Learn How to Photograph Acadia

Explore Acadia National Park during peak foliage season, with resident photographer J.K. Putnam.


J.K. Putnam is a professional nature and landscape photographer based on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, where he leads tours and teaches photography workshops while also operating a gallery of his own work. John has been a working photographer for over 13 years and in that time has amassed an image collection that spans five continents, six countries, 20 states, and more than 30 national parks, while his work has been published, awarded, and exhibited internationally. However, in recent years John has dedicated himself to documenting Acadia National Park; photographing its flora, fauna, landscapes, and hidden details.  He loves teaching, showing off Acadia, and, most importantly, gets outside to photograph every day.

You’ve established a successful business as a full-time photographer, with your own gallery and photo tour operation on Mount Desert Island. Were you full-time before moving to Maine? Did you move here just for photography?

Yes, in 2015 when my wife, Alli, and I chose MDI to live, full-time photography was my plan. I had no idea if I could make it work, but I gave myself no other option… so it had to. I had been photographing part-time in New York City before that, producing work for a handful of publishing companies (mostly filling in the blanks on books, but occasionally shooting them in their entirety), plus some random events like runway shows and award galas. Any vacations we took revolved around photography and national parks, those were the times I was able to work on nature photography.

How would you describe your approach to teaching? Who are your favorite photography educators and what have you learned from them?

A: When teaching group photography, I have to learn everyone’s goals very quickly. More skilled photographers who need space to work get just that, which gives me the opportunity to work closely with those who need more of my time. That said, I stay available to everyone, bouncing from person to person answering questions and sharing ideas. We all have to be on the same page though, and our locations do that. We’re all faced with the same landscapes, conditions, and light. When we arrive at a location, we talk about what to expect and what to look for, after that everyone is free to search out their own scenes and images. I take my students to some very classic places around Acadia and use these well-known spots to talk about why they work so well photographically, whether it be compositional elements, the way light works with the landscape, or both. We also seek out the unseen, those details missed by most, searching for unique ways to show the scene.

Frans Lanting was a great inspiration to me early on in my career. Viewing his work showed me how documentary photography can also be artistic. You can teach a lesson, tell a story, and create something moving all in a single image. I learned to pay attention to my environment and to recognize unique conditions within. He taught me to look beyond what was in front of me and to consider every element involved in its creation.

Do you have a favorite spot in Acadia National Park to photograph or just enjoy?

There is no end to my list of favorite spots in Acadia, but Sand Beach is towards the top, I can spend hours there… and I often do! It’s also a great place for teaching photography. There is room to spread out, it has multiple options for landscape photos, and it works well under any conditions and at any time of year.

What’s a piece of gear you can’t live without?

A sturdy tripod and ball head. I think I’d take a cheap lens over a cheap tripod. My tripod is my workbench. It has to support my camera and lens without fail. I can’t have it wiggling around on a windy day while I’m zoomed to 400mm and shooting slow shutter speeds. This is my tripod, there are many like it, but this one is mine… anyway, I also love my insulated muck boots. They let me tramp around in the water, comfortably, all winter long. They get me places I otherwise wouldn’t be able to go safely. Footwear is so important.

Sign up for our Acadia Photography Workshop!

Explore Acadia National Park with resident photographer J.K. Putnam. When it comes to photography, John’s knowledge of Acadia is unparalleled and he uses that knowledge to put himself and his students in the right place at the right time based on the tide, weather, light, and time of year. These workshops are designed to maximize learning opportunities and provide guidance on creating the kind of images you want to create. There will be individual instruction based on your goals and your questions. We photograph from sunrise to sunset on this one-day workshop. There will also be classroom time where we discuss a range of topics that lead to successful image making.

See more upcoming Down East Adventures!

Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Ocean Drive at Sunrise
Jesup Path in Fall III