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Cape Cod and Nantucket have been home to the fishing and whaling fleets of New England since the first colonials arrived on the shores of New England. Note: At the bottom of this article is a slide show of Cape Code lighthouses.
Why We Have Lighthouses
From the first arriving sea captains of the largest to smallest vessels, each of them learned that the coastline of this new world was a perilous one with submerged rocky ledges and many small islands to map out and learn to avoid.
You can see from this 1700s chart, it wasn’t very detailed and many sea captains found themselves on the rocks. It wasn’t long before the people started calling for lighthouses to aid in navigation and avoidance of the more treacherous land masses.
The Cape and islands have many lighthouses. I will admit that the Cape alone has 15 lighthouses and I’ve only photographed five of them. I’m going to walk you around to each of the five I’ve caught and give some suggested routes to them.
Chatham Lighthouse is in the SE corner of the Cape. If you are taking the southern scenic route (Route 28) then when you hit Chatham just go a little farther until your tires get wet and head down Main Street which runs along the water.
See the map below to get a good fix on it. I would shoot this one in the early morning light so you can have the dawning light on it and be there early enough so you don’t have to worry about parking spots. This shot was taken at noon in June.
Now from Chatham you will travel north to Route 6 or Route 28 (your choice depending on traffic). You have many choices of routes. Clicking on this Map will give you a PDF map of one route between Chatham and Nauset Lighthouse.
Nauset Light is a beautiful light and one that is fun to explore. My first morning there, I walked around it from many angles in a light fog. I love to get there just before dawn. The light is a red/white beacon and I caught it both ways but I prefer the red light.
Like many of the Cape Cod lighthouses, Nauset has been moved back from the eroding cliffs and now sits back from the edge quite a ways — although not nearly as far as the Three Sisters (which comes up next).
Nauset is well maintained as far as the paint job of red and white, but it is also private property so be careful as to your approach.
There are some stairs up from the road to approach the lighthouse but as long as you are respectful of the property I think you’ll be ok walking around the base.
Just head away from the beach on Cable Road and you will find the Three Sisters.
The Three Sisters
During the tourist season you should stay parked in the parking lot and walk to the Three Sisters up Cable Rd. In the early spring or late fall, however, you can usually pull off the road and walk into the Sisters.
They stretch off and are set up the way they were when they were first set up in the 1830s. I usually just photograph the two lighthouses since it’s hard to photograph all three. If you figure out how to get a shot of all three let me know…
I prefer the afternoon but you might get the sun coming through the trees at dawn which is nice (as seen here).
Highland Lighthouse (Cape Cod Light)
Back on Route 6 you will continue to drive north until you come to Highland Rd.
Here you turn east and follow the signs. The Cape Cod Light (official name) is the oldest and Thoreau once wrote that he read that “after almost every storm one or more vessels were wrecked there and sometimes a dozen could be seen from this point.”
I again prefer morning for the Highland Lighthouse but you should try the afternoon. (Seen above, 3PM in the spring) I never saw a view to get the ocean and the lighthouse together so morning and the late afternoon sun looks nice on the lighthouse.
Well now we’re going all the way back to the Southwest corner of the Cape. Just pick a route (either 6 or 28) to travel on and make your way down to Falmouth and then Woods Hole.
Depending on your route in, find your way to Woods Hole Rd. and then look for Church St. Be careful as it isn’t well marked.
Church St. turns into Nobska Rd. with no markings but when you get there, you won’t have any trouble finding the Lighthouse.
I shot it in the early afternoon (2:49PM) and then after dinner we came back and I shot it from the far side.
My wife didn’t like sitting in the car in the parking lot as fishermen started arriving and made her nervous. This light isn’t well suited to nighttime star shots as the lighthouse is lit up on the west side, but I did the best I could.
~ Jeff Folger
The Less Obvious Landscape
It has occurred to me lately when photographing landscapes that there is quite often more to any given scene than meets the eye. I don’t mean more, as in different ways to compose an image of the same subject, I mean more to the scene that you’re just not looking at, or that you’re just not seeing. More that may not even include the subject you originally came to photograph.
One Track Minds
We as photographers tend be so focused on the subject we originally came to photograph, that we miss a lot of great photographic potential whenever we venture out with a specific goal in mind.
The above image is a perfect example. I had made a trip to Odiorne Point in Rye, NH, in hopes of capturing a nice sunrise. The weather forecast was for partly cloudy skies, so I was hoping for a morning sky filled with clouds reflecting the warm light of the rising sun. As it turned out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which for me at least, makes for a rather boring sunrise.
Since the sunrise was going to be considerably less dramatic than I had hoped, with no clouds being lit from below by the rising sun, rather than give up and go home empty handed, I started looking around to see what the sun was lighting up.
