50mm, f/11, 1/30s, ISO 200
When I travelled through New England in 2017, a trip to Acadia National Park was one of the top priorities. It is the only national park in this part of the United States and while it is relatively small, it offers an impressively diverse range of scenery from coastlines to mountains to forest. It was during our time here that I managed to capture one of my favourite shots.
Where and when?
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park, taken in October 2017.
The background story
I knew that with a lot to see in a short space of time it was always going to be a frantic few days in Acadia. Aside from a shot at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, this was the only other specific spot that I really wanted to visit. It’s a classic view but one that offers plenty of opportunity and I was up for the challenge of shooting in what I expected to be challenging conditions on what can be a soggy (and foggy) stretch of coast.
For once, very little! I knew the location of the lighthouse and that was about it. We drove into Acadia from the White Mountains of New Hampshire and arrived late afternoon. A quick check of the forecast indicated it would be a pleasant evening and so, conscious that this might be the best (or only) chance, we beelined for the lighthouse. It seemed we arrived just in time: the car park was rammed and we were fortunate enough to get one of the last spaces. It was then I realised just how popular this spot is…
How it came together
It’s a short walk to the shore but as soon as we turned the corner we were met with several dozen other people all in position. The “prime” spots on the lower rocks were a mass of bodies and so I decided to stay clear and headed to a small outcrop offering an elevated viewpoint about 10 feet above the ground.
This was one of the most precarious positions I have ever shot from. I was sharing a tight spot of wet rock with another photographer who was crouched down in front of me. I could just about get my tripod in position without the legs falling over the edge of the outcrop and any kind of movement on my behalf involved some very tentative steps.
I somehow managed to get set up without breaking anything and when I turned back the crowd behind me was three times the size. I was glad I managed to have some kind of view as for a short time it was chaos below me. A late arrival took up a position directly in front of those who had waited patiently which led to some bad tempers; another guy desperately took a shortcut across the seaweed-strewn rocks and ended up taking a fall.
Thankfully we were all rewarded for our efforts. The conditions just got better and better and we were treated to a gorgeous display of colour as the sun set. The light that fell on the lighthouse itself was perfect and in between praying for my safety as I gingerly manoeuvred around my rocky perch, I was delighted that we took the spontaneous decision to visit that evening.
The following day was overcast and the morning after that saw thick fog descend over Acadia. The decision had paid off.
Why is it a favourite?
This photograph was not without compromise. Because of my position I had to shoot at 50mm which is longer than I would have preferred but any wider and I would have included the heads of the crowd below. Nor could I mix up my composition too much because of the very limited working space.
But, ultimately, whenever I look at this photograph I vividly remember two things: that beautiful Maine sunset and how grateful I was to just be there. I had a lot of luck that day. The timing of our drive into Acadia. The weather conditions. The fact I managed to grab a decent (if precarious) spot.
It’s not often that so many things go your way like that – even more rarely when on a first visit with little preparation. With landscape photography you get used to things not going your way more often than when they do; this photograph is a reminder that sometimes you do get lucky. For that reason this will always be a favourite shot. That and the fact I didn’t take a tumble on those rocks…