Cinnamon Bay

Cinnamon Bay, St. John
View of Cinnamon Bay looking towards Whistling Cay. Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.


Cinnamon Bay is located on the tiny island in the Caribbean called St. John, so small it has no airport, no traffic light and no movie theater. What it does have is unbelievably turquoise waters surrounding its warm white sand beaches that are void of large hotels because two thirds of the island is home to Virgin Islands National Park. Everyone arrives here by boat, unless you have a helicopter. The roads are steep and full of curves; the maximum speed limit is 20 mph and, to throw in another twist, we drive on the left. We share the roads with chickens, donkeys, goats, cattle, iguanas and mongoose. The town is affectionately dubbed “Love City,” and you can walk from one end of town to the other in five minutes. At nine miles long and three miles wide at its widest, this place is explored using feet, fins or four-wheel drive. Many of the cars on the island are Jeeps, and of those vehicles many of them have paddleboards on top and beach chairs in the back.

Weather At Cinnamon Bay

From December through March, early-morning temps are in the low 70s and daytime temps are in the low 80s. The air is dry and clear, and the sky is ripe with perfect puffy cumulus clouds. Traditionally, May and November are the rainiest months. Summers are hot and hazy with frequent but short rain showers.

Photo Experience At Cinnamon Bay

There’s a national park campground at Cinnamon Bay just behind the beach and a watersports concession. There’s an added bonus to photographing in the tropics: In addition to capturing long shadows and warm light around sunrise and sunset, most North American photographers don’t realize that the best time of day to capture the aquamarine colors of the Caribbean Sea is between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun is high enough to penetrate the surface of the water to reveal an amazing variety of turquoises. Around 10:30 a.m. is the ultimate best time to capture the color of the shallow tropical ocean. The most useful filter is a polarizer. It not only cuts the glare, but it deepens the green of the vegetation and enhances the contrast with the clouds. Pay attention to the highlights of the white sand in the scene.

If you’re lucky enough to shoot underwater, remember a few essential tips. Shoot wide, get close, then get closer. If you’re not using flash, keep the sun at your back. Angle across or up to include blue water in the shot. The least-attractive underwater angle is downward. Set the white balance for Daylight, not Auto. Slow down and don’t chase the marine life. If you stay in one spot, the wildlife will eventually return to what they were doing before you showed up. Be careful changing lenses at the beach, because there’s a ton of salt in the air. Don’t spray sunscreen or bug spray near your uncovered lenses, as bug spray can damage lens coatings and the oils in sunscreen are difficult to remove completely.

Best Times

Best times to visit and photograph the Virgin Islands are typically in season, which means December through March. Fall is also a great time to visit, not because the leaves are changing color, because they don’t; it’s when the summer’s moist, hot, hazy skies disappear and the island is super green as a result of a summer full of rain showers. If you want the “virgin” in Virgin Islands look, then October is the quietist time of year, and you’ll have the place to yourself. As with most national parks, people don’t start arriving until 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., and most of the beachgoers begin leaving late in the afternoon, after 4 p.m. The no-see-ums (tiny sand fleas) come out around dawn and dusk. They can be so bad that they chase you off the beach.

Contact: National Park Service,

See more of Steve Simonsen’s photography at

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In The Dark With The New Nikon D850

Milky Way Nikon D850
Nikon D850 with AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm F2.8G ED lens.

Earlier in August, I had the incredible opportunity to run around with a pair of Nikon D850 bodies, testing them out day and night along the coast of Maine and New Brunswick. This shot is from the cliffs of Grand Manan.

The Nikon D850 is the successor to the D810, but it’s quite an upgrade! The sensor is backlit, and from my experience that plus the Expeed 5 processor in the D850 provide amazing results for high ISO images at night. At 20 seconds, f/2.8, 14mm, and ISO 25,600 the results are great and using some noise reduction goes a long ways. I also did some star stacking of 10 shots at 10 seconds each at ISO 26,000 and then stacked with Starry Landscape Stacker (Mac only, but it can be done manually in Photoshop) to produce pinpoint stars and a very clean sky.

The flip-up LCD screen and illuminated buttons are very nice additions and make shooting low and/or in the dark easier. I also used the flip-out screen when shooting with the tripod a bit high, I could swing the LCD out and down a bit for easier viewing. And it’s a full touch screen LCD, making picking a focus point in Live View and zipping around 100% previews pretty easy.

This shot consists of 3 exposures blended for depth of field and low noise. All shots are taken with the Nikon D850 and the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm F2.8G ED at 14mm. The sky is 1 shot at ISO 25,600 for 20 seconds, and the foreground is made of 2 exposures, 1 at ISO 1600 and f/4 for 60 seconds during blue hour to get the very very close shrubs in focus, and 1 at ISO 1600 and f/2.8 for 16 minutes in complete darkness for the background cliffs and water. I didn’t use a blue hour shot for the background cliffs and water because I find the blue hour shots result in harsher shadows than really exist in total darkness, and I wanted the Milky Way reflection in the water and in the right spot to match the Milky Way in the sky, which means that in situations like this I have to take a foreground exposure (at least for the water) generally right before/after taking sky shots.

