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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Over the years, as I became more interested in landscape photography, I would look at other photographers’ work for locations I wanted to photograph myself. One of the places that stood out to me fairly early was Cannon Beach, Oregon. Dominated by Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach is a flat, sandy beach with lots of driftwood, seaweed, and water that seems to go on forever. Visitors start small campfires and spend the cool Pacific Northwest summer evenings watching the sunset by the fire. When I first saw photos of Haystack Rock reflected in wet sand, I knew I had to add Cannon Beach to my list.
My first visit was in 2013. Then, in June 2015, I had an opportunity to visit again briefly while traveling on business. I made it a point to get there when I found two open days in my schedule. The first of the open days I traveled south to Cape Kiwanda, and spent sunset there. But I knew the next day was reserved for Cannon Beach.
I had spent most of the day just exploring, waiting for better light. But I had an early dinner and headed to Cannon Beach in plenty of time for sunset. Walking along the flat sandy beach brought back memories of my 2013 trip as I took in the view and tried to plan where I wanted to be. I knew that from a certain angle, the sun would be setting almost directly behind Haystack Rock, so I knew as I made my way across the beach that when the sun finally kissed the horizon, I would want to be in a spot that lined up the sun with the giant seastack.
For the images you see here, I used a Vü Filters 3-stop soft edge ND filter to hold the sky exposure back and better match it to the foreground. I also knew I’d want a somewhat slower shutter speed to allow the water to blur slightly as the waves lapped at the shoreline. Once I found the settings I wanted to use and had my exposure right, I set about finding compositions that were interesting to me, trying not to copy what I’d done three years earlier.
On this day, Mother Nature did not disappoint. A soft, cool mist formed in the distance, creating an air of mystery on the beach, while the sun glowed a warm orange, and the sky remained a deep shade of indigo. Clouds moved in just enough to catch the color and add texture to the sky. Now all there was to do was to click my shutter and enjoy the sounds of the Pacific as I took in the amazing show.
One of the coolest things about photography for me is the way it has enabled me to make new friends. On this night, there were several others out photographing as well, and I struck up a conversation with a woman about my age named Heather. We each went about our business of finding images to capture and in between, traded some stories and small details about ourselves. It was a great way to spend the evening. We ended up becoming Facebook friends, and while we don’t talk much directly, we share similar political views and will “like” and comment on the goings on in each other’s life. One of the many benefits photography has brought into my life.
So as the night moved in and we packed it in, I walked back to my car and found myself stuck in traffic heading back to Portland for my business event the next day. After completing the event I flew back to NY, and went about my business. But this sunset in Cannon Beach sticks with me. I can’t wait to get back there.
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.
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.
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.
After some encouragement from a friend, I’ve decided to start writing more about the images I’ve made, not just from a technical or an artistic standpoint, but also a personal one. My first post in this series was Sunrise at Portland Head Lighthouse. The images highlighted in this post were taken two years ago this month.
In March 2015, I was just beginning what would become the roughest period of my life. I didn’t quite yet know what was coming, but there were enough harbingers of the coming tribulations that I was rarely at peace during this time. In late March, I found myself on a business trip in the East Bay area. I had an event Saturday morning, but the event that was planned for Sunday had been cancelled the day before due to lack of interest, so I quickly adjusted my plans and drove the 4 hours to Yosemite National Park to be there in time for sunset.
After shooting sunset, I headed to my hotel to plan for sunrise. As I was driving I had heard that the road to Glacier Point had opened early for the season, the day I arrived. That helped make my decision easier. I had heard that sunrise from the top of Sentinel Dome was spectacular. It was a mile hike from the parking area to the top, so I allowed some extra time and was awake at 4am. I was at the top of Sentinel Dome by 6am. Sunrise was 6:48, but already the sky was starting to glow.
There’s something about being alone, on top of a mountain peak, with nothing but the sounds of nature filling the air, Yosemite Valley stretched out below, and the Sierra Nevada range all around you. Despite the rumbling of thunder from the oncoming storms in my life, the mountain air, low rumble of three waterfalls- the Nevada, Vernal, and Yosemite-, and the soft light that was beginning to come up brought me complete peace.
The top of Sentinel Dome is bare granite. Once a famous Jeffrey pine grew there, but it died in the drought of 1976 and eventually collapsed in 2013. There are a few other trees on or around the peak. I set about making some photos, focusing first on the husk of the Jeffrey pine, just as some wispy clouds were passing behind them. As the sun began to edge closer to the horizon, the clouds glowed a bright pink and orange, lighting up the sky.
I used a Vü Filters 3-stop soft edged ND grad to hold the brightness of the sky in check, and my Induro tripod to steady my Nikon D810. My go-to lens for shots like these is my Nikon 16-35 f/4. I just love the wide angle view and being able to get close to my foreground subject.
I spent about two and a half hours at the top of Sentinel Dome that day, and then another few hours hiking to Taft Point and back again. On that morning, everything was perfect.
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.
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.
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!
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.