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

Behind The Shots: Sunrise at Portland Head Lighthouse

Sunrise at Portland Head Lighthouse, Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Sunrise at Portland Head Lighthouse, Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

The first Monday after I relocated to Maine was Labor Day.  I decided to head out and photograph at a spot I hadn’t photographed in about 6 years. The weather reports promised partly cloudy skies, a light breeze, and higher than normal tides due to a hurricane in the Atlantic. The conditions seemed right for some dramatic images.

On a personal level, the churning tides reflected the emotions I was feeling, as my life was in the midst of undergoing dramatic changes, in a year filled with them. I craved the solitude sunrise usually brings, but on this morning, Labor Day, the park was filled with many photographers and vacationers catching the last sunrise of their summer vacation. As I hopped the fence and scrambled down the rocks to this location, I met another photographer and had a brief conversation, exchanging pleasantries and making sure that the spot I’d chosen wouldn’t interfere with the shot he’d composed and was now waiting for. There always seems to be a bit of camaraderie among us idiots that like to rise before the sun and then get out and capture it.

Using a Nikon D810, I selected the AF Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 lens and set it to 35mm for this composition. I like this lens for several reasons. It’s sharp, relatively compact, and it’s ultra-wide angle allows me to emphasize foregrounds and take in expansive vistas. In addition, its 77mm front diameter means it’s easily filtered, unlike ultra-wide angle lenses with a bulbous front element. Once I settled in to my spot, I knew that as the sun rose, I would need to balance the brighter sky with the darker foreground. For this image, I used a Vü Filters Sion Q soft-edged graduated neutral density filter to keep the sky exposure in balance with the foreground. This enabled me to capture the brilliant orange tones of the rising sun, as well as the subtle texture of the thin layer of clouds overhead.

When photographing a landscape such as this, I am almost always mounted on a tripod. I like to manipulate the appearance of the water in an image by using different shutter speeds. A few earlier exposures using longer shutter speeds produced unsatisfactory results because the long exposure caused the raging waters to appear as fog. I wanted to capture the individual waves, the churning of the water in the cove, the crashing of the waves on the rocks. To do this, I raised my ISO to 400 and set my aperture to f/8, which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/3. I’ve found that shutter speed to be right about perfect for capturing water’s motion without freezing it too much and eliminating the sense of motion. A quick check of my histogram confirmed I was not clipping either in the highlights or shadows, so I moved on to other compositions after this capture.

As I capture all images as RAW files, I needed to process the image in Adobe Camera RAW. I opened the file and immediately use the highlight slider to further bring down my highlight areas and use the Shadows slider to open up shadow detail. The resulting image appears flat and lacks contrast and saturation, which is what I need for the next step. After opening in Photoshop, I use Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro 4’s Brilliance and Warmth to build color saturation back up, and Pro Contrast to build the contrast up to a more pleasing level. This workflow gives me the freedom I like to target only certain areas of an image if I choose, as well as use adjustment layers and masking if necessary.  This image required nothing more than the Color Efex Pro 4 application.

The final image captured not only a beautiful sunrise and end of summer scene, but also my personal emotions at the time. The churning seas, the lighthouse keeping watch, and the bright colors of sunrise all matched the turmoil I was dealing with, as well as the hope I felt at my new beginning.

A Carnival Cruise Ship passes Portland Head Lighthouse on its way into Portland Harbor.
A Carnival Cruise Ship passes Portland Head Lighthouse on its way into Portland Harbor.

The Smokies

Sunrise In The Smokies
The view from Clingman’s Dome at sunrise is one of the most spectacular ways to start a day I can imagine.

The Great Smoky Mountains is one of those places that draws you back again and again. If you see it in the spring, with waterfalls at full bore from the spring runoff, wildflowers exploding in bloom on the hillsides, you’ll be awestruck at the beauty you see.  But at the same time, you’ll find yourself wondering how it looks in autumn, with the leaves changing colors, splashing the countryside with color. The Smokies are amazingly beautiful no matter when you visit.

In October 2015 I had the opportunity to visit the Smokies to photograph the foliage, and I managed to capture near peak color. I didn’t have as long in the park as I would like, but I did manage to hit some of the best spots and make some great images while seeing the incredible beauty of the area.  In 2017 I am planning another trek to the Great Smoky Mountains, this time in the spring, leading a photography workshop for Worldwide Photo Tours.

Morning Mist In The Smokies
Morning Mist In The Smokies

The great thing about the Smokies is the mix of natural beauty and history. There are vistas galore to look out from, starting with the views from Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap, straddling the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee. But beyond these easily accessible vistas, there are countless waterfalls, found along many of the trails in the park.

In terms of history, the Cades Cove area, found on the Tennessee side of the GSMNP, is an unbelievable trip into the past. Cades Cove is a broad valley where settlers made a home in the early 1800s. There are restorations of settlement buildings along the loop road, including a grist mill, three churches, and several cabins. All make for outstanding photo opportunities. In addition, some of the best opportunities in the park for viewing wildlife are found in Cades Cove.

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Autumn Glow in Cades Cove

Finally, I visited Cataloochee, a valley on the North Carolina side of the park. There are several historic buildings to be found in Cataloochee as well, but to me, the real treasure of Cataloochee is the herd of elk that were released in the valley in 2001. The elk can be found in the fields in the valley, especially in the early morning and evening. A long lens is a must, but it was incredible to watch these majestic beasts wander the field, the males bugling to try and catch the females attention.

