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.
Midcoast Maine & Pemaquid 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, I had planned to go out and photograph at sunrise. Originally, I had planned to photograph at Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland. When I arrived, I noticed the sky was setting up to be one of “those” sunrises, where the clouds filled the sky just enough that they would pick up some color and add interest. I then also realized that if I wanted to make the most of it, Spring Point Ledge was the wrong place to be. It faced the wrong direction to really see all the color and get the sun in the shot. I quickly made the decision to head to Portland Head Lighthouse instead.
I’m not unique in the fact that Portland Head Lighthouse is one of my favorite places to photograph in Maine. But I’ve found that it’s like every other oft-photographed icon: no matter how many photos there are of it, every individual can put their own stamp on it and make a photo they can call their own. On this day, I got to Portland Head just in time to find a spot and get set up before the show began. And I noticed there wasn’t another photographer in sight.
After a few false starts, I found a spot I was happy with and started making images. At first, a huge dark cloud had moved in and I wondered if the sunrise would be a bust. But as the sun continued to rise, the clouds continued to move and soon they began to turn a bright pink and then finally, the sky exploded into oranges and red, contrasted with purple in the darker clouds. It was one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve seen.
As the waters of Casco Bay pounded the rocks just below me, I continued making exposures as the light continued to change. I was splashed by the occasional wave and watched the sun break the horizon, the clouds changing colors. The whole show lasted maybe five minutes.
After the sun came up, I moved over to the other side of the lighthouse and used the soft morning light a little more. I finished up and headed out to find breakfast.
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.
Since moving to Maine last year, Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin have been on my list of places I need to explore. I could really use at least a week there, but a few weeks ago, when I found a free 36 hours, I decided to jump in the car and drive the four hours up to Millinocket, Maine, to get my first taste of Katahdin. I met a friend up there and spent the day hiking and photographing.
After checking in at my motel, I headed to a spot I’d heard about that I was told would be good for sunset, as well as possible night sky photos. So I made my way down the Golden Road to Abol Bridge and waited for the right light. As the sun went down, the light on Katahdin’s peaks glowed a warm orange, while the mountain was reflected in the waters of Nesowadnehunk Deadwater.
I set up on the bridge, which was problematic because the bridge bounced when anyone walked on it. Any long exposure would be ruined simply by me moving, or someone else stepping onto the bridge. Something to be aware of as the light went down. As the sun set to my left, I used a Benro Slim Circular Polarizer to help deepen the colors in the sky, and a Benro 3-stop soft-edged graduated neutral density filter to help equalize the exposure between the sky and the foreground.
I waited for darkness to see about shooting the night sky, but hikers coming off the Appalachian Trail were continually crossing the bridge, making long exposures for stars difficult. In addition, the sky had a heavy haze, making stars faint and difficult to focus. I decided to call it a night and head back to the motel so I could be ready for sunrise.
The next morning, not having had the chance to scout many spots and also feeling that my location for sunset would also make an idea sunrise location, we headed back to Abol Bridge for sunrise. As the sun came up, clouds moved across the sky and danced around Katahdin’s peak, glowing in the warmth of the rising sun and reflecting again in the water below the bridge. I again used a Benro circular polarizer and a Benro 3-stop soft edged graduated neutral density filter to help equalize the sky and the foreground exposure.
After photographing sunrise, my friend and I went back into Millinocket and visited the Appalachian Trail Cafe for a good breakfast and to plan what we would do next. Unfortunately, we wanted to hike the Chimney Pond Trail but when we got into Baxter State Park, were told the lot was full. We selected the Hunt Trail as a backup and hiked along Katahdin Stream to Katahdin Falls.
We stopped several times along the trail to photograph the stream, and some of the plants along the way. It was a gorgeous early autumn day and we enjoyed every second of it. After reaching the falls, we turned around and headed back to the car to see what else we could see. We decided to head to Dacey Pond.
Dacey Pond provided us with a beautiful alpine lakeside setting. We set up near a cabin labeled “The Library” and photographed the sky reflected in the lake. I stepped up onto the porch of the library and found a nice composition with canoes lined up near the shoreline. It seemed a fitting final shot for the day.
There’s so much more of Baxter State Park I need to explore, and I need more time to do it. But I’m happy for the time I had last month.
Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. -John Muir
Yesterday I had the type of day that reminds me why I love Maine so much. I started the day before dawn, driving to a seaside walkway in Ogunquit known as Marginal Way. It’s called Marginal Way because it is situated on a slim margin of land between the town and the Atlantic Ocean.
Arriving shortly before sunrise, I began walking the path at Marginal Way in that soft blue light before the sun breaks the horizon and the sky turns pink. There were hundreds of spots to choose from, but I settled on a small cove created by several large rock formations, where I noticed waves occasionally crashing over the rocks on an otherwise calm morning. There was a thin haze in the air, hanging over the water, filtering the light as the sun rose. The sky turned pink and even a bit red as the sun finally broke the horizon and waves washed over the rocks in front of me. It was just enough to show the motion of the Atlantic washing over the rocks, but not as violently as during a high tide or a storm. It was a perfect morning, worth getting up early for and the best way I know to start a day.
Next, I needed to take care of some personal business- car inspection and registration. After quickly dispatching of that, I went home and edited my images from sunrise. It was just barely 10am, so I still had all day to spend and no idea how to spend it. I wanted to go out photographing, but I didn’t know where. Not that I was bored with the coast, but I really wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been before. I was glad I did.
I settled on Tumbledown Mountain, two hours north of me. I wanted a hike, but I have requirements for where I’ll hike. It must be picturesque, with great views and some photographic interest. I’d Googled Tumbledown and saw enough that I decided it was worth a visit. So I made my way up to Tumbledown and hoped my GPS wouldn’t lead me astray.
Tumbledown Mountain has an elevation of 3,054 feet at its highest point. The easiest route is about a two-hour hike and climb to the top. I chose this route, being out of shape and really not caring how I got up there. While the climb is important, for me, it’s about the views. I really wasn’t prepared for what I found when I got to just below the summit.
After a long hike up an old logging road, a climb over a rocky trail, lots of cursing myself for undertaking this climb, and finally, a more vertical scramble over rocks and boulders, I made it to a ridge and some trees. As I followed the trail, I came through the trees and was presented with a scene straight out of a Disney movie. Instantly I knew the climb had been worth it and I would be back again.
At the top of Tumbledown Mountain, just below the summit, is an alpine lake. The water is clear, the air is fresh and sweet. It is as inviting a scene as I’ve ever been witness to. As the sun began to drop just below the peak, I began to photograph, knowing I had to work fast and get back down over the rock scramble before total darkness hit. I figured I could handle the footpath in the dark but the rock scramble I needed light for. I quickly explored and made plans to return soon.
The top of Tumbledown instantly became one of my favorite places in Maine, and it only took me 20 years to find it. But the true wonder of yesterday was the fact that I could start my day watching the sun rise on the coast, and finish it watching the sun set in the mountains, and it only took me two hours to get from one to the other. Maine is the perfect place for me.
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