Jennifer Steen Booher

Acadia Photo Safari, Seal Harbor, Maine


Howie Motenko and Brenda Beckett are old friends with many talents. Howie has been leading photo tours here on Mount Desert Island for a few years now, and they’ve just finished renovating a lovely old Ellis 28-foot picnic boat with room for 6 passengers. The brass gleams and the teak glows, Brenda captains the boat, and Acadia Photo Safari is heading out to sea!


We joined Howie and Brenda for a sunset cruise. The tour starts at the Seal Harbor dock, which is a treat in itself – Seal Harbor is lovely, so leave yourself a little time to walk on the beach before you go. First we visited the seal colony on Bunker’s Ledge. A few seals slid into the water as we approached, but most of them couldn’t be bothered, too busy lolling around in the sun. When they are in the water, the sleek wet heads remind me of swimming Labrador Retrievers. A few gulls drifted around, and a bald eagle swooped in and perched on the monument. Brenda does an amazing job of getting in close (as close as one can without hitting a rock or scaring the seals) and holding the boat steady. She took several passes to make sure everyone on each side of the boat got a clear view. You can see I found it hard to get crisp shots here, what with the rocking of the boat, my telephoto at its farthest extension (makes it harder to focus), and the evening light. Howie gave me a lot of good advice: next time I’ll crank my ISO to 800 or 1200 and shoot with a wide open aperture.


When we had enough photos of the seals, we headed toward Islesford on Little Cranberry Island, but were distracted by a pair of Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) who landed on a can just as we motored past. Brenda promptly backed the boat up and held her steady as the rest of us clicked away. This is the beauty of joining a photo-oriented tour – unlike the larger nature cruises, which hold to a set course, Captain Brenda moves the boat into ideal positions, takes multiple passes around a subject, and is in no hurry to move on from an intriguing subject. What a treat!




Eventually we moved on to the harbor at Islesford. We’d lingered over the terns for so long that the light was slanting fairly low, and we wanted to catch the sun setting over Mount Desert Island, so we just took a quick walk over the dock.


These are full of lobsters waiting to be sold:


Barrels of chum: herring used as bait in the lobster traps:



The entrance to a lobster trap:


Heading back toward Seal Harbor, we stopped to photograph the osprey nest at the tip of Sutton Island. The setting sun and the orange lichen made the granite cliffs glow.



When you go (because you must!) bring your longest lens and plenty of memory cards (or film if you roll the old ways) – I took almost 500 photos, and as usual tossed more than half as soon as I got home. I was humbled by how long it took me to get the hang of shooting from a rocking boat. Half my seal photos were of the sky! You’ll also want long pants and a warm jacket because the temperature drops quickly as the sun sinks and the wind shifts over the Gulf of Maine. Non-photographers are welcome – my husband had a fabulous time chatting with Brenda, drinking red wine while watching the seals and the photographers at play. At the risk of sounding like an ad, note that Howie doesn’t care how fancy your gear is and will teach you to use whatever you’ve got: one of the people on our trip was shooting with an iPhone, while another had a DSLR and lens combo that made mine look amateur.



As we headed for home, Howie brought out glasses of wine, grapes, cheese, crackers, and cups of hot tea, and we toasted the sunset between sips of wine and clicks of the shutter.





2 thoughts on “Acadia Photo Safari, Seal Harbor, Maine

  1. Diana

    What a lovely outing and such lovely photos, Jennifer. I especially love the last photo of the sailboat. Interesting to see the osprey nest on the rock – the nest looks so vertical! We have them here, often nesting on artificial nest platforms near the top of utility lines, and the nests are quite spread out. It looks as if the nest there was added to over the years and just became a bit of a high rise. 🙂

    1. Jenn Post author

      That’s exactly right! That nest has been here as long as I have (so at least 17 years.) I don’t think anyone is living in it this year.

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