Category Archives: Maine

20 Ocean Sunrise Shooting Tips

This gallery of photos were shot over a 2-hour stretch on August 15 beginning at 5:15 am and finishing around 7:30 am.

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Below are 20 quick sunrise ocean shooting tips. None is ground breaking, but they are a good summary of the common sense, and not so common sense, tips and hints I’ve gathered in my years shooting ocean seascapes.

  1. Pick Your Location ahead of time. You will be arriving in the dark. Especially on the potentially slippery and rocky New England coasts it is important to have a good idea where you will be shooting, and its geography, before you get there.
  2. Check the Weather! Then check it again just before bed. Nothing is a bigger bummer than driving 1.5 hours in the middle of the night only to find a totally bland sunrise . . . or torrential rain, or socked in with fog. Well, fog is fun ;->
  3. Even more important than weather is the Tide. Check local tide charts. I have places I shoot only at high tide. Or low tide. Or receding tides. All images in this post were shot over a 2.5 hour period beginning 2 hours after high tide. Even beginning 2 hours after high tide I was walking directly against the Ogunquit Rivermouth seawall at the beginning of the shoot. And 2.5 hours later was maybe 200 yards seaward. New England beaches have dramatic tides!
  4. Even more important than weather and tides in determining where I’ll shoot is the Swell. Check local boating and surf forecasts for current and upcoming swell information. More than almost anything, the size of swell determines where I will choose to shoot. Big swell = big fun!
  5. Pack the night before. I live 1.5 hours inland. If I shoot a coastal sunrise during most of the summer I am leaving home around 3:30am. Packing the night before is an absolute necessity for me to leave (nearly) on time.
  6. Coffee. Lots of it. Enough said.
  7. Arrive Early. Really Early! Really, really early. I try to arrive where I will shoot at least an hour before sunrise. More if I have any hike in to the location. Already, an hour before sunrise, unless cloud cover is extremely heavy, or there is a thick layer of fog, you will begin to get the early morning blues.
  8. Bring a flashlight or headlamp! If you don’t bring it, you will need it. My favorites these days are the tiny Petzl Tikkas. They are small enough that one lives in my bag at all times.
  9. Use a tripod! Always. Always. Okay, unless shooting pan blurs. But I use a tripod shooting pan blurs too.
  10. Use a shutter release cable or a self-timer. And mirror lockup or shoot using Live View. Don’t know what mirror lock up is? Here’s a little article:
  11. Bring multiple lenses! If you got ‘em, use ‘em. This morning I used a 14mm, a 17-40, a 70-200, and an 85 prime. By far the most used was my go-to 17-40. But all lenses got some good use.
  12. Filters! I love filters, and always have a few with me. A CPL is always mounted on my wide angle. At the break of dawn it is not very useful, but within an hour it is. I also travel with several solid and graduated NDs. For solid NDs I regularly use a 2-stop, a 4-stop, and a ten-stop depending on the effect I want to create – anything from slightly blurring moving water with the 2-stop to dramatically blurring moving water and clouds with a ten-stop.
  13.  Bring rain gear! Even on mornings with no predicted precipitation a short dawn downpour is not unusual. My camera bag has a ‘raincoat’ tucked in a bottom pocket, and I often carry a small umbrella out shooting.
  14. Experiment with shutter speeds. Find compositions that include moving water then experiment with different shutter speeds. A fast shutter speed will freeze moving water and dramatically highlight big splashing waves. A slow shutter speed will blur and soften moving water and clouds. Changes of even a quarter second can give radically different results.
  15. Look behind you! It is very easy to get sucked in to a sunrise and forget to look around. Look around. It is worth it.
  16. Stay longer than you would expect. If there are any clouds in the sky the drama of a good sunrise can go on for hours. On my last sunrise shoot I shot from 5:00am (with a 6:10 sunrise) until almost 8:00 am. Every 15 minutes had dramatically different and exciting light.
  17. Don’t be afraid to include people in your shots. As landscape shooters we most often try to exclude people from our photos. Fishermen and beachcombers can add interest to our images.
  18. As the sun gets higher in the sky look for reflections. I love shooting beaches with an outgoing tide around an hour after sunrise. Tidal pools light up with gorgeous reflections!
  19. Don’t forget the macro. I always forget the macro on beach shoots. And I’m always sorry. Intimate landscapes and rockscapes are some of my favorite images.
  20. Breakfast! A delicious breakfast after several hours shooting is superb! Especially if you can talk another dawn shooter into paying. Anybody want to go shoot?

I hope you find these tips helpful. Get out and shoot!

~ Scott Snyder



Scenic Harpswell, Maine – Part 1

This blog is for photographers looking to find some of the hot-spots for scenic beauty in Harpswell, Maine.  Because of its large size and abundant photo opportunities, I’m splitting this series into two parts.  I am lucky enough to live less than a half mile away from Harpswell on the Rte. 123 side, the focus of this article.

 Harpswell Neck – Rte.123

 Skolfield Shores

Start your journey by taking Harpswell Road / Rte. 123 from Brunswick as it turns into the long peninsular finger known as Harpswell Neck. The first point of interest lies directly across the border when you enter Harpswell, the large white farmstead surrounded by fields on the right called Merrucoonegan Farm (formerly Skolfield Farm). Turn right into the driveway then into the small parking lot. Here you will see a kiosk put up by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust describing the walking trails behind the property. In the summer, there’s a small food truck parked near the driveway that makes a killer lobster roll. Even if they’re closed, I’d recommend walking across the driveway towards the truck to check out the incredible apple orchard on the property. These trees have been lovingly pruned for many decades, giving them a ‘weeping’ appearance that facilitates easy picking.

Apple Orchard Panorama

Apple Orchard in Spring

Once you check out the orchard, walk back towards the parking lot to use the trail head. Don’t be afraid, this isn’t a long hike, more like a quick walk down to the ocean. You’ll be glad you did. Follow the signs to the ‘Shore’ and soon you’ll be admiring 180 degree views of Middle Bay, dotted with islands and breathtaking to behold. The real attraction here isn’t just the view, it’s the historic boathouse, built in 1910 and a small storage shed nearby. Both of these buildings have a ton of character and make great photographic subjects. After you’ve gotten your fill, head back to the car, we’ve got more to explore.

Boathouse Window

Boathouse Window Reflections


Lookout Point

My favorite spot in Harpswell is one a local recommended to me when I started taking pictures. Lookout Point is about halfway down the neck. Watch for Lookout Point Rd and a sign for Allen’s Seafood on your right. Make the turn and head to the very end of the road, where there’s a good sized parking area and public boat launch. For me, this is what Maine is all about. Two picturesque islands sit right in front of you, just offshore from this small working harbor, dotted with lobster boats. This is the best place to capture a beautiful sunset that I know of. At low tide, you can actually walk out to the two small islands, named Joe and George after the Curtis brothers, whose family owned the shipyard that used to grace this very location. Don’t be afraid to say hello to the friendly folks at Allen’s. I’ve walked around the docks and admired the trappings of the lobster trade many times. There is an endless amount of interesting subjects to shoot here. Have fun!

Lookout Point

Sunset at Lookout Point

 Harpswell Center

Just a few yards down the road on Rte. 123 is Harpswell Center, a beautiful window into the past of this small community. Park in the any of the lots on your left around the Elijah Kellogg Church. The centerpiece of the area is the Harpswell Meeting House, a national historic monument built in 1759. Other areas of interest include the burying ground behind the Meeting House, the Harpswell Historical Society Museum (open Sundays from 2-4), the old Cattle Pound, and the Elijah Kellogg Church. I could go on and on about this history of the area, but in the interest of space, I’ve provided a link to this information that you can check out by clicking here.

Congregationalist Church

Kellogg Church in Winter


After exploring Harpswell Center, your journey continues at the first left you see on Rte.123, Allen Pt. Road. This will lead you to a beautiful old farmstead with open fields and an old stone wall, a staple of New England. Since it’s private property, you’ll want to view the scene from the road, or Merriman Cove Rd., which works out just fine. One of my favorite images came here in the afternoon as a storm cleared, with the front of the building lit in golden light and the background full of angry clouds.

Merriman Farm

Clearing Storm

Stovers Point

Stovers Point is a 4 acre salt marsh and gravel beach that makes a great spot to explore in the morning. Take Stovers Point Rd. and turn left at the end of the road onto an unmarked dirt road to reach the preserve. Wildlife photographers, the salt marsh provides ample habitat for wading shorebirds, and the early morning light hits this east-facing shoreline full-on. The gravel beach collects the usual assortment of shells, driftwood, and seaglass, rewarding the attentive beachcomber. Come in the middle of a warm summer day and you’ll find the beach full of sunbathing locals and tourists. That’s why I prefer early morning. The attached photo was taken during  the town’s 4th of July celebrations.

