My first time in Maine was over New Year's Eve 1998 and New Year's Day, 1999. My ex-wife and I had decided to get away for the holiday and found a cute bed and breakfast in York Harbor. When we arrived, we asked the innkeeper about nearby lighthouses, and she directed us to Cape Neddick Lighthouse, known by many as The Nubble Light. We drove there on our way to dinner, and as soon as I saw the lighthouse, I was immediately in love with Maine. The full moon was rising over the lighthouse, it was bitterly cold, and there was a dusting of snow on the island around the lighthouse. Back then, I was primarily photographing sports, but I had dabbled in some landscape photography and was growing more interested in it. I braved the bitter cold for a few minutes with my camera and made a couple of images, which are unfortunately lost to time now.
Location Spotlight: The Nubble Lighthouse
Cape Neddick Lighthouse is located in York, Maine, on a small island known as The Nubble, which is maybe 50 yards offshore. The lighthouse can be viewed up close from Sohier Park, making it accessible at all hours. My favorite time here is at sunrise, arriving well before dawn to watch the light come up and and the waves washing over the rocks. Simply viewing it from the parking lot is relaxing, as you can park and see the lighthouse and waves from the driver's seat when parked in the right spot.
But of course, photographing the lighthouse from the parking lot never satisfied me. The rocky shoreline around Sohier Park make for many great places to sit and view the lighthouse and just relax. You do have to watch the tides and water. I find the lighthouse is at its most dramatic looking at high tide, and even better if a storm is inbound or at sea and really churning the waters. I've quickly found that some waves will be much larger and travel much further than others, so it's best to watch out where you're standing or you could find yourself swept away!
Many people are drawn to the rocks just below the parking area, right in front of the lighthouse. I have certain spots around there that I know work well for wave splashes, but I do like to explore a bit and find new compositions. For instance, the first image in this article, and the third one, were taken on the same day, from the same area. By walking around a bit, I was able to find these smaller rocks that layer upon themselves when the water rolls in. This is off to the side a little, away from where most people stand, but because of the way the lighthouse is positioned on the island, it's easy to make sure it stays prominent in the scene.
In the winter, the lighthouse is lit up for the holidays from Thanksgiving until just after New Year's Day. It's always worth a trip to see, especially if you can get there with some fresh snow. If it's REALLY cold, you might be lucky enough to get some sea smoke coming off the water. You have to be careful though, as the rocks get icy and it's easy to slip and fall. I managed to snap my tripod at the collar on the morning the image above was made. It was about 6ºF, and I slipped and landed awkwardly, with the tripod legs splaying and the collar taking the brunt. The material was brittle due to the cold and snapped easily. Oh well. Still got the shot.
I mentioned that I like the Nubble best when the ocean is a bit angry and really crashing against the rocks. At low tide, there is little to no water in the channel between the island and mainland. It becomes a bit boring, in my opinion, so I've taken to checking the tides before I go to photograph the Nubble, to make sure conditions will be closer to my ideal. There's still always the chance that the seas are perfectly calm, even at high tide, but if I know the tide is right, I know I have a chance at least.
There are certain times of year when it's especially worth seeing the lighthouse at night. For the image below, this was a full moonrise captured from Long Sands Beach, about a mile away from the lighthouse. I used a telephoto lens to zoom in on the lighthouse, which also made the moon appear large in comparison.
If you're really a night owl, the Milky Way is best seen above the lighthouse in early March. The problem, however, is that it's not visible in March until about 2am so you have to stay up late or get up really early. It's well worth the effort, however, to see the lighthouse just below the galaxy core of the Milky Way.
It's easy to see why Cape Neddick Lighthouse is so popular with tourists, photographers, and the locals alike. It's not hard to imagine what life was like for the light keeper and their family, living on the island just 50 yards from the mainland, but seemingly a world away when the tide is high and the weather is bad. It evokes the romanticism of 19th century coastal New England, and provides a sense of calm and reassurance as it stands watch during the storm.