still darkened fairways of the golf course, the pre-dawn light looked primed to put on a show. I’ve learned to recognize the potential those slits in the clouds near the horizon offer at this time of day, but I’ve also learned that more often than not, that epic sunrise I’m anticipating usually doesn’t materialize. This time however, it did not disappoint. As the 6:25 a.m. sunrise streaked across and under a thin layer of high clouds, it lit up the sky spectacularly as if it were on fire. Oliver literally stopped in his tracks and turned to admire the view… as did I.

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So… getting back to the original question of why am I blogging? Like I said earlier, it’s good to reflect and question why we do certain things. It helps clarify purpose, and it helps keep things moving from a creative perspective. Maybe it’s just been a long week? I’m already thinking about why I’m writing about what I’m writing in this very post… I don’t want to do that right now… so I’m going to step away for a few days and do some more thinking about that one, and we’ll see if I can’t come up with a few reasons to continue this bloggy thing.

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Considering we’ve had a long winter seemingly filled with precipitation and clouds, you would think a blue sky morning would be appreciated. Well… it was, sort of. While I certainly enjoyed feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, the lack of clouds made for a somewhat subdued sunrise. With that in mind, you’ll notice that I made the choice to exclude much of the sky in my compositions from this particular morning. This little cove along the coast of the Schoodic peninsula is a favorite place of mine. There are all sorts of textures going on with huge swathes of rock smoothed by the ocean, small and large pebbles rounded by the constant ebb and flow of the tide, and sharp, jagged edges where the more furious side of the Atlantic Ocean has left its mark. There are always lots of compositional options at this location, and I personally find that little island about half a mile or so off shore to be especially intriguing.

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Back in the saddle…


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Here’s how my Sunday morning went… after sleeping in the living room so that my 4:00am alarm wouldn’t wake anyone, I took Oliver out for a tinkle, put him into his crate, and then hopped in the car and headed down to Acadia to photograph the sunrise. That’s right, I made a landscape photograph… one that does not include a dog!

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Let me backtrack a little though… I always feel a pang of guilt when I ask Oliver to “go to bed” and enter his crate – I just have to say those words and he scampers toward his crate – and even though he always does so willingly, still, I wouldn’t want to be all alone like he is most nights. Those big puppy dog eyes look so sad as you turn out the light and walk away to go upstairs, but maybe I’m over-thinking things. Maybe he’s quite happy for some quiet time on his own?

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What I do know, is that when we have sleepovers in the living room and he’s allowed to stay with us, he’s a very happy dog. He’ll sleep right beside us all night long, and it’s always one of us who gets up first – on most mornings Oliver would be happy to keep on snoozing. Anyhoo… as I prepared for my first early morning venture out with the camera in a while, Oliver and I shared a blanket and the evening together.

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Local photographer Chad Tracy and I made the pre-dawn drive to a quiet part of Acadia National Park, the Schoodic Peninsula. The forecast was for clear skies, and although that usually doesn’t translate into a dramatic sunrise, I was just happy to be back in the saddle. Gotta love the character of the rocks in Acadia… even over in Schoodic.

The blue hour


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.

Working within the frame…


When I spend time photographing in a particular location I always try to fully explore the scene. I enjoy the exercise of physically wandering around looking for different angles, less obvious perspectives, and interesting elements to include in compositions. More sky, less ground… more ground, less sky… landscape orientation versus portrait… the size of the aperture and the length of time the shutter is open… using a wide angle lens to accentuate certain things or compacting the scene by using a longer lens… just some of the many ways to experiment with what you include within the viewfinder.

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of landscape photography is choosing which elements of a scene to include within the frame and which to leave out. Next comes arranging important elements in relation to how they interact with each other to make a pleasing composition. Sometimes it comes together and “works” better than it does at other times, though of course what I personally like in a photograph might not be what someone else likes… it’s all totally subjective, but isn’t that half the fun? When I became seriously interested in landscape photography a few years back, a pro-photographer friend of mine, Kip Brundage, told me that if I find an interesting subject, I should photograph it every which way I can. He also told me to try to make it mine. While I could certainly learn from another photographer’s interpretation of a particular scene, I should constantly strive try to create something original… this particular piece of advice has always stuck with me.

Here are a few more examples of what I was seeing on the recent mid-February morning I visited Nubble Light in York, Maine. As you can see, I was all pretty random with some of my compositional choices, but since there isn’t any single “right” answer, I got to experiment and try all sorts of ideas. Most significantly for me though, it’s all about actually being there in person to fully employ the senses and appreciate the wonder of this earth we live on. I learned that there is something very special about standing on the tide-soaked rocks below Nubble Light before a winter dawn, and if I can come even remotely close to conveying my personal experiences in a single photograph… then I consider that photograph to be a success.

A Nubbly Sunrise…


At the head of the York River, Nubble Light stands tall as it welcomes seafarers home to the coast of Maine. Most people will be more familiar with the day time scene from here where the classic white and red buildings are framed with green grass, rugged rocks, and the mighty Atlantic surrounding it all… but on this cold February morning I wanted to try and capture something that was a little bit different.

