Favorite Places: Montauk Point

Sunrise Over The East End
Sunrise Over The East End

Much as I’ve made my disdain for most areas of Long Island well known, I always enjoyed photographing at Montauk Point. The combination of rocky shoreline, the lighthouse standing high atop the bluff, looking out at the sea, and the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocks, always makes for some beautiful images.

The series of shots shown in this post were taken on a December morning in 2015. It was a warmer morning and I only needed a sweatshirt.  A friend of mine was up visiting from Florida, and had never been to Montauk before so I told him I’d take him. The catch was, he had to be awake at 4am so we’d be there for sunrise.

Light and Dark at Montauk Point
Light and Dark at Montauk Point

The weather report called for “partly cloudy” but when we arrived, we were greeted with a very heavy cloud cover. But looking at the horizon, I could see a faint glow, indicating a break in the cloud cover. If that break held, I knew we might get a few moments of magic.

We walked down to the beach and scoped out a spot and I began taking some pictures.  The first few were a bit gray and dreary from the cloud cover, but all of a sudden, the sun got to the horizon and there was an explosion of color there.  The clouds stayed dark and gray above, making for an interesting combination of dark and stormy and bright and hopeful. The effect lasted about 5 minutes before the clouds moved in again.

Montauk Storm Clouds
Montauk Storm Clouds

I tried a variety of approaches that morning. First, I just wanted to capture the water rushing over the rocks, so I simply used a graduated neutral density filter to help darken the sky a bit, and then a moderately long shutter speed to capture the movement of the water. After a while I decided to try a few really long exposures and came up with one that’s a bit more haunting, with the rocks appearing to disappear into the mist.

I think one of the reasons I love photographing at Montauk is that it’s the one place on Long Island that’s very similar to Maine, which I’ve loved since my first visit and finally moved to last year.  The rocky shoreline and boulders on the beach are similar to some of my favorite spots here. One of these days I’ll visit again.

Montauk Point and the Milky Way
Montauk Point and the Milky Way
Late Autumn Storm at Montauk Point
Late Autumn Storm at Montauk Point

More Montauk Point images here.

Monument Cove

Sunrise in Monument Cove
Sunrise in Monument Cove

Several years ago, on my first “real” visit to Acadia- I had done a few day trips here and there – I saw a photo of a cobblestone beach in a cove, somewhere off of the Park Loop Road. I’m not sure what it was, but something about that beach called to me and I knew I had to photograph it.  The problem was, I had no idea exactly where it was!

As I explored the park, I began to narrow down the location of this beach. Along the way, I found Little Hunters Beach, Boulder Beach, and Otter Point. Then one day, walking along the coastal trail, I found it. Monument Cove. There’s no sign for it, and I’m not going to give away it’s exact location here to those who don’t know. It’s difficult to get down into, but not impossible. Once I figured out how, I couldn’t wait to shoot this beautiful nook in Acadia National Park.

Spring Morning in Acadia National Park
Spring Morning in Acadia National Park

My first time there, the light was less than ideal.  I had found it after the golden hour ended, and the morning sun was now harsh and getting harsher. I made the best of it and got a few shots I was happy with, though I knew I could do better if I planned to be there before the sun rose.

A few weeks ago, I made the drive up to Acadia in the dead of night. I was hoping to get some clear skies for some star trails, but when I arrived, the sky was heavily clouded.  I had about 2 hours to civil twilight, so I made my way down into the cove and found a place to sit and wait and just listen to the waves rattle the cobblestones.

Pastel Dawn in Monument Cove
Pastel Dawn in Monument Cove

Once the light started to change, I pulled out my camera and got ready for the fun. The cloud cover thinned somewhat, and I anticipated some great color.  It wasn’t quite as epic as I’d hoped, but it was still a beautiful sunrise, and I managed to spend a good amount of time in the cover capturing the stones and waves at different angles with a soft warm glow bathing them.

Once I determined I was finished in Monument Cove, I drove the Park Loop Road and stopped at a few other spots, before I headed into Bar Harbor for breakfast at Jordan’s. It was the perfect finish to a long night/early morning, before heading back down the coast to home, where some editing awaited me.

Dawn in Monument Cove
Dawn in Monument Cove

Sunrise

Sunrise at Wolfe's Neck Woods
The sun breaks through the trees on Googins Island in Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, Maine.

I like photographing any time there is good light, be it midday, afternoon, evening, or morning. My favorite time of all though, is sunrise. There is soemthing magical about sunrise- that change from dark, to light that happens. But more than that, there is a peace and calm in the air that isn’t there later in the day.  The air hasn’t been disturbed by people going about their business. There aren’t many cars on the road, there aren’t many people walking around.

Sunrise Over Wells Beach
Sunrise Over Wells Beach

When I get to a location for a sunrise shoot, there’s always a bit of trepidation on my part. The calm and quiet is almost unsettling.  You hear the birds beginning to stir, maybe some of the nocturnal creatures in the underbrush. You step a little more carefully.

