The Custom House

Early Morning in the Old Port
Early Morning In The Old Port

Before I moved to Maine, one of my favorite places to visit was always the Old Port in Portland. The mix of old architecture, restaurants and boutiques made it a must whenever I traveled to Maine for business or pleasure. The centerpiece of the old port for over 100 years the United States Custom House, straddling the area between Fore Street and Commercial Street, right on the waterfront.

The Custom House was built between 1867 and 1872, designed by Alfred B. Mullet, who was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1865 to 1874. There was a need for a new Custom House after the Great Fire of July 4, 1867.  The fire had destroyed 1800 buildings in the center of Portland, including the Exchange Building, which had housed the customs office, post office, and several other federal offices.

While I had often admired the building from the street, I had never photographed it. I could never find the right angle, or find a time when the street wasn’t filled with cars parked at the curb.  Just by chance, I was in the Old Port one day and happened to park in a parking garage and noticed that I had a clear line to the building with no wires overhead. The next step was picking the right time of day.

United States Custom House
United States Custom House

From the angle I had on the roof of the parking garage, the waters of Portland Harbor and the islands in Casco Bay were plainly visible. I also knew that the sunrise would be visible behind the building on a clear day, and I assumed the streets would be relatively clear early in the morning. I arrived just as the parking garage opened and made my way to the roof and set up. All I had to do was compose, and wait.

I decided a graduated neutral density filter would help balance the exposure between the sunrise in the sky and the darker foreground of the Custom House, so I used a a Benro 4-stop Hard Edge Graduated Neutral Density filter, and placed the transition exactly on the horizon in the background.  This allowed me to open up the shadows on the face of the Custom House and still maintain the orange glow that was present in the sky, that the camera would have lost on its own without some help.

I had planned to also take some images from street level, but by the time I completed my work on the roof of the parking garage, a truck had parked itself in front of the building, making it impossible to get a clean shot, so I called it a successful morning and headed to find some breakfast!

Advertisements

Owls Head

Penobscot Bay Tranquility
Penobscot Bay Tranquility

As much as I’ve explored the Maine coast, there is still plenty I haven’t photographed yet. I’m continually amazed at all the beautiful corners I keep finding. I’ve spent some time up in the Rockland area, especially at Marshall Point, but hadn’t spent much time at Owls Head. The main reason being that the lighthouse there isn’t all that dramatic; it’s a stubby 30 foot tower at the top of a bluff overlooking Penobscot Bay.  It’s also a difficult spot to photograph. There’s not much room at the top next to the lighthouse and the best way to photograph the lighthouse from a distance is from a boat on the water, which I don’t have ready access to.

Clearing Storm at Owls Head
Clearing Storm at Owls Head

Regardless of these obstacles, I like lighthouses and it felt like a serious omission to have not photographed this one yet. So I got out of bed at 4:30am (ouch) and made my way out to Owls Head State Park. Despite promising weather reports, I arrived to overcast skies and intermittent rain. The sunrise I had hoped for never materialized, but I set about making the most of my time, since I’d gotten up so early and had a meeting in Rockland at noon, which meant I couldn’t just call it a morning and head for home.

Autumn Morning at Owls Head in Black and White
Autumn Morning at Owls Head in Black and White

Frustrated that the weather wasn’t cooperating, I decided to try the beach at Owls Head State Park. From the beach, you look across the bay toward Rockland and in the distance can see Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park. All I saw was a series of gray tones. I had some rocks on the shoreline, a vast expanse of water,and then the hills in the distance. I decided right then that I wanted to capture an image with strong graphic elements that highlighted the tones. I figured a long exposure of several minutes would flatten out the water and give me a series of gray transitions that would allow the foreground rocks to stand out in contrast with the sharp textures they provided, and in the distance the darker hills would be the end the transitions of gray, white, and black against the light colored misty sky.

I used a Benro Filters 10-stop neutral density filter to give me a four minute exposure, which was more than enough to give me a flat look on the water, and a misty look around the rocks in the foreground.  The rising tide ended up covering the rocks more than I expected, so there were fewer rocks in the final exposure. It’s surprising how fast the tide comes in in just four minutes!

