Much as I enjoy traveling with my wife, the idea of taking a vacation by myself, a vacation where I can move at my own pace and focus on my hobby of photography has always seemed very attractive. I did a short photography workshop in Chincoteague, Virginia last November and enjoyed the experience. When Frank Van Riper made a presentation to the North Bethesda Camera Club, he also described the workshops he conducts in Lubec, Maine. The idea appealed to me, so, after a little bit of soul searching, I decided to sign up as a sixtieth birthday present to myself. I’m glad that I did.
I like doing photo workshops because, on top of learning things and getting new ideas, I have time to concentrate on my photography. Frank described this as a workshop not a boot camp, so it fit the bill perfectly. We had plenty of time together each day to work on our photography and then had individual downtime to review our results, shoot independently, whatever we liked. Frank keeps the size of the group down to single digits, which gave him plenty of time to help and talk to everyone. As we travelled to different locations around Lubec and Campobello Island, Frank demonstrated and explained various techniques and gave us plenty of time to take our photos. As a result, I learned a lot and took some wonderful photos that I will cherish for years to come.
As you read this, you will see photos embedded with the text. Continue on after reading to see several more photos.
Saturday, 7 July 2012 – On the Road
I left home for the workshop on Saturday, 7 July 2012. Getting ready for the workshop should have been fairly simple, but, on Friday, 29 June 2012, we lost power in a violent storm called a derecho. A derecho is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms; think hurricane strength winds, rain and lightening. When I left my house on 7 July, power had not yet been restored, so I had to do all my preps in partial darkness and without air conditioning during the worst heat wave the Washington, DC area had ever seen. Somehow, I managed to remember and find everything I needed for the trip.
After days of oppressive heat and no electricity, it was quite a pleasure to spend the day in a comfortable air-conditioned car, cruising up the highway and listening to podcasts. I woke up early and I was on the road by 4:30 am. Leaving early on a Saturday morning made driving up the usually congested east coast corridor easy. I really didn’t see any noticeable traffic until I hit the Mass Pike at about 10:00 am. After a brief drop-in visit with some relatives in Massachusetts, I completed the first leg of my trip with an overnight stopover in Scarborough, Maine. This was really just a convenient break in the trip and a chance to rest after the nine-hour drive. The high point of my stop was the beer I had with dinner at the nearby Sebago Brewing Company.
Sunday, 8 July 2012 – Lubec, Maine
On Sunday I hit the road at about 7:00 am for the final 4.5-hour push up to Lubec, Maine. It was a very pleasant drive along almost empty roads the entire way. I made it to Lubec at about 11:30 am. I checked into Cohill’s Inn, then picked up my camera and proceeded to explore the area and take photographs, with a lunchtime lobster roll stop at Uncle Kippy’s (the lobster roll was just OK).
From the window of my room I can look across the Lubec Narrows and see Campobello Island in Canada, just a short distance away; there is a fast moving current moving down the center of the Narrows, probably due to the influence of the tides in the Bay of Fundy.
Lubec (pronounced Loo-Beck) is a typical small, weathered New England coastal town. There seems to be some revitalization of the “downtown” area, and, as you move up the street to the residential areas, you see a mix of freshly renovated looking house, old, weathered houses, and unfortunately, some abandoned houses as well. It is amazing how quiet Lubec is compared to the Washington, DC area. All the restaurants close by 8:00 pm, the same time we are usually just going out in DC…
After dinner I met with my fellow classmates and with our instructors and mentors for the workshop, Frank van Riper and Judy Goodman; there are a total of seven of us in the workshop. Fortuitously, Lubec decided to do their Fourth of July fireworks on Sunday, the eighth, so after a brief orientation, we proceeded to some high ground to shoot the fireworks. Except for being initially eaten alive by mosquitoes, it was a great experience; I got several interesting shots and one I liked quite well!
Monday, 9 July 2012 – The smokehouse, the lighthouse and the cemetery
In almost every other photo workshop I have done, there is always an early morning session to shoot the sunrise and then a rush to get to a good location for the sunset. This workshop is different. We will be doing at least one morning shoot on Wednesday, but the emphasis here is on experiencing a wide variety of different photography experiences.
Herring are caught in this area using weirs; schools of herring swim in, but then cannot find their way back out. Before shipment, the herring would be smoked in a smokehouse to preserve them. McCurdy’s Smokehouse in Lubec closed in 1991 due to the cost of meeting various government regulations; it is now a museum. We spent several hours in the smokehouse taking “industrial” photos of the smokehouse and the bits and pieces of industrial equipment used in the smoking process. We then moved on to portraiture. A large opening at the rear of the smokehouse acted as a natural softbox for shooting portraits. This worked very effectively against a dark background provided by a wall of stacked rods used in the smoking process. One member of our group was an attractive young woman, so we all spent some time shooting her. Eventually, we decided it was only fair to let her shoot as well. At that point, I stood in as a model. Not quite as attractive, but they seemed to enjoy shooting me.