Fishing and Fireworks

Stovers Point Fireworks

 Harpswell Town Wharf and Potts Point

At the end of 123 is Potts Point, whose main photographic attractions are the town wharf and Dick’s Lobster, a small lobstering outfit at the end of the public road. These are both sunset locations, with beautiful views to the west. The is harbor dotted with lobster boats year round, and sailboats and pleasure cruisers in the summer. You can use the dock as a great leading line out to the water and hopefully a dramatic sunset. Dick’s looks great if you catch it on a foggy day or even at twilight, as the artificial sodium light above the doorway spotlights the wonderful little red shack and hopefully a few lobster traps.

Twilight at Dick's Lobster

Twilight at Dick’s Lobster

Dolphin Marina

This isn’t really a photo op, though the 270 degree views from this spot and the part-working harbor, part playground of rich summer folks may provide some interesting contrasts. This is where you should have dinner. Open April-November, Dolphin accepts reservations only for parties of six or more. The place is hopping in the summer season, but it’s worth the wait. Once you’re inside, go ahead and order the fish chowder, which comes with an  incredibly delicious blueberry muffin. Dolphin also offers local beer. One of the great advancements of the human race in the past decade has been the explosion of craft breweries. Maine is home to some of the best. I recommend Allagash White, a belgian-style wheat beer brewed in Portland.

In a few months we’ll be exploring the other side of Harpswell, the Rte. 24 locations around Cundy’s Harbor, Orr’s, and Bailey Islands.

Benjamin Williamson

 Benjamin Williamson Photography

What Is It About Snowy Owls?

Snowy Owl Arrival Causes Media Circus

Snowy Owl Traffic at Salisbury Beach

Traffic backs up as People scramble to get to see and photograph a Snowy Owl.

Last weekend a group of my fellow photographers and I were standing in the dunes at Salisbury Beach looking for Short Eared Owls, when we noticed a large commotion along the access road. There is only one thing that could have snarled traffic and had people frantically running from their cars like that. No, Elvis had not appeared, nor had the band One Direction’s bus broken down.

A Snowy Owl sits in the top of a pine tree.

A Snowy Owl sits in the top of a pine tree.

It was a Snowy Owl (Bubo Scandiacus) who had just landed in a tree alongside the road.

Why are We Fascinated With Snowy Owls?

So, what is it about a Snowy Owl that causes people and even wildlife photographers to act out of the norm? I’m referring to trespassing on private and federal lands, feeding mice to the owls to get them to fly, or just chasing them from perch to perch.

A Snowy Owl demonstrates its penetrating glare.

A Snowy Owl demonstrates its penetrating glare.

Well for starters, Snowy Owls are a rarity in our neck of the woods. Many New Englanders only reference to a Snowy Owl is through Harry Potter.

Typically this species will irrupt south every four to five years, yet today we find ourselves in the middle of the largest unanticipated irruption of Snowy Owls in some say over 50 years.

Snowy Owls are big, white, mystical birds with incredibly piercing yellow eyes.

Unlike most owl species, they are active during daylight hours (diurnal). This gives many more people an opportunity to see and or photograph them. And you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.

I truly believe that everyone who can, should make an effort to see one of these beautiful birds while they are here. However, I would like to offer some suggestions on how to make the most of your experience:

  • Do some research before you go to enhance the experience that much more.
  • If at all possible go mid-week. There must have been 50 cars following the Snowy down the road at Salisbury last Sunday.
  • When you do find a Snowy, observe him from a respectable distance. You are more apt to witness natural behavior such as hunting and feeding when they aren’t feeling pressured.

If you have a camera, don’t just stare through the viewfinder but take the time to just watch them. Take memories with your eyes. I watched several people literally run up to where a Snowy was perched in a tree with their point and shoot cameras or smart phones, snap several pictures then turn around and leave without ever spending a minute or two just observing the owl. Instead of a great memory, all they will have is a photo.

A couple of links for further research…
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Snowy owls cool facts
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Snowy owls more info and what they sound like.

Snowy Owl in the Dunes

A Snowy Owl sits undisturbed in the dunes at Salisbury MA.

Respect the Bird and Your Fellow Watchers

A Snowy Owl Yawns at the End of a Long Day

A Snowy Owl yawns at the end of a long day of hunting along the New Hampshire coastline.