Owls Head Lighthouse In Black And White
Owls Head Lighthouse In Black And White

Once I finished on the beach, I made my way to another beach on the other side of the peninsula, a short walk away. There, the light started to change and the sun made an appearance. The clouds began to thin out a little bit, creating more drama. I made one image on this beach and then decided to go redo every shot I’d taken of the lighthouse, but this time with better skies.

Completing that task, and with more time to kill before my meeting, I decided to head over to Marshall Point Lighthouse, about a 20 minute drive away. I didn’t have much time there but made two images, including the one that closes this post. All in all, a productive day for me at a place that I hadn’t photographed before.

I will be leading a workshop in the Rockland area in May 2019 for Hunt’s Photo Adventures. If interested, visit the Hunt’s Photo Adventures website for more information.

October Morning At Marshall Point
October Morning At Marshall Point

Another Autumn in Vaughan Woods

Autumn Waterfall in Hallowell
Autumn Waterfall in Hallowell

Once I had determined I was relocating to Maine in September of 2016, I was told by several people that I simply had to visit Vaughan Woods and Homestead in Hallowell. They kept calling it “Hobbitland” and said that I would love photographing there.

They weren’t wrong. The path through the woods is calm and peaceful, and all along Vaughan Brook are so many picturesque corners that it’s easy for me to spend hours there, my eye to the viewfinder, or looking at the scene and determining how I can find one more unique composition to capture.

Fall Morning at Vaughan Brook
Fall Morning at Vaughan Brook

I find Vaughan Woods absolutely sings in Autumn, when the leaves are changing, the air is cool and crisp, and the brook is murmuring softly as it bubbles along under the charming stone arch bridges that span it. There’s a warm, inviting feeling as you meander down the trail and come up one of the bridges, a waterfall cascading down the rocks that line the brook.

When I photograph in these woods, maybe it’s the reference to Tokien’s shire from the Hobbit series, or maybe it’s just the peacefulness that I feel there, but I like to give the scenes a dreamy quality, using longer exposures to blur the water.  I use Benro Master Filters to manage my exposure.  It’s difficult to know what the light will be like once I get to the location I’m shooting, and if I have more light than I need to achieve the shutter speed I want, I won’t get the image I see in my head. Using a Benro 4-, 5-, 6- or 10-stop neutral density filter, I know I can always achieve the effect I’m looking for when it comes to longer exposures.

Autumn Cascade in Vaughan Woods
Autumn Cascade in Vaughan Woods

Normally when I walk through Vaughan Woods, I follow the trail down to the dam first, where a small stone arch bridge and cascade lies. For the photographs in this post, I had decided I wanted to capture the falls at the High Arch Bridge because it had been raining a few days earlier and they would be running full. Last year when I visited, the weather had been much dryer and the falls were just a trickle.

There is also a small cascade upstream that I wanted to spend some time photographing as well. After capturing the falls near High Arch Bridge, the sun began to shine directly on the falls- never a good thing for photographing waterfalls, so I headed upstream, where I knew this small cascade wouldn’t be getting any sun for some time.  I ended up spending about three hours at this spot.

I’ve now visited each autumn since I moved to Maine. I guess Vaughan Woods in the fall is becoming a tradition.

As always, prints are available at www.rickberk.com

Fallen Oak Leaf in Vaughan Woods
Fallen Oak Leaf in Vaughan Woods
The Nubble in Black and White

Chasing Sunrise at Cape Neddick

The Nubble in Black and White
The Nubble in Black and White

The first time I visited Maine, in 1998, the first place I visited, other than the bed and breakfast we stayed at, was Cape Neddick lighthouse, otherwise known as the Nubble light.  The Nubble is a small rocky island about 100 yards off shore in the Gulf of Maine. The view of the lighthouse from the shore, evokes romanticized images of a lightkeeper diligently keeping watch, keeping the beacon illuminated to assist ships at sea. I found myself immediately drawn to the Nubble, as so many other photographers have been- Cape Neddick Lighthouse is among the most photographed in the world.

High Tide at Cape Neddick
High Tide at Cape Neddick

It’s been a while since I saw a truly spectacular sunrise at the Nubble, so on Monday I decided to head out and see if something would materialize. Unfortunately, the clouds hung around longer than the weather report I was following predicted, so I ended up with a gray morning without much color.  Thankfully, the clouds moving through were dramatic, so I decided to think in terms of some dramatic black and white imagery. The surf was churning due to a storm at sea that had left the area the day before, so I knew the waves washing over the rocks would create interesting patterns as well, which would also render nicely in black and white.

