Ben’s Picks: 10 of the Best Maine Photos of 2020

Down East staff photographer Benjamin Williamson's favorite shots of the year.

It’s a lot to try and take stock of all that transpired in 2020, but here we are at the turn of the new year, making lists to make sense of things and remind ourselves of what we’d like to remember. In that spirit, I’ve put together a small collection of images I’ve encountered this year that have stuck with me long after I scrolled past them. Of course, it was a big year for powerful images capturing all of 2020s challenges — from COVID to racial justice protests to political strife — but I haven’t sourced from photo reportage for this list. I was certainly moved by a lot of the photojournalism I saw this year, often through the lenses of Down East contributors like Greta Rybus, Sarah Rice, and Séan Alonzo Harris, as well as the outstanding photographers at the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News (follow those links for both papers’ end-of-year round-ups, some more of the best Maine photography of the year). My focus, meanwhile, has always been on awe and wonder, hope and beauty, usually in natural settings and captured by scenic and landscape photographers. That’s what my heart and soul needed more than ever this year, and it’s where I’ve turned my attention as we transition into 2021.
Benjamin Williamson, Down East staff photographer

Foggy Portland Head Light

Photographed by Jamie Malcolm-Brown

What an awesome image. You really get a sense of the lighthouse’s function, warning sailors away from the jagged rocks of Cape Elizabeth, especially in bad weather. The fog and mist give us a rare and compelling view of the beam frozen in the air. The composition is perfect, and I think what makes it so eye-grabbing is the warm glow coming from the left, contrasting with the cool blue mist and hinting at the possibility of better weather to come. 

Self Portrait

Photographed by Chris Bennett 

This one captured my imagination the moment I saw it. When quarantine began in April, Bennett made a series of self-portraits exploring how strange and lonely it felt to be in lockdown. For me, this shot pretty well communicates the confusion and awfulness of the situation. (Another in this series that stood out for me shows Bennett on the edge of a lake in winter, lying on his back, his head fully submerged beneath the water.) Bennett’s photos typically document his and others’ exploits climbing, biking, skiing, and otherwise adventuring across New England. This one shows what a thoughtful, versatile photographer he is. 

-2 Degrees

Photographed by Nancy Murphy Campbell

Campbell takes advantage of frigid air and open water on Bridgton’s Moose Pond to capture this hauntingly beautiful image. I love the contrast between the bright-white, rime-coated hardwoods on the island and the dark firs. The mist coming off the water is dramatic and sets the mood. By putting a little snow-covered land in the foreground, Campbell anchors the image and places the viewer in the scene. We aren’t floating in the water — we are there with the photographer.

Ghost Moose

Photographed by Laura Casey 

So many stunning wildlife images are sharp closeups, showing in detail an animal’s features, colors, behavior, and/or personality. What I love about this shot, taken in Franklin County, by Laura Casey, is how she turns that notion on its head to create an image of surprising power. All we can see of this moose is a faint silhouette through a heavy fog. There’s very little contrast between the moose and the mist, and to me, that makes this all the more compelling. We have to search, to look harder. The sense of mystery here is fantastic. 

Stott and Skip

Photographed by Dave Dostie 

To me, the power in this image is evident without needing to explain much. What makes it special to me, as a photographer, is that it was taken at all. So many people likely drove past these two on the bridge between Wiscasset and Edgecomb, maybe appreciating the gesture, but how many stopped their car, got out, and walked back to take a photo? My guess is only my friend Dave Dostie, a man who recognized the heart and soul in this scene because he himself has plenty of both. 

The Star on the Hill

Photographed by Jeremy Grant 

Another image produced during the first few weeks of the pandemic, this one really spoke to me as a symbol of hope in the face of the confusion and despair so many of us were feeling. In fact, that’s the reason this star was lit at the top of Mount Battie in Camden — usually, this is an image that could only be captured around the holidays. I love the up-close perspective of something usually seen at a distance, and of course, the stars come through brilliantly behind, which I think is really powerful. By including some ground in front of the tower, Grant really makes me feel like I’m standing there, looking in wonder at this beautiful scene. 

Bringing out the Timber

Photographed by Jay Lundstrom

Great photos tell compelling stories. For me, this shot of a big rig hauling logs on the Golden Road evokes the 150-year tradition of logging in the Maine North Woods and the changes the industry has seen in that time. Most of the road is monotonous, enclosed by forest, without much to see, but where views of Katahdin open up closer to Millinocket, it’s one of Maine’s most scenic routes. To show the truck dwarfed by Katahdin — tall and impressive, covered in snow, with beautiful side light falling on the crags and contours of the Knife Edge — Lundstrom stood back and shot with a long lens, using telephoto foreshortening to dramatize the scale. It’s one of the most compelling images of Katahdin I’ve seen.

South Bubble Milky Way

Photographed by Manuel Palacios

Wonder! One my favorite qualities to see and capture through photography. Palacios does an awesome job of capturing wonder with this image from Acadia National Park. The conditions for shooting the night sky were perfect from this rocky perch above Jordan Pond, and the hint of fog creeping in the background adds the perfect touch and highlights the sense of being up high, close to the heavens.

Camden Maine Sunrise

Photographed by Betty Wiley 

The first thing that grabs my attention in this image are the warm hues of sunrise that absolutely fill the air. Wiley is a master of tone and color, which this shot makes clear. The composition is so skillful, this looks like a painting. The subject matter is classic Maine, and that is one of the prettiest dinghies I’ve seen. 

Sandhill Cranes

Photographed Laura Zamfirescu 

Patience is one of the best qualities that a wildlife photographer (or any photographer) can have, and Zamfirescu’s patience, waiting for just the right moment to click the shutter, made this one of the best wildlife photos I saw in 2020. I’m sure there were plenty of other interesting scenes while watching these sandhill cranes in Unity, and maybe Zamfirescu shot those too, but in waiting around for this particular moment, she captured an image that communicates such intimacy, grace, and beauty.

Happy New Year from all of us at Down East!

Working on your photography in 2021? Sign up for a photo workshop with Down East staff and contributors, held all over the state, from Acadia to Monhegan to the western mountains.