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Sunrise at the Portland Lighthouse Sunrise at the Portland Lighthouse
 

While it is painful to get up early enough to photograph the sunrise in early summer (4:20 AM in this case), early summer is the right time of the year to photograph the Portland Lighthouse and the distant Ram Island Lighthouse from this angle with the sun in the frame.
 
With the middle daughter accompanying me, I arrived at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, ME just before sunrise. I selected one specific composition to concentrate on during the prime shooting minutes, timed the rotating lighthouse light, bracketed exposures and, when capturing the foreground rocks being hit with the first light rays of the day, adjusted focus to a closer distance.
 
This image is composed primarily of three source images run through a complicated manual HDR process with manual focus-stacking. After the big effort made to capture this image (a long drive in addition to the early alarm), I was anxious to see how this photo turned out. It was the first-processed from my recent photo trip to Maine. I'm happy with the result – it was definitely worth my effort.
 
I'm also very happy with the 5Ds R and 16-35 f/4L IS combination. I can say that they "rock".


 
16mm  f/11.0  1/13s  ISO 100
Common Loon Common Loon
 

Don't like shooting in the extreme heat and humidity of summer? Be like the birds – migrate! For most of us northern hemisphere residents, the preferred direction is north.
 
I was recently privileged to do just that, spending a week 26 miles from the grid in the North Maine Woods, just below the Canadian border. The temperature here in late July was very pleasant during my entire stay.
 
The North Maine Woods are sometimes referred to as the "Silent Woods" by my family, referencing specifically the lack of crickets, cicadas, katydids, etc. making the loud night music we are accustomed to at home. But that declaration is not completely true. Along with some frogs, the clear, eerie call of the loon is a common night sound heard around the silent, pristine northern Maine lakes. It is a sound that I love to hear and a photo of that audio source brings back great memories.
 
I have photos of common loons, but ... none that stood out to me. I have wanted change that problem on this trip and to do so, I spent just over hour early each of four mornings attempting to photograph these beautiful birds.
 
My craft was a canoe. Being solo in the canoe with light and changing winds added to the challenge of positioning for the photos. Getting close enough for adequate frame filling while positioning between the loons and the sun all while not concerning the not-too-tame birds was not easy. A light wind being able to rapidly turn the canoe was definitely not helpful.
 
My case was a Pelican. As it is only fitting to use a case named after a bird while photographing birds, I stored the camera and lenses in a "Pelican" 1510 while in transit between shore and actively photographing the birds. While the Pelican case lacks official approval as a PFD, it floats very nicely in the event of a worst case scenario. There was no worry about water from the paddle dripping on it and no worry about water on the floor of the boat reaching the gear.
 
The Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II was my Lens choice for these outings. While a 600mm lens would have been more ideal from a focal length perspective (due to the distance that the loons were comfortable with), it would not have been easy to handle this lens in the canoe, especially when alternating between paddling and photographing. The 1.4x behind the 100-400 L II would have also been helpful, but ... that option was not available to me.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R was my camera choice. Having the tremendous resolution of the 5Ds R allowed me to crop deep into the frame with significant pixel dimension remaining. At least 24 megapixels remained in most final images and some required no cropping for a frame-filling loon. Framing loosely had some advantages. For one, the loons were seldom still. And, by sticking one leg straight out the side, loons can change directions 180° almost instantly. That is much faster than I could change the canoe's direction and faster than I could change an AF point to the opposite side. With the center AF point locked on the bird's head, I was ready for any direction change with the bird (often) remaining (relatively) easy to keep entirely in the frame with only slight recomposition needed.
 
While I cropped the loons rather tightly in most images, being able to go back to the RAW file means that I can open images up if/when more space is needed around the birds such as for titles and text. The background, primarily reflections of the forest with some sky, are beautiful in their own right and in this photo, I especially liked the reflected colors of the forest being hit with early morning light. The white birch tree reflection is another key location identifier to me.
 
Photo trips such as this one provide extremely educational firsthand experience. One of my take-aways from this loon photography experience is that loons blink a LOT after surfacing into bright sunlight. Once I noticed that behavior, I was careful to time the shutter release with an open eye (and utilized burst mode more frequently).
 
Crossing this photo off of my bucket list was not a small effort (some might say that I went "loony"), but the pile of keeper-grade loon images I brought home was a bit daunting to sort through. Selecting the one to share with you first was an even bigger challenge. Being in a far north latitude meant that this effort was "no sweat."


 
400mm  f/6.3  1/500s  ISO 800
Rocky Brook Falls, North Maine Woods Rocky Brook Falls, North Maine Woods
 

Welcome to the seen-by-few Rocky Brook Falls in the T15-R9 area of Northern Maine.
 
I frequently drag the family along to the places I shoot. These trips are always a great experience for them - but not always a "happy" experience, if you know what I'm saying.
 
Rocky Brook Falls is beautiful and is a very fun place to play in the water (at normal summer water levels). There are deep pot holes and a variety of water depths and current speeds in which to enjoy the clear water (note that care must be taken to insure safety here).
 