For the main image in this post, I decided I wanted to try a long exposure. I’d been getting exposures of about 1/3 of a second and knew I wanted at least one minute. I had already been using a Benro 4-stop soft edge graduated neutral density filter to hold down the exposure in the sky, so I pulled out my Benro 10-stop neutral density filter to give me a dramatically slower shutter speed. My shutter speed for this exposure was one minute and 18 seconds. This allowed me to get dramatic movement in the sky and caused the water get a softer, misty look.

Morning Reflections of Cape Neddick
Morning Reflections of Cape Neddick

Since most of my work usually consists of more vibrant color, working in black and white tends to be a rare occasion for me. I did manage to get a few color shots as well. As the morning wore on the sun poked out from behind the clouds and added a little warm light to the scene. Then, I ventured back on Wednesday and sunrise was slightly more colorful. Just slightly.  So after months of not having photographed the Nubble at all, I spent two mornings this week trying to capture new images there. I still haven’t gotten my spectacular sunrise there, but I’ll keep trying.

Autumn In New England

Blog-20171014-VaughanWoods-0004
Autumn in Hallowell

Autumn has always been one of my favorite times of year. The crisp, cool air, coupled with the smells of leaves burning, fireplaces burning logs, and the smells of seasonal baked goods (pumpkin spice, anyone?), as well as the vibrant colors, just make fall a cornucopia of sensory stimuli. Since adopting Maine as my home last year, I’ve made sure to enjoy all that autumn in New Englad has to offer visually, by getting out and exploring just a bit.

Last year, I’d discovered Vaughan Woods, in Hallowell, Maine, after a friend suggested I check it out. I wasn’t disappointed, so of course, I had to go back this year.  The stone bridges and Vaughan Brook with its waterfalls, are quintessential New England. When the color is exploding in the trees, there is no place in New England that is more picturesque.  This year, my return was in the form of a photo walk with several other photographers. The brook was flowing nicely, with small whirlpools forming in certain spots, and good color in the trees.

Vaughan Brook And Arch Bridge
Vaughan Brook And Arch Bridge

There are two stone bridges in Vaughan Woods. When you start down the trail, the first bridge you come to is a smaller one, with a small three foot waterfall flowing just in front of it. A pool had formed with colored leaves in the bottom of the pool. I used a Benro Master Filters circular polarizer to minimize the reflection on the surface of the pool and allow me (and my camera) to see into the water and let those leaves on the bottom come through.

The second bridge, known as Arch Bridge, is much taller, and spans a taller waterfall on Vaughan Brook. I scrambled down the rocks along the brook and found an angle I liked that allowed me to show the rocks, the bridge, the foliage, and the brook.  I again used the polarizer to help deepen the blue of the sky, along with a Benro Filters 4-stop ND filter to slow down my shutter speed and allow the water to blur a bit and get that creamy look.

Autumn Glow In The Woods
Autumn Glow In The Woods

A couple of weeks later, on another photo walk, I ventured down to Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Maudslay State Park. There was still good color on the trees, and while I captured several shots I liked, the two I’m sharing here are my favorites. As we walked along the trail through the park, this scene caught my eye.  There was soft warm sunlight hitting this orange tree, causing it to appear to glow. It was a beautiful scene and I spent several minutes capturing it before the light changed and the tree stopped glowing.

Autumn Sunset Through The Trees
Autumn Sunset Through The Trees

Further along the trail, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, I came upon another tree. This one also showed orange leaves, and with the sun shining through them, they also appeared to glow. The sun slowly moved down and I was able to capture a sun star as the sun shone between two branches. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Another day also ended perfectly, just a few days before. I’d been driving around looking for somewhere to photograph at sunset. I instantly thought of Bowdoin Mill in Topsham, Maine. This mill had intrigued me since the first time I’d seen it so I decided to go and try to find an angle to photograph it from. I found a spot, but the skies were heavily clouded. Soon, the clouds moved and for ten minutes I was blessed with this incredibly soft warm light. The mill glowed as it was reflected in the Androscoggin River, and the clouds picked up a warm tone from the late afternoon sun.

Bowdoin Mill
Bowdoin Mill

It’s scenes like this that make me look forward to autumn every year.

autumn art for sale

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.