After shooting we headed to Cohill’s Inn for lunch, but first, we we all showed some of our previous work. This was a good opportunity to get a feel for the types of photography our classmates typically shot; and it was interesting to hear Frank and Judy’s comments on the photos. There was a small bit of critique here and there, but, overall, a lot oohing and aahing over a lot of nice stuff.
The afternoon was free, so I wandered on down to West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, a short distance out of town. This is the eastern most point of the continental United States. Across the water, I could see Grand Manan Island, a Canadian island that I have visited many times. I wandered around the lighthouse and grounds, shooting miscellaneous photos. I did the same on my trip back to Lubec, stopping at some interesting looking sites that I had noted on the way out.
Learning my lesson from Sunday’s fireworks shoot, I made sure to spray myself with bug spray before heading for the cemetery and our evening shoot…I also made sure I had bug spray in my bag. The gist of the evening’s shoot was to use light to “paint” the monuments in various ways with the camera set for a long shutter speed; the camera really doesn’t care when the light hits the object, only that the object was lit during the time that the shutter was open. This provided some interesting effects. We spent just about two hours shooting pictures, playing with light, shutter speed and other camera settings.
Driving back into Lubec at 10:00 pm was an unusual experience for me. There was not another soul to be seen, not another car on the road. It was very different from the frenetic Washington, DC area, and I mean that in a good way.
Tuesday, 10 July 2012 – Gee but it’s great being on the farm…
This morning we drove in the first of many caravans over to Tide Mill Organic Farms. We spent a few happy hours there shooting the animals (with our cameras, no animals were harmed in the making of this travel blog). Our first stop was the cow barn, where the cows were arranged from the youngest calves near the entrance to full grown cows at the far end. Who would have thought that cows were so photogenic! Not only were they photogenic, but they were also extremely curious about the camera, frequently trying to poke their noses into the lens; I could swear a few of the older cows were actually posing for us! One in particular would follow me around its enclosure and, I think, pose whenever I pointed my camera in her direction. One thing that I had never noticed before was how much calves look like little deer because their heads have not yet grown to match the size of their ears. I got one shot that, at first glance, looks like a dog lying down, but is actually a calf.
“Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry…” these lyrics from Oklahoma’s “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top” kept running through my head as we wandered around our next locale, the barn that had young chickens and turkeys (but, alas no ducks or geese). There were several large pens in the barn with all the young birds. None of us were smart enough to figure out which were the turkeys, I guess we are all city/suburban types. If you pay attention and get close in with your camera, you can see the chickens making some wonderful facial expressions.
Finally, we made our way to the outdoor pig enclosure, which was comprised of an open eating area and a wooded section where the pigs could hang out and stay cool away from the sun. To get the pigs out of the woods, we had to bang together two buckets, making the pigs think we were going to feed them. Cruel, perhaps, but we all must make sacrifices for art (and I won’t even mention the reaction when a member of our group accidentally touched the electrified fence around the pig’s enclosure). The pigs were far less interested in our photography than the other animals and kept wandering off, but I think most of us managed to snag some good shots when they were around.
We had lunch at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias. They serve very good, traditional Maine dishes, as well as a fantastic macaroni and cheese. Also, this is not a place to pass up on the desserts; I had the blueberry pie.
After lunch, we made our way to Bad Little Falls Park in the middle of the town of Machias, or, as Frank said, “…situated behind a gas station.” This is a fairly dramatic set of small falls, which, at one time, were used to produce hydroelectric power for Machias. Not only was this a great place to shoot, but I finally learned a photographic technique that I had not yet managed to master; that is how to take a long exposure so the water has a smooth, blurry texture, while the surrounding rocks, plants, etc are nice and sharp. This makes for some very dramatic shots! It was fun to play around using different camera settings and filters and shooting different parts of the falls. My previous attempts at this type of shot were always blown out, so it was great to finally learn how to do it right.
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 – Boats and Music
Today was our “early” day, but, as I have previously mentioned, Frank described this as a workshop not a boot camp, so early was 6:00 am, not sunrise as in previous photo workshops.
We gathered at the end of Lubec near the docks (just outside my hotel) and meandered through town, shooting what interested us. I had an opportunity to meander with Frank, so I was able to chat with him about photographic techniques and the recent history of Lubec. It is amazing what you can see to shoot when you just take the time to look around in the early morning.
Once we had completed our meander we headed across the bridge, and the Canadian border, to Campobello Island and Head Harbour. This is both a recreational and a working harbor, filled with fishing boats, lobster traps, etc. One of my classmates lives on Campobello Island, so he arrived on his motor boat and was nice enough to take us on board so we could slowly putter around the harbor and take photographs. In the calm waters, just barely disturbed by our wake, there were wonderful reflections of boats, lobster traps and rigging…until I started shooting there, I never realized what wonderful subjects lobster traps are for photography.
