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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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.
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.
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.
Letchworth State Park, nestled just south of the Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York, is a photographer’s dream. Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, and recently voted the best state park in the country in a USA Today Reader’s Poll, Letchworth offers a variety of subjects to keep any photographer busy for days.
Any discussion of Letchworth begins with its three dramatic waterfalls, created as the Genesee River flows north through a deep gorge. The three main falls, located in Portage Canyon, provide the centerpiece to the park. The Upper Falls are straddled by the Portage Bridge, a railroad trestle which is now in process of being replaced further upriver, but is still traversed by freight trains several times a day. The Middle Falls, just downriver, is the highest of the cascades, while the Lower Falls are located near the only trail that crosses the Genesee River in the park, spanned by a picturesque stone bridge.
In the fall, Letchworth State Park explodes in color, with the leaves changing brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. The fall foliage provides a spectacular backdrop for waterfalls, providing a fantastic opportunity for photographers to create a variety images of the landscape around the gorge.
This October, I will be leading a photo workshop in Letchworth State Park, as I explain my approach to landscape photography in general, and fall foliage and waterfalls in particular. Space is limited so register early to be sure you won’t be left behind. If you have questions, be sure to contact me or Worldwide Photo Tours. Hope to see you out there!
Several years ago, on my first “real” visit to Acadia- I had done a few day trips here and there – I saw a photo of a cobblestone beach in a cove, somewhere off of the Park Loop Road. I’m not sure what it was, but something about that beach called to me and I knew I had to photograph it. The problem was, I had no idea exactly where it was!
As I explored the park, I began to narrow down the location of this beach. Along the way, I found Little Hunters Beach, Boulder Beach, and Otter Point. Then one day, walking along the coastal trail, I found it. Monument Cove. There’s no sign for it, and I’m not going to give away it’s exact location here to those who don’t know. It’s difficult to get down into, but not impossible. Once I figured out how, I couldn’t wait to shoot this beautiful nook in Acadia National Park.
My first time there, the light was less than ideal. I had found it after the golden hour ended, and the morning sun was now harsh and getting harsher. I made the best of it and got a few shots I was happy with, though I knew I could do better if I planned to be there before the sun rose.
A few weeks ago, I made the drive up to Acadia in the dead of night. I was hoping to get some clear skies for some star trails, but when I arrived, the sky was heavily clouded. I had about 2 hours to civil twilight, so I made my way down into the cove and found a place to sit and wait and just listen to the waves rattle the cobblestones.
Once the light started to change, I pulled out my camera and got ready for the fun. The cloud cover thinned somewhat, and I anticipated some great color. It wasn’t quite as epic as I’d hoped, but it was still a beautiful sunrise, and I managed to spend a good amount of time in the cover capturing the stones and waves at different angles with a soft warm glow bathing them.
Once I determined I was finished in Monument Cove, I drove the Park Loop Road and stopped at a few other spots, before I headed into Bar Harbor for breakfast at Jordan’s. It was the perfect finish to a long night/early morning, before heading back down the coast to home, where some editing awaited me.