New Year’s Chill

Winter Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse
Winter Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse

One of the things I love about Maine is the climate.  Some may say I’m crazy, but harsh though it may be, Maine winters offer every bit as much beauty as the other three seasons. Yes, it’s a bit more difficult to photograph in the elements, but it’s no less rewarding.

For the past week or so, Maine has been under a deep freeze, with temperatures below 20° for the better part of 10 days or so. Lows have been in the negatives during that time. While those conditions are daunting, they create some spectacular visuals. In our case along the coast, one of the most beautiful phenomenon the frigid temperatures bring is known as sea smoke. Sea smoke (also known as frost smoke or steam fog) is formed when very cold air moves over warmer water. It is common in the Arctic, and happens in Maine and New England during a particularly cold spell.

New Years Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse
New Years Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse

On New Year’s Eve, looking at the weather conditions for the next day, I decided I would get up at sunrise to capture the sea smoke as the rising sun filtered through it, creating this warm and spectacular light.  So the night before, I planned my excursion, setting out 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, wool socks, boots, heavy jacket, fleece hat and facemask, and gloves. Then I dug out hand warmers (thanks Mom!) and toe warmers (Mom again) to put inside my gloves and boots.

I awoke at 5:30am on New Year’s Day to a temperature of -14°F. While the urge to stay under my warm blankets was strong, I forced myself to get up and head out. My first stop was Portland Head Lighthouse.  I’d always wanted to photograph it in winter, with snow on the rocks, and the warm glow of the morning sun. Upon arriving at the lighthouse, I met a few other photographers of similarly questionable sanity, noting that the temperature was still -14°F.

Ice in Portland Harbor
Ice in Portland Harbor

I made my way out onto the rocks, careful to watch my step as there was snow and ice everywhere. I wanted an angle a bit different from the usual shot most people get from the fence at the top of the bluff. I hopped the fence and tried a few different locations on the rocks, first with my Nikon 24-120mm lens, but I wasn’t really thrilled with the composition I was getting, so I switched to my Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art lens and suddenly the scene came alive for me. I love the look of ultrawide angle lenses, and the Sigma 14mm is superb. Wide angles force me to consider foreground interest in the composition, making for more interesting compositions.

After I felt I’d gotten what I wanted out of Portland Head Light for the day, I decided to head over to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland. I had seen other photographers’ images from the previous few days, and was incredibly jealous that I couldn’t get out due to my work schedule, so this was my chance to create a few of my own.

Icy Morning at Spring Point Ledge Light
Icy Morning at Spring Point Ledge Light

While I did get one image with the 14mm lens that I liked, here the 24-120mm lens was more appropriate. So I once again switched lenses and went back to work. With the tide coming in at Portland Harbor, the huge chunks of ice began to float out a bit, creating an interesting foreground as the lighthouse emerged from the fog into the bright morning sun. It was a breathtaking sight to behold.

All told I spent about two and a half hours outside in sub-zero temperatures photographing the sea smoke around two lighthouses.  After we got back into the car- I had my girlfriend braving the cold with me- we headed to Becky’s Diner for an amazing New Year’s Day breakfast. And to thaw out a bit.

Winter Morning at Spring Point Ledge Lighthoue
Winter Morning at Spring Point Ledge Lighthoue
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My Best of 2017

Winter Morning at Cape Neddick
“Winter Morning at Cape Neddick”
Cape Neddick, ME
January 8, 2017
Dawn On Wells Beach
“Dawn On Wells Beach”
Wells Beach, ME
March 2, 2017
Sunrise At Wolfe's Neck Woods
“Sunrise At Wolfe’s Neck Woods”
Freeport, ME
April 18, 2017
Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff
“Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff”
York, ME
May 8, 2017
Spring Morning In Acadia National Park
“Spring Morning In Acadia National Park”
Bar Harbor, ME
May 19, 2017
Sunset At Marshall Point
“Sunset At Marshall Point”
Port Clyde, ME
June 16, 2017
Bailey Island Coastline
“Bailey Island Coastline”
Harpswell, ME
July 2, 2017
Lower Falls On Kancamagus Highway
“Lower Falls On Kancamagus Highway”
North Conway, NH
July 3, 2017
Sunrise Under The Pier
“Sunrise Under The Pier”
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
August 2, 2017
Dusk On Littlejohn Island
“Dusk On Littlejohn Island”
Yarmouth, ME
August 14, 2017
Tumbledown Pond
“Tumbledown Pond”
Franklin County, ME
September 17, 2017
October Sky At West Quoddy Head Light
“October Sky At West Quoddy Head Light”
Lubec, ME
October 6, 2017
Shining Through At Portland Head Light
“Shining Through At Portland Head Light”
Cape Elizabeth, ME
November 27, 2017
December Sunrise In Ogunquit
“December Sunrise In Ogunquit”
Ogunquit, ME
December 3, 2017

 

Exploring Maine

Dusk on Littlejohn Island
Littlejohn Island Preserve in Yarmouth, Maine is a small preserve on Casco Bay. I discovered this spot while looking for a new place to photograph. The rocky shoreline and quiet woodland path leading to it were perfect for the afternoon I spent photographing there.

