Meeting Photo Challenges
Creative Image Processing
Nature & Outdoor
Creating Better Photographics
Night & Low Light Photography
Light & Exposure
Close-Up & Macro
Digital Black & White
Color & Design
Choosing & Using Lenses
Digital Photography Equipment
Greg Hartford’s Acadia Magic: A Maine Native’s Guide To Capturing Its Wild Coast The rocky coast of Maine is a photographer’s paradise and landscape photographer Greg Hartford ought to know—he’s been shooting there almost his entire life. Hartford, who grew up in a small central Maine town, has been visiting the coast and, more specifically, Acadia National Park, since making family trips there as a young kid. “I suppose that as a result of that type or visual orientation early in my life this became my expectation of what a landscape should be like,” he says. He has remained so addicted to the Maine landscape, in fact, that even when he was living and working for a time in Florida he would fly back home for the weekend “just to explore and photograph.”
Part of what attracts Hartford to Maine’s wild coast is its wildness and its geographical history. “Thousands of years ago there were gigantic continental glaciers moving over this land in a southeasterly direction, as much as 2 miles high in some places,” he says. “They gouged out lakes and sheared off tops of mountains. Throughout the Acadia region, you can still see evidence of this scraping action (#1) on the granite shoreline and the rounded mountaintops (#2).”
Another source of passion for shooting landscapes is his desire to help reconnect people to nature. His landscapes often include manmade structures like Maine’s famous lighthouses (#3). “Mankind has too often become separated from nature. A beautiful landscape image has the power to draw us into the moment in such a way that we feel less separated. It has a calming effect. In some respects, it is like a lighthouse showing a lost mariner his way,” he says.
Although he has shot in many parts of the state, today Hartford devotes most of his time to documenting the wild beauty of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. He also founded a travel website called Acadia Magic (www.acadiamagic.com) designed to help travelers plan their trips Down East.
The area, he says, is known for unpredictable weather changes and often they lead to unexpected opportunities, such as the shot of the surf crashing to shore at the Otter Cliff area in Acadia National Park (#4, http://www.acadiamagic.com/OtterCliff.html). “I am constantly watching the clouds, wind and listening to weather reports, to better my chances of success.”
As the weather changes, so do the other landscape elements like quality of light, the clouds and the tide level. “All of these combine to tell me that I should try one place as opposed to another,” he says. Part of the beauty of working in Acadia, he says, is the availability of so many road and hiking trails. Acadia National Park has a 57-mile network of carriage roads (#5) and 125 miles of hiking trails. This provides huge opportunities to discover photographic locations within the interior of the park, though even then he often finds himself hiking off road to access more remote areas.
One of the nice things about shooting on Mount Desert Island, he says, is that there are also several good high vantage points that lead to unusual views. The expansive view looking out at the Atlantic (#6), for example, was shot from the top of 525 ft Gorham Mountain in the National Park. Getting to the vantage point he says is a bit of a hike carrying some heavy equipment. It’s about a mile from the parking area off from the Park Loop Road to the top of the hill. The shot is the result of 3 separate exposures taken with slightly different exposure times, then combined using the HDR process. He captured the scene using a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm 1:4 L IS USM at 28mm, with exposures of 1/20 sec, 1/6 sec, .7 sec at f/19, ISO 200. The shot of the cruise ship coming into Bar Harbor was taken (#7) from Cadillac Mountain within the park as well.
Lens Choices And Depth Of Field
To emphasize depth of field, Hartford says he sets his exposures giving priority to a small aperture. “With the 24-105mm 1:4, I will usually use f/16-f/22,” he says. In the photo (#8) shot on the of Schoodic Peninsula in the park, for example, Hartford used his wide angle zoom at 24mm and used a small aperture of f/16 to maximize the depth of field. Also, because he frequently creates images using multi-shot HDR (High Dynamic Range) techniques, he prefers working in the Aperture Priority exposure mode so that the focus and depth of field are not changing from frame-to-frame.
Not all of his landscapes, however, are shot with such wide lenses. Longer focal lengths are a good alternative when shooting certain types of landscapes, he says, because they allow you to reach into the distance and compress visual elements together—a technique he used in capturing the view from the public pier in Bar Harbor at sunrise (#9).