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An elk in Cataloochee

I’m looking forward to visiting the Smokies this spring, showing attendees around and teaching them some of my favorite landscape photo techniques for capturing better images. If you’re interested, send me an email or visit Worldwide Photo Tours for more information.

Autumn on the Chimney Tops Trail
Autumn on the Chimney Tops Trail

 

My Best of 2016

As 2016 comes to an end, I wanted to gather a few of my favorite images that I made over the course of the year and share them in a single place. In what was a trying year for me personally, I was able to get to some beautiful locations and capture some of the natural beauty I found. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the images I captured.

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Sunset With My Daughter

It’s not often that my 14-year old daughter volunteers to join me when photographing sunsets or other landscapes. As a teenager, she wants to do her own thing and often keeps her distance from Dad. That’s not to say we don’t have a good relationship, but you know how teenaged girls can be.

So on a recent Saturday night when we were visiting my uncle at the Jersey shore, I looked across the street to the bay and saw the sky setting up for a nice sunset. I excused myself and said I was going across the street to take some pictures and I’d be back shortly. My daughter stood up and said she was coming with me. It was a pleasant surprise.

Nothing of any import was discussed, no major issues brought to light. Just a father and daughter, standing on the dock, watching the sun set and the clouds go by, joking about whatever. It was one of those special moments, that makes this image all the more special for me.

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Sunset on the Dock, Lavallette, NJ

 

The North Fork

The Bug Light
Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, the Bug Light, as seen from Orient Beach State Park

I suspect I’m not unique in this, but I often find myself lamenting that I can’t get somewhere truly exotic to photograph every time I want to.  I’m several hours from any of the more grandiose national parks, with Acadia nine hours and change away, and Shenandoah about 8 hours away. So there are some days, when I have the itch to make a picture, that I have to look closer to home. And like many others, I sometimes take local locations for granted.

This past week, I found myself with the time to go exploring, so I hit up some spots that are within about an hour of my home. On Monday, I went to Orient Beach State Park. I’d never been there, and wasn’t sure if I was missing anything or not. Honestly, at first glance, it’s not much to look at. It’s a beach on the North Fork of Long Island, that pokes into Gardiners Bay.  But if you’re willing, and strong enough, you can walk down the beach about two and a half miles, to the very tip of the park, which sticks into Gardiners Bay where it meets the Peconic River. There, you will find the Bug Light, a lighthouse built on a caisson about 50 yards out in Gardiners Bay.

The Bug Light at dusk.
The Bug Light at dusk.

Generally, the bay is pretty calm, but this day, the wind was churning the water pretty good, creating some nice choppy waves. I had some nice puffy clouds in the sky, and the sun was creating some nice color off in the west. While I was still feeling the hike several days later, the images I captured were well worth the effort.

The next day, I still had the itch, and I found another spot close by I need to explore some more. Wildwood State Park is also on the north shore of Long Island, featuring a beach on Long Island Sound.  The first time I went there was July. The warmer weather and the later sunset kept the beach crowded late, and it was difficult to get shots without people in the background. This time, being early March, I had the entire beach to myself.

Wildwood Beach State Park
Wildwood Beach State Park

The sound was as peaceful as I’d ever seen it, almost glass like. The beach is dotted with huge boulders left behind from the ice age when Long Island was under a glacier. These boulders create a lot of visual interest, making it worth several visits to really work the various options. Since wave action was nonexistent, I decided to use a Vü Filters ND10 filter. This 10-stop ND filter allows me to get super long exposures, allowing me to smooth out the water and blur the movement of clouds. It was so peaceful, that using the long exposure accentuated the calm, allowing me to create images that really communicated the peace and solitude I was feeling at that moment.

If you’re interested in joining me for some photography, visit Worldwide Photo Tours to see what we have coming up.  Next September, we’ll be visiting some of my other favorite places on the east end of Long Island. Hope to see you there!

Wildwood State Park at dusk.
Wildwood State Park at dusk.

Using Filters In Photographing Water

Rodeo Beach at Sunset
Rodeo Beach at Sunset. A 3-stop, soft edged graduated neutral density filter was used to reduce the exposure for the sky and bring it more into range with the foreground exposure.

Several weeks ago, Vü Filters named me a Vü Visionary, one of the photographers who use Vü Filters in their work and whose work exemplifies what Vü hopes to bring to all photographers. I’m honored to have been named and am thrilled to help spread the word about these high quality filters.

I’ve been using drop-in filters for several years in my landscape photography, to help manage difficult exposure situations such as bright skies and dark foregrounds, or to help reduce exposure so I can achieve long exposures, even in bright daylight. I find the creative freedom that filters enable vital in capturing my vision in camera.  When I began using Vü Filters, I was impressed with quality of the system, and the color consistency from one filter to the next. I know exactly what I’m going to get and I don’t have to do any correction in post for a color cast created by the filters.

I’ve heard the various arguments against filters, from simulating effects in Photoshop, to blending multiple exposures, to using HDR in cases where the dynamic range of a scene is too broad. I’d rather not spend the time in post processing on blending images to fix exposure problems, and I’m simply not a fan of HDR. My current workflow from start to finish is generally only a few minutes per image, and for me, if an image takes much more than that, I’ll usually put it aside and rarely do I come back to it.

One of the first things I was asked to do for Vü Filters was to produce a series of webinars for their YouTube channel. The first of those is now available, and covers the ins and outs of photographing water, and how the use of filters can assist you in creating great images. I hope you’ll find them helpful, and look forward to producing more soon. Let me know what you think, and more importantly, what you’d like to learn!