It’s school vacation week here in Maine – and much of the United States – so that usually means a trip south to see granny and grandpa. Often we will drive from Maine to New York in one straight shot, but since Sam was due some little brother time, we decided to forego the usual mad dash down I-95 and stop off in Brunswick to pay him a quick visit. After a scrumptious dinner at Clementine with him and his pal Charlie, we hit the road again and drove another hour or so south before stopping in York for the night. I had been wanting to shoot this lighthouse again for some time, and figured since we were going to be right here in the morning… why not give it a shot. Sunrise was scheduled for 6:37 a.m. on Saturday, so my alarm was set for 5:15 a.m. to allow for an early enough start that would give me time to scout around for compositional possibilities.

Even though our mid-February temperatures have been fairly mild, standing on the edge of the ocean before dawn with a cool winter breeze blowing is sure to wake you up. Unfortunately there were very few clouds to speak of, but there was a nice gradient of color in the eastern sky and a sparkling crescent moon heading toward the horizon. High tide was due at 6:50 a.m., so I wasn’t sure how close I was going to be able to get to the water. A couple more photographers pulled into the parking lot, but since sunrise wasn’t officially scheduled for another 45 minutes or so, they decided to stay in their cars a little longer and keep warm. Me… I know that some of the best light actually occurs before dawn, so I bundled up and hit the rocks looking for interesting foregrounds that might compliment the already spectacular lighthouse just off shore.

I made my first photograph of the morning, posted above, at 6:00 a.m. and long before the sun had made an appearance. The rising tide was washing over and around the ledge I was standing on, and although a relatively slow shutter speed rendered the water as quite peaceful, there were actually a few angry swells that made for interesting moments. I was intrigued by the puddles left behind, and hoped that they would hold enough interest in the foreground to make this as I had intended… maybe just a little bit different?

As the light develops…


As the early light developed from the east, I turned my camera and focused (pun intended) on the always gorgeous and striking Otter Cliffs and round rocks laying on Boulder Beach. I never get tired of spending time here, and as I experimented with several compositional choices, I tried to accentuate the various elements in the scene. Lately I have been making a conscious effort to explore using focal lengths other than wide, though as you can see, I once again somewhat predictably (for me) stayed more toward the wide end of my 17-40mm lens. The waves from the outgoing tide were almost eerily calm, so any aspirations I had for photographing huge surf and a stormy scene were not to be… hardly the recipe for the enthusiastic landscape photographer! Having said that, this location never disappoints, and regardless of the conditions, I always find there to be enough beauty to pretty much guarantee coming away with a photograph that I like.

In the two images above, I processed them each with a slightly different white balance, and since I couldn’t decide which I liked better, I posted both. In the first image, I was also drawn to the effect that a longer shutter had on the water, and in the second, the warmer colors of the rocks got my attention. My camera was set on aperture priority mode, and in an attempt to get more of the scene in focus, I chose to shoot at f16. As the light developed slowly, the camera automatically made any adjustments to the length of the shutter needed for a correct exposure. I bracketed the scene with three images each about a stop apart, and I then blended different exposures to account for the significant amount of dynamic range there was between the lightest and darkest parts of the scene, making one image that represented more what my eye was able to see.

In this last photograph, I turned my camera to portrait orientation and used the wide angle effect to draw attention to those beautiful round rocks in the foreground. Right as I was tripping the shutter, the sun broke free from behind a low layer of clouds parked on the horizon and fleetingly raked across the scene. More “contrasty” than the other two images in this post, I wanted to show off the beautiful warm light that was being caught on the side of the rocks. Luckily a decent wave rolled in while the light was momentarily good, and I thought the warm sidelight illuminating the breaking water added something to the view.

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From our weekend of camping… I set my alarm for 3:45am and tried to sneak out of the tent in the dark without waking everyone. As is usually the case, I was wide awake before the alarm even went off. Despite tripping over the lip of the tent door and almost taking a major spill, I think I was successful.

Sunrise in Maine comes early this time of year, and when you are perched on the highest mountain on the eastern seaboard it comes even earlier! Took me a while to get going, though as I drove across Mount Desert Island toward Cadillac Mountain I couldn’t help but appreciate that we were staying right there. If I had been leaving from home this would have made for a VERY early start.

Back home in Ireland we have the beautiful Mourne Mountains in County Down that sweep down to the sea, and at 1532 feet Cadillac Mountain too rises up from the ocean making it appear larger than it actually is. There were some hazy clouds on the eastern horizon that on the one hand obscured the sunrise, but on the other hand they helped diffuse the light creating some wonderful pink and purple hues. I plopped myself down on the slope of Cadillac and enjoyed the show. I especially liked how the early colors from the sky were absorbed by the foreground rocks, though after a few minutes the more familiar golden light began to bathe the summit. Not a bad way to start the day. The last image in this post just kind of grabbed me… something graphic about it that I really like.