OLD ORCHARD BEACH
The earliest records of Old Orchard Beach date back to 1653. Its history is replete with settlers, attacking Indians, terrible fires, great storms, and the famous 5000-seat Pier Casino that once hosted big names like Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Benny Goodman.
I hesitated to write this blog entry for some time because Old Orchard Beach is already so darned familiar to a majority of New Englanders. Most of us who grew up within commuting distance of Maine have vacationed here in summer at some point in time. This place is synonymous with delicious french fries, cotton candy, and the sound of spoken Canadian French wafting through the salty air.
But who among us also considers Old Orchard Beach a photography destination? I do.
Oh boy, this poor pier has taken a serious beating over its lifetime! It was first opened in 1898 only to be damaged by a storm the very same year. It was also in the great fire of 1907 that destroyed the entire beachfront. Then, it was swept away in 1909, destroyed again in 1970, and almost wiped out in the great blizzard of 1978. The current pier is from 1980, serving visitors for almost a quarter century now.
The pier is lined with shops, restaurants, and pubs but these are of little consequence (photographically speaking). No, the main role of this pier is to serve as foreground and to add contrast to our beach images. If the tide is right, you may even be able to snatch a clear reflection.
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH
The pier faces east so this is a great sunrise location. Fabulous photographs have been made from here at dawn and sunrise, especially when the sky is graced with puffy clouds painted by the rising sun.
You can photograph sunrise from here any time, but I stay away in June, July, and August for two reasons. First, the place is mobbed with summer tourists. Secondly, the summer sun rises in the northeast, making it harder to include both pier and vivid sky in the same frame.
As you can tell from the accompanying image, I also consider the pier a decent, albeit challenging, nighttime destination. But a night photo taken from here will require bracketing at least two exposures.
The pier is lit by strong floodlights along the beach, while the sky itself is dark. So, a high ISO is needed to capture the stars and Milky Way, while a lower ISO is best to tame the lighted foreground and pier. For this image, I used a setting of ISO 2000 for the sky photo and ISO 640 for the foreground photo, later blending the two frames in post-processing to achieve a balanced exposure.
If you aspire to include the Milky Way, come in the wee hours of morning from late February through May, arriving at least two hours before sunrise on a moonless morn. Or if you prefer the nighttime, visit the beach between June and September on a moonless evening. Portions of the Milky Way may be visible at other times of the year, but the colorful segments with magenta hues will not present.
To include a reflection, I come at low tide when the pier reflects against wet beach sand. The rising tide tends to obliterate reflections, although wave action adds an intriguing element of its own.
GETTING TO THE PIER
The Old Orchard Pier is easily accessible from Maine I-95. Take the Saco/Old Orchard Beach exit and head toward the center of town. The pier is located at the end of Old Orchard Street, near the intersection of East and West Grand Avenue. When using a GPS unit, I find that setting the direction to “1 East Grand Avenue” yields the best result.
The only risks I see for this very public beach involve getting hit by a beach ball in summer, or miscalculating the tide and moon phase. I suggest wearing waterproof boots to increase your choice of composition and to avoid getting your feet wet during the cold months.