Sunrise

Sunrise at Wolfe's Neck Woods
The sun breaks through the trees on Googins Island in Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, Maine.

I like photographing any time there is good light, be it midday, afternoon, evening, or morning. My favorite time of all though, is sunrise. There is soemthing magical about sunrise- that change from dark, to light that happens. But more than that, there is a peace and calm in the air that isn’t there later in the day.  The air hasn’t been disturbed by people going about their business. There aren’t many cars on the road, there aren’t many people walking around.

Sunrise Over Wells Beach
Sunrise Over Wells Beach

When I get to a location for a sunrise shoot, there’s always a bit of trepidation on my part. The calm and quiet is almost unsettling.  You hear the birds beginning to stir, maybe some of the nocturnal creatures in the underbrush. You step a little more carefully.

Dawn at Marshall Point
Dawn at Marshall Point

When I get to my shooting spot, often times it’s a place I’ve been to during the day, so I have some idea of what it will look like as the light comes up. But it’s always different in the dark; more mysterious somehow. As the light slowly comes up, everything changes. The glow on the horizon becomes more intense, the sky is revealed, and the trees and rocks begin to take on more detail and definition.

My favorite part of shooting at sunrise is the solitude. There’s so much overload these days- cell phones, computers, people at work, people we meet during the day.  It’s nice to get that hour or two to myself, to enjoy the birdsong, the sunrise, that start of the day. It’s a reset, in a way. And it gives me something to talk about to those people who may not have been able to tear themselves away from their blankets at such an early hour!

Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff
Sunrise at Bald Head Cliff

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 Smokies

Sunrise In The Smokies
The view from Clingman’s Dome at sunrise is one of the most spectacular ways to start a day I can imagine.

The Great Smoky Mountains is one of those places that draws you back again and again. If you see it in the spring, with waterfalls at full bore from the spring runoff, wildflowers exploding in bloom on the hillsides, you’ll be awestruck at the beauty you see.  But at the same time, you’ll find yourself wondering how it looks in autumn, with the leaves changing colors, splashing the countryside with color. The Smokies are amazingly beautiful no matter when you visit.

In October 2015 I had the opportunity to visit the Smokies to photograph the foliage, and I managed to capture near peak color. I didn’t have as long in the park as I would like, but I did manage to hit some of the best spots and make some great images while seeing the incredible beauty of the area.  In 2017 I am planning another trek to the Great Smoky Mountains, this time in the spring, leading a photography workshop for Worldwide Photo Tours.

Morning Mist In The Smokies
Morning Mist In The Smokies

The great thing about the Smokies is the mix of natural beauty and history. There are vistas galore to look out from, starting with the views from Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap, straddling the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee. But beyond these easily accessible vistas, there are countless waterfalls, found along many of the trails in the park.

In terms of history, the Cades Cove area, found on the Tennessee side of the GSMNP, is an unbelievable trip into the past. Cades Cove is a broad valley where settlers made a home in the early 1800s. There are restorations of settlement buildings along the loop road, including a grist mill, three churches, and several cabins. All make for outstanding photo opportunities. In addition, some of the best opportunities in the park for viewing wildlife are found in Cades Cove.

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Autumn Glow in Cades Cove

Finally, I visited Cataloochee, a valley on the North Carolina side of the park. There are several historic buildings to be found in Cataloochee as well, but to me, the real treasure of Cataloochee is the herd of elk that were released in the valley in 2001. The elk can be found in the fields in the valley, especially in the early morning and evening. A long lens is a must, but it was incredible to watch these majestic beasts wander the field, the males bugling to try and catch the females attention.

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An elk in Cataloochee

I’m looking forward to visiting the Smokies this spring, showing attendees around and teaching them some of my favorite landscape photo techniques for capturing better images. If you’re interested, send me an email or visit Worldwide Photo Tours for more information.

Autumn on the Chimney Tops Trail
Autumn on the Chimney Tops Trail

 

My Best of 2016

As 2016 comes to an end, I wanted to gather a few of my favorite images that I made over the course of the year and share them in a single place. In what was a trying year for me personally, I was able to get to some beautiful locations and capture some of the natural beauty I found. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the images I captured.

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The North Fork

The Bug Light
Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, the Bug Light, as seen from Orient Beach State Park

I suspect I’m not unique in this, but I often find myself lamenting that I can’t get somewhere truly exotic to photograph every time I want to.  I’m several hours from any of the more grandiose national parks, with Acadia nine hours and change away, and Shenandoah about 8 hours away. So there are some days, when I have the itch to make a picture, that I have to look closer to home. And like many others, I sometimes take local locations for granted.

This past week, I found myself with the time to go exploring, so I hit up some spots that are within about an hour of my home. On Monday, I went to Orient Beach State Park. I’d never been there, and wasn’t sure if I was missing anything or not. Honestly, at first glance, it’s not much to look at. It’s a beach on the North Fork of Long Island, that pokes into Gardiners Bay.  But if you’re willing, and strong enough, you can walk down the beach about two and a half miles, to the very tip of the park, which sticks into Gardiners Bay where it meets the Peconic River. There, you will find the Bug Light, a lighthouse built on a caisson about 50 yards out in Gardiners Bay.

The Bug Light at dusk.
The Bug Light at dusk.

Generally, the bay is pretty calm, but this day, the wind was churning the water pretty good, creating some nice choppy waves. I had some nice puffy clouds in the sky, and the sun was creating some nice color off in the west. While I was still feeling the hike several days later, the images I captured were well worth the effort.

The next day, I still had the itch, and I found another spot close by I need to explore some more. Wildwood State Park is also on the north shore of Long Island, featuring a beach on Long Island Sound.  The first time I went there was July. The warmer weather and the later sunset kept the beach crowded late, and it was difficult to get shots without people in the background. This time, being early March, I had the entire beach to myself.

Wildwood Beach State Park
Wildwood Beach State Park

The sound was as peaceful as I’d ever seen it, almost glass like. The beach is dotted with huge boulders left behind from the ice age when Long Island was under a glacier. These boulders create a lot of visual interest, making it worth several visits to really work the various options. Since wave action was nonexistent, I decided to use a Vü Filters ND10 filter. This 10-stop ND filter allows me to get super long exposures, allowing me to smooth out the water and blur the movement of clouds. It was so peaceful, that using the long exposure accentuated the calm, allowing me to create images that really communicated the peace and solitude I was feeling at that moment.

If you’re interested in joining me for some photography, visit Worldwide Photo Tours to see what we have coming up.  Next September, we’ll be visiting some of my other favorite places on the east end of Long Island. Hope to see you there!

Wildwood State Park at dusk.
Wildwood State Park at dusk.

Yosemite

Half Dome at sunset.
Half Dome at sunset as seen from Tunnel View through a long lens.

Since I first became interested in photography, Yosemite has been on my list of places to visit. I’ve now been there three times, for a total of about 10 days, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this incredible place.

My last time there, I had only a day and a half, as it was an unscheduled trip I made when I found I had some extra time on a business trip. Most people, when visiting, never get out of the Valley, the main area where many of the iconic features of Yosemite, such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls can be seen. It truly is breathtaking there. But on this last trip, while I didn’t get to locations outside the valley, such as Tuolumne Meadows, I did manage to visit some lesser known locations and get some amazing images.

I arrived in the afternoon on a Saturday and found myself a spot to photograph Half Dome over the Merced River. It’s a bit of a different angle than the more commonly seen ones and I was happy with the images. The next morning though, for sunsrise, I wanted to try and find a place I hadn’t been before.  I’d photographed sunrise from Valley View along the Merced River, from Cook’s Meadow, and from Glacier Point. This time, I decided I would make the mile hike in the dark to the top of Sentinel Dome and photograph from there.  While the hike in the dark was a bit unsettling since I’d never been there, I managed to find my way to the summit in a reasonable amount of time.  I was not disappointed.

View from the top of Sentinel Dome at sunrise.
View from the top of Sentinel Dome at Sunrise.

The sun rising over the Sierras is an incredible sight, and from Sentinel Dome, one of the highest elevations in Yosemite, it becomes even more incredible. The rocky top of Senitnel Dome features few trees, along with the withering husk of the jeffrey pine made famous by Ansel Adams long ago. I made several excellent images I was very happy with.

El Capitan viewed from Taft Point.
Half Dome at sunset as seen from Tunnel View through a long lens.

After that, I decided to hike the mile to Taft Point, another new location for me. It features an elevated view of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. A little nerve wracking due to the height of the point and the lack of any restraining wall or railings, but an incredible sight well worth photographing. I feel like it might make an excellent location at sunset also.

I finished the day with the classic location Tunnel View. While it’s often photographed, it is always stunning and worth a visit from any photographer. On this day we were treated to a show as a storm moved across the far end of the valley giving dramatic skies and colors.

If you’d like to join me on my next trip to Yosemite, I am leading the excursion for Worldwide Photo Tours in May. More information is available here.

Tunnel View
A storm moves across the far end of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View.
El Capitan
El Capitan from along the Merced River, just after sunrise.
The Merced River
A view of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.
Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls

The Beauty of Acadia

Bass Harbor Head
Bass Harbor Head during a spring storm.

Ever since my first visit to Maine in 1999, I have been in love with the rugged coast. Acadia National Park is the embodiment of everything there is to love about New England, and I try to get there to photograph every few years. I always seem to find something new and never cease to be amazed by the show that nature puts on every day.  Whether it’s a gorgeous sunrise, a sunset that explodes with color, or storm that sets the Atlantic churning and pounding the rocky coast, exploding with sound at Thunder Hole.

My favorite spots are the cobblestone beaches.  There’s so much foreground interest, and when you catch it at the right time of day, the light on the rocks just glows. The waves from the water add a ton of interest, and the high cliffs create such drama. It’s an amazing place to photograph.

Below is a selection of images I’ve made over the past several visits to Acadia. This June, I will be leading a photo workshop to Acadia. I’ll be taking you to some of my favorite places, and together maybe we’ll find a few new ones. I’ll also be teaching some of my tried and true landscape photo techniques.  For more information, visit Worldwide Photo Tours Acadia Page.

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Little Hunters Beach at Sunrise
Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond at Dusk
Cadillac Mountain at Sunrise
Cadillac Mountain at sunrise.
Monument Cove
Monument Cove at sunrise.
Schoodic Point at Sunset
Schoodic Point at Sunset