Dawn at Marshall Point
Dawn at Marshall Point

When I get to my shooting spot, often times it’s a place I’ve been to during the day, so I have some idea of what it will look like as the light comes up. But it’s always different in the dark; more mysterious somehow. As the light slowly comes up, everything changes. The glow on the horizon becomes more intense, the sky is revealed, and the trees and rocks begin to take on more detail and definition.

My favorite part of shooting at sunrise is the solitude. There’s so much overload these days- cell phones, computers, people at work, people we meet during the day.  It’s nice to get that hour or two to myself, to enjoy the birdsong, the sunrise, that start of the day. It’s a reset, in a way. And it gives me something to talk about to those people who may not have been able to tear themselves away from their blankets at such an early hour!

Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff
Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff

Bald Head Cliff, Maine

The tide rushes in at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.
The tide rushes in at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.

One of the great things about the times we live in, as a photographer, is the abundance of information being shared about where we go to photograph. I often enjoy discovering a place on my own, but many times, there are hidden gems we just don’t know about that we only discover when someone else mentions them to us.

Such was the case when, this past Saturday, I was browsing one of the many Facebook photography groups I belong to when I came across a photo someone shared of Bald Head Cliff, in Cape Neddick, Maine. I’d been through the area many times before, but this location is a bit hidden, as it is right behind a hotel and restaurant known as The Cliff House. It had never occurred to me that such a beautiful location existed beyond the views of the Atlantic Ocean afforded by the rooms of the hotel.

Waves pound the rocks at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.
Waves pound the rocks at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.

As you walk behind the hotel, there is a walk along the rocks that jut out into the ocean. These rocks lend a lot of interest to the foregrounds of photos and the southeast facing shoreline is perfect for capturing sunrise. Once I found the location I scrambled down onto the rocks to find a good vantage point for the sunrise, as well as a good foreground for my shots. Unfortunately, the sunrise never materialized, hiding behind a thick gray wall of clouds. But the Atlantic Ocean put on a display of its fury as the previous day’s winter storm was churning the ocean, and large waves pounded the rocks.

The ocean was more than a bit intimidating, so I was careful where I set up, and though I desperately wanted to get closer to add some drama to the images, I chose to stay at a safe distance.  I still almost got wet once or twice, but managed to avoid any catastrophes.

The images you see here are the result of my morning at Bald Head Cliff.  I definitely plan on visiting again, to try and get a more dramatic sunrise, but even though the sunrise was a bit on the dull side, the ocean gave me plenty to see and photograph.

A wave breaks over the rocks at Bald Head Cliff, in Cape Neddick, Maine.
A wave breaks over the rocks at Bald Head Cliff, in Cape Neddick, Maine.

Behind the Shots: Cannon Beach Sunset

Day's End in Cannon Beach
Day’s End in Cannon Beach

Over the years, as I became more interested in landscape photography, I would look at other photographers’ work for locations I wanted to photograph myself. One of the places that stood out to me fairly early was Cannon Beach, Oregon.  Dominated by Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach is a flat, sandy beach with lots of driftwood, seaweed, and water that seems to go on forever.  Visitors start small campfires and spend the cool Pacific Northwest summer evenings watching the sunset by the fire.  When I first saw photos of Haystack Rock reflected in wet sand, I knew I had to add Cannon Beach to my list.

My first visit was in 2013. Then, in June 2015, I had an opportunity to visit again briefly while traveling on business. I made it a point to get there when I found two open days in my schedule. The first of the open days I traveled south to Cape Kiwanda, and spent sunset there.  But I knew the next day was reserved for Cannon Beach.

Sunset at Haystack Rock
Sunset at Haystack Rock

I had spent most of the day just exploring, waiting for better light. But I had an early dinner and headed to Cannon Beach in plenty of time for sunset.  Walking along the flat sandy beach brought back memories of my 2013 trip as I took in the view and tried to plan where I wanted to be.  I knew that from a certain angle, the sun would be setting almost directly behind Haystack Rock, so I knew as I made my way across the beach that when the sun finally kissed the horizon, I would want to be in a spot that lined up the sun with the giant seastack.

For the images you see here, I used a Vü Filters 3-stop soft edge ND filter to hold the sky exposure back and better match it to the foreground. I also knew I’d want a somewhat slower shutter speed to allow the water to blur slightly as the waves lapped at the shoreline. Once I found the settings I wanted to use and had my exposure right, I set about finding compositions that were interesting to me, trying not to copy what I’d done three years earlier.

Sunset on Cannon Beach
Sunset on Cannon Beach

On this day, Mother Nature did not disappoint. A soft, cool mist formed in the distance, creating an air of mystery on the beach, while the sun glowed a warm orange, and the sky remained a deep shade of indigo. Clouds moved in just enough to catch the color and add texture to the sky. Now all there was to do was to click my shutter and enjoy the sounds of the Pacific as I took in the amazing show.

