ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Howie Motenko is playing with light again.
But this time, the Mount Desert photographer isn’t taking pictures of the stone bridges in Acadia National Park or familiar spots on offshore islands while volunteers illuminate them with flashlights.
Instead, he’s shooting Acadia entirely by moonlight.
“People have been photographing Acadia for an awfully long time, but no one has done it this way,” he said. “So, it’s exciting for me to give this unique vision, this different perspective of Acadia.”
Motenko said traditional wisdom holds that the ideal time to do landscape photography is during the “golden hour” after sunrise and before sunset, when the light is supposed to be the best. But everybody does that, and he wanted to try something different.
So, since October 2017, he has been scouting locations throughout Acadia and then going out to take pictures on nights when there is a full moon — or one or two nights on either side of the full moon.
He has always been a night owl, not a morning person, so he rather enjoys spending the overnight hours outdoors setting up shots and waiting for the moon to be in just the right place in the sky. Most of the pictures in his nighttime-in-Acadia series were taken between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Timing is everything with such a project. For example, if Motenko wants to shoot a waterfall beside the Cadillac Mountain summit road, there needs to have been rain the day before. And the moon can’t just be full; it needs to be high or low enough to bathe the waterfall in the perfect light. If he wants to shoot a scene at the shore at low tide, that’s another factor. And then there are clouds.
“Sometimes, clouds are good,” Motenko said. “But most of the time they don’t work in my favor.”
A sky full of broken clouds helped make his shot of Bass Harbor Marsh. But he needed a completely clear sky for the time-lapse shot of stars swirling above Bubble Rock, which he blended with a shot taken a couple of hours later as the moon was starting to peek over Pemetic Mountain.
Some of the other locations in Acadia where Motenko has photographed by moonlight so far are Monument Cove, Hunter’s Beach, Duck Brook, Hemlock Road and Jordan Pond looking toward the Bubbles.
That shot was taken in February, when the pond was covered with ice and snow.
“It was brutally cold and the wind was blowing,” Motenko recalled. “After spending several hours out there, I was numb to the core.”
Motenko has been selected as one of Acadia’s artists in residence for this year. As part of that program, he plans to spend five days each in the Schoodic and Isle au Haut sections of the park, scouting locations during the day and taking pictures at night.
His nighttime-in-Acadia photographs will be on display at the Northeast Harbor Library in October.