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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

The Maine Attraction

Celebrating the New Year with lots of firsts and reflection, this is a look back at one of my first serious photography adventures - a three week summer road trip through the Northeast United States in 2014.

One of my goals this year is to once again improve my photographic techniques, workflow, and, thus, final images. I can only do that by understanding where I have come from. These images are some of my early work and while many, if taken today, would never even make the first cut for development, its important to recognize that we all began somewhere. And some of the images, such as the one at the top of that page, are images that pushed me to continue my journey as a photographer.

Anyway, enough philosophy, lets talk about the trip. Overall, I tried to find natural shooting locations wherever I went. Being from the South, all I ever pictured the Northeast as was a land filled with city, suburb, and traffic. While that holds try for many areas, thankfully it is not the majority and there are plenty of places to get into nature in the Northeast.

My trip kicked off in New Jersey with one of my best friends. She, and her family, traveled much of the same route but I tended to go off and do my thing, sometimes for days, before returning to meet up with them. It was a good arrangement for a first semi-solo trip and one of the foundation experiences that allows me to now travel fully solo almost anywhere in the world.

So New Jersey is know for a lot of things, but wild lands probably isn't one of them. However, I found this great State Park not far from where my friend lived - Hacklebarney State Park. A forested park with a great trail system and the Black River cutting through creating a beautiful setting with waterfalls and cascades. This would be an ideal location to visit in the fall when leaves are changing.

Gear tip: Use a polarizer to remove glare from the rocks and saturate foliage. Add a neutral density filter during midday to help increase the length of time your shutter can be open to still crate silky water.

For those traveling through the area, the park is less than 30 minutes from I-287 and I-78 and less than 45 minutes from I-95/NJ Turnpike.

From New Jersey we headed through Massachusetts to Vermont. On long road trips, I like breaking up the day's driving with at least one or two interesting stops. Not only does it give you a chance to stretch and move around getting the blood flowing, but it helps keep the creative juices going as well. Exploring new places or subjects is fun and challenging to keep the mind active.

In Massachusetts, we stopped at the Hancock Shaker Village. Established in 1791, it is now a private living history museum dedicated to preserving the history and values of the Shaker way of life.

So, while not nature, it was an interesting, historically important location with a good mix of subjects. The living history volunteers gave a human element while the historic buildings and space provided landscape and architectural subjects. My favorite building was the ingenious round barn.

In Vermont, we based out Killington and spent several days doing the usual visitor attractions: Vermont Teddy Bear Company, President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, Rock of Ages granite quarry, and, of course, no trip to Vermont is complete without a stop at the Ben & Jerry Factory. The area is also chock full of historic covered bridges.

However, outside of those stops, I also was able to get off the tourist path for some fun in the woods. Thundering Falls was a great little trail. Friendly for all travelers, it is 0.4 miles from parking (43.680652, -72.782279) on the Appalachian Trail.

Location tip: Be very careful trying to get a unique shot at this location. The area is very slick, especially after a rain, and steep if you try to go off trail.

Killington, home to some nationally well known skiing resorts, is a hikers paradise during the summer. When I wasn't out enjoying what the rest of Vermont had to offer, I did some local hiking along the mountain trails. Wildflowers were in bloom and the view from the top was excellent.

Location tip: Visit the Killington Ski Area in the off season and take the gondola to the top. Opt to hike down if you are feeling up to it. Remember to bring a jacket, especially if going late afternoon for sunset as the winds can pick up and it gets cooler at the altitude.

After packing up, it was a long haul from Killington to Acadia National Park in Maine. So worth it though!

Acadia National Park has to be one of the top parks in the country. It is certainly in my top three favorites for parks in the East. Spread over several coastal islands on Maine's glacier carved shores, Acadia is home to rocky headlands, evergreen forests, and a plethora of dynamic coves, beaches, and sea cliffs.

When in Acadia, probably the number one thing most visitors want to do or see is sunrise or sunset from Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the Eastern US seaboard. I did both, in one night, and I don't suggest doing it the way I did.

Sunset was ok. It was quite hazy and we had almost no clouds so there were not any great colors after the sun went down.

I then tried my hand for the very first time at astrophotography. This is something I have been learning more about thanks to Aaron and Brandon over at the Photog Adventure Podcast.

At about 2330, I headed back down the mountain and out of the park to an adjacent portion of the park that has the camp ground where I was staying. So by about 0030, I was able to lay down in my backseat (I was such a car camping newbie at this time too) for some sleep. A whole three hours of sleep!

Because its a popular sunrise location and pre-dawn can be a bit of a show for photographers if the atmosphere cooperates, its suggested that photographers arrive about an hour before sunrise to find a composition and get set up. Sunrise in the summer is about 0500. Thus I had to get up and leave my camp spot at about 0330.

