Photo Workshop: Letchworth State Park

Lower Falls of the Genesee River
Lower Falls of the Genesee River

Letchworth State Park, nestled just south of the Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York, is a photographer’s dream. Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, and recently voted the best state park in the country in a USA Today Reader’s Poll, Letchworth offers a variety of subjects to keep any photographer busy for days.

Any discussion of Letchworth begins with its three dramatic waterfalls, created as the Genesee River flows north through a deep gorge. The three main falls, located in Portage Canyon, provide the centerpiece to the park. The Upper Falls are straddled by the Portage Bridge, a railroad trestle which is now in process of being replaced further upriver, but is still traversed by freight trains several times a day. The Middle Falls, just downriver, is the highest of the cascades, while the Lower Falls are located near the only trail that crosses the Genesee River in the park, spanned by a picturesque stone bridge.

Autumn at Wolf Creek
Autumn at Wolf Creek

In the fall, Letchworth State Park explodes in color, with the leaves changing brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. The fall foliage provides a spectacular backdrop for waterfalls, providing a fantastic opportunity for photographers to create a variety images of the landscape around the gorge.

This October, I will be leading a photo workshop in Letchworth State Park, as I explain my approach to landscape photography in general, and fall foliage and waterfalls in particular. Space is limited so register early to be sure you won’t be left behind. If you have questions, be sure to contact me or Worldwide Photo Tours. Hope to see you out there!

Autumn on the Genesee II
Autumn on the Genesee II
Autumn on the Forest Floor
Autumn on the Forest Floor
“Painted Autumn” was created by using a slow shutter speed and moving the camera during exposure to create an impressionist feel to the image.

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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: 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

The Magic of Acadia

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Little Hunter’s Beach

I first visited Acadia, albeit briefly, in 1999. On that rainy November day, I visited Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, took a few photos (on film) and quickly made my retreat as the weather continued to worsen and I had a four hour drive back to the B&B at which I was staying. Though my first visit to Acadia was brief – I didn’t even get into Bar Harbor – I knew it was a place I would be compelled to return to over and over, and if possible, make my home on the Maine coast in the future.

Now, 18 years later, I’m living in Freeport, Maine and have made multiple visits to Acadia National Park. Each time I discover something new, or visit a place I’ve seen before and witness it’s spectacular beauty yet again.

Sunset at Schoodic Point
Sunset at Schoodic Point

There are so many spots to choose from, it’s difficult to choose a favorite. The Park Loop Road, which passes such great spots as Boulder Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Cliffs, is breathtaking. Jordan Pond, in its quiet woodland serenity, is simply rejuvenating. And Bass Harbor Head, with the classic New England lighthouse perched high upon the cliff, evokes thoughts of maritime storms and lighthouse keepers watching over the coastal traffic.

Dusk at Jordan Pond
Dusk at Jordan Pond

Sunrise is my favorite time of day in Acadia.  The tourists have yet to invade the park, and the only sounds are that of the ocean waves washing over the rocky shores, and the sea birds singing their morning songs. The light is soft and warm and there are photo opportunities everywhere.

In June, I will be leading a workshop for Worldwide Photo Tours, leading photographers to some of my favorite spots, and teaching my tried and true techniques for landscape photography. For more information visit Worldwide Photo Tours.  Join me in Maine!

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Monument Cove
Morning in Monument Cove

Yosemite

Half Dome at sunset.
Half Dome at sunset as seen from Tunnel View through a long lens.

Since I first became interested in photography, Yosemite has been on my list of places to visit. I’ve now been there three times, for a total of about 10 days, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this incredible place.

My last time there, I had only a day and a half, as it was an unscheduled trip I made when I found I had some extra time on a business trip. Most people, when visiting, never get out of the Valley, the main area where many of the iconic features of Yosemite, such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls can be seen. It truly is breathtaking there. But on this last trip, while I didn’t get to locations outside the valley, such as Tuolumne Meadows, I did manage to visit some lesser known locations and get some amazing images.

I arrived in the afternoon on a Saturday and found myself a spot to photograph Half Dome over the Merced River. It’s a bit of a different angle than the more commonly seen ones and I was happy with the images. The next morning though, for sunsrise, I wanted to try and find a place I hadn’t been before.  I’d photographed sunrise from Valley View along the Merced River, from Cook’s Meadow, and from Glacier Point. This time, I decided I would make the mile hike in the dark to the top of Sentinel Dome and photograph from there.  While the hike in the dark was a bit unsettling since I’d never been there, I managed to find my way to the summit in a reasonable amount of time.  I was not disappointed.

View from the top of Sentinel Dome at sunrise.
View from the top of Sentinel Dome at Sunrise.

The sun rising over the Sierras is an incredible sight, and from Sentinel Dome, one of the highest elevations in Yosemite, it becomes even more incredible. The rocky top of Senitnel Dome features few trees, along with the withering husk of the jeffrey pine made famous by Ansel Adams long ago. I made several excellent images I was very happy with.

El Capitan viewed from Taft Point.
Half Dome at sunset as seen from Tunnel View through a long lens.

After that, I decided to hike the mile to Taft Point, another new location for me. It features an elevated view of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. A little nerve wracking due to the height of the point and the lack of any restraining wall or railings, but an incredible sight well worth photographing. I feel like it might make an excellent location at sunset also.

I finished the day with the classic location Tunnel View. While it’s often photographed, it is always stunning and worth a visit from any photographer. On this day we were treated to a show as a storm moved across the far end of the valley giving dramatic skies and colors.

If you’d like to join me on my next trip to Yosemite, I am leading the excursion for Worldwide Photo Tours in May. More information is available here.

Tunnel View
A storm moves across the far end of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View.
El Capitan
El Capitan from along the Merced River, just after sunrise.
The Merced River
A view of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.
Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls