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.
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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One year ago, due to a variety of circumstances, I made the decision to pick up and relocate to Freeport, Maine. On September 1, 2016, I became a Maine resident. Living in Maine had long been a dream of mine, and despite the turmoil I endured in getting to where I felt a relocation was necessary and possible, it has been worth it. The Maine landscape long called to me and inspired me in my work as a photographer. What follows below is a retrospective of my first year of exploration of my new home.
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.