|My Back Yard
Photographing The Maine Coastline
by Gary W. Stanley
There is an old saying and it goes something like this: "Invest in land cause they aren't making any more, so when it's gone it's gone." While I wish I had paid more attention to that sweet bit of advice a little earlier in life, I can at least say that I probably have one of the nicest backyards anyone could ask for: the Maine coastline.
I've been photographing and leading photo tours along the coast of Maine for over 10 years. You might think that photographing an area over and over again could become monotonous. Not so! Nature has a unique way of sharing with us the great diversity of land, combined with ever-changing atmospheric conditions, and giving us pleasant surprises almost every time we head out to photograph.
My travel experience continues to grow year-to-year, and while these new destinations are exciting and diverse, I believe "My Back Yard" can hold it's own with any place I've seen. Oh sure, many of us have seen the great geographic wonders: towering mountain peaks, breathtaking canyons and wildlife Mecca's, but few places can match the charm and feel of the rugged coast of Maine with its quaint fishing villages and lighthouses.
Like the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, coastal Maine is easily accessible to large numbers of people. For those of you who, like me, enjoy a little more privacy, you'll find that the further north you go (Downeast), the smaller the crowds. Seasonal considerations will also make a difference in the volume of people traffic at any given location. Depending on the time of year, coastal Rt. 1 can be a pleasant scenic drive or a traffic nightmare, but then again, so can most any popular photographic destination here in the U.S.
There are sixty-six lighthouses along the coast of Maine, and though some belong to Canada (three), even those are easily visited from Maine. Many of the lighthouses are accessible by car, with some being more picturesque than others. The quaint harbors are of course numerous as well, and if you take a look at a coastal map of Maine, you will quickly notice that some of these harbors are easier to get to than others.
Let me show you "My Back Yard" by taking a trip up the coast and share with you some of my favorite towns, harbors and lighthouses. I'll begin with the area south of Portland (Map #1), then, cover the mid-coast region from Portland up to Camden (Map #2). From Camden we'll head up to Ellsworth (Map #3), and finally from Ellsworth north to Cutler Maine (Map #4).
Cape Neddick Light (also known as Nubble Light) is an often-photographed light off Rt. 1A not far from York Beach. I prefer the late afternoon light to photograph it. This lighthouse is decorated for Christmas and attracts lots of photographers. Move on up to Ogunquit and you may want to check out Perkins Cove for more photo opportunities. Kennebunkport (George Bush Sr. country) along Rt. 9 north is a very nice area to photograph, as is the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, just look for signs. There are many nice marsh areas like Rachel Carson NWR that are great photo locations. If you continue along Rt. 9 you will come to the small fishing village of Cape Porpoise. Follow the road around the harbor to the east side of the village and you'll see Goat Island light off shore.
You may want to stop at other spots along the way, but I usually head straight for Scarborough Marsh between Rt. 9, Rt.1, and Rt. 207 between the towns of Saco and Scarborough. The Scarborough Marsh is Maine's largest salt marsh, and is a great place for a kayak or canoe. The best locations for early and late afternoon light will of course depend on what area of the marsh you are. As you photograph any location along the coast you will want to remember that the change in coastal tides will make a difference in what an area will look like, and how photogenic it will be. I recommend finding a tide chart for a given area so you'll know. You can also stop in most any gift shop along the way and find calendars published by Maine Scene, the calendar people that I shoot for. They have tide charts included in the calendar.
My next stop and favorite lighthouse is Portland Headlight located between Cape Elizabeth and South Portland. Yes it is probably Maine's most photographed light, so you'll almost always find people there, but it is more than worth the trouble. Sunrise is a great time to photograph this light, but the trick is guessing whether or not the local authorities have opened the gates early enough or not. Sunrise to sunset is what the sign says.
I usually will skip past most of the other small towns along Rt. 1 until I get to Cooks Corner north of Brunswick. From here on up you'll really begin to discover why I love Maine. You can take just about any road to the right off Rt.1 and find a harbor worth photographing.
Just a word of caution: we are uninvited guests when we photograph these areas so please respect the wishes of land owners. While most are receptive to photographers some can be cranky.
Here is a short list: From Cooks Corner, follow Rt. 24 and look for signs to Cundy's Harbor (left), or continue east to Orrs Island, and Bailey Island.
Any of these small villages are great places to shoot more intimate compositions. Back on Rt. 1 head north to Wiscassett, a very photogenic village. Continue north a mile or two and try Rt. 27 to Boothbay Harbor.
Back out to Rt. 1 and up to Newcastle and Damariscotta you'll want to take Rt. 130, 129, and Rt. 32. Rt. 130 will take you to Pemaquid Point and the often-photographed Pemaquid lighthouse. Rt. 32 will get you to New Harbor, and Shaw's Restaurant, a lobster lovers' heaven. New Harbor is a great area to work thoroughly. Rt. 129 will take you to South Bristol and Christmas Cove. If you can't find something to photograph here, put your equipment up for sale on e-bay.
The next peninsula worth your time is the area between Thomaston and Rockland. Head on down Rt. 131 east to Tenants Harbor, and then on to Port Clyde. In Port Clyde there are some great photo opportunities, including nearby Marshall Point Light, and a boat ride out to Monhegan Island. Monhegan is a trip in and of itself, just check out my favorite places page on my website www.light-chasers.com for details.
On up the coast there are many more harbors and towns to visit, such as Rockport and Camden. Another island detour worth your time is the Deer Isle, Blue Hill and Stonington area off Rt. 175 and Rt. 15. Be prepared, it's a long ride out to Stonington.
Perhaps the 'Photographic Crown Jewel' along the coast is Acadia National Park located on Mount Desert Island just east of Ellsworth following Rt. 3. It is probably little more than thirteen miles from the bridge onto Mt. Desert to the eastern most point near Bass Harbor Light, yet there is so much here to photograph, you could easily spend one or two weeks here alone. I should know, I've been coming here two or three times a year for ten years and I'm still amazed by it's beauty. Inland lakes, a fjord called Somes Sound, Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, Bass Harbor and Ocean Drive just to name a few must see places.
Heading back out Rt. 3 you'll pick up Rt. 1 once again going north. Several more villages and harbors worth photographing along the way are Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor, Corea, Schoodic Point along Rt. 186, Jonesport, Beals Island (Rt. 187) and on up above Machias to the small fishing village of Cutler (Rt. 191). When you are this far north you will indeed be experiencing the true "Downeast" Maine.
If you've never had the opportunity to photograph Atlantic Puffins, Artic Turns, Razorbill Auks and Harbor Seals, you may also want to take one of the boats out to Machias Seal Island, from either Cutler or Jonesport.
The coast of Maine is worth every minute of time that you spend there, so go ahead and enjoy "My Back Yard."
For over 10 years Gary has led photo tours of the coast of Maine. His recently founded tour company, Light Chasers offers tours of the Maine Coast, his "back yard." This lets you sit back and enjoy the photography and let someone else worry about the driving and navigation while enjoying the camaraderie of fellow photographers. For more information on Gary's Maine tours check out www.light-chasers.com.