Down East staff photographer Benjamin Williamson's favorite shots of the year.
The beauty of the Pine Tree State can be hard to capture in a photo, but the photographers below had no problem doing so. These images — some from Down East‘s pages, some I’ve highlighted on my Ben’s Picks blog, and some encountered on Instagram and around the web — tell stories and capture moods and moments with impeccable clarity. In a social-media age that finds us barraged with imagery, these shots proved memorable. — B.W.
This was a Ben’s Pick I’m happy to bring back for the year-end roundup. It’s just so full of wonder and emotion. The sheep look so curious and the feeling of a bond between the photographer and his subjects is plain to see. The lighting is perfect and the black and white treatment works extremely well here. Dave has a lot of images from this year that could make a list like this one. (He’s also one of several photographers joining me in leadingDown East photography workshops in 2020!)
Another photographer we’re lucky to have in Maine is Eric Storm. Eric has been snapping pics all over the state for the last few years, and he attracts a strong community of appreciators through his social media posts. This capture from the Saco Heath Bog is really wonderful. The leading line of the boardwalk is bracketed by the two benches, and in the distance, we see the heath bog blanketed in a layer of mist, with spruce trees dotting the horizon. Even the clouds in the background provide a nice lead-in with the way they radiate from the center of the frame. Again, we see a very subdued color palette, setting the mood and keeping things simple. If you haven’t been to this awesome spot yet, you need to check it out. It’s a great place to visit.
I wrote about this image not too long ago in a Ben’s Pick post, and it has remained one of my favorites of the year. Michael Blanchette is one of the state’s most technically skilled photographers, and that prowess is on full display in this beautifully realized vision of Pemaquid Point Light under the Milky Way. This image is crafted from several different exposures, which is the only way to get everything well exposed and in focus in a scene like this. Many great images have three strong focal points, and this certainly fits that mold, with the beach rose, starry sky, and lighthouse all nicely interacting and balancing each other within the frame. This shot is a joy to look at.
New England landscape photographers are drawn to the Nubble — as Cape Neddick’s lighthouse is commonly known — like moths to a flame. That fire burns even brighter around the holidays, when this icon is decked in strings of lights, a wreath, and a Christmas tree that’s clearly visible through the window of the keeper’s house. We all dream of getting a good snowfall to really set the mood and hope for an interesting sky to add to the drama. Mark D’Almeida checked all the boxes with this stunner. The lights were a little brighter this year — I think they’re now LED — which allowed Mark to get a great exposure of the sunrise and keep the lighthouse itself bright enough to remain the center of attention. The foreground doesn’t work particularly hard in this shot, but I’d argue that it really doesn’t need to. Our attention is on the background, and with just enough of a foreground to place the viewer and the bright reflection in the water, this shot is nicely balanced. Ah, one of these years I’ll get my own Nubble holiday-lights image, but in the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy watching photographers like Mark create beautiful interpretations of this classic scene
For pure fun and whimsy, this image by Colin Chase can’t be beat. It just makes me smile to see that big, beautiful moon look like it’s being birthed from the smokestack of the B&M baked-bean factory. The building is an icon to anyone who has traveled north from Portland on I-295, and I’m glad to see it captured in such a playful manner here. What else can I say? I just totally enjoy this perspective.
Fred Bloy gets two slots on my list this year, and honestly, he’s shot plenty more contenders. It’s been a joy watching him explore Maine these past few years. This image from Acadia National Park is all about the moment and the drama. I’m just amazed at the low clouds pouring off Penobscot Mountain. With a colorful but tastefully muted sunset, you already have the ingredients to make a great image. Then, the hunt is on to find a foreground — a hunt that I’m very familiar with. Fred takes advantage of a leaf on the ice right in front of the reflecting pool, which works wonderfully to draw the eye to the bottom of the frame and provides a perfect orange contrast to the blue tones around it. Notice how it is also perfectly aligned with the distinctive double peaks of the Bubbles? Moments like this don’t happen often, and to witness them can be one of the best feelings. I get some of that feeling just looking at this.