Time Of Day
The downside of shooting sunrise in Maine, he says, is that because it’s so far north and east you really have to be an early riser—or just stay up late the night before. “If you look at a map of the eastern portion of the United States, you will see that Maine juts out all by itself to the east,” he says. “What this means is that the sunrise happens earlier than the rest of the eastern seaboard. During mid-June, sunrise is at 4:46 a.m. in Bar Harbor.”
Hartford shot the sunrise scene (#10) of the east coast of Mount Desert Island in an area known as the Seawall at the relatively lazy hour of 6 a.m. The shot was made with his Canon 5D Mark II using a Canon EF 24-105mm 1:4 L IS USM at 24mm; the exposure was 1/4 second at f/22 at ISO 100. “I had tried a few other combinations but this one seemed to work well for the wave motion while having enough depth of field to show the foreground and the sun and the island in the distance,” he says.
One interesting aspect of shooting at sunrise in Acadia, he says, is that the combination of wet pink granite being bathed in the warm reddish glow of the rising sun creates bold color that you don’t see in other places (#11). “The effect can appear almost surreal or electric in that golden hour,” says Hartford. “I have had discussions with people who said those colors did not exist. I asked them if they ever took pictures an hour before sunrise. They said they had not. When they finally had, they were quite surprised with the results.”
When shooting sunrises or sunsets, Hartford suggests not using auto white balance; otherwise the natural colorcast that happens in those golden times will be washed away. The results, he says, will not be as you remembered the scene. Instead, he advises using the bright sunlight setting or—if much of the scene is in shadow—using cloudy or shadow white balance. Shooting in Raw, he adds, allows you the option to make color temperature adjustments in post processing.
Another of the advantages of shooting on Mount Desert Island is that, generally speaking, the east coast is great for sunrises and the west coast is great for sunsets—so it’s easy to plan your shooting day. It’s only a short drive from one side of the island to the other. Interestingly, he says, some of the higher places like Cadillac Mountain (#12) offer intensely colored lighting at both sunrise and sunset.
Hartford says his second choice for time of day would be in the afternoon golden hour. “It does not have the advantage of a lot less wind and people,” he says, “but the colors are very nice.” The shot of Sand Beach (#13) was shot just after 6 p.m. on an August afternoon. The picture was shot with a Canon 5D, Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM set at 35mm and exposed at 1/13 sec f/22, ISO 100. The twilight shot (#14) was made even later in day, under an overcast sky using an exposure of several seconds.
One of the big difficulties you’ll encounter when trying to capture a landscape enshrouded with fog, he says, is getting a correct exposure. “The camera meter interprets the scene as being too bright or white,” he says. “The result is that the metering system often will decrease the aperture opening, increase the shutter speed, or both in order to darken the image to approximately equal the 18 percent gray.” The simplest solution is to use exposure compensation to give the scene an additional stop or so of exposure. Another option is to take a reading from a hand-held ambient light meter and then set the exposure using the Manual exposure mode.
In setting exposure for a fog scene, says Hartford, it’s important to continually consult the histogram. “If the dark area of the histogram is slammed against the right vertical side, it means that the image is over-exposed and the amount of light hitting the sensor needs to be decreased,” he explains. “If the dark area of the histogram is against the left vertical side, it means that the image is too dark and needs to exposed more either by opening the aperture, decreasing the shutter speed or a combination of both.”
In the shot of the tall pine trees (#17) at sunset the camera meter would have concluded that more light had to be allowed in to offset the dark trees. But this would have decreased the silhouette effect and caused much of the sky around the sun to become washed out. The solution is to override the automatic feature within the camera. This may be accomplished a few different ways. One is by adjusting the Exposure Compensation. Another is by setting the camera on Manual mode and making adjustments. Another is to take a reading from the sky to the left or right of the sun, without letting the full power of the sunlight hit the central part of the sensor. Otherwise, the camera light meter will go in the opposite direction and conclude that there is way too much light. It would then close the aperture down; increase the shutter speed or both.
Similarly, in the shot of the fishing shacks and wharf (#18) the light reflecting off the water would have caused an exposure problem and screamed for the camera to let in less light. As the waves moved, the light that was reflected would dance around, increasing and decreasing, playing havoc with the exposure. Using Manual mode was the way to go while continually checking the histogram.”
In His Blood
To order back issues (Volumes 3,5,6,7,9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20)
Hone your skills with fast-paced tutorials and easy-to-follow tips from the archives of PHOTOgraphic and eDigitalPhoto magazines.