New Year’s Chill

Winter Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse
Winter Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse

One of the things I love about Maine is the climate.  Some may say I’m crazy, but harsh though it may be, Maine winters offer every bit as much beauty as the other three seasons. Yes, it’s a bit more difficult to photograph in the elements, but it’s no less rewarding.

For the past week or so, Maine has been under a deep freeze, with temperatures below 20° for the better part of 10 days or so. Lows have been in the negatives during that time. While those conditions are daunting, they create some spectacular visuals. In our case along the coast, one of the most beautiful phenomenon the frigid temperatures bring is known as sea smoke. Sea smoke (also known as frost smoke or steam fog) is formed when very cold air moves over warmer water. It is common in the Arctic, and happens in Maine and New England during a particularly cold spell.

New Years Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse
New Years Morning at Portland Head Lighthouse

On New Year’s Eve, looking at the weather conditions for the next day, I decided I would get up at sunrise to capture the sea smoke as the rising sun filtered through it, creating this warm and spectacular light.  So the night before, I planned my excursion, setting out 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, wool socks, boots, heavy jacket, fleece hat and facemask, and gloves. Then I dug out hand warmers (thanks Mom!) and toe warmers (Mom again) to put inside my gloves and boots.

I awoke at 5:30am on New Year’s Day to a temperature of -14°F. While the urge to stay under my warm blankets was strong, I forced myself to get up and head out. My first stop was Portland Head Lighthouse.  I’d always wanted to photograph it in winter, with snow on the rocks, and the warm glow of the morning sun. Upon arriving at the lighthouse, I met a few other photographers of similarly questionable sanity, noting that the temperature was still -14°F.

Ice in Portland Harbor
Ice in Portland Harbor

I made my way out onto the rocks, careful to watch my step as there was snow and ice everywhere. I wanted an angle a bit different from the usual shot most people get from the fence at the top of the bluff. I hopped the fence and tried a few different locations on the rocks, first with my Nikon 24-120mm lens, but I wasn’t really thrilled with the composition I was getting, so I switched to my Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art lens and suddenly the scene came alive for me. I love the look of ultrawide angle lenses, and the Sigma 14mm is superb. Wide angles force me to consider foreground interest in the composition, making for more interesting compositions.

After I felt I’d gotten what I wanted out of Portland Head Light for the day, I decided to head over to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland. I had seen other photographers’ images from the previous few days, and was incredibly jealous that I couldn’t get out due to my work schedule, so this was my chance to create a few of my own.

Icy Morning at Spring Point Ledge Light
Icy Morning at Spring Point Ledge Light

While I did get one image with the 14mm lens that I liked, here the 24-120mm lens was more appropriate. So I once again switched lenses and went back to work. With the tide coming in at Portland Harbor, the huge chunks of ice began to float out a bit, creating an interesting foreground as the lighthouse emerged from the fog into the bright morning sun. It was a breathtaking sight to behold.

All told I spent about two and a half hours outside in sub-zero temperatures photographing the sea smoke around two lighthouses.  After we got back into the car- I had my girlfriend braving the cold with me- we headed to Becky’s Diner for an amazing New Year’s Day breakfast. And to thaw out a bit.

Winter Morning at Spring Point Ledge Lighthoue
Winter Morning at Spring Point Ledge Lighthoue
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My Best of 2017

Winter Morning at Cape Neddick
“Winter Morning at Cape Neddick”
Cape Neddick, ME
January 8, 2017
Dawn On Wells Beach
“Dawn On Wells Beach”
Wells Beach, ME
March 2, 2017
Sunrise At Wolfe's Neck Woods
“Sunrise At Wolfe’s Neck Woods”
Freeport, ME
April 18, 2017
Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff
“Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff”
York, ME
May 8, 2017
Spring Morning In Acadia National Park
“Spring Morning In Acadia National Park”
Bar Harbor, ME
May 19, 2017
Sunset At Marshall Point
“Sunset At Marshall Point”
Port Clyde, ME
June 16, 2017
Bailey Island Coastline
“Bailey Island Coastline”
Harpswell, ME
July 2, 2017
Lower Falls On Kancamagus Highway
“Lower Falls On Kancamagus Highway”
North Conway, NH
July 3, 2017
Sunrise Under The Pier
“Sunrise Under The Pier”
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
August 2, 2017
Dusk On Littlejohn Island
“Dusk On Littlejohn Island”
Yarmouth, ME
August 14, 2017
Tumbledown Pond
“Tumbledown Pond”
Franklin County, ME
September 17, 2017
October Sky At West Quoddy Head Light
“October Sky At West Quoddy Head Light”
Lubec, ME
October 6, 2017
Shining Through At Portland Head Light
“Shining Through At Portland Head Light”
Cape Elizabeth, ME
November 27, 2017
December Sunrise In Ogunquit
“December Sunrise In Ogunquit”
Ogunquit, ME
December 3, 2017

 

Sunrise at Portland Head Lighthouse

Shining Through At Portland Head Light
Shining Through At Portland Head Light

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.

