First, Some Nostalgia…
It would be fair to say that the Bay of Fundy area in New Brunswick is the place where I received my first nibbles from the photography bug, although it would be many years before I fully succumbed. Hard as it is to believe nowadays when every kid carries a cell phone with a camera, back in the olden days (like, the 1990's), I didn't own my first camera until I was 20. It was a Kodak 110, which had these funny little cartridges of film that you dropped in and the camera did the rest. There were no settings and you had to remember to manually wind the film between shots. I was on my first “real” vacation, a trip away during my time off from a full-time job. My family never travelled when I was young. “Children with cottages don't go to Disneyland” (or camp, or anywhere else but the cottage, so I was told). Although I had already travelled some parts of the country for work, I had never before travelled for pleasure and relaxation. The trip was a very spur of the moment affair, with no real plans except “go as far east as possible and still be back at work in a week”.
Now, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are all beautiful places, but you won't see much of that beauty while driving on the main highways between Toronto, ON and Fundy National Park, NB. We were beginning to wonder if this whole trip was a mistake by late afternoon on the second day when we finally crested a hill and were greeted with our first distant sight of the Bay of Fundy. We pulled the car over and jumped out for some blurry and unimpressive shots of the speck of distant water beyond the rolling green hills. Just the first of many stops over the next few kilometres, to photograph a burnt and collapsing old church, countless derelict cemeteries (what can I say, I was very young and very morbid), the vast beaches of the bay at low tide, the boats and lobster claws and shells and dried seaweed scattered on the beach, and finally the sparks of our evening campfire at the end of a long day. That trip was the first time that I ever thought about taking photos for artistic purposes, rather than strictly for remembrance and documentation. I recall coming back with something like 17 rolls of film and it was months before I had the money to develop them all.
Fast forward 20 years or so and I found myself back in Fundy National Park, this time with a brand new DSLR, a couple of kit lenses and a fully developed photography obsession. It is a testament to the incredible beauty of this area that I was able to get as many great photos as I did because I was CLUELESS. Looking back through these photos in Lightroom now, all I can do is shake my head. Why did I take so many landscape photos at f/3.5??? (Because I thought that the whole point of getting a DSLR was to have the shallowest possible depth of field in every photo. Ugh.) But still, some of my photos from this stunning region are among my most popular to this day.
Here's why you should consider exploring the Bay of Fundy area in New Brunswick:
You can't discuss the Bay of Fundy without mentioning the tides, which are arguably the highest in the world. When the tides go out, you can walk on the ocean floor for what seems like miles, exploring tide pools and finding interesting shells and rocks and sea glass. (Please just take photos of these, not souvenirs. The paths up from the beach have buckets for you to leave any shells you may have put in your pockets so that other people and sea creatures may enjoy or use them). The Bay of Fundy is affected by both solar and lunar tides, which means that there are two high tides and two low tides in a (roughly) 24 hour period and an unimaginably massive amount of water is moved either in or out of the bay every 6(ish) hours. Always be careful and plan your low-tide explorations so that you are back on safe, dry land in plenty of time because the tides can come in surprisingly quickly. Besides picturesque fishing boats and marine life, the tides bring with them….
The Interesting Weather
The weather in the Bay of Fundy changes about as often as the tides. Foggy and overcast turns to rain and a moment later it all blows away and you have clear blue skies. Of course, that also works the other way around and having at the very least a cheap rain poncho that you can throw over yourself and your camera gear is always a good idea. The relatively small Fundy National Park actually spans two different climate zones, so if you don't like the weather where you are, a 20-minute car ride may be all it takes to find less objectionable conditions. For a photographer, the capricious weather is a huge bonus. I mean, what's worse than day after day of clear blue skies when photography is your goal? The Bay of Fundy is almost guaranteed to provide you with interesting clouds, moody fog and atmosphere, soft and overcast light for detail shots, rainbows, rays of sunshine and spectacular sunrises and sunsets…and that's just on an average day.
If waterfalls are your thing, then the Bay of Fundy area will not disappoint you. There are numerous waterfalls, both in and outside of the National Park; some are easily accessible, others found along more difficult hikes. I have personally visited a few of them but have great photos of exactly none of them because I bought a variable neutral density filter. If you are at the point in learning about photography where you are starting to realize that you need (or just want) an ND, but think “well, I'm not going to spend the money on all those different filters, I'll just buy this one, variable one”, back away from that “buy now” button. I'm serious, don't do it, you are not going to have a different experience from every other new photographer who thought the same thing and lived to regret it. Here is a great article comparing 30 different brands of Neutral Density Filters to help you make a decision. I don't want to spoil it for you, but the choice is pretty clear.
