The Custom House

Early Morning in the Old Port
Early Morning In The Old Port

Before I moved to Maine, one of my favorite places to visit was always the Old Port in Portland. The mix of old architecture, restaurants and boutiques made it a must whenever I traveled to Maine for business or pleasure. The centerpiece of the old port for over 100 years the United States Custom House, straddling the area between Fore Street and Commercial Street, right on the waterfront.

The Custom House was built between 1867 and 1872, designed by Alfred B. Mullet, who was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1865 to 1874. There was a need for a new Custom House after the Great Fire of July 4, 1867.  The fire had destroyed 1800 buildings in the center of Portland, including the Exchange Building, which had housed the customs office, post office, and several other federal offices.

While I had often admired the building from the street, I had never photographed it. I could never find the right angle, or find a time when the street wasn’t filled with cars parked at the curb.  Just by chance, I was in the Old Port one day and happened to park in a parking garage and noticed that I had a clear line to the building with no wires overhead. The next step was picking the right time of day.

United States Custom House
United States Custom House

From the angle I had on the roof of the parking garage, the waters of Portland Harbor and the islands in Casco Bay were plainly visible. I also knew that the sunrise would be visible behind the building on a clear day, and I assumed the streets would be relatively clear early in the morning. I arrived just as the parking garage opened and made my way to the roof and set up. All I had to do was compose, and wait.

I decided a graduated neutral density filter would help balance the exposure between the sunrise in the sky and the darker foreground of the Custom House, so I used a a Benro 4-stop Hard Edge Graduated Neutral Density filter, and placed the transition exactly on the horizon in the background.  This allowed me to open up the shadows on the face of the Custom House and still maintain the orange glow that was present in the sky, that the camera would have lost on its own without some help.

I had planned to also take some images from street level, but by the time I completed my work on the roof of the parking garage, a truck had parked itself in front of the building, making it impossible to get a clean shot, so I called it a successful morning and headed to find some breakfast!

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Owls Head

Penobscot Bay Tranquility
Penobscot Bay Tranquility

As much as I’ve explored the Maine coast, there is still plenty I haven’t photographed yet. I’m continually amazed at all the beautiful corners I keep finding. I’ve spent some time up in the Rockland area, especially at Marshall Point, but hadn’t spent much time at Owls Head. The main reason being that the lighthouse there isn’t all that dramatic; it’s a stubby 30 foot tower at the top of a bluff overlooking Penobscot Bay.  It’s also a difficult spot to photograph. There’s not much room at the top next to the lighthouse and the best way to photograph the lighthouse from a distance is from a boat on the water, which I don’t have ready access to.

Clearing Storm at Owls Head
Clearing Storm at Owls Head

Regardless of these obstacles, I like lighthouses and it felt like a serious omission to have not photographed this one yet. So I got out of bed at 4:30am (ouch) and made my way out to Owls Head State Park. Despite promising weather reports, I arrived to overcast skies and intermittent rain. The sunrise I had hoped for never materialized, but I set about making the most of my time, since I’d gotten up so early and had a meeting in Rockland at noon, which meant I couldn’t just call it a morning and head for home.

Autumn Morning at Owls Head in Black and White
Autumn Morning at Owls Head in Black and White

Frustrated that the weather wasn’t cooperating, I decided to try the beach at Owls Head State Park. From the beach, you look across the bay toward Rockland and in the distance can see Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park. All I saw was a series of gray tones. I had some rocks on the shoreline, a vast expanse of water,and then the hills in the distance. I decided right then that I wanted to capture an image with strong graphic elements that highlighted the tones. I figured a long exposure of several minutes would flatten out the water and give me a series of gray transitions that would allow the foreground rocks to stand out in contrast with the sharp textures they provided, and in the distance the darker hills would be the end the transitions of gray, white, and black against the light colored misty sky.

I used a Benro Filters 10-stop neutral density filter to give me a four minute exposure, which was more than enough to give me a flat look on the water, and a misty look around the rocks in the foreground.  The rising tide ended up covering the rocks more than I expected, so there were fewer rocks in the final exposure. It’s surprising how fast the tide comes in in just four minutes!

Owls Head Lighthouse In Black And White
Owls Head Lighthouse In Black And White

Once I finished on the beach, I made my way to another beach on the other side of the peninsula, a short walk away. There, the light started to change and the sun made an appearance. The clouds began to thin out a little bit, creating more drama. I made one image on this beach and then decided to go redo every shot I’d taken of the lighthouse, but this time with better skies.

Completing that task, and with more time to kill before my meeting, I decided to head over to Marshall Point Lighthouse, about a 20 minute drive away. I didn’t have much time there but made two images, including the one that closes this post. All in all, a productive day for me at a place that I hadn’t photographed before.

I will be leading a workshop in the Rockland area in May 2019 for Hunt’s Photo Adventures. If interested, visit the Hunt’s Photo Adventures website for more information.