Two images of Katahdin made my list this year, which isn’t a surprise considering how amazing the mountain is. Chris Lawrence had been trying for this shot for a long time and nailed it on this take. (Chris is one of four photographers behind the Katahdin winter photo feature on that was one of Down East‘s most popular stories this year.) The drama and majesty of the mountain is revealed in winter when the tree line is visible and you can see just how rugged and exposed most of the massif is. The moon is perfectly placed, descending right behind Baxter Peak, and the moment of deep twilight creates a terrific contrast between the bright yellow moon and the dark blue sky. I’m especially drawn to this perspective since I’ve hiked the ridge coming in from the right, via the Helon Taylor trail, reached Pamola Peak, and then traversed the famous Knife Edge, all shown clearly in this image. This makes me want to go back!
Two facts: Drones were made to capture fall foliage, and Isaac Crabtree was made to fly drones. How lucky are we to have Isaac in this beautiful part of the state capturing one stunning image after another? My favorite part of this image has to be the sky. As a weather nerd, I love seeing dramatic sky and lighting conditions. The way it complements the incredible foreground here works so well. The church steeple serves as a focal point and places us squarely in a quintessentially cozy New England village, complete with a main street lined with white buildings, a village green, and a beautiful lake behind. A detail that you can appreciate if you look very close are the windmills on the ridge in the background. All in all, this is my favorite fall image from Maine this year. (Isaac is one of the photographers leading 2020 photo workshops for Down East, and seats in his drone workshops are going quick!)
New perspectives on iconic Maine landmarks are hard to come by — trust me, I know firsthand. The moment I saw this stunning view from Dave Waddell, I was enamored. I love how the image communicates the feeling of looking across the water towards Owls Head. The sense of depth is tremendous. Notice how the foreground is out of focus — ot draws the eye to the background, which is crisp as can be. Another factor working in Dave’s favor was the hazy day, which provided more of that sense of depth by having the Camden Hills fading in the distance. I can’t help but think this would make a great magazine cover with all of that negative space at the top. What do you think?
Another image that wowed me the moment I saw it is this beauty that Fred Bloy posted early in 2019. Stonington’s Sand Beach has never looked as good as it does here, in majestic blue and magenta hues. The choice of a long exposure to blur the clouds and water was perfect because of how it simplifies the scene. If the water was rippling and the clouds chunky, this image simply wouldn’t have had the same magic. The warm glow and softness of the foreground are delightful, while the prickly porcupine of an island just offshore provides the perfect focal point next to the setting sun. It’s a great reminder that photography is a creative pursuit, not simply the recording of a scene — all these choices matter, and photographers can be faithful to what’s in front of us while still imparting a sense of how we see each scene. When a unique vision is matched with a beautiful moment, magic can happen. I was excited to include this shot in Down East‘s 2021 (!) Maine wall calendar (you can find Fred’s work in the 2020 calendars too).
A whole different Sand Beach, this one in Acadia National Park. This is such a masterful image. The mood, the textures, the composition, I love how it all comes together. Thanks to that strong diagonal leading line coming up from the bottom of the frame, we are pulled right into the shot. The texture of the sand — and the familiar way it peels away from the bank as it erodes — is perfectly captured. The depth and three-dimensionality come from both the near–far perspective and the misty atmosphere. The wide-angle distortion makes the mountain known as Beehive loom larger than it would if John had put it in the center of the frame, a trick that was perhaps unintentional, considering how perfectly the cliffs fit into the composition anyway. Doesn’t it seem like Mother Nature put those trees on the left just for John to build a composition around? They tie the foreground and background together, and they provide a great counterpoint to the hard edge of the sand bank in the center of the frame. The warm tones of the foreground are perfectly balanced by the blue background. I’m noticing more and more how most of my favorite images work with such a limited palette. John’s leading a 2020 Down East photography workshop in Acadia, if you want to learn some of his tricks.
This photo was taken in 2018, but it wasn’t published until 2019, and I know Jamie had a hard time sitting on these images from his winter Katahdin expedition with photographers (and skiers) Chris Shane, Chris Bennett, and Andrew Drummond. To me, this is the pinnacle of achievement in adventure sports photography in Maine. I can’t imagine a rarer or more emotionally charged ski run, set on our most epic mountain. Doesn’t it just leave you in awe? Graphically, this image features a strong diagonal line of the descending slope, counterbalanced by the rising peak on the right. The atmosphere is positively glowing, with clouds of snow from the skier backlit by the rising sun. As for the moment? Well, that speaks for itself.