Dawn on Casco Bay
“Dawn on Casco Bay” Before the sun came up, the sky was more gray than anything, with just a hint of color on the horizon.

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.

Autumn Sunrise In Cape Elizabeth
“Autumn Sunrise In Cape Elizabeth” As the sun came up, the sky suddenly exploded in color.

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.

November Morning At Portland Head Lighthouse
November Morning At Portland Head Lighthouse

Above Denali

Mount Brooks From Above
Mount Brooks From Above

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.

Hidden In Denali
Hidden In Denali

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.

McKinley River From The Air
McKinley River From The Air

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.

A Peak In The Clouds
A Peak In The Clouds

Autumn In New England

Blog-20171014-VaughanWoods-0004
Autumn in Hallowell

Autumn has always been one of my favorite times of year. The crisp, cool air, coupled with the smells of leaves burning, fireplaces burning logs, and the smells of seasonal baked goods (pumpkin spice, anyone?), as well as the vibrant colors, just make fall a cornucopia of sensory stimuli. Since adopting Maine as my home last year, I’ve made sure to enjoy all that autumn in New Englad has to offer visually, by getting out and exploring just a bit.

Last year, I’d discovered Vaughan Woods, in Hallowell, Maine, after a friend suggested I check it out. I wasn’t disappointed, so of course, I had to go back this year.  The stone bridges and Vaughan Brook with its waterfalls, are quintessential New England. When the color is exploding in the trees, there is no place in New England that is more picturesque.  This year, my return was in the form of a photo walk with several other photographers. The brook was flowing nicely, with small whirlpools forming in certain spots, and good color in the trees.

Vaughan Brook And Arch Bridge
Vaughan Brook And Arch Bridge

There are two stone bridges in Vaughan Woods. When you start down the trail, the first bridge you come to is a smaller one, with a small three foot waterfall flowing just in front of it. A pool had formed with colored leaves in the bottom of the pool. I used a Benro Master Filters circular polarizer to minimize the reflection on the surface of the pool and allow me (and my camera) to see into the water and let those leaves on the bottom come through.

The second bridge, known as Arch Bridge, is much taller, and spans a taller waterfall on Vaughan Brook. I scrambled down the rocks along the brook and found an angle I liked that allowed me to show the rocks, the bridge, the foliage, and the brook.  I again used the polarizer to help deepen the blue of the sky, along with a Benro Filters 4-stop ND filter to slow down my shutter speed and allow the water to blur a bit and get that creamy look.

Autumn Glow In The Woods
Autumn Glow In The Woods

A couple of weeks later, on another photo walk, I ventured down to Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Maudslay State Park. There was still good color on the trees, and while I captured several shots I liked, the two I’m sharing here are my favorites. As we walked along the trail through the park, this scene caught my eye.  There was soft warm sunlight hitting this orange tree, causing it to appear to glow. It was a beautiful scene and I spent several minutes capturing it before the light changed and the tree stopped glowing.

Autumn Sunset Through The Trees
Autumn Sunset Through The Trees

Further along the trail, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, I came upon another tree. This one also showed orange leaves, and with the sun shining through them, they also appeared to glow. The sun slowly moved down and I was able to capture a sun star as the sun shone between two branches. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Another day also ended perfectly, just a few days before. I’d been driving around looking for somewhere to photograph at sunset. I instantly thought of Bowdoin Mill in Topsham, Maine. This mill had intrigued me since the first time I’d seen it so I decided to go and try to find an angle to photograph it from. I found a spot, but the skies were heavily clouded. Soon, the clouds moved and for ten minutes I was blessed with this incredibly soft warm light. The mill glowed as it was reflected in the Androscoggin River, and the clouds picked up a warm tone from the late afternoon sun.

Bowdoin Mill
Bowdoin Mill

It’s scenes like this that make me look forward to autumn every year.

autumn art for sale

Lubec, Maine

October Sky at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
October Sky at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse

In the 18 years I’d been visiting Maine, prior to moving here last year, I’d never been anywhere past Schoodic Point, just past Bar Harbor, in a slightly less trafficked area of Acadia National Park. After moving here, I had made a sort of mental list of places I wanted to explore- places like Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin, Rangeley,  and Lubec, the easternmost point in the continental United States. In the past year, I managed to do quite a bit of exploring, but Lubec eluded me, as it was just about the furthest away from my home and I’d decided I need at least two nights there to really even begin to see it.

