The sun rises above fog as seen from the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine's Acadia National Park.
The Maine Coast, including Acadia National Park has been inspiring artists for more than 150 years. In the 19th century, before the area had been designated a national park, Hudson River School painters like Thomas Cole and Frederick Church painted here, bringing back to the cities of the northeast canvases of iconic scenes from Eagle Lake, the Beehive, and the Porcupine Islands. Throngs of tourists followed and the popularity of the area continues to this day. In the 20th century, the park was photographed by America’s best landscape photographers, including Ansel Adams, David Meunch, William Neill, and in the 21st century, the park is still a mecca of sorts for photographers, with numerous photo tours visiting the park each year and plenty of tripods to be seen at popular spots like the summit of Cadillac Mountain and Otter Cliffs.
If you are planning a trip to the Maine coast this year, here are some tips for making your photo journey a success:
Timing. While you can make beautiful images of the Maine Coast throughout the year, my favorite months to shoot there are June and October. Summer weather peaks in August, but so do the crowds and hotel rates, so I prefer to visit in June. Not only is it a quieter experience, but you are also more likely to find wildflowers to photograph – woodland flowers in early June, and meadow and wetland flowers like lupines and iris in mid to late-June. Fall colors peak in the region in mid-October – just be sure to book your lodging ahead of time as many hotels and campgrounds are closed after Columbus Day.
Light. Like most places, the Maine Coast looks great in that golden light that occurs for an hour or so around sunrise and sunset. With 3000 miles of twisting coastline, it is possible to find great sunrise and sunset locations with water in the scene. In Acadia proper, the pink-hued granite of east-facing shorelines look best at sunrise as the light enhances the color of the rock. Of course, that only happens in clear skies, and on the coast of Maine fog is just as common in the morning as sunshine. Fog can be your friend, enhancing classic coastal scenes, but if it is too thick you can drive to the summit of peaks like Cadillac Mountain in Acadia or Mount Battie in Camden. In the right conditions, you will be blessed with a dynamic scene of texture-rich undercast and rugged rock outcrops bathed in warm sunlight. If the fog hangs around or the day is overcast, head into the woods. Coastal woodlands of spruce and cedar are lush, with branches draped in lichen and the forest floor carpeted with moss and ferns. This kind of scene looks great in the diffuse light of a foggy day – just be sure to use a polarizing filter to reduce glare on wet foliage, enhancing the green colors of the scene.
Subject Matter. Rocky coasts, crashing surf, small working harbors, and lighthouses are the most popular subject matter to photograph on the Maine Coast. Remember to shoot both the big picture and the intimate details – wildflowers, lobster buoys, lichens, skiffs, etc. The possibilities are endless. Wildlife is a tougher subject to capture. Acadia is not like western parks, where there are meadows regularly filled with cooperative wildlife. Your best bet to shoot wildlife is on one of the puffin tours out of Cutler and Jonesport, Maine which will get you out to Machias Seal Island where you can photograph Atlantic Puffins, Arctic Terns, and Razorbill Auks from a blind. Another option is a boat tour out of Bar Harbor, where you'll have the chance to photography harbor seals and possibly bald eagles and ospreys.
Favorite Locations. Almost any road off the beaten path will take you to beautiful scenery on the Maine Coast.
Here are some of my favorite spots to shoot in the Acadia region:
Classic coast: Great Head and Ocean Drive in Acadia, Great Wass Island near Jonesport, Isle au Haut.
Working Harbors: Stonington, Southwest Harbor, Castine, Bass Harbor
Mountain Summits: Cadillac Mountain, The Beehive
Woodlands: Sieur de Monts, Great Cranberry Island, Isle au Haut
Lighthouses: Bass Harbor Head Light, West Quoddy Head Light
Hazards. The Maine Coast is rarely dangerous, but you should keep a few things in mind during a visit there. Tides are large in most of Maine (from 10 to 20 feet,) and rocks exposed at lower tides can be very slippery, so slippery that it is almost impossible not to fall. The most common injuries in Acadia are falls on and from rock ledges. In big surf, stay well away from the edge of these ledges. Rogue waves sweep people away several times per decade in Acadia, most recently last summer. Other than avoiding falls, just be prepared for wet weather as well as biting insects in summer. Also be prepared to protect your camera gear. If you use your tripod in salt water, be sure to rinse it in fresh water afterwards. In wet conditions, you will want to stow your camera or protect it with some kind of covering, whether cheap plastic bags, or gear specific protection like the Vortex Media SLR Storm Jacket or one of the coverings made by LensCoat. If you go out on the water in a kayak, store your gear in a dry bag, or consider purchasing a lower-cost underwater housing by Ewa Marine if you plan to shoot while paddling (or have really good gear insurance!)
With his wife Marcy, Jerry Monkman has written and photographed three books about Acadia, most recently "A Photographer's Guide to Acadia National Park," available here.
Jerry is also leading two workshops in Acadia in 2010, one in June and one in October. More information can be found here.