I have been photographing in Acadia National Park annually now for a decade. This year's trip was something special because my mother is celebrating her 80th birthday in November, and she wanted to go to Maine as a family. The entire Morrissey clan, and most of their broods, came together for the week, an occurrence that happens only rarely.
My brother rented a large house and we were given a bedroom on the ground floor. This worked well for us for two reasons. The first is that sunrise in July in Acadia is really early, requiring a 4 AM wakeup. The second reason is that our dog, Mahkayla, is now geriatric and she cannot handle the stairs well. The ground floor room allowed us to sneak in and out without disturbing anyone quite nicely.
One thing I have learned is that photographing during a family trip can be challenging for just about anyone (and my family really gets into photography). I imagine that for most, the days are spent in a fashion that my mother used to refer to as "Forced Family Fun" when we were children. As an adult, "Forced Family Fun" is actually a pretty wonderful thing, but it does mean that there need to be some adaptions in order to accommodate both the trip and getting some nice photographs in. I hope the following tips are helpful when thinking about how to get out enjoy family time while still pursuing your art.
(1) Plan on scouting photographic locations on the fly.
This is a family trip - and the goal (hopefully) during the day is to spend the limited time we have with our loved ones doing things that is appealing to everyone. LOL, Good luck with that! Having said that, get used to the idea that you will not be spending large amounts of time scouting for photographic locations to shoot in. Finding locations to go and shoot will need to be performed in more of a serendipitous way. Instead of going to places to find photographic opportunities, you are going to have to let them come to you. I realize that this sounds corny, but it is absolutely the truth. It requires mindfulness about your surroundings while you are out enjoying your family's unique dynamics.
This year's trip to Maine included 14 people (13 humans and Mahkayla :)), plus a few friends of my sister-in-law's. We were frequently driving in 3 or 4 cars from location to location doing sight-seeing. I find the movement and confusion to be slightly enjoyable, and when things get rough there were always stops for ice cream. It turns out though that Serendipity was with us. Two of my favorite shots during the week came from a side trip that my father wanted to make to a town called Prospect Harbor. A cannery, a lighthouse and a bunch of boats and a perfect sunset facing orientation...oh my! We decided to come back the following evening as my dad does not love crowds and Mahkayla does not like fireworks (it was going to be the 4th of July). My one regret is that we did not make it to town early enough to make it to Udder Heaven by closing time. Udder Heaven is an ice cream shop on Route 3 in Bar Harbor. While there are certainly lots of places that sell ice cream, if Udder Heaven is available...well, in my opinion, it is sinful to go anywhere else.
Prospect Harbor Sunset
Prospect Harbor Sunset
(2) Get up! Get up!! Get Up!!! Get Up!!!!
Waking up and shooting sunrise is probably the best way to get your photography in during a family trip. I guarantee you that there will be far fewer fights with your family about where people want to go when the subject is sunrise. That is because more than likely you will be going by yourself and they will be in bed. No one else wants to get up with you at 4 AM – not even the dog. To be clear, if you are even thinking about getting up and shooting sunrise on 4 hours of sleep per night, you may have a problem. That also means you are probably committed to your craft. As Chanthee once mercilessly told me while I was being sucked dry by a swarm of mosquitoes on the rocks of Bass Harbor, “An artist suffers for his work.” Truer works were never uttered. It is also nice to see that someone considers me an artist.
Get up before the sun rises because if you only shoot sunsets you are missing half of the day. Get up because it is a magical feeling to be among the first to see the gentle light of the sun break up the heavens and the night sky. Get up because the rest of your senses will be on fire as the day gets started. Get up because you will still have plenty of time to have pancakes and omelets with your family at a reasonable hour (particularly if sunrise is at 5 AM), and probably no one else will care where you out at all. Get Up! Get Up!! Get Up!!! Get Up!!!!
Somes Sound Sunrise
Bass Harbor Sunrise
(3)Schedule meals at a time that works for everyone.
Believe it or not, figuring out when to eat is probably the hardest thing for a lot of photographers when on a family trip. While I was being playful about breakfast pancakes and omelets with family, there is a lot of truth to it. Unfortunately, we all typically eat at the times when the light is at its most pleasing. Trying to coordinate dinner with a large group can be really challenging. It almost always means that part of the ‘peak light’ hours are taken up with the unnecessary consumption of calories. In order to accommodate everyone, we typically ate dinner around 5 or 5:30 PM. This allowed Chanthee and me to escape by 6 or 6:30 PM.
I am proud to say that we made both sunrise and sunset every single day, and I don’t feel like anyone felt slighted. We just needed to coordinate a time that was a bit unreasonable for everyone. Hey – it sounds just like “Forced Family Fun.”
Cadillac Mountain Sunset (Porcupine Islands in the background)
Cadillac Mountain Sunrise (Eagle Lake in the Foreground)
(4) Take advantage of scheduling foul ups.
Scheduling errors are to be expected when dealing with large groups. How you deal with them is up to you. A lot of people get frustrated and surly…I am not going to lie, sometimes that is me. However, I tried to be mindful and turn small misfortunes into opportunities for new photographic experiences. For example, one evening we left for sunset on Cadillac Mountain about a half hour later than expected. The Park Service had the road to Cadillac blocked because there were so many people there for the 4th of July weekend. We drove around Arcadia for about 40 minutes. I was completely stumped. For whatever reason, I had no interest in going to Jordan Pond, where I would normally go as an alternative due to its convenient location, and I had no idea where I really wanted to be…so we had to hunt.
I took this photograph, with the beaver pond at a little lake in Arcadia. I probably could not find it again if I wanted to…though I know it is off of the loop road going past Pebble Beach. Chanthee and I stopped the car because the light was going to fade out and it was so rich and beautiful. What was amazing though was not the photograph. It was the sound of coyotes yipping and howling at each other. I believe that we were not far from a den.
Somewhere off the Loop Road
This next photograph came off of Norway Road in Bar Harbor. We were running late and I was looking for a sunset location. There had been some construction on Route 3 and we got diverted off of the Crooked Road. I don’t normally like to shoot into the sun because I like to have more foreground definition, however, I make one primary exception – when you have nice reflections in the water to add indirect lighting.
I used two filters stacked in order to pull this composition off (total 5 stops). It is not among my favorite photos from the trip – but people consistently say that they like it among the best, so I added it here.
(5) Enjoy the family trip.
I am going to end this essay the way that I started it. This is a family trip - and the goal during the day is to spend the limited time we have with our loved ones. Don’t sweat that you may lose a sunset. It is not the end of the world.
What counts is that you shared experiences together with another person. Believe me, this is not to sound Pollyannaish. I understand that every family dynamic is different. I also get that for many (many) people that spending time with family members can be intensely stressful and frustrating. If all else fails, you can always drown your sorrows in hot fudge at Udder Heaven. Sorry for that. I just cannot help myself. It might just be one of my favorite ice cream experiences of all time. Seriously though - If you can - allow yourself to enjoy as many moments as you can. As my Pop has said to me throughout my childhood, “Tomorrow is promised to no one.” The sun will rise and the sun will fall, if we are there or not. Make sure that the people you are going on this trip with understand how important they are to you...in as big a dose (or as little) as you can tolerate.