Hurricane Dorian & Portland Head

On one of my early visits to Maine, and just as I was beginning to be interested in landscape photography, I visited an art fair in Portland with my then-wife. I saw a photo of Portland Head lighthouse with seas violently churning as a storm moved through, and that photo has stuck with me since then. I'd long wanted to make my own images of Portland Head Light in similar conditions, and this past Saturday, with Hurricane Dorian passing off the coast and high tide due at sunrise, I had my chance.

Tempest at Portland Head

I arrived just before sunrise and it was clear that there would be no color to be had on this day. There were heavy dramatic clouds blowing quickly through and where on clearer days you'd be able to see a glow on the horizon, on this day, there was only darkness. I could see the light of a cruise ship heading into the harbor to escape the storm- I'd heard on the news the previous evening that there would be three coming in on this day. I retreated to my car for a few more minutes, since it was so dark and cloudy, I wouldn't be able to see anything until the sun was nearly all the way up.

Once things began to brighten, I exited the car and made my way to the viewing area to see how things looked. The ocean was churning violently, but the surf wasn't as big as I'd hoped. There were already several photographers perched on the rocks to the south of the lighthouse, so I climbed down to join them. Thankfully, it wasn't raining much, just a lot of wind and violent waves.

The image above was taken about a half hour after I found my spot on the rocks. The waves weren't reaching me here, but occasionally a splash would land about a foot to my right. It was exhilarating watching Mother Nature unleash this violence on the rocky shoreline while I clicked the shutter button, attempting to time the waves just right. My biggest issue was trying to keep my lens clear, as raindrops would occasionally fall onto the front of the lens, requiring me to wipe it clean. I had several ruined shots as the rain fell on the lens while I was making an exposure.

Nature's Fury at Portland Head Lighthouse

After spending some time on the south side of the lighthouse, I decided I wanted to see what the north side looked like. The north side is further towards the harbor and not as open to the ocean as the south side, so it's usually a bit calmer in terms of the waves. But not on this day. On this day, as waves pounded the cobblestone beach, the sound of the rocks rattling against each other could be heard mixing with the sounds of the wind and the roar of the ocean. I spent a while photographing from this angle until I had a few images I thought showed the true anger of the ocean. All in all, it made for a fun morning, watching the storm and the waves crash against the rocks, like fireworks on the Fourth of July.