As soon as I turned away from the rising sun, I saw my photograph. The beautiful warm light on the rough granite, the wonderful textures and shadows, along with a nice little reflection in a small tide pool, all came together in this image. An image that saved the morning from being a total loss. All I needed to do was see it.
The incident that really drove home the need to really observe a scene to see what photographic potential was there waiting to be captured, happened about a week ago.
While out photographing swirling leaves on a local stream, using long exposures to capture images like this one below, I was so caught up in what I was doing that I was completely oblivious to anything else.
That included the fact that the full moon was rising in near perfect alignment with the course of the stream, and its light was reflecting very nicely on the surface of the water.
As it was getting too dark to safely navigate the stream side rocks, I started to pack up my camera and tripod and make my way back to the road. It wasn’t until I was mid leap across the stream that I happened to glance down-stream, toward the rising moon. What I saw stopped me in my tracks and had me scrambling to set up my camera again.
The next time you set out to photograph a specific location or subject, take a moment to really look around.
Even if the weather and the light is absolutely perfect, enabling you to make the photograph you’d hoped for, there is often much more to the scene to capture in a photograph.
~ Jeff Sinon
You can find more of Jeff’s work, and purchase prints at, Jeff Sinon Photography.
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When I view the wonderful landscape images taken by my fellow NEPG photographers, I am constantly amazed. Even though the location is familiar to me, I often don’t “see” it as they have captured it. Reading through the comments on the NEPG Facebook page, I realize that is the case for many of our fans as well.
So, how do we go about “seeing the shot”? Each one of us brings our own life experiences into every image we make. How we chose to present that is what makes an image unique.
Landscape photography, according to iconic photographer Ansel Adams, was “knowing where to stand.” It’s all about finding a perspective and composition which brings the image to life. Some photographers are blessed with the ability to see the composition immediately. Others like myself, struggle to find it. I have stood right next to great photographers who were gushing about the image they were composing that I just didn’t see.
As a wildlife photographer, my eye has been trained to focus on a specific target, like a hawk or a fox, and build the image around that subject, often times using a wide open aperture to blur everything but the subject (bokeh).
With landscapes, such as grand vistas, I have difficulty seeing the composition beyond the obvious. When that happens, I use a simple tool such as a 5 x 7 photo mat, to help me “frame” the image in a pleasing manner.
But that is about to change. Tom Schoeller was recounting a discussion he had early in his career, with an accomplished landscape photographer, who, when asked about why he (Tom) wasn’t seeing all these great scenes, asked him pointedly “Are you looking?”. Tom said that question caught him off guard, and haunted him for a week before he realized what he meant. It only haunted me for a few nights before I realized that I really haven’t been looking. It’s not something that I can change over night. I still break out in a sweat when facing a vast scenic vista, but Tom has shown me the importance of searching for interesting shapes, textures, patterns, or lines that may help lead to an interesting overall composition, in other words, how to look.
Every foliage scene, every beautiful sunrise, every stunning sunset is a gift. When we truly look at a scene through the lens of our life experiences, the perspective and composition that unfolds is the one that pleases the most important person, you.
~ John Vose
I’ve been all over most of Maine, from the Allagash at Fort Kent, to Katahdin and Bar Harbor, but I couldn’t tell you much more about the coast of Maine below Mt. Desert Island than that there’s a fabulous campground called Hermit Island I discovered on a memorable camping trip with my family when I was fourteen. Some day, I’ll have to find my way back to that childhood memory with its secluded sandy coves and windswept headlands where my dad and I grilled the flounder we caught over a campfire and I searched in vain for starfish. As a kid from Ohio, I didn’t know starfish don’t inhabit sandy beaches.
Like fried eggs, Maine seems to sort people into two schools, those that like their shores hard and those who like them soft. The latter gravitate to destinations southwest of Ellsworth to where the coast is covered by sand or silt owing to greater deposits of sedimentary rock along the southern Gulf of Maine that more easily erodes into beaches and mudflats and provides the substrate for extensive saltwater marshes. The rest of us prefer our coasts hard and rocky. We head to points northeast (or, “Downeast” as the old salts say) to where the granite and metamorphic geology resists erosion and there’s no cushy segue from land to sea. The Bold Coast of Maine. I also come here because by my admittedly rough estimate 90% of all tourists belong to the former school and they, along with the infrastructure they count on – the usual claptrap of boutiques and gift shops and the like disappear almost entirely as one heads Downeast of Ellsworth.
Any fourth grader (though, for a boy from Ohio, it took a Master’s Degree in Marine Zoology) growing up on the coast of Maine can tell you that the rocky intertidal is where to look for starfish and anemones and mussels and crabs and a host of marine life easily visible at low tide. Animals living on sandy beaches and mudflats tend to live in the sand and mud, not on it. Photographically, the rocky intertidal is much more productive.