Coming up against the enjoyment part is the water temperature which varies between cold and really cold. Cold water means warm air and direct sunlight are needed for the "happy" part to happen. And I do make the effort to keep "happy" around as life is more pleasurable for all when "happy" is with us.
 
Rocky Brook Falls are located in the middle of the forest approximately 16 miles from anything (including electricity and paved roads). Direct sunlight happens in the middle of the day - the "happy" time for the girls.
 
You are of course right in thinking that direct sunlight is not the ideal time to be photographing the falls from a landscape perspective. For the photography goal to be achieved, early-mid-morning and late-afternoon-through-nearly-dark are the best times to shoot this location. Cloudy days will also work well, but these are harder to schedule.
 
The plan for this clear day was to take the family to play at the falls during the direct sun and warmth of early afternoon. This time provided great scouting info for me and the girls had the great time we all wanted them to have. I then brought the girls back to camp (over an hour away including the round trip hiking and logging road driving) and returned alone for the late day shoot.
 
I packed about 50 lbs of gear in with me, but primarily used 5 wide angle lenses on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. I'll share more examples from this shoot, but this sample image came from the new-at-this-time Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens. I'm really liking this compact lens and its also-new sibling, the Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens.
 
This photo was basically out-of-the-camera with the exception of a custom white balance for which I clicked on the white water just below one of the brightest locations in the frame. The Standard Picture Style with a sharpness of "2" was used (I shoot "Neutral" in-camera for a better histogram). Long exposure noise reduction was used in-camera.
 
A clear sky was ideal for using a manual exposure setting which I adjusted slowly as the sun set. To get the ideal exposure, I allowed a very small area of the very brightest water to go pure white - blinking on the LCD during image review.
 
A B+W MRC Circular Polarizer Filter, by far my most frequently used effects filter, was used to cut the reflections including those on the surface of the water. The filter also reduces the light reaching the sensor which allowed a longer exposure - creating more motion-showing blur in the water.
 
Interesting is that the amount of water coming over the falls fluctuates with some significance. This is normal for waterfalls in general, but more visible in smaller falls such as this one. No two pictures look exactly the same even when taken in quick succession without moving the camera. When I dialed in a composition that I liked, I would take a number of shots to gain some natural variation.
 
By moving in close (just outside of the strongest mist), this composition emphasizes the closest/largest area of the falls with smaller falls diminishing through the frame. I composed to reduce the details intersecting frame borders including no rocks intersecting the bottom of the frame.
 
I could have spent days creating new compositions in this place.


 
28mm  f/8.0  2.5s  ISO 100
Portland Lighthouse at Sunset Portland Lighthouse at Sunset
 

The setting sun lit up storm clouds to the north in a great display of color on this evening. A telephoto zoom lens provides a wide range of composition options for many landscape scenes. With the 70-300 L mounted, I was able to quickly capture this great view in a wide variety of shots. My favorites filled the frame with the great cloud color.


 
135mm  f/8.0  1/20s  ISO 100
Up Close with the Deboullie Mountain Rockslide Up Close with the Deboullie Mountain Rockslide
 

I find rockslides photographically entertaining and the lichen-covered granite rocks found on the south side base of Deboullie Mountain (Deboullie Public Reserved Land, North Maine Woods, T15, R9, Maine) make this rockslide especially so.
 
The composition of this image was not very complicated. I zoomed out to 10mm and moved in close to a set of rocks with one having a particularly strong amount of lichen growing on it. I chose the camera elevation to keep the top point of that most-prominent rock within the water background, avoiding additional line intersections and adding to the horizontal layers effect in the upper portion of the frame. I then adjusted the camera distance to fully frame the closest rocks and avoid strong lines of contrast leaving the frame.
 
Since the sky was clear and blue in color, I didn't need a lot in it in the frame for this particular image. I chose to keep enough sky to yield a clean top border and to add a full layer of blue color over and contrasting with the distant evergreens.
 
This photo was captured handheld. I used the in-viewfinder electronic level to keep the image properly leveled and captured two frames. One frame was focused closer than the other and the two were manually focus stacked during post processing. Alternatively, a narrower aperture could have been used, but with the clean separation of foreground and background, I chose to use a sharper aperture (f/8 shows less diffraction softening than f/11 or f/16) and the focus stacking technique.
 
This capture was timed with early evening, resulting in the best possible light quality just prior to the rocks went into full shade. While I frequently use a circular polarizer filter when photographing landscapes, I chose not to in this case. Because the sun was at a relatively low angle to my side and because I was using a wide angle focal length, the sky would have showed strong uneven darkening if this filter was used.
 
A Canon EOS Rebel camera and EF-S 10-18mm IS STM Lens make a great lightweight combination for hiking.


 
10mm  f/8.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Loon and Chicks Swimming in Liquid Gold Loon and Chicks Swimming in Liquid Gold
 

The titles "How to Turn Water into Gold" and "On Golden Pond" seemed also appropriate for this image. Regardless, gold was the theme here.

