It’s been eight years since I was last there, but Alaska is a place that has stayed with me every day since I’ve left. I was lucky enough to spend 10 days there in 2010, with 5 of those days spent camping in Denali National Park. We camped at Wonder Lake, and I remember how magnificent the view was as we rode the park bus all the way in to Wonder Lake Campground. The sun was shining with lots of clouds hovering around Denali like a crown on its head.
As we made camp, I was shaking with anticipation of the beauty that awaited us the next day. I had planned to hike the tundra, amongst the kettle ponds, grabbing shots of Denali reflecting in the glacial waters. The next morning, we took a flight over the mountains where I captured some of the most spectacular images of my life. However, shortly after our flight ended, the rains moved in and remained for two days.
The third day, the rains let up and we got some hiking in, but clouds continued to shroud the mountain and keep Denali in hiding. I was able to make a few images I liked, but it wasn’t what I had originally planned, so there was a level of disappointment. As a landscape photographer, you don’t always get to dictate the weather so I made the most of things.
The next day, we boarded the park bus around sunrise for the six hour trip back to the park entrance and four hour drive back to Anchorage. As we were riding along the park road, the skies began to clear and Denali showed her face through the clouds. It was still heavily cloudy, but the little peeks through the clouds made for some interesting images of the mountains.
Returning to Denali is definitely on my list, but the images I captured allow me to relive the last visit each time I look at them. To see more from my trips to Alaska, visit my website.
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.
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.
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.
Last week I had the pleasure of being one of the instructors on a Hunt’s Photo Adventure in Woodstock, Vermont. We had a full class of attendees of varying abilities, and a beautiful area of the country to use as our subject. Workshops like this are fun because of the exchange of ideas that goes on between experienced photographers, and the numerous lightbulb moments that happen with the less experienced photographers when explaining various principles of photography, or helping them get past a specific challenge.
We based ourselves in Woodstock, Vermont, and visited several landmarks, such as Jenne Farm, Cloudland Road, and a maple sugar shack. Unfortunately, Mother Nature chose not to cooperate fully. While we had some fresh snow when we awoke Saturday morning, skies had been gray Friday afternoon when we started, and remained after the snow Saturday morning. Well, photographers nutty enough to get up before dawn and spend hours outside in the cold aren’t about to be deterred by a little flat light and gray skies! So we got out there and made images with the light we had.
I always enjoy seeing how different people see the same subject differently. It helps me to look deeper into a scene, look harder for a shot besides the obvious, and makes me a bit envious when someone sees something I didn’t! At the same time, I enjoy when I saw something differently than others did, and can help them see it as well.
The other challenge for me is the technical help people need with their cameras and lenses. This is less fun than the creative side for me, but just as important. When you have a group of 10 or 12 photographers, you can potentially get 12 different cameras. Not everyone needs assistance but you never know who will. Thankfully, I’m familiar with most brands to one degree or another, having put in seven years working for Canon, shooting Nikon for the past three and a half, and a Fuji kit for a year as well. I can pretty much find any setting on most cameras given enough time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s scenes like this that make me look forward to autumn every year.
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.
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.
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.