Monday, August 13, 2012

"Focus on Acadia" With Bob Thayer

Bar Harbor, ME   High:  73   Low:  65

Want to learn how to take great photos at Acadia National Park? Sign up for the "Focus on Acadia" ranger led class. It's FREE! Always a good thing when you are traveling full time, retired, and have to watch your budget. Sparky signed up for the class, which appears to be offered most Fridays from 8:00 AM to about 11:30 AM. Registration is necessary, and the class fills up quickly. No reservations accepted until about three days before the class. It starts at Sieur de Mont, home of a nice nature center, a great botanical garden labeled by habitats, some great hikes, and the Abbe, a small but interesting native American museum.

The ranger, Bob Thayer, led a full class of 15 individuals today with a light emphasis on camera mechanics, but a strong emphasis on composition, lighting and communicating a story through your photos. If you are looking for a technical class on how to use your F-stops, aperature settings, and other such things, this is not the way to go. This is a very general class suited for a wide variety of camera users, and we had that today. Everything from iphone cameras to big, honkin' wide angle zoom lens cameras to little point and shoot cameras, and then Sparky with TWO cameras in case the battery died on one of them. Best to be prepared, don'tcha know! (Ask Sparky how many times the battery has died after getting the first shot of some spectacular scenery.) Naw, don't ask. There was even one guy in the class who actually was shooting with film!

We started at the back of the Sieur de Mont, where the "Wild Acadia Gardens" are located, and in one of Bob's favorite places, that he called the "Sea of Grasses." He talked a lot about a lot of different things in general terms, but things that you will remember and help you improve your photos. He said that there's a famous quote out there, something about photography is "10% inspiration and 90% moving furniture." Hunh? He went onto explain that you look for inspiration in settings, something moves you, something catches your eye and makes you say, "Hm-m-m-m....that looks cool..." You look closer, you examine it more carefully, now you want to take a photo. You move yourself around, you manipulate your subject if it's moveable, you try different angles, you try different settings on your camera. Now you are "moving furniture."

He gave us practice assignments..."Try to capture the lighting on the grass. Try to capture the darker grasses...." Here's my attempt.....

He talked about how the sun changes your environment within minutes. He talked about understanding the purpose behind your photo. Do you want to share it on Facebook? Do you want to document a memory? Do you want to capture a mood, a feeling? Within minutes, we were all snapping away, trying to capture the sea of grasses, the atmosphere in the forest...He wasn't there to critique our shots, just to offer helpful advice. Some people shared, others just worked on their photos....If you didn't like the way your shot turned out, if you showed it to him, he offered helpful suggestions on how to make it better.

We then traveled to Eagle Lake, to capture the famous Eagle Lake Bridge, one of Rockefeller's more famous bridges. Our assignment there was to take a triptych photo--a series of three shots--one closeup detail shot, one landscape one, and one more of your choosing....The idea behind a set of three is to tell a more complete story of what you are looking at. Move in close for great detail,  and back off to give a better perspective, the total picture of what you are seeing. As an example of the Eagle Lake Bridge, Sparky took a photo of the stones and the angles for a closeup, another closeup of the calcium carbonate leaching from the stone, then a photo of the bridge putting the all the shots in the context of taking a class today.

While we were at the Eagle Lake Bridge, someone starting talking about visiting other carriage road bridges and where they were. Bob was talking about how to find some of them, when Sparky piped up, "You know, there is a fantastic book at the visitor's center called Acadia's Carriage Roads..." and all of sudden, Ranger Bob says, "That's my book." WHA-A-AT??? And it slowly dawned on her.....

Sparky looks at his name tag, "Bob Thayer" ....HE'S THE AUTHOR! Wow! How great is that?!! Bob says, "Seriously, folks, I did not hire her to say that.....Actually, she's really my sister!" And everybody laughed.

Seriously folks, this is a wonderful book with beautiful photos and wonderful history of the carriage roads. How lucky can you be to be in beautiful Acadia on a nature photography walk with a well known photographer? It doesn't get any better than that. His book is 12.95 at the visitor center, and a wonderful treasure trove of knowledge about the beautiful carriage roads and bridges. There are nifty architectural sketchings of the bridges accompanying the photos of the roads along with beautiful nature photos. Did I say this book is beautiful? Sparky had been pouring over this book for days right before the class.

Sparky was in awe the rest of the class....We walked further down the road around Eagle Lake. Bob talked about a couple of landscape photographers, what their styles were, how they took their photos, how sometimes the photos will contain symbols that draw your eye to them, such as two tree branches as one of the elements in a photo making a religious cross. The photographer might take an oar and angle it a certain way to point the viewer's eye in a definite direction, leading you to something else. We practiced taking photos with the foreground very prominant, as in the style of David Muench, a famous landscape photographer. The idea is to give you the WOW factor up close and personal in the forefront, then lead your eye towards the rear of the photo to see the rest of the landscape.

Bob had us practice taking "environmental portraits"--shots of a subject in a nature setting, and how to watch for lighting washing out the subject, or having the face be too dark and how to correct it. He had some reflective little portable discs with him, and showed us how the lighting on the young girl's face changed with using or not using the reflectors, and how to use your flash to compensate for shadows in your subject. Of course, she was so cute, anyway, her smile lit up her face without needing much help in the way of extra lighting.

Sparky had a LOT of fun today, learned some really great things about composing shots, how to avoid a washed out sky, how to get the best portrait photo, how to move around more and frame your landscape shots. She had some great talks with some of the people in the class, and really enjoyed the photography workshop today. She might just even attend some more ranger workshops. The word is, the guy that does the birding talks is highly animated, a hoot to listen to, and lots of fun as well!


  1. Really great shot and story of the bridge. . .we've scheduled photography tours a couple of times on cruises. . .we figure photographers know all the best places to go. . .and so far they have been a huge success. . .glad you found a good one!

  2. What a great class! Enjoying your posts about Acadia!

  3. Other than the Golden Gate Bridge, I didn't know a bridge could be so interesting.
    Beautiful photos.

  4. What a great deal. A free photo class from such a great photographer! Your pictures were great!

  5. What a great way to spend a morning! Certainly worth at least twice what you paid for it. :)

  6. Sounds like a great way to explore and learn about photography. Hoping to do more of these types of outings when we're retired and not running from one place to another.

  7. Sounds like an outstanding day. What a great class from our national parks.

  8. Congratulations. You scored on that tour.

    I'm raptly reading your Acadia posts as I know we will make it there eventually. Keep 'em (the blogs) coming!