When I first discovered Maine for myself in 1998, I fell in love with many of the things most people think of when they think of Maine: lighthouses, the rugged coastal landscape, lobster boats, lobster rolls, and the New England charm that permeates the various towns dotting the coastline. And while the coastline is still what draws me, there’s so much more to this gorgeous state than lighthouses and lobster (lobstah?) rolls. There are little hidden preserves, that  once found, envelop you in the calm of the bay and the shade of evergreens growing right up next to the rocky shoreline. Drive a little north, and there are waterfalls tucked away in the hills, waiting for someone to come take a swim.  There are mountain vistas with views that stretch for miles. And yes, head up the coast and there are quaint fishing villages and harbors around every bend.

Sunset at Spring Point Ledge
I’d been to Spring Point Ledge Light in South Portland a few times since I moved to Maine, but never had I seen this vantage point, with the wall of the fort leading to the breakwater.

My point is, after nearly a year here, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of places to photograph and explore. And it’s a small scratch at that. I think nothing of getting up at 3am to catch a sunrise somewhere 2 hours away, as I did with the photo below of Height of Land. There are new ways to see places I’ve been before, such as I did with the image of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse by climbing the hill overlooking the lighthouse. And less than 20 minutes from my home is Littlejohn Island Preserve, a small preserve as peaceful and quiet as it gets, with a short easy hiking trails and beautiful views of Casco Bay.

Height of Land
Height of Land, on top of Spruce Mountain in Rangely, is one of those lesser known spots that is well worth the visit. I arrived for sunrise to find a thick fog moving through the valley, obscuring Mooselookmeguntic Lake. So now I need to go back so I can get a shot of the lake from here.

Still so many places I need to see: Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, West Quoddy Head, Machias, more of the lakes region, and the mountains. I feel like it might take me the next 20 years to see it all. So stay tuned. There will be pictures.

Smalls Falls
Smalls Falls is a waterfall in western Maine, formed by a series of cascades on the Sandy River in Township E, West Central Franklin.

 

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Dawn On Old Orchard Beach
Dawn on Old Orchard Beach

In my eleven months of living in Maine, I’ve tried to do as much exploring of my new home state with my camera as possible.  There is still so much I haven’t seen yet that I’m dying to photograph.  One day at a time. This morning, I was able to get to Old Orchard Beach, which honestly, I should have photographed long ago.

Old Orchard Beach is the classic beach town. You’ve got the boardwalk, the pier, the sandy beach waiting for sunbathers and ocean swimmers.  There are plenty of shops catering to tourists, with boardwalk snacks ranging fron hot dogs, to pizza to fried dough.  Top it all off with a century old amusement park and Old Orchard Beach reminds me very much of my childhood spent at the Jersey Shore on the Point Pleasant boardwalk.

Sunrise Under The Pier
Sunrise Under The Pier

For this outing, I decided my goal was going to be to photograph OOB’s iconic pier as the sun rose behind it. Before I went to bed, the weather was calling for partly cloudy skies, and I went to sleep with visions of glowing pink and orange clouds above the pier.  Unfortunately, in the five hours I spent sleeping, the weather changed and the skies were clear at sunrise. There was a soft marine layer of fog present, which added a bit atmosphere to the scene, but overall the sky was flat, with a soft orange and pink glow on the horizon as the sun rose.

Under The Pier at Old Orchard Beach
Under The Pier At Old Orchard Beach

Thankfully, the pier was an easy subject to minimize the sky with, The wet sand created some interesting reflections and the waves of the Atlantic ocean added plenty of interest as well.  The soft warm light of a summer sunrise finished the scene for me. I spent about two hours photographing the pier from various angles.  While I’m very happy with what I captured, I can’t wait to go back for sunset and photograph it with the lights from the various attractions coming up and the sky glowing orange, pink and purple with a summer sunset.

As I was packing up to leave, I looked down the beach and noticed a fisherman surf-casting. I changed lenses to something a little longer and made my way to where I could line up the fisherman with the sun behind him. I’d already decided a silhouette was in order so I adjusted my exposure accordingly and tried a few different compositions.  Satisfied I had what I wanted, I packed my gear and headed home, already wondering about where I could photograph sunset.

Fishing at Sunrise
Fishing at Sunrise

 

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

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