IN THE FIELD: West Quoddy Head

A few years ago, my wife and I were vacationing along the coast of Maine, exploring the many small towns along the way to our final destination to the eastern most point of the United States. Upon reaching our last stop-over, the plan was to be the first people in the country to see the sunrise the next morning.

To accomplish our goal, we needed to travel to the West Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec Maine. There is a lighthouse in the park, built in 1858, and it stands guard over the Quoddy Narrows. Quoddy Narrows is a strait between Canada and the United States.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast, and on the morning of our quest, hit the road around 4:00 am…long before anyone else began to stir. It was a short drive and we arrived at the park about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Daybreak was still a good half hour away, so we had plenty of time to make our way down the trail that follows the cliffs alongside the ocean. Flashlights helped in finding a good vantage point since it was still dark and we were in the middle of an evergreen forest. The smell of the trees was wondrous at that hour of the morning.

We were able to get a few shots of the lighthouse and its beacon as dawn was approaching. Unfortunately, a glorious sunrise wasn’t meant to be that morning. The sun rose above the horizon for a few minutes and then it was obscured by fog. At least we were the first ones to see sun-up.

Thinking to make the best of the situation, we looked over the edge of the cliff at the rocks below and saw a great photographic opportunity. I grabbed my gear and climbed down the 40 foot cliff to the ocean’s edge. It was then I realized the tripod was up on top of the cliff with my wife. I had two choices on what to do. Climb back up and meet my wife halfway so she could hand me the tripod…or make do with the situation at hand.

I decided it was time to make do before my feet got wet. The tides there are extreme, averaging around 15 feet, and it was coming in…fast.

I was using slide film, it was still early dawn and foggy, so there wasn’t a lot of light available. The fastest shutter speed I could muster up was 1/15th of a second.

Turning myself into a tripod, I squatted down, tucked my elbows in between my legs, held my breath and fired off about 6 shots. When the slides came back from the lab, I was surprised to see that they were sharp, and I had managed to capture some movement in the water.

I don’t recommend this technique when a tripod and cable release can be used, but occasionally you can get lucky. Very lucky.

I used a section of the rocks as the feature image in my masthead for this blog.


  1. January 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    If you get a lemon, make lemonade. You didn’t get the shot you originally planned for, but came up with an excellent alternative. Great shot.

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks Bob, yes sir you just have to make the best of the situation!

  2. January 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Very nice! It’s amazing what we will do for the shot we want.

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks Fergie, It sure is…even if it means climbing down cliffs when the tide is coming in!

  3. Jo Woolf
    January 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Beautiful photo, and I love the stones! Some of them would definitely have made their way into my pocket!

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks Jo, it’s one of my favorites…and quite a few rocks made it into our pockets that trip!

  4. January 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I like the colors!

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Thanks Apostocornel ! The colors held up well even though there wasn’t much light!

  5. January 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I love this photograph so much… and it was so nice to read, dear David, you always share such a nice and good experiences with us. Thank you, have a nice and enjoyable weekend, with my love, nia

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm

      I am glad you like this NIa, it’s one of my many favorites…if one can have many favorites! Yes, I have lots of stories!

  6. January 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    West Quoddy Head is one of my very favorite places in Maine. Several years in a row, my daughter and I vacationed in that area for a week or so every summer. We always visited the lighthouse and never tired of the view. I have hundreds of photos to prove it! Thanks for this post today, David. It was nice to remember summer on a cold winter day.

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      Glad I could bring back memories Lee! We have spent many many trips up there as well. Roque Bluffs, Lubec, Eastport, Cutler etc. I just love the whole coast!!!

  7. January 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Cute story and a beautiful photo 🙂 I love to hear the stories behind the shots you show 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend 🙂

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks Anne, yeah…I have lots of stories to share. Glad you enjoy them and there are plenty more coming!!!

  8. January 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I’ve always liked your header image. The colours and textures are beautiful.

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      It was had to choose where to point he camera. There were so many cool rocks and pebbles but I had to move quickly because of the tide. They average 15-20 feet and really come in fast!

  9. Steve
    January 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I’ve said many times: good planning, good practice, and a little luck makes for awesome images. This is a wonderful shot, David. I love the subtle colours on the rocks. Cheers!

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      Thanks Steve, in this case I think it was a bit of luck! It was pretty dark and my flash was where? Up on top of the cliff…with the tripod.

  10. January 20, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    That turned out to be a beautiful shot! It always pays to try.

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Thanks Montucky, You are right…you will never know unless you try. I had to give it a go, because by the time I would have made it up and down the cliff, the rocks would have been under two feet of water!

  11. January 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I immediately recognized it as your Gavatar image. Your perseverance in capturing this shot has paid off.

    • January 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Thanks John, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity…I guess I could have waited 24 hours for the next low tide…nope couldn’t wait.

  12. January 21, 2012 at 9:50 am

    I’ve always loved this image in your gravatar, David. And a great story to get. Sometimes the shots we don’t plan on make the most memorable ones. 🙂

    • January 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      How very true Katie…spontaneity does have it’s merits! This was a great trip Katie…too many photos to post so I will just tease you guys from time to time!

  13. Nandini
    January 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    This one is the same as your header right! 🙂 I had always wanted to see it in full. Thanks for sharing this one, David! Great post too, nice memories. 🙂

    • January 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks Nandini, I figured it was about time I shared this story with you guys. Yes that was a fun trip with tons of memories!

  14. January 23, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    This is an amazing shot David! I enjoyed reading the story, your determination to see the sunrise is exceptional! I would do the same! 😀 This is what life is all about, making the best of it 😀

  15. January 24, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Thanks Kristina, this photos and the photo in the next post are two of my favorites…we were determined for sure!

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