Be respectful of other observers. It should go without saying, but again seeing this mystical bird can bring out bad behavior. I have watched on several occasions groups of people observing a Snowy from a respectable distance who had their experience cut short by an individual who insisted on getting closer and flushed the owl.

A Snowy Owl in Flight over the Dunes of Sailsbury MA Beach

A Snowy Owl takes flight over the dunes at Salisbury Beach.

All the Snowy Owls I have spent time photographing appear to be in great shape. They all have either been actively feeding, or have blood on their feathers and talons suggesting successful hunting. Once they have established a hunting area they will probably stay until late March or until the call of Mother Nature beckons them back to the arctic.

The Take Away

In closing, I hope you get the chance to see this magnificent bird. All I ask is that you are respectful to the bird, its environment, and your fellow observers. I hope to see you in the field!!!

~ John Vose

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Filter Play For A Cold Winter’s Day

Winter In New England

It’s been an interesting winter here in New England thus far. We’ve certainly seen an extreme range of temperatures, not to mention some “wicked” ice storms and a recent Nor’easter blizzard.

During this time of year, many of my fellow photographer friends love to grab their camera equipment and venture out to face the elements head on. I wish I could say that I was one of those adventurous photographers, but alas my thin blood and extremely low tolerance to the cold has me instead living vicariously through them.

While I’ve added many new “To Buy” items to my “Winter Photography Clothing Gear List,” in reality I spend most cold winter days indoors staying warm and exploring my creative side through a variety of post-production filters and techniques. I will touch on a few of my favorite post-production filters here today.

I Know I’m Not Alone…

I suspect I’m not the only photographer who tends to avoid the possibility of frozen fingers — and exposing my equipment to ice, snow, and sub-zero temps. So for those of you with simpatico minds — and I know there are more than just a few of us — this article might give you a few new ideas on how to reinvent an existing image, or perhaps take your post-production process in a new direction altogether.

So let’s get to some of those favorite post-production filters of mine…

Poster Edges

Photoshop comes equipped with several built-in filters. Poster Edges is one of them. You can easily access it from the Filter pull-down menu at the top of your screen. (Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges). The filter’s image adjustment sliders then let you alter such things as Edge Thickness, Edge Intensity, and Posterization to your preference for that image.

For this image, I took a macro shot of a coneflower. I then added a texture layer for a fine art effect. For a final step, I applied the Poster Edges filter to give the image a contemporary look.


Coneflower with texture layer and Poster Edges filter applied.

Oil Paint Filter

Another favorite Photoshop filter of mine is the Oil Paint Filter. This filter comes packaged with Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC. The Oil Paint effect also shipped as a free Pixel Bender Gallery plugin for Photoshop CS5.

Note: Variations of an oil paint effect are also available as third-party PS plugins from software makers such as Topaz Labs.


My beloved Mia. Pixel Bender Oil Paint Filter applied.

“Less Is More”

To what degree one applies the Oil Paint Filter to an image very much depends on personal taste. I’m a big proponent of “less is more” when it comes to using this filter. Being conservative with the adjustment sliders gives the image a far more realistic oil painting look in my opinion. However, there are no “rules” to creativity. Surrealism certainly has its place, so by all means feel free to experiment and turn reality into something as abstract as your imagination envisions.

Annisquam Lighthouse Oil Paint Filter

Annisquam Lighthouse with PS CC Oil Paint Filter applied.



Motif #1 with PS CC Oil Paint Filter applied.

Flaming Pear Flood Filter

I love the Flood Filter by Flaming Pear. You can use it to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, or to give added dimension to a visual story.

In this shot, I used it to add a dramatic — and somewhat surreal — effect to one of my HDR Battleship Cove images taken in Fall River, Massachusetts. The adjustment sliders for this filter give you great latitude for “flood placement” and water detail manipulation.


Battleship Cove Reflection with Flaming Pear Flood filter applied.

Topaz Star Effects

Who doesn’t like adding a little pizzazz to images that already feature an illuminated light? I certainly thought this sunrise shot of Maine’s Portland Head Light deserved such a treatment — and Topaz Star Effects made it possible. Again, I believe in the “less is more” approach. The “blue hour” of morning was beautiful in and of itself. Adding a subtle star effect to the beacon seemed like a nature fit to accentuate the beauty of the moment.


Portland Head Lighthouse at sunrise with Topaz Star Effects applied.

Experimental Fun!

So there you have it. Several examples of the different type of post-production filters you can play with on a cold winter’s day.

As you know, it’s only mid January. We still have a couple of months of this New England winter to go. Since we can’t change it, I say let’s embrace the opportunities it offers.