At the beginning of October, I finally made that happen. I had the unfortunate occurrence of the cancellation private photo tour I was leading, so I took the two days I would have spent on the tour, and headed to Lubec to see just what there was so far downeast.  The first thing I found? AT&T’s cell service is AWFUL. Not of major importance, but when I DID have a signal, half the time it was from Bell Canada, which  meant I had no data. No text messages, no Facebook, no email. So I found myself disconnected from civilization. Not a terrible thing, but I’d prefer to plan when I will be disconnected.

The Compass
The Compass, photographed on the Coastal Trail in Quoddy Head State Park

Connectivity aside, Lubec was much like the rest of Maine that I’d explored so far – rugged, beautiful, simple, and just plain stunning.  My first stop was Quoddy Head State Park and West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. I had arrived late the night before so, on just about four hours sleep, I dragged my butt out of bed, dragged my friend Beth from her bed, and we headed to Quoddy Head State Park.

As we arrived, the horizon was glowing a deep red. Sunrise was going to be incredible. A local photographer had guided me to a couple of different spots, but we opted for the classic view of the lighthouse on the cliff, since it looked like there would be a great sky, and I had never been there before.  I set up and immediately started photographing.

As the clouds moved across the sky behind the lighthouse, the sun came up to my left, and lit the eastern sky on fire. While there wasn’t much of a foreground to work with facing the sunrise, the soft, warm glow of the rising sun on the lighthouse and the cliff and grasses in the foreground was perfect.

Sunrise on Passamaquoddy Bay
Sunrise on Passamaquoddy Bay

After finding breakfast and going back to the motel to clean up and grab our stuff, we headed back to Quoddy Head State Park to explore more. The coastal trail offered several great opportunities for photos. I could find a different spot for sunrise there every day for a month.  As I only had two days, I had the make the best of what I had. On my first day there, I came across a lobster pot buoy that had washed up against the rocks. The day had turned gray, but I decided at that point that this spot was my next day’s sunrise location. I wanted the buoy as my foreground with the sun rising behind it. Unfortunately, the sky was a lot less interesting on this morning, but I was able to find a composition that worked and I was still able to use the soft warm light of sunrise, just as I had visualized the day before.

Misty Morning on Johnson Bay
Misty Morning on Johnson Bay

After my second sunrise, we were heading back into Lubec when I noticed the mist was still hanging around. We made a beeline for the harbor, which was shrouded in fog as the sun fought to burn it off. It created an ethereal glow that seemed to envelop the lobster boats sitting in the harbor. Everywhere I turned was another photo opportunity, from the fogbow I captured as it arced over some lobster boats, to Mullholland Point Lighthouse on Campobello Island, shrouded in mist. It was an amazing morning.

We explored a bit more that day but soon had to head back home. The more I explore, the more I continue to be enchanted by coastal Maine, especially downeast Maine.

Sunrise to Sunset: Why I love Maine

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

Ogunquit Sunrise
Ogunquit Sunrise. I used a 3-stop ND Grad from Benro Master Filters to maintain the color in the sky and the detail in the foreground rocks, and a 3-stop ND filter to slow the exposure enough to get the water to blur as it crashed over the rocks.

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.

Morning Calm on Marginal Way
Morning Calm on Marginal Way. Here I used a 10-stop ND filter to make a long exposure of 4 minutes to allow the water to blur so much it becomes smooth. It’s essentially the same composition as the image above, but the use of a long exposure completely changes the scene.

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.

Dawn on Marginal Way
As the sun rose higher in the sky, I wanted to capture the soft, warm light on the rocks. I decided to again use a long exposure, again, for four minutes, to smooth the water and allow the warm light to paint the rocks.

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.

Afternoon on Tumbledown Mountain
As I cleared the trees, this was the scene that I was presented with. It was so serene and peaceful. I added a Benro Master Filters Slim Circular Polarizer to help manage reflection and to darken the blue sky some more.

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.

View at Sunset from Tumbledown Mountain
I didn’t have as much time to explore as I’d normally like. With the sun setting I needed to at least get back to the trail beneath the field of boulders. I took one last look at the view before heading down.

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.

Dusk on Tumbledown Mountain
As the sun went behind the peak, I set up for a long exposure, again using the Benro Master Filters 10-stop ND, along with a 3-stop ND grad, to help control the wide range of contrast between the sky and foreground. This was another four minute exposure that smoothed the water and allowed the cloud in the sky to blur.

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