By Nick Kaye
Special to The Weekly
HAMPDEN — Nate Levesque was living in Hampden, studying business at the University of Maine and working at McDonald’s when he decided to purchase a professional-grade digital camera. As he began to teach himself the basics of photography through books and online tutorials, he had a single mission in mind.
“We live in such a beautiful area, and I wanted to show Mainers who haven’t had a chance to get out there, as well as people from away, that this is Maine, this is what we have in our backyard,” he said.
Levesque began taking his camera with him on hikes in Acadia National Park, shooting landscapes and seascapes: the sunrise at Schoodic Point, water flowing over the rocks at Boulder Beach, the silhouette of trees against the Atlantic.
“When I first started, I was taking photos and just sharing them on my personal Facebook page. I had my aunts and uncles and other family saying, ‘oh, this is nice.’ I figured they were just being nice, but their words motivated me to keep pushing forward.”
Things took off for Levesque when he set his sights on the night sky and began to experiment with astrophotography last year.
Acadia National Park doesn’t allow camping outside of select areas, so he would stay up all night, roaming the park to capture the perfect shot of the Milky Way. Levesque found that his best opportunities came during astrological dusk, a window of time — usually an hour and a half after sunset or an hour and a half before sunrise — when even the dimmest stars become visible.
Levesque began to focus wholly on astrophotography, investing in the proper equipment, learning the nuances of lunar phases, determining the perfect exposure, and experimenting with composition.
The photos he produced captured the attention of an audience larger than he could’ve imagined. His work has been featured in Bangor Metro magazine and on the North Face website, and he was the winner of the Canon Summer Nights contest and the Acadia Night Sky Festival poster contest.
The Southwest Harbor Public Library, in collaboration with the Acadia Astronomical Society, recently invited Levesque to present his work and techniques to an audience of photography enthusiasts. Above all, he has one piece of advice for those picking up a camera for the first time.
“The best way to get into photography is not to do it for the sake of being a photographer,” he said. “The best thing you can do is to have an objective or something you want to say. If you have something you’re passionate about, then everything else will fall into place after.”
For Levesque, that passion is the natural beauty of Maine, and he has found much of that beauty by looking upward at the night sky. At the end of September, he will attend the Acadia Night Sky Festival, for which his photograph was chosen as the poster. A celebration to promote the protection and enjoyment of Acadia’s night sky, the event features lectures, art, workshops and outdoor activities.
“It allows people from all over to come in and share in their love of the night sky, get to view it with equipment they might not normally have access to, and talk to professional and scientists they might not normally have an opportunity to meet,” he said.
The event originated as a byproduct of enthusiasm for a Bar Harbor ordinance which limits the light pollution that local structures are allowed to produce. A staunch conservationist, Levesque feels that the night sky of the region is a treasure that must be protected.
With a new job as communications coordinator at Eaton Peabody in downtown Bangor, Levesque believes that photography will remain a “strong hobby” rather than a career, but he’s already planning his future photographic pursuits in the Maine outdoors.
“Aerial photography, shot from a plane, is something I’d like to get into. I’d also like to get into macro work — capturing the patterns of the natural world from a close-up perspective,” he said.
Levesque’s work can be viewed online at natelevesquephotography.com. He writes a blog on the website, which deals with his technique and motivations, and sells prints, with 15 percent of the proceeds going toward local nonprofits that focus on conservation and outdoor education.
For information on the Acadia Night Sky Festival, visit acadianightskyfestival.org.