Photo Workshop: Letchworth State Park

Lower Falls of the Genesee River
Lower Falls of the Genesee River

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.

Autumn at Wolf Creek
Autumn at Wolf Creek

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!

Autumn on the Genesee II
Autumn on the Genesee II
Autumn on the Forest Floor
Autumn on the Forest Floor
“Painted Autumn” was created by using a slow shutter speed and moving the camera during exposure to create an impressionist feel to the image.

letchworth art for sale

Harpswell, Maine

Bailey Island Coastline
Waves crash against the rocky coastline of Bailey Island, Maine.

As I continue to explore my new home state of Maine, I am continually blown away by the natural beauty I find. And the different personalities some places seem to exhibit depending on the weather. A perfect example is Harpswell, Maine. I had been told several times this was an area I should visit but had only ever gotten to a spot on the southern tip of Bailey Island, known as Land’s End. While it’s a pretty spot, it didn’t really speak to me photographically.

Misty Dawn at Giants Stairs
Before the sun rose, while the fog was still thick, I made my way down into this gully to photograph the waves washing over the rocks.

Another spot that was mentioned to me was Giant’s Stairs, also on Bailey Island. I had no idea what I’d find, but earlier this month, I finally got there for a sunrise.  Unfortunately, while the weather report was “partly cloudy”, which generally means a colorful sunrise, Bailey Island was covered in a dense fog. I decided to give it a shot anyway. In the past, I’ve seen fog burn off as the sun rose, giving way to glorious color.  I hoped that would happen again.

As I waited for the sun to rise, I tried to get some haunting images of the rocky coastline and crashing waves as the fog enveloped the area. I never got the color I was hoping for, but I did get some interesting light as it filtered through the mist. One shot in particular, Bailey Island Coastline, captured exactly what I love about the Maine coast. The fury of the ocean, the mystery of the fog, and the ruggedness of the rocky shoreline.

Steaming Past The Giant's Stairs
As I watched the sun illuminate the Giant’s Stairs, a lobster boat came along. I was taken by how the clouds transitioned from steel blue to a warm golden hue just at the point where the boat was in the water.

While I was happy with what I had captured on that foggy morning, I decided I wanted to go back and capture a more colorful sunrise. So several days later I watched the weather reports and went back when things looked good. While I got some color in the sky, and nice warm sunlight, the ocean itself was more calm. It was low tide and the waves weren’t nearly as dramatic as they were several days earlier. While on the previous shoot, the mood was angry and mysterious, the mood this time was calm and peaceful. Another example of why it can be good to revisit locations again and again.

Lobsters
Cook’s Lobster and Ale House sits across the harbor on Bailey Island as lobster boats wait at anchor.

On my way back from the sunrise shoot, as I approached Bailey Island Cribstone Bridge, I looked left and noticed several boats at anchor in the harbor. I also noticed the sun creating a beautiful golden color in the clouds, and lighting up the lobster shack across the harbor. I quickly pulled over and grabbed my camera and framed up a few shots. What I ended up with was kind of a quintessential Maine image. Lobster boats in the foreground with a lobster restaurant in the background.

I continue to find these little corners of Maine, just waiting for me and my camera. I can’t wait to find the next one.

Morning on Bailey Island
Waves crash against the rocky coastline of Bailey Island, Maine.

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

The Magic of Acadia

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Little Hunter’s Beach

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.

Sunset at Schoodic Point
Sunset at Schoodic Point

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.

Dusk at Jordan Pond
Dusk at Jordan Pond

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!

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Monument Cove
Morning in Monument Cove