If I were to do it again, I would just nap in the car there in the parking lot at the summit. Would save time, fuel and give an additional hour of sleep. Or, don't do both in the same night.

Outside Cadillac Mountain, Acadia has so much else to offer. I would love to go back and spend a week or more exploring all the photo opportunities this park keeps secret.

Boulder Beach at the base of Otter Cliffs was probably my favorite seaside location. So unique to me is it to have a beach made of nothing but water-rounded rocks. The sky was overcast as storms started moving in at dawn the day I visited this spot. The mood just called for the picture to be developed as a black and white image to really enhance the textures and emotion of the scene.

Other locations include Jordan Pond, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and the distant, often over-looked, Schoodic Point.

As beautiful as Acadia National Park was, I left it behind easily this trip super excited for the next leg of the adventure. This was the activity the entire trip had been built around. I was heading to Cutler, ME, to see Puffins!

Bold Coast Charters out of Cutler is the only company in the US permitted to land on Machias Seal Island, the largest puffin colony in Maine and the only puffin colony on this side of the Atlantic regular birders can visit. Captain Andrew and his office are super professional and kind. He knows exactly what photographers are wanting and does his absolute best to accommodate those needs on the tour.

Reservations are required and most dates fill many months in advance. For my late July dates, I booked in February to ensure a spot. Also, since landing cannot happen in certain weather, I booked two days in case the weather was bad, I would have a second chance. The gamble paid off and we had good weather both days allowing me to spend a total of three hours in the blinds within the colony. Witnessing the puffins bringing food back for their young, razorbills fighting over rock territory, and seals sunning themselves on the surrounding rocky outcrops.

Here are just a bunch of my favorites from the two days.

Gear tip: Bring zoom telephoto lenses. Both you and your blind mates will appreciate it. I used my Nikon 70-300mm during both trips. If/when I go back I will bring that one and my Tamron 150-600mm with me for additional reach. Be warned, space is limited and so are the window holes to shoot through. A couple of the guys in my blind had brought lenses too big to fit through the blind windows. When they realized this, those lenses ended up doing nothing but taking up precious space and making it so those photographers had a harder time maneuvering between the front and rear windows.

Two of the images from this location were featured in a New York art gallery during a bird themed show.

This one of a Puffin profile.

And this one of two Razorbills fighting.

Its was hard to leave the island when our time was up each day, but I knew I had just experienced something most people do not get to and come away with some amazing images.

I left Cutler and drove inland to see if I couldn't find more wildlife. This time I was looking for moose. Heading towards Millinocket, my destination was Baxter State Park, home to the Appalachian Trail northern terminus. While I will eventually hike Mt. Katahdin, this was not the trip. I was in the area as it is know for its moose population.

Location note: Get there early! They only allow so many vehicles into the park and it fills up fast, especially on summer weekends. Also, if only going to moose, ask at the Togue Pond Gatehouse for a "Moose Pass". Good for three hours, they are first come first serve.

Sandy Stream Pond was constantly the location of some wonderful moose images when I was doing research before the trip. With that, that was the location I visited. At only a half mile from the trailhead, its a popular location meaning there is a potential for space issues on the narrow gangplank trail over the marsh at the pond's edge. It also means there is likely to be the uninformed tourist with children who dont know how to behave around wildlife. Lucky for me the moose I got to observe did not seem to mind the loud child down the trail from me. The same cannot be said for the deer who came briefly to drink.

Towards the end of my visit, a storm started rolling in and before I knew it, I had the place to myself as the rain came down. Putting on my rain gear, I was able enjoy the sight of a bull moose continuing to graze unaffected by the weather. Only did I give up my position when the thunder and lighting came, as personal safety comes before any image.

The other location I did some moose viewing was in the area of Moosehead Lake. There it was literally a matter of just driving around the byways in the morning and later in the evening, slowing down to scan the numerous ponds that dot the landscape.

It was in this area I came across several more moose cows and a young bull.

As my trip came to an end and I started the drive back home from the far Northeastern woods, I made one last stop at a tiny preserve called Step Falls Preserve. A series of waterfalls greeted me along with a trail that followed the river uphill from the parking.

As my first photographic "expedition", the trip was a huge success. I learned a ton of things about how I, personally, like to travel and what makes me comfortable while on the road. The trip also gave me the final boost to my confidence to go be able to go solo from those days forth. It also allowed me to explore another section of my own home country and see amazing locations and wildlife.

I can only hope that this year will be similar with new places, amazing photo opportunities and learning experiences. Here is to a great 2018! Cheers!

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