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Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide To When, Where, And How

Author : Colleen Miniuk-Sperry
Published : 2014-02-01

Book store clerks could have a difficult time displaying this book. Does it go under "photography" or under "travel"? You'll understand the quandary once you start turning the pages, for you'll learn as much about Acadia National Park in general as you'll learn about how to get the best photos there.

Colleen J. Miniuk-Sperry, who so far has enjoyed three stints as "artist-in-residence" in Acadia, came to her book with a passion not only for photography, but for Acadia. It shows through the 200-odd pages of Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide To When, Where, And How, whether she's discussing angles, filters, tides, and timing, or the surrounding landscape, structures, and history that make Acadia such a stunning national park.

And her writing, which she gives a nod to editor Erik Berg for honing, flows smoothly and invitingly.

Towering above the swirling Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of Bass Harbor, the stately Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is widely considered one of the most iconic scenes within Acadia National Park. Dramatically located at the edge of precipitous, rugged cliffs, the white brick 26-foot tower began guiding sailors through the surrounding shallow waters in 1858. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lighthouse remains active, but with an automated light since 1974.

Such descriptive and evocative writing rightly place Photographing Acadia National Park in league with other travel guidebooks. The bonus for the reader are the accompanying photo tips and instructions.

For the entry on the Bass Harbor Head Light, the author provides eye-glance information on best time of year to photograph the lighthouse (October to March), time of day to photograph it (sunset), tide levels for optimum ambience (mid to high, incoming), and the effort of your hike to reach the photo point (moderate), and then she delves into the details of the location and her approach to the photo shoot. 

Dig into this entry and you'll learn you should arrive at the location at least an hour before sunset, fit your camera with a wide-angle to normal lens that itself is fitted with a polarizing filter, and mount it on a tripod. 

Watch for convergence, though, when using a wide-angle lens. With this lens, the lighthouse and surrounding trees can appear to slant unnaturally. Compose broadly to correct the perspective later in post-processing software or keep the lighthouse straight in the field by making a subtle tilt with a tilt-shift lens. Then, time your exposure with the lighthouse's red occulting light as it flashes brightly for three seconds (and then disappears for one section).

The narrative goes on to discuss ways to block lens flare, how to work with cloudy skies, and why an incoming tide will bolster your image. There is, of course, an accompanying photo on the page to illustrate the end result. That photo, by the way, also graces the book's cover.

All told, there are 50 photo location entries compiled by the author, stretching from Mount Desert Island (MDI) to the Schoodic Peninsula and down to Isle au Haut. Interestingly, she does not include the Somesville Bridge, which rivals the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse as the most iconic photo on MDI. While it is outside the park's boundaries, so is the Asticou Azalea Garden, which is among the photo locations (and rightfully so, for its artistic gardens).

Consider purchasing this book directly from the author at her website,, as Amazon heavily discounts titles and that would affect the amount of money the author donates to the Schoodic Education Adventure program.

There is a chapter on photography basics -- what's the difference between RAW and JPEG file formats, insights into managing your exposures, film speeds, shutter speeds and how to depict motion in your photos, aperature and depth of field, white balancing, and those funky histogram charts on digital SLRs.

Those charts, explains the author, "show how much light your camara captured during the exposure. This instant feedback helps photographers understand whether the camera recorded the appropriate amount of light and how to adjust the exposure if you do not like what you see." (She delves further into reading the histogram on page 30).

You'll also find pages of information on the various filters at your disposal, how to work with natural light, and how flash can enhance your images.

For the traveler, Ms. Miniuk-Sperry provides a section on the park's history (with pertinent mention of the 19th century painters and "rusticators" who put MDI on the map), details on the various seasons in the park, a chapter that introduces you to MDI, how to get there and what you'll find at Bar Harbor, and basic park information touching on fees, public transportation, and the park newspaper, the Beaver Log, with its helpful information.

And, of course, for each location she's scouted Ms. Miniuk-Sperry provides some nice insights into the location. For example, in discussing the Waterfall Bridge near Parkman Mountain, she notes that, "After zigzagging up the gravel incline and then sauntering across a relatively flat section of the Hadlock Brook Loop Carriage Road with partially obstructed views of Upper Hadlock Pond and Northeast Harbor in the distance to the south, the first stone bridge -- Hemlock Bridge -- comes into view. Built in 1925 during John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s carriage road building extravaganza, this grand overpass spans majestically across the small cascades of Maple Spring Brook."

Further complementing the individual entries are tables and maps that show you where each entry was located and on which page the location is described, as well as a Shoot Calendar that enables you to see the best time of year to visit each location, what time of day is best, whether you should coincide with a high or low tide, and how strenuous the hike to the location is. 

If you tote a camera with you to Acadia National Park, this guide can only enhance both your experience and your photos. 

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