Exploring Acadia and Leaving the Camera Behind

Last week, I was in Acadia National Park on vacation. Acadia is one of my favorite places – it is literally nature’s playground. You can hike, bike, kayak, rock climb, swim (if you don’t mind cold water), explore tide pools, and sight see, and the photo opportunities are plentiful. I was lucky enough to have this be my fifth (maybe sixth) visit to the park, and even luckier to get to share it with someone special.

I ended up shooting with my DSLR only a few times throughout the whole trip and don’t regret it at all. I find it really difficult to be present in the moment while trying to photograph it, and to me a vacation isn’t really a break if I’m planning my travels around the sun and routinely skipping breakfast to wake up at an ungodly hour to catch sunrise. When I’m worried about light and composition, dialing in my exposure just right and snapping the shutter at precisely the right time, I’m not really noticing much else. It’s probably why when I snapped this photograph I didn’t really care that I was getting eaten by mosquitos and prancing across slippery rocks in a dress and flip-flops.

clouds, tide pool, sunset, Seal Cove, Acadia National Park, Acadia, Mount Desert Island, Maine, coast
Seal Cove Sunset : Prints Available

Pink clouds reflect in tide pools at sunset in Seal Cove near Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine.

The best way for me to enjoy the things I like to photograph is sometimes not to photograph them. Sometimes it’s best to just stop and feel the sun on your face, snuggle in the warm embrace of someone you love, and fully experience a moment in time without distractions. I enjoy sharing my travels and experiences with others through photography, but not taking photographs is beautiful in a way too. When you think about it, not having photographs can make that moment itself more private and personal as it becomes something only shared between you and those you are with at the time. In a day when people document their lunches on social media, that’s kind of special.

I don’t regret not taking more photos on my recent trip to Acadia. Instead of focusing my time fiddling with tripods and filters, forcing my boyfriend to wait around while I struggled with a composition, planning all of our excursions around good light and the best scenery, and missing meals so I could be out shooting during golden hour, we experienced our entire trip together and tried things I wouldn’t have bothered to enjoy if I had only been focused on creating images. It was a wonderful vacation, and I’ll take happy memories shared with the people I love before good photographs any day.

Skunked!

I miss fall foliage pretty consistently. The season is usually pretty short, I’m often busy, and the colder temps and shorter days don’t motivate me to try to squeeze photography into my already packed schedule. Even though I live in one of the most beautiful spots in the whole country for fall color and landscapes are one of my main subjects, I’m good at making excuses why not to go shoot – the dog has been home alone all day and needs playtime, I’m carpooling, its too windy, too rainy, there isn’t a single cloud in the sky or the sky is completely overcast, the colors aren’t at peak, the colors are past peak, blah blah blah. I stare at the beautiful trees from my car and wish there were pull-offs near wetlands next to busy highways, but that’s often the extent of it.

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Well tonight on my drive home from work I noticed some wispy clouds in the sky. It was a warm, perfectly still, perfectly blue day, and I almost went straight home, but I thought it was possible the clouds would do something so I drove to the only spot I could think of with a clear view of the sky, maple trees, and no hike. I got there minutes before sunset and… got skunked! The sun went down without much excitement, the clouds never lit up with color, and the light was cold and blue. I could have went home disappointed but I decided to shoot a little anyway and got some decent, different new shots. Not every photo needs to be dramatic or have killer light or perfect foliage to work. Sometimes just getting out there and making due with what you find is good enough.

I guess my motto for today is “It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.” Sometimes, you make out okay.

Then and Now

I’m leading a photo workshop this weekend for my grad school alma mater, Antioch University New England. It will be my first in nearly a year, since I took a break from workshops and photography after leaving NatureScapes.Net to pursue other passions. This will be my first spring spent in New Hampshire; for the past five years I have traveled to Florida every April to attend the Florida’s Birding & Photo Fest. While I will miss seeing all of my friends in St. Augustine, I really am enjoying feeling settled here in New England and looking forward to spending spring in the northeast at home with my friends and family.

This photograph was taken on April 13th of last year, on the last day of an osprey workshop on Lake Blue Cypress near Vero, Florida. April 13th of this year I’ll be wrapping up my workshop with Antioch students in humble little Keene, New Hampshire. What a difference a year makes.

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Patience is a Virtue

I’ve spent most of the past week up in Acadia National Park, scouting for the NANPA Regional Event I’ll be co-leading there this fall. Jerry Monkman, one of the other leaders and NANPA president-elect, invited me to tag along for one of his photo workshops so I could get a better feel of the place and check out some of the locations I was unfamiliar with prior to the workshop.

One of the locations I’ll be taking a group to is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and it was one of the spots I had never been before. So I made it a point to visit the lighthouse one gray and rainy morning to scout it out, making sure I knew the terrain, noted any safety concerns, and found where to best direct participants.

On my last evening in Acadia, I had planned to shoot at Jordan Pond, but it was windy, I was tired, and I didn’t feel like getting to bed late. The next day, I planned to wake up for a sunrise shoot at 4:30AM and then drive the six hours home. I was on my own at that point – the workshop was over and the other photographers whose company I had enjoyed had mostly headed home – so I changed my plans and decided to shoot at Bass Harbor Head instead, as the lighthouse was much closer to where I was camping at Seawall.

