Zooming in on Bar Harbor
By Justine Seligson
About a year ago I started to develop an interest in photography. I was taking a jewelry design class at a local arts center and a fellow student mentioned that she was also in a photography class. She didn’t give me much detail but enough to cause a spark to go off in my mind, thinking I should give it a try just for fun. It wasn’t until months later that I signed up for a beginner photo class at that art center and eventually got a SLR digital camera. I loved this new hobby more than I expected. It was harder than I thought but in a positive way. After a long day of school, taking pictures calmed me down and I felt very pleased to see my work and share it with my friends and family.
During the time I was enrolled in the class, for a travel article, my mom interviewed a teen who had been on a National Geographic Student Expedition. For the next few days, all she talked about at dinner was how great the program sounded. I got a little tired of hearing her say “They did this, they did that…”. But at the same time, I was curious so I went to the website and surfed around. It did look amazing. What appealed to me most was that I’d be able to pick a concentration for any of the programs I was interested in. One of them was photography. Yes! The others were writing and marine biology. The photography option sounded so appealing because the students actually work alongside professional NG photographers and have their photographs critiqued.
Among the scheduled programs was a ten-day one in the small town of Bar Harbor, Maine, which I had visited a couple of times with my family on our summer trips to the state. Every time we went to Bar Harbor, I liked it more. The seaside beauty, the food and open-air restaurants, the relaxing vibes of it…
Shortly after that, I decided to apply, which included writing an essay and getting teacher recommendations. When I found out I was accepted, a huge stream of adrenaline flowed through me. I couldn’t wait to go!
Fast-forward to the end of school and two days later, there we were, heading north in the family’s road-trip car. I was excited, but…nervous.
Fortunately, the nervousness didn’t last long. Upon arriving, I met one of our leaders (a Nat Geo photojournalist who was a Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike) and the other students in the program who had come from as far away as Texas and California. There were 15 of us. Twelve including myself were concentrating on photography, three on marine biology, and for this session, no one had signed up for writing.
Each day, we did a variety of activities—most of which involved being outdoors. We hiked (waking up one morning at 3:30 am to see the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain), swam, kayaked and even did a little farming on the ranch where our organic food came from. Oh and that brings me to where we stayed. Unlike most camps where you stay in cramped cabins with bunk beds, we had a taste of the college life, since the College of the Atlantic was our base. A small, mainly nature and ecology focused school in Bar Harbor, it was a beautiful campus, full of outdoor artwork and with its own pier. We stayed in dorm rooms and ate most meals in the dining hall (though we did go out a few times including for a blueberry pancake breakfast and one night, a lobster dinner). We also made a few ice cream runs into town. I discovered that I adore blueberry ice cream (and Maine blueberries in general), but I’m not quite ready to try the lobster ice cream. No thank you.
There was no such thing as an ordinary day during the program. We usually woke up around 7am and did two or three activities a day, incorporating our study of photography or marine biology. For example, one day we explored the piney trails that loop around Jordan Pond. The scenery here is striking with the peaks and clouds reflected in the pond. The marine bio students went one way and examined the wildlife while the photo students went the other way and practiced taking pictures of the water, the surrounding mountains and the other visitors. Afterwards, we all met at the Jordan Pond House, a restaurant which is famed for its popovers and a must-stop on the Acadia National Park loop.
Over the course of the ten days, I got to take so many pictures--many I am really proud of. I also got a lot of good tips from the professional photographers that I’ll always keep in mind. I now know that you don’t always have to lug around a tripod. A ledge or other surface can be a perfectly fine stand-in. And that for every setting, you should take many pictures to find the best angle.
Another great thing about the program was the social life. Though the program is coed, our session ended up being all girls. None of us knew each other beforehand but we all got along really well. There was no rivalry or fights between us and we all become friends, laughing constantly it seemed. Best of all, we were united in our efforts to “torture” the token male in our group, the co-leader. All in good fun!
On the last day of the program, we all put on our nicest outfits and headed into the college’s lecture hall for a presentation. All the photo students shared their ten best images and the marine bio students presented a fascinating documentary they did on whales.
I was amazed at how differently we all saw many of the same scenes. But even more amazed that I was sitting in a room with such ambitious students, world-class photographers and that my “interest” in photography had skyrocketed to a full-blown passion.
Just-Teens Travel is written and photographed by Justine Seligson, a high school student.