All the extreme cold as of late brought up one of my favorite trips to photograph lighthouses in Maine with sea smoke as a backdrop. From discovering sea smoke and freezing myself to the core just to get
2 lighthouse photographs is an adventure and a story worth telling.
|Portland Head Lighthouse|
It was a warm summer day and I stood on the back porch of Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine seeking shelter from a passing downpour.
The grey, drab skies weren't quite what I had in mind for one
of my first Maine photos so I strolled into the gift shop. Wet and a bit chilly I stood there scanning for anything of interest and there it was! An amazing picture of the light station with an eerie sort of fog that didn't seem like ordinary fog to my discerning eye. The Shopkeeper looked over and said, "that's sea smoke, happens only when it's below zero". That's where it all began, and it's what I'll always remember Marshall Point Lighthouse for.
After a tons of research I found that -10f (-24c) was the preferred number for a big time sea smoke event. What I wasn't ready for was the years it took to get those frigid temps right down to the coast of Maine. I thought it happened every year but it doesn't, at least in Portland.
The long range called for the temps I wanted so I planned my trip. Cold...huh, I laugh at cold, after all I've been in -30 up on the summit of Mt Washington and this would certainly be milder.
I'd take up temporary residence at a kind of shabby place in town, after all I'm on a photographer's budget, and get my gear ready for my pre-dawn departure. I flew out of bed and into the truck. I always feel late, probably because I always am, and drive myself crazy on the way over yelling at myself and saying I should have got up earlier...and on and on.
I already arranged to have the gate open to the park where the lighthouse is on Cape Elizabeth. It was a pleasant surprise to see it open and I flew into the park, up the winding roads to the top of the hill and I saw that I was on time! What a sight! I pulled over and ran across a small field to this viewpoint and plopped my tripod into the snow and started to set up the camera. What a disaster! My lense fogged, as the camera was in the warm toasty truck with me, and I froze in minutes and had to run right back to my warm, toasty truck. I find myself running all the time when I do this sort of thing as these events are short lived and I try to maximize my time. Of course leaving the truck without a jacket and gloves was not one of my better ideas, but I just wanted a couple quick snapsots before I got down to where I really wanted to be. The truck seemed like a thousand degrees when I got back in to retrieve my jacket and gloves, although this time I left my camera outside to prevent any sort of lense fogging. I couldn't stay in for long enough to actually warm up as time is of the essence and quickly ticking away. I ran back to my spot still cold and took a couple quick photos. I still had to remove my gloves to properly operate my camera and that was a bit painful to already cold hands. Back in the truck, camera sort of hanging out the window, to stay cold, it was a 30 second drive to the lower lot.
Running out of the truck, again, I'd arrive at my favorite spot. Getting there involves jumping the fence and scaling down those famous Maine Coast rocks we all know and love. I was so pumped up to get there I didn't realize that my hands continued to get colder even with my gloves on! So did my body, I could feel the cold coming through all my layers! It was much different than mountain cold. This stuff just chilled you to the core! My stubbornness would never allow me to leave without at least a few images so I set up and mustered up the courage to remove one glove, on my already frozen hand, to operate my camera. Ouch! instant pain! My hand really didn't function properly and I didn't get any usable pictures in those few frozen moments. For the first time in my life I got really concerned about frostbite. I'd never felt this sort of stinging pain before, and as the cold continued to relentlessly freeze me, I gave up. Here again I find myself scrambling up the rocks, over the fence and into my warm truck. Camera outside the door on the tripod, me inside wincing in pain.
Most people have at one time or another felt that warming up pain in our hands when we were kids sledding pushing the envelope for that one more run. This was much worse....I knew however that I didn't have frostbite as my skin was a shade of deep red and pink, but not black. It was just a case of the stupids and I'd use this as a what not to do scenario. I'm sure it was the beginning stages of frostbite or whatever but I was pushing though and slowly warming up.
I sat in the truck, absorbing as much heat as I could, watching the sea smoke sort of rush out of the harbor and swirl and sort of billow up just offshore! It was so cool, watching the sunrise through the sea smoke, from the warmth of my truck, not being able to be anywhere but inside. I couldn't take any pics and sat there in bitter disappointment. I guess it wasn't so bad as most of the time when I photograph great things, I don't get to enjoy the moment. This time I got to enjoy the moment with no pictures. The other way is much better.
Trying to decide if I was disappointed or thrilled with what looked like only 1 useable image and as if I was in control of the weather a mid layer cloud deck started to roll in from the north, stratocumulus clouds! You see they are the creme de la creme, chocolate for photographers, the be all end all, well at least for me anyway and I was warm as warm could be by now! Again I ran from the truck, no jacket, gloves etc....only this time up to the fence a mere 50' from the truck and took a couple images and jumped back into the warmth happier than could possibly be. I remember thinking, thank you, thank you, thank you!
|Portland head lighthouse with Stratocumulus Clouds and sea smoke remnants shown as the little grey line on the right at the horizon in the orange sunlight.|
I keep my camera in the cold whenever I work out in the cold and snow, which is as much as and whenever possible. It never fogs up and snow and blowing snow just bounce off.
I wear mittens in extreme cold with high tech gloves under them so I can take off the mittens and operate my gear with at least one layer of protection.
I use lithium ion batteries that perform well below zero with no loss of power. NiMH Batteries tend to lose power in minutes unless you keep them warm.
Most important, I've learned to slow down and enjoy the moment doing what I love, so that I can feel and remember it. That hit me one day in Acadia National Park, you guessed it, in January, at a Lighthouse during EPIC conditions! That my friends is another story for another day!