Above Denali

Mount Brooks From Above
Mount Brooks From Above

One of the highlights of my life as a landscape photographer was a gift given to me by my now ex-wife- a flight over the mountains in Denali National Park.  I had been planning the trip for several months when she surprised me with this wrinkle for my birthday. It gave me an opportunity to see Denali in a way I had not seen before, and a way I had not planned.

Hidden In Denali
Hidden In Denali

The thing I most remember about the flight was how small it made me feel. We were 11,000 feet up (the ceiling for the bush plane we were in), and we STILL had to look up from the plane to see the tops of some of the peaks of the Alaska Range, including Denali itself, which was almost double our altitude in height.

McKinley River From The Air
McKinley River From The Air

As cloud cover moved in and around the mountains, I tried to capture as much of the view as I could- kettle ponds on the tundra, the mountains enveloped in puffy white clouds, glacial lakes, hidden in valleys where people rarely set foot. It was all breathtaking, and remains one of my favorite experiences that I’ve captured with my camera.

A Peak In The Clouds
A Peak In The Clouds
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Lubec, Maine

October Sky at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
October Sky at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse

In the 18 years I’d been visiting Maine, prior to moving here last year, I’d never been anywhere past Schoodic Point, just past Bar Harbor, in a slightly less trafficked area of Acadia National Park. After moving here, I had made a sort of mental list of places I wanted to explore- places like Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin, Rangeley,  and Lubec, the easternmost point in the continental United States. In the past year, I managed to do quite a bit of exploring, but Lubec eluded me, as it was just about the furthest away from my home and I’d decided I need at least two nights there to really even begin to see it.

At the beginning of October, I finally made that happen. I had the unfortunate occurrence of the cancellation private photo tour I was leading, so I took the two days I would have spent on the tour, and headed to Lubec to see just what there was so far downeast.  The first thing I found? AT&T’s cell service is AWFUL. Not of major importance, but when I DID have a signal, half the time it was from Bell Canada, which  meant I had no data. No text messages, no Facebook, no email. So I found myself disconnected from civilization. Not a terrible thing, but I’d prefer to plan when I will be disconnected.

The Compass
The Compass, photographed on the Coastal Trail in Quoddy Head State Park

Connectivity aside, Lubec was much like the rest of Maine that I’d explored so far – rugged, beautiful, simple, and just plain stunning.  My first stop was Quoddy Head State Park and West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. I had arrived late the night before so, on just about four hours sleep, I dragged my butt out of bed, dragged my friend Beth from her bed, and we headed to Quoddy Head State Park.

As we arrived, the horizon was glowing a deep red. Sunrise was going to be incredible. A local photographer had guided me to a couple of different spots, but we opted for the classic view of the lighthouse on the cliff, since it looked like there would be a great sky, and I had never been there before.  I set up and immediately started photographing.

As the clouds moved across the sky behind the lighthouse, the sun came up to my left, and lit the eastern sky on fire. While there wasn’t much of a foreground to work with facing the sunrise, the soft, warm glow of the rising sun on the lighthouse and the cliff and grasses in the foreground was perfect.

Sunrise on Passamaquoddy Bay
Sunrise on Passamaquoddy Bay

After finding breakfast and going back to the motel to clean up and grab our stuff, we headed back to Quoddy Head State Park to explore more. The coastal trail offered several great opportunities for photos. I could find a different spot for sunrise there every day for a month.  As I only had two days, I had the make the best of what I had. On my first day there, I came across a lobster pot buoy that had washed up against the rocks. The day had turned gray, but I decided at that point that this spot was my next day’s sunrise location. I wanted the buoy as my foreground with the sun rising behind it. Unfortunately, the sky was a lot less interesting on this morning, but I was able to find a composition that worked and I was still able to use the soft warm light of sunrise, just as I had visualized the day before.

Misty Morning on Johnson Bay
Misty Morning on Johnson Bay

After my second sunrise, we were heading back into Lubec when I noticed the mist was still hanging around. We made a beeline for the harbor, which was shrouded in fog as the sun fought to burn it off. It created an ethereal glow that seemed to envelop the lobster boats sitting in the harbor. Everywhere I turned was another photo opportunity, from the fogbow I captured as it arced over some lobster boats, to Mullholland Point Lighthouse on Campobello Island, shrouded in mist. It was an amazing morning.

We explored a bit more that day but soon had to head back home. The more I explore, the more I continue to be enchanted by coastal Maine, especially downeast Maine.

Baxter State Park

Katahdin Reflections
Katahdin Reflections.

Since moving to Maine last year, Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin have been on my list of places I need to explore.  I could really use at least a week there, but a few weeks ago, when I found a free 36 hours, I decided to jump in the car and drive the four hours up to Millinocket, Maine, to get my first taste of Katahdin.  I met a friend up there and spent the day hiking and photographing.

After checking in at my motel, I headed to a spot I’d heard about that I was told would be good for sunset, as well as possible night sky photos. So I made my way down the Golden Road to Abol Bridge and waited for the right light.  As the sun went down, the light on Katahdin’s peaks glowed a warm orange, while the mountain was reflected in the waters of Nesowadnehunk Deadwater.

I set up on the bridge, which was problematic because the bridge bounced when anyone walked on it. Any long exposure would be ruined simply by me moving, or someone else stepping onto the bridge. Something to be aware of as the light went down.  As the sun set to my left, I used a Benro Slim Circular Polarizer to help deepen the colors in the sky, and a Benro 3-stop soft-edged graduated neutral density filter to help equalize the exposure between the sky and the foreground.

I waited for darkness to see about shooting the night sky, but hikers coming off the Appalachian Trail were continually crossing the bridge, making long exposures for stars difficult. In addition, the sky had a heavy haze, making stars faint and difficult to focus. I decided to call it a night and head back to the motel so I could be ready for sunrise.

Katahdin Sunrise
Katahdin Sunrise

The next morning, not having had the chance to scout many spots and also feeling that my location for sunset would also make an idea sunrise location, we headed back to Abol Bridge for sunrise.  As the sun came up, clouds moved across the sky and danced around Katahdin’s peak, glowing in the warmth of the rising sun and reflecting again in the water below the bridge.  I again used a Benro circular polarizer and a Benro 3-stop soft edged graduated neutral density filter to help equalize the sky and the foreground exposure.

After photographing sunrise, my friend and I went back into Millinocket and visited the Appalachian Trail Cafe for a good breakfast and to plan what we would do next.  Unfortunately, we wanted to hike the Chimney Pond Trail but when we got into Baxter State Park, were told the lot was full.  We selected the Hunt Trail as a backup and hiked along Katahdin Stream to Katahdin Falls.

Katahdin Stream
Katahdin Stream

We stopped several times along the trail to photograph the stream, and some of the plants along the way. It was a gorgeous early autumn day and we enjoyed every second of it. After reaching the falls, we turned around and headed back to the car to see what else we could see. We decided to head to Dacey Pond.

Mushrooms on Katahdin
Mushrooms on Katahdin

Dacey Pond provided us with a beautiful alpine lakeside setting. We set up near a cabin labeled “The Library” and photographed the sky reflected in the lake. I stepped up onto the porch of the library and found a nice composition with canoes lined up near the shoreline.  It seemed a fitting final shot for the day.

Daicey Pond Campground
Daicey Pond Campground

There’s so much more of Baxter State Park I need to explore, and I need more time to do it. But I’m happy for the time I had last month.

More images from Katahdin here.

 

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.

letchworth art for sale

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