|Dodging Raindrops along Maryland's Coast
by Jim McGee
Ahh the weather gods are frowning on us. After nearly 30 days of beautiful sunny photographers weather, Chuck and I headed south under steel gray lowering skies for our tour of Maryland's coastline. In the truck was a variety of equipment awaiting testing. Oh well, guess we're doing more close-up and subject shots than sweeping landscapes on this trip.
The plan was to head down along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, shooting Maryland's countryside and pretty costal towns, then head across the state and do some wild horse shooting in Assateague National Park.
Hopefully we would drive out from under the weather, but the folks at AccuGuess had gotten it wrong. The skies got heavier and heavier until they let loose on us as we crossed the Maryland border for the first disappointment of the day.
The second was a little used back road I'd detoured onto for years. The countryside in northeastern Maryland is picturesque rolling farmland. This road had always been a particular favorite of mine as it was dotted with horse farms and old barns right out of a travel brochure. It was a great place to shoot.
But my favorite back road had been discovered by developers who had put up acre after acre of nearly identical slab sided houses. Ugly things these are, and the few remaining horse farms are hemmed in on all sides - nearly eliminating any photo possibilities.
Two surly and frustrated photographers pulled into Chesapeake City for breakfast to look over the map and decide where the rest of the day should take us.
Chesapeake City grew up at the southern end of the Chesapeake and Delaware canal that connects the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River. The C&D canal as it's called still sees a good deal of boat traffic and several good restaurants in Chesapeake city satisfy the hunger of the boat traffic flowing past the city. After dinner you can stroll the antique shops of this quaint little town, first incorporated in 1849.
Chesapeake City is a friendly little town, the kind you find all along Maryland's coast. A good place to eat, antique, or check out a gallery. Or for that matter for two wet photographers to get a great breakfast at the only little restaurant open that morning.
As I parked the truck the radio played AccuGuess still predicting the storm was moving north and the skies should clear shortly.
Over breakfast we debated revising our route. According to the weather man there were sunny skies along the Atlantic coast 60 miles away. We could shoot Assateague, then head back north along the Chesapeake tomorrow. But fools that we are we decided to believe the devilish weather man and continue south along the coast after shooting Chesapeake City, hopefully riding into the sun.
As we headed south the skies did lighten, but never broke. We stopped and shot in various little towns and turnouts along the way using saturated films, polarizers, and neutral density filters to coax as much color as we could from the wan light and wet countryside.
At Wye Mill we sat behind our cameras for almost an hour as the rain gods teased us with breaking clouds that never quite broke. Resigned we finished shooting the Mill under the clouds and strolled up to the little country store for a bite and a beer, joking that as soon as we walked inside the clouds would break - and they did. We walked out the door to bright sunlight but as we hustled back down to the mill the sun disappeared again never to return. Fickle rain gods!
It was getting late so we rolled on down to St. Michael's. A pleasant drive under clouds that kept trying to break up but never quite managed the feat. We kept saying that maybe the weather man was right and we would ride out from under the storm but it wasn't to be.
St. Michael lies on a peninsula shaped like a crooked finger jutting out into the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis and across from Washington D.C.
Like Chesapeake City, it's a pretty little town of restaurants, shops, and galleries. St. Michael is considerably larger than Chesapeake City and the bay dominates it's personality.
St. Michael sits dead center in the Chesapeake bay. In the summer its bed and breakfasts fill with tourists who come to be by the water and watch the sailors in their boats, who in turn come to see and be seen.
The rain lets loose again as we're crossing into St. Michaels. The only ones doing a brisk business today are the local police who have a speed trap set up in the parking lot of the firehouse, where coincidentally the speed limit suddenly drops to 25mph.
The lighthouse at St. Michael is a Maryland landmark. In order to get a shot on this gray day I set up on a tripod with some colorful boats in the foreground and then fell back on some old tricks. Kodak 100VS goes into the camera to give me saturated colors. On the front of the camera goes a 2 stop neutral density filter, followed by a 2 stop graduated neutral density filter. This brings the exposure value of the sky in line with the relatively low light falling on the landscape. The 2 stop neutral density filter has the effect of adding depth to the seemingly flat cloud cover. Then stacked on top of the other two goes a warm polarizer. The warm polarizer eliminates surface reflections and adds a little warmth to the gray light. The result is the photo you see here.
Now there's an old saw that says "every piece of glass you put in front of the lens degrades the image." That may have been true 30 years ago, but with the quality of today's filters there is no visible loss of quality in this image. Under a 22x loupe you can read the label of a bottle in the bottom of the boat and see the cracked paint on the railing of the lighthouse. After shooting along the marina we flee the dinner crowd emerging from the B&B's to descend on the bayside restaurants and head inland towards Delmar.
Delmar is actually in Delaware straddling the Delaware/Maryland border. Delmar holds our hotel and an old fashioned Maryland crab house. The kind where it's all you can eat, the beer comes in pitchers, and fancy is brown paper rolled out over picnic tables. I forget about being wet and about lost photo ops - I'm in heaven. Besides AccuGuess has assured us on the truck radio that the storm is heading north and the skies will be clear over the Atlantic coast for tomorrow's shoot in Assateague.
The next morning I wake up to a loud clap of thunder. The storm has stalled over Maryland and spread east over the Atlantic coast. At least the rain will give us some low contrast shooting that will extend our window for "good" light while we're in Assateague - always find the silver lining I say.
Assateague is a barrier island on the Atlantic coast. With it's sister park Chincoteague it's best know for its populations of wild horses, miniature deer and shorebirds. This unique area easily rates an article all it's own. The park offers great views for day trippers, campers, and RV enthusiasts. The wild horses are both tame and curious. So much so that the park's biggest problem is that the horses have learned to approach cars to get a hand-out, which has led to a number of the park's wild horses being hit by cars.
Assateague is the perfect environment for testing the Sigma 500mm zoom lens we have along. A ranger explains that this time of year most of the shore bird population is south in the Chincoteague section of the park, but the horses and deer make up for the absence of the Snowy Egrets.
At the end of the day we journey north to Ocean City Maryland and stumble across a town full of hot rods there for a city wide car show.
After a dinner of crabs and beer (what else would you eat in Maryland) we point the truck north one last time.
We agree that despite the rain it's been a good trip and we've gotten some good images. No matter what the weather is Maryland's coastal towns are a treat to be enjoyed.
The weather gods are frowning on us
Two surly photographers pulled into Chesapeake City
We sat behind our cameras for almost an hour
That may have been true 30 years ago, but not with the quality of today's filters
...the rain will give us some low contrast shooting
text and photography copyright © 2001 Vivid Light Publishing