At low tide, a pair of well-soled shoes is all you need to see critters that, otherwise, require SCUBA gear to find. With a hand-held camera equipped with one or two strobes, and a macro lens during a full-moon spring tide, I’m as happy as…a clam wandering from tide pool to tide pool framing some of the most exotic animals that have ever evolved on Earth. What’s more, every high tide brings the promise of new discoveries and novel photos as the ocean delivers a fresh collection of marine life that temporarily gets trapped in the pools at ebb tide. An ever-changing tableau of photo opportunities and you don’t even have to leave the spot!
Seals and nesting seabirds also prefer rocky shores to haul out and establish rookeries. From Andy’s boat (see my previous post of the bold coast), one can get calendar shots of guillemots and terns and razorbills, gray and harbor seals as he cruises along the headwalls and granite islands outside of Cutler Harbor. Again, leave your tripod in the car and simply bring a body and an IS or VR lens in the 200 – 400mm range. Andy will do the rest to get you eyeball to eyeball with a seal.
I’ve sat on the rocky intertidal at Schoodic Point with my wife, Cheryl, our dogs, Charley and Bela, a picnic basket, and my camera gear watching the sun set over the ocean and enjoying some fruit and crackers and cheese while reviewing on my laptop dozens of photos of marine life I’ve taken that day. It’s the fourth of July and we’re the only humans in sight. Try that at Old Orchard Beach.
May the Light Be With You,
Celebration and Requiem for the Great Oaks
As a New England landscape photographer much of what I do is inescapably tied to trees. They are almost always a key part of my images. They are invariably either the subject, the framing of the subject or getting in the way of the intended subject. This week I was reminded of both the strength and the vulnerability of trees.
This is a story of two oaks, both ancient and stately. One continues to push the limits of age and grandeur and the other has sadly lost its battle with the random forces of nature.
Friedsam’s Champion Giant Red Oak
The Friedsam Forest is managed by the Chesterfield Conservation Commission and some years ago we cut a new trail which passed two giant red oaks. Not surprisingly the trail is called the Ancient Oak Trail. The trees once stood at the edge of a pasture, but now are surrounded by new growth. Based on size and core samples we estimated that the larger of the Oaks is over 300 years old. We guessed that the great Oak could be a champion, but until last week we had never submitted the tree for an official evaluation. On a recent Saturday, Paul Galloway from the New Hampshire Big Tree Program came down from Walpole to do an official measurement.
The official size of a tree is based on a formula which includes girth, height and the size of the canopy. We discovered that our tree was just about 100 feet high and 16.5 feet in circumference. We were thrilled to hear that, once the calculations were completed, our red Oak would likely be the biggest in the county or at least tied for the honor. More importantly, Paul was impressed with the health of our tree and he confirmed our estimate that the Oak was at least 300 years old.
It is amazing to think that our Oak was already a mature tree when Moses Smith established the first settlement in Chesterfield in late 1761. It has thrived through centuries of bitter cold winters, droughts, and the incursions of settlers. It has witness the entire expanse of United States history and looks back to a time when the land was more spiritually understood by native Americans. Happily our Oak appears to have been prized, by many generations, for its strength and certainly its shade as it eventually guarded the edge of a carefully cleared pasture.
It is exciting to have a champion tree in our forest, but its real value is as a symbol of the enduring strength of our forests and of the importance of preserving them. Our great Red Oak provides hope and a promise that generations to come will continue to be able play and refresh under the soft protection of our trees.
Alyson’s Great White Oak
For years one of my favorite classic trees was the stately giant White Oak enthroned on the height of land at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire. This tree was unique not only because of its size and age, it was estimated to be over 200 years old, but also because it stood alone against the skyline with the mountains of Vermont laid out before it across the Connecticut River.
The tree had been a comfortable resting place for folks who came to pick apples and to ride the swing suspended from one of its massive limbs. For me, it was a great place to meditate and of course to photograph. The sunsets across the Vermont mountains were spectacular especially with the great Oak standing solidly against the soft ethereal beauty of the crimson sky. The tree’s proudly defiant stance atop the high ridge made it a wonderful photographic subject in all seasons, but it also made it especially vulnerable to the vagaries of nature.
About three years ago, the tree was struck and severely damaged by lightning. Attempts were made to preserve the shattered remains. Last winter I went to the hilltop at Alyson’s to look for Comet PanSTARRS . I found it, but my favorite image from that night was of the battered remains of the Great Oak as it appeared to beseech the universe for deliverance. Tragically the prayer was not answered and this summer the remaining branches had to be trimmed. Now only a sad pillar remains on the hillside from which the tree once commanded such a prominent viewpoint.
This magnificent tree’s fate highlights the uniqueness and fragility of ancient trees which, over the centuries, have repeatedly been exposed to potential destruction. It makes champions like Chesterfield’s Great Oak even more precious and worthy of careful preservation.
For more Photos of the great Oaks, check out my companion Album on my
Getting it Right in the Digital Camera Blog.
~ Jeffrey Newcomer