If the contiguous United States were a blueberry scone, Maine would be a crumb on the top right corner, just barely clinging on, begging you to sample it when no one is looking. And, in fact, that experience is analogous to photographing Maine. With an almost infinite number of fishing villages and lighthouses, Maine is practically begging you to come photograph it, and when done in the offseason, almost nobody is there. I’ve got a treat in store for you today, so let’s dig in.
Maine is the easternmost state in the United States. It’s also the northernmost state east of the great lakes. In fact, Maine is bordered by only one other US state, New Hampshire. Maine’s rocky and jagged coastline is the main attraction for photographers. To illustrate how jagged the coastline is, note that there are 230 miles of coast from end to end, but over 3500 miles of tidal coastline when you measure all of the inlets and waterways. Seemingly every little finger of land jutting out into the Atlantic ocean has a lighthouse (or three) and every inlet has a little fishing village filled with an active lobster fishing fleet. Maine also has thousands of small offshore islands.
Much of Maine’s charm comes from the decentralized nature of the lobster fishing fleet. Rather than a large conglomerate corporation with giant fishing vessels controlling the industry, lobster fishing is run by thousands upon thousands of small, independently owned vessels. The vessels are similar but unique, and almost all are named after the owner’s wife, daughter, or high school sweetheart. The inlets of the jagged coastline are deep and provide ample protection for moorings. So all of the villages have lobster boats moored in the harbor and dingy tenders tied to the docks. The photographic opportunities at sunrise, when the boats are readying themselves for a day’s work, are virtually unlimited.
“Mainers” are a pleasant and easygoing bunch of people. We found them quite welcoming to our tripods (a welcome change). So long as you’re respectful and ask nicely, you probably won’t have any trouble getting your tripod setup on one of the fisherman’s docks. In the village of Corea, I asked a local homeowner if I could photograph from his dock, his response was “It’s not my dock, so I can’t tell you that you can, but I’m not saying you can’t” and then after a short pause he said “Nobody cares.”
The cuisine of Maine is characterized by two ingredients, lobster and blueberries. Lobster on the menu is everywhere. Lobster is Maine’s equivalent to chicken. A lobster roll would be a chicken salad sandwich in any other state. As you journey through the state you’ll pass countless fields of red brush. They’re wild blueberries. The wild blueberries are smaller than the giant farmed blueberries that you get from your local grocery store (that look like they were grown next to the nuclear power plant and have mutated into giant blueberry-like objects). So as you can imagine, we sampled everything blueberry. Blueberry scones, blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, blueberry jam on toast. I even ordered a dozen jars of wild blueberry preserves from Nervous Nellie’s Jams & Jellies so that I could bring the magic home to my family and give some as holiday gifts. Yum.
We photographed Maine in October so that we could double-dip… meaning catch fall colors and coastline. Maine has a huge influx of summer visitors. Autumn is a great opportunity to miss the crowds and do some leaf-peeping. But use caution, by the latter half of October many restaurants and inns are closing for the season. So don’t automatically assume that lodging will be available exactly where you want it. You might have to stay 15-20 minutes away, but it wasn’t an issue.
I arrived via commercial airliner into Portland and rendezvoused with fine art photographer David Brookover. David was on an extended road-trip searching for fall colors to fill his gallery in Jackson Hole, WY. Our journey took us north along Highway 1. If you imagine the whole of Maine’s coastline having a sharks tooth profile, then Highway 1 would be the gumline. Small highways branch off from the main highway providing an out-and-back pathway leading, typically, to the lighthouse at the end of every peninsula.
Our first stop (and your first stop) is the L.L. Bean store in Freeport to load up on sweaters, beanies and the famous “Bean Boots.” Freeport would be your typical quaint, one-horse town in Maine, were it not for the massive L.L. Bean superstore. Imagine an REI store plus a Cabella’s together, and then multiply that by about six. It’s HUGE. The L.L. Bean store has been open 24 hours a day since 1951 and is a treat to visit for any outdoor enthusiast. Don’t miss it.
Our first shooting location on the northbound leg was the Marshall Point Lighthouse. This lighthouse was famously featured in the movie Forrest Gump. We arrived at Marshall Point during mid-day, but found the lighting conditions still favorable for making nice photographs.
Further north we visited Stonington. We photographed the blue hour of sunrise as the lobster fleet readied themselves for the day. The following day we photographed sunrise near the village of Blue Hill, which was convenient because we were staying at the Blue Hill Inn and could photograph sunrise and still make it back to the inn for their terrific breakfast.
We continued on to the northern and easternmost town in America called Lubec, where we found accommodation and readied ourselves for two great shooting locations. That evening we crossed the border into Canada onto Campobello Island where photographed the East Quoddy Lighthouse during sunset and blue hour. I managed to find a pleasing composition that cropped out all of the dramatic clouds (which I don’t think David was too pleased about, but I like the way the image turned out).
We returned to the US and the following morning we photographed the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, which is the easternmost point of the United States. I shot the “standard” shot of the lighthouse in black & white before repositioning myself about 10 feet off the ground, with tripod atop a picnic table, to capture the sunrise directly behind the lighthouse. I do want to note that these lighthouses have been photographed a million times, so I wasn’t breaking any new ground as an artist. Rather, I was taking great pleasure in the execution of the shot, meaning I was trying really hard to make better pictures than the top results on Google.
Heading south again we visited Pemaquid Lighthouse. We photographed this lighthouse and the gorgeous glacially carved coastline during mid-day before heading further south again toward Acadia National Park. Acadia is vast. We decided to avoid the most popular locations such as Bar Harbor and Cadillac Mountain, and instead we focused on searching out lesser-known inlets and bays. Acadia and the surrounding areas are easily accessible from the neighboring city of Ellsworth, so it’s a good place to stay and has plenty of opportunities for dining and reprovisioning your supplies. There’s even an L.L. Bean Outlet for you bargain shoppers.
Weather in October was a mixture of really cold mornings warming to pleasant but cool afternoons. In our two weeks between Maine and Nova Scotia, we lost two days of shooting to passing storms, but the rest of the time was perfect for photography with mostly sunny days and puffy afternoon clouds. Necessity being the mother invention, you can see why Mainers wear Bean Boots. The trails, grass, and brush are typically damp. So waterproof hiking boots are recommended.
My recommendation for lenses would be to carry something moderately wide and something moderately long. If all you have is a 24-70 zoom, you’ll be fine. But there were instances where a lens in the 18-20mm range would have been helpful in getting the whole scene in the composition. A longer lens, such as a 70-200 will allow you to reach out across the bays and compress the lobster vessels against the backgrounds. I carried two lenses for my Phase One IQ180, the 40-80 zoom (25-50 in 35mm equivalent) and the 120mm Macro (73mm in 35mm equivalent). Bring a good tripod, you’ll need it for blue hour. I also brought my Wine Country Camera filter holder system and used the polarizer, 6 stop ND and graduated filters quite often.
Maine provides exotic shooting locations that are easily accessible, free of crime, with a welcoming public who aren’t wary of photographers. The food is great, it’s not too cold, and transportation to and from is easy. Highly recommended.
San Clemente, CA
I am a fine art photographer and my focus is capturing the wild landscape of the American West. I am also the founder of Wine Country Camera, manufacturer of high quality filters and filter holder systems.