For some that means bundling up and dazzling the rest of us with spectacular winter images. For the rest of us, it means having fun — and staying warm — at our computers while we enjoy some post-production experimentation.


Macro image of a sunflower transformed into a kaleidoscope. PS CS5 Pixel Bender Oil Paint filter then selectively applied to the background.

However you choose to survive this winter’s cold weather, enjoy!

~ Liz Mackney

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Making the Best with Limited Gear

A lot of big photographers tell you that you don’t need a lot of gear to make great photos. Easy for them to say, with many of them sporting over $20,000 in photographic equipment. I’m here to tell you that you really can do a lot with very little, because that’s exactly what I’ve done.

For starters, let’s go through a rundown of what I have for gear:

  • Canon Rebel t2i – My one and only camera body.
  • Canon EFS 18-55mm lens with IS – This is the lens that came with my camera, also known as a ‘kit’ lens.
  • Manfrotto Tripod – I got this for $30 at Target. It had a really cool picture of kids skateboarding on it. Sold.
  • Rocketfish Circular Polarizer – $3o at the camera store.
  • Lens Cloth
  • Two 16GB Sandisk SDHC Memory Cards

… and that’s it.

My Work

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken with this setup:

One of the few HDR photos I've put together, the high dynamic range in this shot necessitated some trickery to capture the sunburst along with the dark foreground.  One of my personal favorite shots.

One of the few HDR photos I’ve put together, the high dynamic range in this shot necessitated some trickery to capture the sunburst along with the dark foreground. One of my personal favorite shots.

I was searching for compositions of the rocks and beach at Reid State Park when I came across this amazing piece of driftwood.  It was about  an hour before sunrise, so the low light created some great tones and what turned out to be the perfect mood for capturing its tangled mass.

I was searching for compositions of the rocks and beach at Reid State Park when I came across this amazing piece of driftwood. It was about an hour before sunrise, so the low light created some great tones and what turned out to be the perfect mood for capturing its tangled mass.

A misty autumn morning provided the perfect light for capturing these boats tied up to the docks at the Bowdoinham Town Landing.

A misty autumn morning provided the perfect light for capturing these boats tied up to the docks at the Bowdoinham Town Landing.

The combination of high waves and a dramatic sunrise provided the perfect conditions for photographing Nubble Light at Cape Neddick, Maine.

The combination of high waves and a dramatic sunrise provided the perfect conditions for photographing Nubble Light at Cape Neddick, Maine.

The Importance of Post Processing

While I haven’t invested a lot in equipment, I have spent some serious time learning how to edit photos. I purchased Adobe Lightroom 3 about a year ago and immediately saw a huge improvement in my photos. Some people scoff at photographers who edit their photos, preferring to take photos as they come straight out of the camera. I’m not going to say that they are wrong, but you are limiting your artistic and creative expressions immensely by doing so.


Here’s a very short list of techniques I’ve used to make images:

1. Long exposures – You don’t need expensive ND filters to take long exposures. Yes, they make it easy to do long exposures in bright light situations. How do you get around that? Shoot in low-light. I prefer shooting at the end of the day for the best light anyway, and when the light is low, you are more likely to lengthen your shutter speeds, especially if you are shooting at small f/stops for maximum depth of field in your landscape photos. The real imperative here is a tripod. Gotta have it.

2. Following the Weather – One of my biggest obsessions, since I was a kid, is following the weather. I can’t tell you how much that has helped me with landscape photography. Planning your shots around the weather is an essential for getting the images you want. Yes, there is a lot of chance and luck involved with ole’ Mother Nature, but the rewards of keeping an eye to the sky can’t be overstated.

3. Taking Lots of Photos – This is obvious. Do it because you love doing it.

4. Be Very Still – Though my tripod is incredibly light and flimsy, I shoot about 90% of my images using it. For sharp images, I set a 2- or 10-second self-timer for the shutter release, as well as use the mirror lock-up feature. Setting the timer allows any shaking from pressing down the shutter to settle down. If it’s windy, I’ll stand trying to block the wind using as much of my scrawny body as I can.

The point of this posting is to encourage folks who feel limited by their lack of expensive gear. I feel limited every day, but by putting my mind to it, I can be very productive and even creative using what I have. If your goal is to enjoy photography as a hobby, go do it!  Don’t let what you don’t have stand in your way. There will always be something you don’t have.

~ Ben Williamson

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