October Morning At Marshall Point
October Morning At Marshall Point

Another Autumn in Vaughan Woods

Autumn Waterfall in Hallowell
Autumn Waterfall in Hallowell

Once I had determined I was relocating to Maine in September of 2016, I was told by several people that I simply had to visit Vaughan Woods and Homestead in Hallowell. They kept calling it “Hobbitland” and said that I would love photographing there.

They weren’t wrong. The path through the woods is calm and peaceful, and all along Vaughan Brook are so many picturesque corners that it’s easy for me to spend hours there, my eye to the viewfinder, or looking at the scene and determining how I can find one more unique composition to capture.

Fall Morning at Vaughan Brook
Fall Morning at Vaughan Brook

I find Vaughan Woods absolutely sings in Autumn, when the leaves are changing, the air is cool and crisp, and the brook is murmuring softly as it bubbles along under the charming stone arch bridges that span it. There’s a warm, inviting feeling as you meander down the trail and come up one of the bridges, a waterfall cascading down the rocks that line the brook.

When I photograph in these woods, maybe it’s the reference to Tokien’s shire from the Hobbit series, or maybe it’s just the peacefulness that I feel there, but I like to give the scenes a dreamy quality, using longer exposures to blur the water.  I use Benro Master Filters to manage my exposure.  It’s difficult to know what the light will be like once I get to the location I’m shooting, and if I have more light than I need to achieve the shutter speed I want, I won’t get the image I see in my head. Using a Benro 4-, 5-, 6- or 10-stop neutral density filter, I know I can always achieve the effect I’m looking for when it comes to longer exposures.

Autumn Cascade in Vaughan Woods
Autumn Cascade in Vaughan Woods

Normally when I walk through Vaughan Woods, I follow the trail down to the dam first, where a small stone arch bridge and cascade lies. For the photographs in this post, I had decided I wanted to capture the falls at the High Arch Bridge because it had been raining a few days earlier and they would be running full. Last year when I visited, the weather had been much dryer and the falls were just a trickle.

There is also a small cascade upstream that I wanted to spend some time photographing as well. After capturing the falls near High Arch Bridge, the sun began to shine directly on the falls- never a good thing for photographing waterfalls, so I headed upstream, where I knew this small cascade wouldn’t be getting any sun for some time.  I ended up spending about three hours at this spot.

I’ve now visited each autumn since I moved to Maine. I guess Vaughan Woods in the fall is becoming a tradition.

As always, prints are available at www.rickberk.com

Fallen Oak Leaf in Vaughan Woods
Fallen Oak Leaf in Vaughan Woods

South Korea

Sunset Over Seoul
Sunset Over Seoul

I recently had the opportunity to visit South Korea for a week. While South Korea was never on my short list of places I had to visit, I jumped at the opportunity when it arose. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew South Korea was at the leading edge of technology, so when I visited Seoul and saw the huge LED billboards and screens similar to Times Square, I wasn’t surprised. I also knew South Korea had a rich history, but given the trials of the Korean War in the 50’s, I wasn’t sure how much of their history remained.

Sungnyemun At Night
Sungnyemun At Night

I was thrilled to find a mix of the old and new. Seoul is a bustling metropolis, stretching for miles in all directions, nestled in the valleys created by the hills and mountains of the region. While there are many modern buildings and amenities, there are also villages, palaces, and shrines that date back 600 years. The region is rich in tradition but also at the forefront of tomorrow’s technology. It was exciting to see.

In The Buddhist Temple
In The Buddhist Temple

My favorite spot was at the top of Namsan Mountain, where Seoul Tower is located. After taking the cable car to the top, we were treated to a spectacular view of the city, which seems to stretch for miles in all directions. I couldn’t believe how vast it seemed! We waited for sunset while drinking German beer (Weihenstephan!) in the beer garden at the top, taking in this breathtaking view. Not to be missed!

The Seoul Skyline
The Seoul Skyline

While my travel list is so long I will likely never get back to Korea, I’m glad I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to visit. Well worth the trip!

Korean Girl In Hanbok
Korean Girl In Hanbok
Secret Garden In Black And White
Secret Garden In Black And White

You can see more of my images from South Korea in my online South Korea Gallery.

The Quiet Side of Acadia

Most tourists who visit Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, tend to stick to Bar Harbor and the Park Loop Road and visit the most heavily trafficked sites in the area.  Unfortunately, this means they miss out on some of the most beautiful scenery on the east coast of the United States. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore that most people never get to. On a recent Hunt’s Photo Adventure to Acadia National Park that I was an instructor on, we visited some of the lesser known areas of the park, in addition to the tried and true destinations.

