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.



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:

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!

7 thoughts on “Patience is a Virtue

  1. It’s a familiar story. Most photographers leave before the best and easiest to use light well after sunset when the contrast is lower. It’s a beautiful shot with all that attractive afterglow.

  2. I refer to your comments on the NSN website featuring the above photograph …

    “In the digital age, just about everyone has a camera. Thanks to social media, everyone knows it, and we are constantly bombarded with images from thirteen year olds with iPhones, retirees with 1D Mark IVs, and budding amateurs and pros alike, some who are constant sources of inspiration and others whose talent always seems to underwhelm our own.”

    I think there are some extremely talented thirteen year olds as well as “retirees with 1D Mark IVs” and I don’t think it’s fair to “lump” these categories together as being “encroaching” on an iconic location, causing problems for the “real professionals”. I think you’re a wonderfully talented photographer and have a beautiful portfolio, but please do not look down upon the kids and the retirees … many have a lot to offer in terms of talent whether it be with an iPhone, 1D Mark IV or a $50.00 P & S. It’s not the age, it’s not the equipment, it’s the eye.

    1. Hi Clare,

      Thanks for your comments. If you carefully read the paragraph quoted, I say that some of the work by these photographers (teenagers with iPhones, retirees with expensive DSLRs) is inspiring and indeed it is. But the point of the paragraph is that there is a LOT of it. Even if you took out all of the average and mediocre images there would still be MANY MANY good images of icons floating around on the web. My point is really this – when you go to an icon, there are more and more people to contend with than there were before the digital photography boom. And the more photographers there are – whether they happen to be Art Wolfe or the kid next door – the harder it can be to work a scene to get a shot.

      Ask any photographer who knows me (or person who knows me for that matter) and you’ll know I’m in no way against teens with iPhones or retirees with expensive cameras! On the contrary, I am a member of the North American Nature Photography Association’s College Scholarship Program committee, I teach photography to youth at a local high school, I mentor a handful of young photographers, and I also volunteer with a number of photography and nature non-profits teaching kids how to use cameras to capture nature in their own communities. I’ve taken many a retiree out to some of my favorite secret locations just to shoot and share – no charge. I enjoy the company of most photographers I meet – those who are respectful of one another and the environment – and genuinely enjoy spending time with the non-pros. There is something really refreshing about people who photograph just because they love it – unconcerned about selling a workshop or pleasing a client – and I believe these folks belong out there working for their shots just as much as any full-time pro!

      You say, “I don’t think it’s fair to ‘lump’ these categories together as being ‘encroaching’ on an iconic location, causing problems for the ‘real professionals’.” There is not one mention of the word “encroaching” (or any derivative of it) or the term “real professionals” in my article. First off, I’d like to clarify that “professional” means little in my book when it comes to photography. By a definition commonly used by prestigious nature photography contests, a professional photographer is one who makes the majority of their income (or over a certain set monetary figure) from photography. Pro has nothing to do with how good one’s photographs are, how hard one works to get the shots, and how much passion someone has for photography! Pro doesn’t mean respectful or ethical. Pro is simply about money and money doesn’t squat when it comes to quality! If I had to lump photographers into categories, I would separate those who are polite and respectful and care about the subject vs those who will do anything to get the shot, even if it means being rude and disrespectful to spectators and other photographers, or endangering the environment by trespassing, trampling sensitive vegetation, and stressing wildlife. I’ll tell you what, there are amateur and pro photographers that easily fit into both categories! And in my experience, I’m more likely to encounter a picture taker fitting the latter description, whether by ignorance or just plain meanness, at a popular icon than I am when tucked away in the backcountry.

      The point is simply that the sheer number of people taking pictures and of pictures taken, not necessarily who these people are, is what makes photographing well known iconic places challenging. The more people, the more competition, period.

      Thanks for commenting and for sticking up for photographers of all kinds! I agree with you that photography has little to do with age or equipment, and that passion and a good eye are what create photographs that excite and inspire.

      All the best,

  3. I love that photo! I’ve always wanted to camp there and now I’m going to move it up on my list of places to go. The terminology is mostly over my head but it is a reminder that I should get out earlier and later if I want to take a decent photo with my point and shoot.

  4. Kari, Thanks so much for your reply … With the points you made, I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad you clarified your position and I apologize for taking the article in the wrong way! I think probably the bottom line is rude versus polite whether it be photographers, check-out persons, mechanics or … people!!! I guess when out photographing the balance sometimes gets “heavy” on the side of rude … especially at iconic locations. Thanks again for your reply … and as I said before I love your photography!

  5. As a photographer I too get irritated sometimes by peoples behaviour. Recently I was taking some images in a national park, it was during a sunset and I knew the combination of fog and beautiful light would make for some great photos. When I set up my tripod/camera no one was around and then as soon as people saw which way my camera was pointed they gradually started to inch their way into the sides of my viewfinder. It was like, I need to scramble over these rocks and get in front of you with my iphone to take a picture. If I hadn’t had my camera setup on my tripod I’m sure no one would have gone near or paid any attention to where I was taking photos.

    As far as those iconic locations where millions of images have been taken, I try to avoid these spots. I arrived early one morning at a lake in the Canadian Rockies and witnessed people arguing over the placement of their tripods. I choose to find places where I can be alone, appreciate the beauty of nature and concentrate on getting in a kind of creative zone. Thats when I take my best images and I can’t do this when someone is talking to me or asking me questions.

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