Stay tuned for some more posts and articles with this camera!

You can learn more about my Milky Way editing techniques through my video tutorials for sale on my website,

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Acadia National Park By Land And Sea

Isle au Haut, the most remote island in Acadia National Park
Sunrise in Deep Cove on Isle au Haut, the most remote island in Acadia National Park.

For almost two centuries, artists have found inspiration on the Maine coast. From Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer and Eliot Porter, painters and photographers alike have been drawn to the dramatic rocky shorelines, ethereal light and cultural details of the region. For modern-day photographers looking to capture the essence of coastal Maine, a trip to Acadia National Park is a logical place to start, as it provides relatively easy access to some of the best scenery that the state can offer.

In 1916, Acadia was the first national park to be created east of the Mississippi River, primarily for its dramatic scenery. It is a place dominated by water and 20 or so rounded mountain peaks comprising Cadillac Mountain Granite, a beautiful coarse-grained gray granite flecked with quartz, hornblende and pink feldspar crystals. In golden hour light, the ledges in Acadia can rival Utah sandstone in color, and while the mountains in the park are modest in size — Cadillac, the tallest, tops out at 1,528 feet — many of them have bald summits where there are unobstructed views of the surrounding waters of Frenchman Bay, Blue Hill Bay and the open Atlantic Ocean.

The granite peaks adjacent to the cerulean waters of the Atlantic are what first attracted my wife, Marcy, and I to Acadia almost 30 years ago, and we’ve returned every year since then to hike and kayak, photograph dramatic sunrises as well as intimate forest scenes, and take in the culture of the working waterfronts of the fishing villages adjacent to the park. It feels like our home away from home, and our kids, now 14 and 16, are as comfortable on the park’s trails and in the nearby town of Bar Harbor as they are at home. Though I sometimes hesitate to talk too much about Acadia because it already gets more than its fair share of visitors, I can’t help but share my thoughts about and photographs of a place that has become such an important source of inspiration for my work.

Mount Desert Island Acadia National Park
Morning fog rises from Echo Lake at dawn as seen from Beech Cliff on Mount Desert Island.

Acadia is primarily an island preserve, with the bulk of the park on Mount Desert Island and several smaller surrounding islands, although there is one section of the park on a nearby part of the mainland called the Schoodic Peninsula. Less than 50,000 acres in size, Acadia is relatively small compared to many national parks, but its oceanside location can make parts of the park seem just as remote as the backcountry of larger parks, especially if you get out on the water in a kayak or visit the most remote island in the park, Isle au Haut, which is a six-mile ferry ride from the mainland. With not too much effort, you can find quiet solitude in a shoreline cove with a cobblestone beach or in a moody forest of cedar and spruce draped in lichen that resembles Spanish moss.

How To Get There

Though comprised primarily of islands, most of the park is accessible by car, as Mount Desert Island (often referred to as MDI) is connected to the mainland by a causeway that carries Maine State Route 3. The buzzing hub of Acadia is in the town of Bar Harbor, which is adjacent to the eastern edge of the MDI portion of the park and is also home to the park’s visitor center. Bar Harbor is about an hour’s drive from Bangor and three hours from Portland, both of which have airports that are served by major airlines. From Boston, expect the drive to take closer to 5.5 hours. The Schoodic section of the park is about a 45-minute drive from Mount Desert Island but is also accessible in the summer months via a ferry from the town of Bar Harbor. To reach Isle au Haut, you must take the 2-hour ferry ride from Stonington, Maine, which is a 1.5-hour drive from Bar Harbor.

Schoodic Peninsula in Maine's Acadia National Park
Sunset from the Schoodic Peninsula in Maine’s Acadia National Park.

Acadia National Park Photo Hot Spots

There are countless photo opportunities in and around the park that are too numerous to list here, but these are the places I find myself gravitating back to every visit:

  • The summit of Cadillac Mountain with its panoramic, 360-degree views of Acadia’s mountains and the surrounding ocean is especially captivating at sunrise. The peak is accessible via an auto road, making it easy to get to, which means you don’t have to hike up but you will share sunrise with a few hundred others during peak season. Get there earlier than everyone else, because the scenery is worth it.
  • The 2-mile Ocean Drive section of the Park Loop Road features some of Acadia’s best-known sites: Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Boulder Beach and Otter Cliffs. All of these sites are a short walk from the road and are best shot at sunrise as they face the rising sun. Don’t limit yourself to these specific sites, though — the pink granite ledges that stretch along this entire section of the coast provide a lifetime of compositions.
  • The Beehive and Gorham Mountain are two small mountains on the inland side of Ocean Drive that have great mountaintop views (about an hour’s hike for either summit). However, if you have a fear of heights, you’ll want to hike the Beehive from the backside, as the main trail climbs over iron rungs driven into the vertical granite cliffs.
  • In the center of the park is a jewel of a place called Jordan Pond, a deep, glacially sculpted lake bounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth side by the sprawling lawn of the Jordan Pond House, where you can partake of the century-old tradition of having tea and popovers before shooting the late afternoon scenery on the pond. The pair of symmetrical, rounded peaks at the northern end of the pond known as The Bubbles make the perfect backdrop for landscape photos.
  • Sieur de Monts is a wooded area of the park that has a beautiful stand of paper birch and is adjacent to a meadow-wetland complex known as Great Meadow that is prime songbird habitat. The area is also home to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, a garden designed with native plants that is a great place to shoot ferns and wildflowers.
  • There are several working waterfronts in the towns adjacent to the park on MDI, including Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bernard and Bass Harbor. All offer the opportunity to shoot classic Maine harbor subjects like lobster boats and traps. My favorite is Bernard on the western side of MDI, although Bar Harbor also scores points for its sunset view — and easy access to ice cream!
The Bubbles Acadia National Park
Jordan Pond, with its view of the twin peaks known as The Bubbles, is one of the iconic landscapes in Acadia. It’s a fun place to kayak, too.

Farther Afield

  • If you don’t mind putting some miles on your hiking boots, there are several places in the park that are worth carrying your photo gear to. My favorites are North and South Bubble, Beech Cliff and Sargent Mountain.
  • Making the trek to Isle au Haut gives you access to Acadia coastal scenery without the crowds (and competing tripods). You’ll need to plan ahead as there are only a couple of small B&Bs on the island, and reservations for the park’s campground on the island fill up very quickly after reservations open up in April (visit the park’s website for logistical details of making the trip to Isle au Haut: Once you’re there, hike to the headlands on the southern and eastern sides of the island—the landscapes there are empty and striking.
  • Visiting the Schoodic section of the park is also worth the effort if you will be in the park for more than a couple of days. There are several miles of dramatic coastline that are easily accessible from the park road. In 2015, the park opened a new campground and visitor center in Schoodic that is adjacent to several new miles of biking and hiking trails, so if the campgrounds on MDI are fully booked, Schoodic is a great alternative.
Paper birch trees Acadia National Park
The woodlands in the Sieur de Monts area of Acadia is a great place to shoot forest scenes such as this stand of paper birch trees.

When To Visit Acadia National Park

Acadia is great for photography year-round. The only months that are less than ideal, in my opinion, are April and November, two months where most of northern New England is bereft of snow and leaves on the trees. However, Acadia’s coastlines are photogenic even then. The park can be very crowded during summer vacation season (July and August), and during peak foliage (first two weeks of October), but for good reason as the weather and scenery are just beautiful those times of year. Early June and September often have great weather, and the crowds are a little thinner. In winter, you’ll have most of the park to yourself, but be prepared for very cold and sometimes wet, snowy and icy conditions. Also, most of Park Loop Road is closed in winter and much of the town of Bar Harbor shuts down, so your choices for lodging and restaurants near the park are limited.

Equipment Recommendations

Acadia National Park seems ready-made for traditional landscape photography, so if that’s your game, bring your best camera and tripod with lenses ranging from super wide to medium telephoto (up to 300mm equivalent). Many photo hot spots are short walks from parking areas, so weight is not an issue unless you decide to venture further from your car and shoot from some of the summits accessible only by hiking trail. Even then, most hikes in the park are relatively short, so it’s not too taxing to carry your camera gear and a tripod. Grad filters and neutral density filters are worth bringing as well to balance exposures for golden hour landscapes or lengthen exposures when shooting water abstracts.

Cadillac Mountain Acadia National Park
The summit of Cadillac Mountain is the first place to be kissed by the morning sun in the United States, and it is one of the top photo spots in Acadia.

Macro gear can also be worth bringing, especially during May, June and July, when ferns and wildflowers are at their peak. Wildlife photographers will need their big telephotos, but finding wildlife in the park can be a challenge, with the best chance for animal sightings being from the water where you’re likely to encounter gray and harbor seals, harbor porpoises, and bald eagles and osprey near the offshore islands. There are a few companies that offer boat tours in the areas around Mount Desert Island from Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor. There are also whale-watching and puffin-watching boats that make daily trips from Bar Harbor if you want to spend half a day or more out at sea.

One final note: If you’re a seafood fan, you’ll love visiting the restaurants in the towns around the park. There are several traditional Maine lobster pounds on MDI that excel at fresh boiled lobster and corn on the cob. My favorite is Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor.

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Photographer Profile: Philip Hall

Photographer Profile: Philip Hall
Philip Hall in the Smoky Mountains

Photographer: Philip Hall

Part-Time Professional Photographer

Photographic Specialties:

  • Landscape
  • Wildlife
  • Travel
  • Photojournalism
  • Events
  • Macro
  • Architecture / Real Estate


I was an Air Force Photographer and did commercial work too. Then I became a minister and had to set aside my photography for several years. I have retired from ministry and I have returned to the world of photography. I am ready and willing to take on any assignment.



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