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 Quiet Side of Acadia

Most tourists who visit Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, tend to stick to Bar Harbor and the Park Loop Road and visit the most heavily trafficked sites in the area.  Unfortunately, this means they miss out on some of the most beautiful scenery on the east coast of the United States. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore that most people never get to. On a recent Hunt’s Photo Adventure to Acadia National Park that I was an instructor on, we visited some of the lesser known areas of the park, in addition to the tried and true destinations.

Watching Through The Trees
“Watching Through The Trees” I photographed this juvenile barred owl in the Sieur de Monts area of Acadia National Park. Sieur de Monts lacks the drama of the Maine coastline, but its peaceful walk through the forest allows for the viewing of wildlife, flowers, and various trees.
“Dory in Bernard Harbor”
Bernard Harbor is a picturesque fishing village on Mount Desert Island. Across the water from Bernard Harbor, looking east, is Bass Harbor. I spent an evening photographing the harbor at sunset, during which the most exquisite light of the golden hour bathed the harbor.
Fern Layers
“Fern Layers”
I photographed these ferns in Asticou Azalea Gardensm in Northeast Harbor, Maine. These gardens feature a variety of plants, including rhododendrons and azaleas, but on the morning I visited, these ferns, and the way the light was playing on them, captured my attention.
“Cascading Tide at Schoodic Point”
Located an hour from Bar Harbor, most people never visit the section of Acadia National Park located on the Schoodic Peninsula. It is every bit as dramatic and beautiful as the better known areas along the Park Loop Road, and the perfect spot for some late afternoon and evening photography.
Dusk at Schoodic Point
“Dusk at Schoodic Point”
As I mentioned, Schoodic Point is outstanding for late afternoon and evening photography. At sunset during the summer, you watch the sun go down behind Cadillac Mountain. On this particular evening, Mother Nature put on a show with a spectacular sunset and afterglow.

This fall, I will be teaching on the Hunt’s Photo Adventure to Solon, Maine. Located in Central Maine, Solon is the perfect location to capture the beauty of autumn in Maine. There are still some seats left, so register now!

Upcoming Workshops

I’ll be an instructor on the following workshops in the next few months. There is still space available in these.

Sunrise in the Smokies
Sunrise in the Smokies

Springtime in the Smoky Mountains

Tuesday April 24th – Sunday April 29th

Gatlinburg, TN

Featuring scenic landscapes, plant and wildlife

In the beautiful Great Smokies

Instructors: Don Toothaker & Rick Berk

Recommended prerequisite: Basic Knowledge of your Camera

All Skill Levels Welcome

Group Size: Limited to 10 attendees

To register, visit http://edu.huntsphoto.com/great-smoky/

The Smokies are an amazingly beautiful location to photograph, featuring grand vistas with the mountains layered one on top of the other, mist hanging in the valleys, as well as intimate landscapes as water from a mountain stream cascades over rocks as wildflowers grow on the banks.  Wildlife roams the park and it’s an excellent opportunity to capture the various species at home in the Smokies.  I’ll be assisting Don Toothaker on this one. Don and I have over 50 years combined experience as photographers, and years of experience teaching photography to others. Join us in the Smokies and experience what a magical place it can be in springtime.

Autumn Glow
“Autumn Glow” A tree stands in the meadow in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.
Cataloochie Elk
“Cataloochie Elk”

 

Midcoast Maine & Pemaquid Point

Sunset at Marshall Point
Sunset at Marshall Point

Wednesday May 16 to Sunday May 20

Mid-Coast, including Bristol, Maine

Featuring lighthouses, harbors, and the shore

Instructors: Rick Berk

Recommended prerequisite: Basic Knowledge of your Camera

All Skill Levels Welcome

Group Size: Limited to 10 attendees

To register, visit http://edu.huntsphoto.com/pemaquid-mid-coast/

Midcoast Maine is glorious any time of year, but can be especially fun in the spring. Since relocating to Maine in 2016, I’ve spent plenty of time exploring as many of the little nooks, coves, and villages of the midcoast. We’ll explore New Harbor, Pemaquid Point, Marshall Point, Port Clyde, and more. There will be opportunities for wildlife, featuring osprey and eagles preying on alewife as they make their spawning run.  We’ll also explore some night photography if weather permits.

Skiffs in Tenants Harbor
Skiffs in Tenants Harbor

 

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.

Winter Morn at Pemaquid Point

Newfallen Snow at Pemaquid Point
Newfallen Snow at Pemaquid Point

Winter in Maine is both a magical and arduous season. While the cold can be bitter and yes, even deadly, Maine’s natural beauty shines even in the winter, especially after a fresh blanket of snow has fallen. This winter, I have found myself photographing in temperatures as low as -14°F (with a wind chill of -24°F), but have captured some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve come across in the state.

This past Wednesday night, snow fell until early Thursday morning. Since it was only supposed to be about 6 inches worth of snow, I thought the chances were good that my car could get me someplace to photograph. Having already photographed Portland Head Lighthouse on New Years Day, the Nubble last year after a fresh snow, and Marshall Point Lighthouse earlier this month, I decided I needed some images of Pemaquid Point after a fresh snow.

Winter Morning at Pemaquid Point
Winter Morning at Pemaquid Point

The roads to Pemaquid Point weren’t too bad, and the fresh snow was beautiful on the evergreen trees along the roadsides, and the temperature, at 18°F, wasn’t as bitterly cold as I’d experienced earlier in the month. I arrived at Pemaquid Point lighthouse to find that while the entrance to the park had been plowed, the lot itself had been untouched, and no one else had been there. I parked and didn’t see a footprint in the fresh snow anywhere. Perfect.

Not wanting to disturb the pristine blanket of snow, I thought for a moment about how I wanted to plan my images.  I didn’t want any footprints in my images, and I knew I wanted to get down on the rocks below the lighthouse to get the snow covered rocks in the foreground and the lighthouse in the background. I made my way to the far end of the parking lot and walked towards the rocks along the edge of the property.  I knew there was a path down onto the rocks there and I could work my back to where I thought my images were going to be made. The big question was going to be how treacherous the rocks would be with fresh snow and ice.

January Morn at Pemaquid Point
January Morn at Pemaquid Point

I made my way down, slipping once or twice but not too badly, and found the scene as I’d pictured it in my mind. Fresh snow covering the layered rocks as the sky began to glow with the rising sun. It was perfect.  I made a few exposures and moved along the rocks to a couple of other spots, before climbing back up and making my way to the other side of the lighthouse for some images there. As the sun rose to my left, the undulations of the ground cast shadows and revealed the textures of the fresh snow. Still, no one else had been to the park except for one car that pulled in, got out and took a cellphone shot, and left as quickly as they came. I eventually saw some footprints other than mine- presumably those of a fox or other small mammal exploring the rocks.

It was exactly the type of morning that restores peace to my soul, and refreshes my mind.  And exactly the type of morning that makes it worth it to get out of bed at 4:45am and bundle up for a few hours outside.

pemaquid point art for sale

Evergreen Under a Blanket of Snow
Evergreen Under a Blanket of Snow