Watching Through The Trees
“Watching Through The Trees” I photographed this juvenile barred owl in the Sieur de Monts area of Acadia National Park. Sieur de Monts lacks the drama of the Maine coastline, but its peaceful walk through the forest allows for the viewing of wildlife, flowers, and various trees.
“Dory in Bernard Harbor”
Bernard Harbor is a picturesque fishing village on Mount Desert Island. Across the water from Bernard Harbor, looking east, is Bass Harbor. I spent an evening photographing the harbor at sunset, during which the most exquisite light of the golden hour bathed the harbor.
Fern Layers
“Fern Layers”
I photographed these ferns in Asticou Azalea Gardensm in Northeast Harbor, Maine. These gardens feature a variety of plants, including rhododendrons and azaleas, but on the morning I visited, these ferns, and the way the light was playing on them, captured my attention.
“Cascading Tide at Schoodic Point”
Located an hour from Bar Harbor, most people never visit the section of Acadia National Park located on the Schoodic Peninsula. It is every bit as dramatic and beautiful as the better known areas along the Park Loop Road, and the perfect spot for some late afternoon and evening photography.
Dusk at Schoodic Point
“Dusk at Schoodic Point”
As I mentioned, Schoodic Point is outstanding for late afternoon and evening photography. At sunset during the summer, you watch the sun go down behind Cadillac Mountain. On this particular evening, Mother Nature put on a show with a spectacular sunset and afterglow.

This fall, I will be teaching on the Hunt’s Photo Adventure to Solon, Maine. Located in Central Maine, Solon is the perfect location to capture the beauty of autumn in Maine. There are still some seats left, so register now!

Alaska

Alaskan Dream
Alaskan Dream

It’s been eight years since I was last there, but Alaska is a place that has stayed with me every day since I’ve left. I was lucky enough to spend 10 days there in 2010, with 5 of those days spent camping in Denali National Park.  We camped at Wonder Lake, and I remember how magnificent the view was as we rode the park bus all the way in to Wonder Lake Campground. The sun was shining with lots of clouds hovering around Denali like a crown on its head.

The Road To Denali
The Road To Denali

As we made camp, I was shaking with anticipation of the beauty that awaited us the next day. I had planned to hike the tundra, amongst the kettle ponds, grabbing shots of Denali reflecting in the glacial waters.  The next morning, we took a flight over the mountains where I captured some of the most spectacular images of my life. However, shortly after our flight ended, the rains moved in and remained for two days.

Mountain Peak in Black and White
Mountain Peak in Black and White

The third day, the rains let up and we got some hiking in, but clouds continued to shroud the mountain and keep Denali in hiding. I was able to make a few images I liked, but it wasn’t what I had originally planned, so there was a level of disappointment. As a landscape photographer, you don’t always get to dictate the weather so I made the most of things.

Hidden in Denal
Hidden in Denali

The next day, we boarded the park bus around sunrise for the six hour trip back to the park entrance and four hour drive back to Anchorage. As we were riding along the park road, the skies began to clear and Denali showed her face through the clouds. It was still heavily cloudy, but the little peeks through the clouds made for some interesting images of the mountains.

Returning to Denali is definitely on my list, but the images I captured allow me to relive the last visit each time I look at them. To see more from my trips to Alaska, visit my website.

Alaskan Peak In The Shadows
Alaskan Peak In The Shadows

Upcoming Workshops

I’ll be an instructor on the following workshops in the next few months. There is still space available in these.

Sunrise in the Smokies
Sunrise in the Smokies

Springtime in the Smoky Mountains

Tuesday April 24th – Sunday April 29th

Gatlinburg, TN

Featuring scenic landscapes, plant and wildlife

In the beautiful Great Smokies

Instructors: Don Toothaker & Rick Berk

Recommended prerequisite: Basic Knowledge of your Camera

All Skill Levels Welcome

Group Size: Limited to 10 attendees

To register, visit http://edu.huntsphoto.com/great-smoky/

The Smokies are an amazingly beautiful location to photograph, featuring grand vistas with the mountains layered one on top of the other, mist hanging in the valleys, as well as intimate landscapes as water from a mountain stream cascades over rocks as wildflowers grow on the banks.  Wildlife roams the park and it’s an excellent opportunity to capture the various species at home in the Smokies.  I’ll be assisting Don Toothaker on this one. Don and I have over 50 years combined experience as photographers, and years of experience teaching photography to others. Join us in the Smokies and experience what a magical place it can be in springtime.

Autumn Glow
“Autumn Glow” A tree stands in the meadow in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.
Cataloochie Elk
“Cataloochie Elk”

 

Midcoast Maine & Pemaquid Point

Sunset at Marshall Point
Sunset at Marshall Point

Wednesday May 16 to Sunday May 20

Mid-Coast, including Bristol, Maine

Featuring lighthouses, harbors, and the shore

Instructors: Rick Berk

Recommended prerequisite: Basic Knowledge of your Camera

All Skill Levels Welcome

Group Size: Limited to 10 attendees

To register, visit http://edu.huntsphoto.com/pemaquid-mid-coast/

Midcoast Maine is glorious any time of year, but can be especially fun in the spring. Since relocating to Maine in 2016, I’ve spent plenty of time exploring as many of the little nooks, coves, and villages of the midcoast. We’ll explore New Harbor, Pemaquid Point, Marshall Point, Port Clyde, and more. There will be opportunities for wildlife, featuring osprey and eagles preying on alewife as they make their spawning run.  We’ll also explore some night photography if weather permits.

Skiffs in Tenants Harbor
Skiffs in Tenants Harbor