One of the coolest things about photography for me is the way it has enabled me to make new friends. On this night, there were several others out photographing as well, and I struck up a conversation with a woman about my age named Heather. We each went about our business of finding images to capture and in between, traded some stories and small details about ourselves. It was a great way to spend the evening.  We ended up becoming Facebook friends, and while we don’t talk much directly, we share similar political views and will “like” and comment on the goings on in each other’s life. One of the many benefits photography has brought into my life.

So as the night moved in and we packed it in, I walked back to my car and found myself stuck in traffic heading back to Portland for my business event the next day. After completing the event I flew back to NY, and went about my business. But this sunset in Cannon Beach sticks with me. I can’t wait to get back there.

Behind The Shots: Boneyard Beach

Carolina Lowcountry by Rick Berk
Carolina Lowcountry

Over the years, my career has led me into teaching more and more, and in 2016 I began leading a few workshops. I enjoy working with other photographers, teaching the techniques I’ve been using, and learning from them as much as they learn from me. Last year, one of the first workshops planned was to Charleston, SC. I took a trip to Charleston to scout my planned locations and do some personal shooting. One of those locations absolutely blew me away.

The boneyard beach at Botany Bay Plantation, about an hour south of Charleston, almost seems like another world. As you walk from the parking area, through the salt marsh, and onto the beach, the scene you are presented with is starkly different from anything I’d ever seen before.

Reflections Erased by Rick Berk
Reflections Erased

The boneyard beach is the result of shifting tides and erosion, which over time ate into what was once a vibrant forest of trees. With root systems exposed, many trees toppled over or washed away, while others continue to hold on as the waves crash around them. Seeing the husk of a dead oak tree being buffeted by the surf was just incredible.

On my first morning there, I was disappointed that the sky was virtually cloudless, meaning flat backgrounds with little visual interest.  I used a Vü Filters polarizer and ND and ND grads to help keep the sky in check, and was able to capture some of the sunrise color.

Alone In The Water by Rick Berk
Alone In The Water

On my second morning, I was faced with a heavy cloud cover. However, you could see that there were several breaks that might reveal some color, and I wasn’t disappointed there. After about an hour and a half, the sky began to show some real drama and color. I again used my set of Neutral Density grads from Vü Filters to make sure I could balance the exposure between the sky and the foreground.

Between the two mornings I photographed at Botany Bay, I spent about seven hours exploring the boneyard beach.  I don’t think I even scratched the surface of what’s possible there, photographically. I can’t wait to get back there and see what else I can find.

The Lowcountry - Botany Bay Plantation by Rick Berk
The Lowcountry – Botany Bay Plantation

Behind the Shots: Sentinel Dome

Jeffrey Pine Dawn
Jeffrey Pine Dawn

After some encouragement from a friend, I’ve decided to start writing more about the images I’ve made, not just from a technical or an artistic standpoint, but also a personal one. My first post in this series was Sunrise at Portland Head Lighthouse. The images highlighted in this post were taken two years ago this month.

In March 2015, I was just beginning what would become the roughest period of my life. I didn’t quite yet know what was coming, but there were enough harbingers of the coming tribulations that I was rarely at peace during this time. In late March, I found myself on a business trip in the East Bay area. I had an event Saturday morning, but the event that was planned for Sunday had been cancelled the day before due to lack of interest, so I quickly adjusted my plans and drove the 4 hours to Yosemite National Park to be there in time for sunset.

Sentinel Dawn
Sentinel Dawn

After shooting sunset, I headed to my hotel to plan for sunrise. As I was driving I had heard that the road to Glacier Point had opened early for the season, the day I arrived. That helped make my decision easier. I had heard that sunrise from the top of Sentinel Dome was spectacular.  It was a mile hike from the parking area to the top, so I allowed some extra time and was awake at 4am. I was at the top of Sentinel Dome by 6am. Sunrise was 6:48, but already the sky was starting to glow.

There’s something about being alone, on top of a mountain peak, with nothing but the sounds of nature filling the air, Yosemite Valley stretched out below, and the Sierra Nevada range all around you. Despite the rumbling of thunder from the oncoming storms in my life, the mountain air, low rumble of three waterfalls- the Nevada, Vernal, and Yosemite-, and the soft light that was beginning to come up brought me complete peace.

Sunrise on Sentinel Dome
Sunrise on Sentinel Dome

The top of Sentinel Dome is bare granite.  Once a famous Jeffrey pine grew there, but it died in the drought of 1976 and eventually collapsed in 2013.  There are a few other trees on or around the peak. I set about making some photos, focusing first on the husk of the Jeffrey pine, just as some wispy clouds were passing behind them. As the sun began to edge closer to the horizon, the clouds glowed a bright pink and orange, lighting up the sky.

I used a Vü Filters 3-stop soft edged ND grad to hold the brightness of the sky in check, and my Induro tripod to steady my Nikon D810. My go-to lens for shots like these is my Nikon 16-35 f/4. I just love the wide angle view and being able to get close to my foreground subject.

I spent about two and a half hours at the top of Sentinel Dome that day, and then another few hours hiking to Taft Point and back again. On that morning, everything was perfect.

Yosemite Morning
Yosemite Morning