Otter Cliff is one of Acadia's most beautiful and iconic locations. Above a wide rocky beach, the cliff juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, pounded by waves (on a windy day) and topped by thousands of pine trees. Viewed from the beach along Ocean Drive, the east-facing site lights up with the first rays of daylight, making it one of the best locations to see an Acadian sunrise. But, like most beautiful places in the world, it suffers from an overabundance of photographers, all trying to repeat the same picture they've seen someone else do before them.
Don't get me wrong, I've spent valuable time on the Boulder Beach, waiting for the sunlight to kiss the granite sides of Otter Cliff. I was even really disappointed one year (2008) when I arrived at the beach early, only to see a large crane rising a hundred feet above the cliff, forcing me to think fast and seek another place to photograph the sunrise. (It turns out they were shooting the latest Martin Scorsese film, Shutter Island, on the cliff face and had commandeered the cliff-top parking lot for several days with their trailers, cars and the large crane. But I digress.)
It's been a few years since I've photographed a sunrise at Otter Cliff now. Not that it doesn't look great, but because of the sheer number of photographers who line up to photograph the same scene. I just refuse to stand in a line to make the same image everyone else is. Not to mention it sometimes gets nasty. The unwritten rule of landscape photography is whoever gets there first has the right to set up anywhere they choose. All others will have to work around that first photographer. But I've seen people show up 'late' and walk in front of others who've been set up for over half an hour, and they just don't care. Angry words are exchanged and everyone leaves with a sour taste. The same thing happens at Bass Harbor Head lighthouse at sunset. And my time in Acadia is just too valuable for that.
I was visiting Acadia with a friend in 2012 and making pictures up above the beach, when I made this image above. There are over fifteen photographers here, all lined up along the beach. They're possibly still getting some nice pictures, but it just seems too much like an assembly line production to me. And Acadia, to me, is about peace, being alone with the elements and experiencing nature and creating expressive art. I just can't do that when everyone around me is doing the same thing.
So what are we to do? Well, if you have your heart set on photographing Acadia's most iconic image, by all means, go for it. It's a beautiful location, especially when the light cooperates. But try visiting out of season when you'll have the place to yourself and you're more free to move around as the light changes. Landscape photography is best when you're not mimicking someone else's photo and instead, you're thinking about how best to photograph the scene around you, in the conditions you find right then and there.
One of my favorite images from this location came because I looked behind me early one morning and noticed how beautiful the light was on the rocks and water, before the sun had even come up. Otter Cliff was at my back but I had discovered an even more beautiful scene. I'd never seen anyone else make an image like this in Acadia so it was unique to me. And that's the whole point of this- don't settle for what everyone else is shooting. Go ahead and photograph the iconic Acadia scenes, but try to open your eyes wider and be looking for beauty everywhere, at all times.