I got to the lighthouse around 6:30 or so, more than an hour before sunset, to set up and get a good spot on the rocks. When I arrived, I was met by no less than a dozen people already at the lighthouse, perched in various spots I would have preferred they not be. I frowned on the inside a bit. I chatted briefly with another photographer on a nice flat rock and scrambled to a nearby sharp and pointy rock where I was sure I wouldn’t be in his way. I set up my tripod and wedged my bag in a nice safe spot in the rocks. Then I waited.

And more people came. Photographers – there were at least a dozen with DSLRs, more with point-and-shoots, and at least six tripods, including mine. Spectators, many who wanted their photos taken in front of a completely backlit lighthouse obscured by trees. People who climbed on the rocks right below the lighthouse. Why? I have no idea, you couldn’t possibly get a good look from that angle. A bird watcher with binoculars. Families with kids. More people came, some people left, and of course no one was sitting still enough to make it possible to include any of the sightseers in my composition. I was irritated.

Patience is a virtue, I thought to myself, so I waited. I was pretty sure if I waited long enough I would get my shot. While I waited a bald eagle hunted for fish and some porpoises swam offshore. At least they made the waiting a slightly less frustrating experience.

As the sun started to set, most people cleared away from right in front of the lighthouse, so photographers could get their shots. If I had felt like using a different lens, that probably would have been ok with me too, but I envisioned a wide angle shot, with jagged rocks leading the viewers’ eye into the frame, towards the lighthouse, rimmed in the colors of the setting sun. People were still in my way. So I took a couple boring frames and kept waiting.

From experience, I know that the colors at sunset and sunrise are often the most intense when the sun is about 20 minutes under the horizon. So for sunrise shoots, I always try to get to my location and be set up a half hour before sunrise. During sunset, I stay even when most think the show is over.

And if I’m smarter than the other photographers, and willing to wait longer and work harder for my shots, I can get the place all to myself. I often do. And then, I can reap the rewards.

Once the sun set, people dissipated quickly. One photographer even said “Well I got what I came here for” and left just as the colors were getting more intense – obviously more pink and more saturated – right before his eyes. Others began wrapping up and started to complain about the mosquitos, swatting at invisible demons I hadn’t even noticed yet. Within 15 minutes of the sun setting, I was the only one left.

Bass Harbor Head, bass harbor head lighthouse, lighthouse, sunset

And I got the shot because of it.

This is a hand blended combination of seven different frames. I don’t like HDRs, so I bracket my exposures and then combine them in PhotoShop using layer masks. Just processing this shot took at least a couple of hours, but the waiting game was really won in the field. This photograph is the result of being a smarter photographer, one who knows the subject, and who is willing to work harder and shoot longer than the others, not to mention better tolerate uncomfortable rocks and pesky bugs. Mostly it’s because sometimes the one who plays the waiting game best wins.

 

END NOTES:

1) Jerry probably knows more about Acadia than just about any other photographer currently shooting. In fact he and his wife Marcy wrote the bible of it, The Photographer’s Guide to Acadia National Park, along with two other books about Acadia and other titles of interest to New England area nature and landscape photographers. Jerry is also a super stand up guy who does great work as a photographer working on various conservation issues in New England. I recommend Jerry and Marcy’s books (I own three now) and suggest you buy direct from them, as they get a slightly higher cut of the proceeds that way: http://ecophotography.com/books/.

2) The NANPA Regional Event in Acadia National Park is being held October 4-7, 2012. Myself, Jerry, and two other photographers will be leading groups to various photography hotspots throughout the park, and it’s sure to be a fun event. Spots are still available, so please visit the NANPA site to learn more about the event and register. I hope to see you in Acadia this fall!

Pura Vida, Costa Rica

Long time no write, but I’ve been having too much fun (and staying quite busy) in Costa Rica! I’m here with classmates from Antioch University New England for a graduate level Tropical Ecology and Conservation field studies class, and our time here has been absolutely AMAZING. I love Costa Rica!

Bosque Eterno de los Ninos, Children's Eternal Rainforest, cloud forest, rain forest, rainforest, Costa Rica, tropical

Forest of Rain and Clouds : Prints Available

We’ve been here for just over a week where we have been mostly studying and learning about the cloud forests up near Monteverde. For the most part, we’ve been parked at La Calandria Field Station near Santa Elena and spent time in Monteverde and at the Monteverde Institute, but we also spent some time in San Gerardo while visiting Bosque Eterno de los Ninos, or the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, on the Carribean slope. We’ve caught frogs and bats, had fresh organic coffee straight off the plantation, spied Three-wattled Bellbirds, Resplendent Quetzals and Keel-billed Toucans, done tree sapling data collection, met baby sloths, and shopped in downtown Santa Elena, and all of it has been wonderful. Photography has been difficult – it always is in non-photography oriented group situations – but I’ve been learning and experiencing so much that it would be foolish to complain. I’m just happy to be here, in this amazing and beautiful place.

Tomorrow we leave the rain forests and head down to the Nicoya Peninsula to study tropical dry forests, mangroves, and coastal ecosystems. I’m excited for our new adventure but sad to leave La Calandria, as it now almost feels like home.

sunset, La Calandria, rain shadow forest, Santa Elena, Costa Rica, mountains

La Calandria Sunset : Prints Available