Patience is a Virtue

Last summer, I was visiting Acadia National Park to scout out some locations for a NANPA Regional Event that I was to be co-leading there in the fall. I had a list of locations I was scheduled to visit with groups of participants, so I wanted to re-access each spot to make sure I knew the best approaches and find a variety shooting angles that could accomodate a group of photographers with different abilities and shooting styles.

One of the locations I was scheduled to visit was the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. I had never photographed the lighthouse before, often choosing to focus on the less manmade attractions of the park, so I made it a point to get out there and shoot it myself one evening.

I got to the lighthouse around 6:30 or so, more than an hour before sunset, to set up and get a good spot on the rocks. When I arrived, I was met by no less than a dozen people already at the lighthouse, perched in various spots I would have preferred they not be. Typically, I don’t like contending with other people to get a shot, and I feel rude asking people to move out of my way. My rule of thumb is that whoever was there first gets priority, so I scrambled up onto an open spot on a sharp pointy rock where I knew I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. I set up my tripod and wedged my bag in a nice safe spot in the rocks. Then I waited.

And more people came. Photographers – there were at least a dozen with DSLRs, more with point-and-shoots, and at least six tripods, including mine. Spectators, many who wanted their photos taken in front of a completely backlit lighthouse obscured by trees. People who climbed on the rocks right below the lighthouse, I’m assuming just for fun since it is impossible to actually see the lighthouse from that angle. A bird watcher with binoculars. Families with kids. More people came, some people left, and of course no one was sitting still enough to make it possible to include any of the sightseers in my composition. They just kept getting in the way. I was irritated.

Patience is a virtue, I thought to myself, so I waited. I was pretty sure if I waited long enough I would get my shot. While I waited, I observed a bald eagle hunting for fish and some porpoises swimming offshore. At least that made the waiting a slightly less frustrating experience.

As the sun started to set most people cleared away from right in front of the lighthouse so the photographers could get their shots. If I had felt like using a different lens, that probably would have been ok with me too, but I envisioned a wide angle shot, with jagged rocks leading the viewers’ eye into the frame, towards the lighthouse, rimmed in the colors of the setting sun. People were still in my way. So I took a couple boring frames and kept waiting.

From experience, I know that the colors at sunset and sunrise are often the most intense when the sun is about 20 minutes under the horizon. So for sunrise shoots, I always try to get to my location and be set up a half hour before sunrise. During sunset, I stay even when most think the show is over.

And if I’m smarter than the other photographers, and willing to wait longer and work harder for my shots, I can get the place all to myself. I often do. And that’s when the magic happens, and I can unleash my creativity.

Once the sun set people dissipated quickly. One photographer even said “Well I got what I came here for” and left just as the colors were getting more intense – obviously more pink and more saturated – right before his eyes. Others began wrapping up and started to complain about the mosquitos, swatting at invisible demons I hadn’t even noticed yet. Within 15 minutes of the sun setting, I was the only one left.

Patience is a Virtue

This shot was my reward. Because of my perseverance (or stubbornness), I was able to finally capture the image I had envisioned. No people. Brilliant colors. A bold foreground of jagged rocks leading into the frame, punctuated by the red glow of the lighthouse, all bathed in pink and golden light from the setting summer sun.

This is a hand blended combination of seven different frames. I don’t like HDRs, so I bracket my exposures and then combine them in PhotoShop using layer masks. Just processing this shot took at least a couple of hours, but the waiting game was really won in the field. This photograph is the result of being a smarter photographer, one who knows the subject, and who is willing to work harder and shoot longer than the others, not to mention better tolerate uncomfortable rocks and pesky bugs. Mostly it’s because sometimes the one who plays the waiting game best wins.

Outdoor Photo Tips from Acadia National Park

In February I’ll be launching a new series of photo tips based on my book The AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography. I’m planning it to be a ten week free, on-line course where you’ll get assignments and be able to upload photos for critiques. In the meantime, you can take a look at this video where I describe three tips for improving your outdoor photography. Enjoy!

Dawn in Monument Cove in Maine's Acadia National Park.