During my stay at Red River Camps in northern Maine this past summer, a pair of loons were raising their chicks on Island Pond. Especially unusual was that the chicks were very small for the mid-August timeframe. The loon's first nest had been attacked by a predator and the adult pair started over. With winter arriving early here, there was concern that the chicks would not be able to fly in time for migration and biologists were monitoring their progress. But, having small chicks available was a bonus from a photography perspective.

Hanging with these loons required a watercraft and a small canoe was my best option. A light wind made keeping the canoe properly positioned a big challenge and probably more time was spent paddling than photographing. The sun was setting and maintaining a position between the sun and the loons was the goal.

The adults were constantly diving for food and moving around the lake while doing so, but fortunately, they were in the area of the lake receiving the latest direct light when the sun went behind the trees. The color difference between shade light and a late day sun light is dramatic with shade light typically being very cool and direct setting sun light being very warm. As the sun went down, the water became shaded before the shoreline and shaded water usually shows reflections very well.

The photograph shared here was only lightly processed. The primary edit was selecting a custom white balance point using a patch of the adult loon's solid white feathers as the basis. Those feathers were in the shade and the result was a color temperature setting of 10500 K being established. At this setting, the reflected sunlit background becomes very golden and a slight saturation increase (+18 on a -100 to 100 scale in Lightroom) finishes off the liquid gold.

Be looking for opportunities to use the light color mismatch of sun and shade to your creative advantage when out photographing. The subject in the shade, background in the sun option as shared here often works well, but the opposite can also work, creating a blue-toned background with a properly white-balanced subject.

For those with Nikon-based kits, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E AF-S VR Lens is a great option for handheld wildlife photography. The D850 is my current Nikon camera of choice for this purpose.


 
330mm  f/5.6  1/640s  ISO 1000
Milky Way and Perseid Meteor, Island Pond, T15-R9, Maine Milky Way and Perseid Meteor, Island Pond, T15-R9, Maine
 

Welcome to Island Pond, located by Red River Camps in Deboullie Public Reserved Land of T15-R9 in the North Maine Woods. That this location is a nearly 1-hour drive from the grid and paved roads should help set the scene. Along with natural beauty, what you get here is a dark sky and at this time in August, a beautiful view of the Milky Way and the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.

Aside from the effort required to get to this location, this was a very easy image to create.
 

  • Mount the camera and lens on a solid tripod
  • Manually focus the lens on a bright star using fully-magnified live view
  • Adjust the composition as desired with the camera leveled for roll
  • Dial in a manual exposure of f/1.8 (use your widest available), ISO 6400 and 30 seconds (a stretch)
  • Set the camera to its high-speed frame rate
  • Plug in a remote release
  • Capture a test image and verify that it looks good
  • Lock the release button down (press down and slide forward)
  • Return later
The camera continuously captures images, hopefully with perfectly-positioned meteors in them. These frames can also be made into a time-lapse.

After setting up the first camera, you have plenty of time, so set up a second camera the same as the first, capturing a different composition.

On this night I had three camera setups with four of what I consider the best night sky lenses available. One of the cameras was a Nikon model and the only Nikon-mount star-capable lens I had along (not a Nikon model) showed a serious image quality problem, leaving two cameras in operation.

I mentioned that the 30-second exposure was a stretch and that is what happens to the stars at this focal length, exposure duration, and imaging sensor pixel density combination. They get stretched.

A blur is created when details in an image move across pixels on the imaging sensor, regardless of the reason why that happens. As we all know, due to the earth's rotation, stars are moving across the frame when the camera is in a fixed position. The longer the exposure, the more they are magnified (longer focal length lens) and the higher pixel density the imaging sensor has, the more that star blur will be visible at the pixel level.

Note that when final images are viewed and compared, the imaging sensor's pixel density-caused blur becomes equalized. For example, if you are printing at 8" x 12", the pixel density factor no longer matters in regards to the star trail blur created by two different resolution, equal-sensor-sized cameras.

Also, note that not all stars move at the same rate relative to the camera position. For example, the North Star (Polaris) does not move at all. If you are primarily including the northern sky in the frame, you might be able to use longer exposures than if your camera was directed west, east or up. There are star blur rules that can be helpful, but photography skills rule. Analyze your results as soon as they are captured and make adjustments as needed.

I mentioned having 4 of my favorite star lenses along with me. They are my favorites, but the perfect star lens, at least from a lens in the realm of affordability for most individuals, does not exist. All lenses have at least some issue keeping them from reaching perfection and corner performance is typically their biggest limiting factor.

This image was captured with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. It is a great choice for this purpose.

For star photography, ultra-wide angles are helpful for taking in a greater area of the sky and allowing longer exposures before star trails become visible, though ultra-wide angles produce rather small stars. Ultra-wide apertures (that produce sharp enough image quality to be used) create a brighter image in less time or at a lower ISO setting. The Sigma 14mm Art lens has those two features.

The worst case: even if the entire night's shoot was a failure, just hanging out under a starry sky would be totally worth the time and effort.


 
14mm  f/1.8  30s  ISO 6400
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