As it was now getting towards mid-morning, we were all getting hungry for breakfast, so we headed to Family Fisheries Restaurant for a hearty breakfast (I had the blueberry pancakes).
En route back to Lubec, my classmate Joe and I spied what appeared to be a reconstruction of an old frigate moored offshore. So, being good photographers; we stopped and took some photos.
This photography workshop is part of SummerKeys. SummerKeys is primarily a music program, which, as the brochure says, “…offers the busy adult student an opportunity to be immersed in the study and practice of a musical instrument.” We were fortunate that, in the spirit of artistic cooperation, the musicians allowed us to come into their lessons and practice sessions and take photographs. We had the opportunity to photograph three violinists taking a lesson, two students in a composition class, and, later in the day, a large group of mandolin players practicing for their upcoming concert on Friday evening. As someone who has traditionally photographed landscapes, wildlife and cityscapes, avoiding people, this provided me with an opportunity to stretch a bit, move out of my comfort zone and photograph people up close and personal and in a totally new environment. It was a great learning experience.
Thursday, 12 July 2012 – Fog and Light
Around 7:00 this morning a fog rolled into Lubec. It seemed to have a muffling effect, and, despite the fact that there were people up and about, this sleepy little town became even sleepier, with hardly a sound to be heard. I suppose I was a bit sleepy and lazy myself as I sat eating my breakfast thinking, “I should be out there shooting.” Finally feeling motivated, I finished up and out I went; I wandered along the docks and up the street into town and then back again. I had a chance to shoot boats, fishermen, buildings and many of the same sights I had shot on Sunday and yesterday, only, in the fog, they looked totally different. As I was finishing up, a man asked me, “Why are you shooting in the fog? You can’t see anything.” I explained that you could actually see a good bit, that the fog softened everything, gave it a new dimension and provided a wonderful environment for photography. I’m not sure that he was convinced.
The group gathered later in the morning and we headed to Cutler Harbor where we spent a couple of hours shooting. It was quiet with very little activity, but provided a rich environment for photography. When you spend this much time shooting, you start to see the art in everything around you. We finished up our shooting and Frank demonstrated how, using an external flash and various gels, you can simulate different types of “natural” light. It was now approaching noon, but he was able to make the pictures looked as if they were shot in early morning or around sunset.
The afternoon was spent culling through our photographs to find what we thought were some of our best. I found that this was best done working in the pub at Cohill’s with a Guiness by my side.
Thursday evening, we had dinner with Frank and Judy at their home and reviewed a sampling of everyone’s photos. What I found fascinating was the wide variety of photos from people who were all shooting in the same place and at the same time; it helped me to expand my vision for future shoots.
Friday, 13 July 2012 – Eastport followed by our Finale
You can see Eastport from Lubec. By car it is a long circuitous route, but, by water taxi/ferry, it is a short, pleasant cruise.
We disembarked and, after a short wander along Water Street, we turned onto Boynton Street where Heidi Reidell allowed us to take photographs in her Catbird Seat Gallery . The Gallery is housed in the Masonic Block, a brick building constructed in 1887. We had a wonderful time wandering around the gallery shooting the art, the building and each other.
For lunch we wandered down to Quoddy Bay Lobster for lunch; I had a delicious lobster roll.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon shooting pictures with my classmate Joe. Joe had brought some stale bread with him. He threw the bread onto the pier to attract the seagulls; it was fun to watch and photograph their antics as they competed for the scraps of bread. Once the bread was gone, the gulls deserted us, so we headed up Water Street to see what there was to shoot. We stood for a while watching and photographing cormorants flying around a slowly sinking sandbar. Finally the heat got the best of us, and we headed back into town for a cold drink and an ice cream.
Friday evening, as a finale to our class, Frank presented a slide show of our photos to the music students at SummerKeys, sharing our art with them, as they had shared their art with us during some of our shoots. A small, but appreciative crowd showed up and seemed to enjoy viewing our work. It was a good wrap to a very full, productive, educational and enjoyable week.
I stayed at Cohill’s Inn in Lubec. It is a nice, place to stay. The rooms are large, and bright. There is excellent WiFi. My room, the Mulholland Lighthouse, was in the front with a nice view across the water to, what else, the Mulholland Lighthouse on Campobello Island. Keeping the window open at night made the room comfortably cool, and, after 8:00 there was very little noise from the street. The shower was a bit tight, and, probably due to the convoluted plumbing, sounded like a screaming banshee when the water was running…this was probably more annoying to the people in the next room if they were trying to sleep. The pub downstairs had several good beers on tap and had excellent food, including what was probably the best Shepherd’s Pie I have ever eaten.
As I mentioned earlier, all restaurants in Lubec close at 8:00 pm, around the same time we are generally are heading out to eat in Washington, DC. After trying a couple of other restaurants for lunch, I decided to stick with Cohill’s for my dinners.
I found that my cell phone generally did not work in Lubec, and, when I did have service, it was picking up a Canadian cell. I used Skype and Skype-out to make all my calls from my computer or my iPad.