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