The Bay of Fundy area has numerous hiking and biking trails, as well as scenic drives for those who are less mobile. The forested trails along the coast will make you feel as though you are deep in the wilderness one moment and then open up on spectacular vistas the next. My favourite time to hike the trails is in the evening, while there is still plenty of light but it is streaming through the trees at interesting angles and, even more importantly, all of the families with children have gone back to their campsites or cottages for dinner. Ah, peace and quiet!
The Covered Bridges
There are 9 covered bridges in Albert County, on the Bay of Fundy and 2 of those are right in Fundy National Park. If you are prepared to explore a little further afield, then there are dozens more within a couple of hours driving distance. Southern New Brunswick is quite spectacular in Autumn (just like the New England states, right across the border) and that would be a lovely time for a driving tour to see how many covered bridges you can “bag”. Be careful, because many of the bridges are on roads that are still in use!
The Churches and Cemeteries
The East Coasters of Canada don't tend towards large, ornate cathedrals or marble angels for headstones. Gothic architecture is hard to come by. Instead, the countryside is dotted with modest little white, wooden churches and crumbling old cemeteries, with fascinating stories to tell about the hard lives of the early settlers to the area. Entire families, gone within days of each other, (disease? disaster?) and children…so many children. There's still a morbid little goth girl, somewhere inside of me that gets a tiny thrill out of feeling simultaneously melancholy for those in the past and fortunate to live in the time of modern medicine.
The Hopewell Rocks
The Hopewell Rocks are located just a half hour drive from Fundy National Park if you take the Highway, a bit longer or a lot longer if you take the scenic drive, and you should definitely take the scenic drive. “The Rocks” as they are known are large flowerpot rocks, made of stronger stuff than the surrounding rock, they have been left behind after the powerful tides eroded everything else away. Many of them still have trees and foliage growing on top, hence the name “flowerpots”. If you arrive at low tide, you can walk around them on the ocean floor. At high tide, you can explore them by kayak. Ideally, you would plan to spend a day there to witness both. The park is open from late May to early October and the hours vary during those months, so make sure to check the website. The one constant about the hours is that they are not conducive to you being at the site during magic hour light, but the place is magical enough to be well worth a visit anyway.
If you take the scenic drive between Alma and the Hopewell Rocks, as I suggest, then you must be sure to visit the Cape Enrage Lighthouse because, well…lighthouse and also zip lining and rappelling and lobster poutine at the restaurant. My tip for photographing lighthouses is in the post processing category. When you photograph any tall building from fairly close, you may find it difficult to get the shot straight and there will be distortion, making the problem worse. This can be even more difficult with lighthouses, which often have slanted sides, like this one. The new “guided upright tool” in the transform panel of the latest version of Lightroom CC is AWESOME. I seriously think it might be magic, the photo on the right was an absolute mess and if I straightened the lighthouse, the horizon became unforgivably crooked. With this new tool, I dragged 3 lines – 2 horizontal and one upright – and presto!
The Bay of Fundy area in New Brunswick is a wonderful place for viewing seabirds, shorebirds, and raptors. There is plenty to be seen right from the beach in the town of Alma, not to mention the National Park, the Shepody National Wildlife Area, the Mary's Point Bird Sanctuary and Johnson's Mills Shorebird Reserve. If birds aren't your thing, then there are plenty of whale watching tours in the area that may be more your style, or if you're looking for free thrills, just drive the country roads early on a foggy morning and try not to hit a moose.
If you visit the area in the early summer (mid-June to mid-July), you may find the countryside blooming with any combination of cherry and apple blossoms, lupins, fireweed, purple loosestrife, daisies, clover, thistles and a variety of other wildflowers. If you're looking for something to place in your foreground, you can always do a lot worse than flowers.
Do You Need More Reasons?
Because there are also super friendly people, cozy B&B's, amazing campgrounds, mouthwatering seafood, charming towns and fishing villages to explore, easy access from international airports in both nearby cities, St John and Moncton, AND a very favourable exchange rate for our American friends (at least at the time of writing this).