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 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

Bald Head Cliff, Maine

The tide rushes in at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.
The tide rushes in at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.

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.

Waves pound the rocks at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.
Waves pound the rocks at Bald Head Cliff in Cape Neddick, Maine.

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.

A wave breaks over the rocks at Bald Head Cliff, in Cape Neddick, Maine.
A wave breaks over the rocks at Bald Head Cliff, in Cape Neddick, Maine.

Behind the Shots: Cannon Beach Sunset

Day's End in Cannon Beach
Day’s End in Cannon Beach

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.

Sunset at Haystack Rock
Sunset at Haystack Rock

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.

Sunset on Cannon Beach
Sunset on Cannon Beach

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.

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

Behind the Shots: Sentinel Dome

Jeffrey Pine Dawn
Jeffrey Pine Dawn

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.

Sentinel Dawn
Sentinel Dawn

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.

Sunrise on Sentinel Dome
Sunrise on Sentinel Dome

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.

Yosemite Morning
Yosemite Morning