Down East staff photographer Benjamin Williamson highlights some of his favorite shots from around the state.
My inner weather nut was pretty excited to see this image by Dave Dostie, taken as a storm was departing Augusta last Tuesday evening. These are mammatus clouds, very rare to see, especially at sunset, which causes them to glow with these incredible orange and purple hues. Dave knew that he could improve his chances of making a strong image by putting something interesting underneath those clouds, and he chose this great composition featuring the Maine State House in Augusta. I like the dome pointing toward the heavens; the rows of windows on the building on the right side of the frame create interesting shapes, while the top of the building forms a nice diagonal line that points us back into the frame. The firs on the left also work to frame the image. I imagine that the folks who work in these buildings will love this one! I sure do.
Boulder Beach at Night
Night photographers are a special breed, out there in the wee hours of the morning to capture an image like this one. It takes a lot of technical skill to create a high-quality, printable photograph, often requiring multiple exposures over several minutes (or even hours!) to gather enough light and detail for a single image. Some photographers use tracking devices to help a camera move along with the Earth, panning to keep the stars in the same relative position during extra long exposures. It’s not easy, but when it’s done well, as in this stunning shot by Dean Bugaj, we forget about what went in to creating it and just appreciate its impact. For me, this shot takes me right to this amazing boulder field next to Acadia National Park’s Otter Cliffs, gazing up into infinity and the countless points of light that fill the sky.
I’ve loved a lot of the images John K. Putnam has made in this spot he calls “Intrusion Beach” because of the geological formation you see in the foreground. This one really stood out for me because of the impeccable control of the color palette and mood. The deep blues of twilight, reflected in the sky, water, and rocks, contrast perfectly with the pink-orange “intrusion” and matching boulders at bottom left. If you pulled out a color wheel, you would see that those colors are directly across from each other. The lines are also fantastic. There are three distinct diagonals — the pink line extending from bottom right to center left, the inlet in the foreground extending from bottom left to center right, and the tree line extending from upper left to center. These lines create a strong sense of dynamic interest across the frame and keep our eye moving within it, generally leading back to the center of the composition. We call these leading lines. The dark sky works perfectly to set the mood, as well as to keep the eye moving down from the top of the frame. Sometimes we get lucky, and create images that make sense visually through chance or even intuition. But great photographers, and I certainly place John in this group, are intentional in their use of visual language to create one compelling image after another, just like this.
It can be tough to tell a story or capture a mood with a click, but Jean Cousins does it masterfully — the billowing skies paired with the contorted forms of the silhouetted trees. I love the red on the trees, from the light of the setting sun. The light also sets the clouds aglow and emphasizes the house, which I’d say is the main subject. I think capturing that human element really creates a story — shelter from the storm, refuge in an ominous time. An important technical note: This image would have been much brighter if the settings were left in auto mode. Your camera wants to see a middle-gray tone, but this shot is considerably darker. Brightened up, it simply wouldn’t have the same impact. The camera is just a tool, and you get to use it to whatever ends you hope to achieve.
Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
Something about certain locations just keep us coming back as photographers. We love the place, and we want to get to know it better than we can on a one-time visit. It’s exciting to see these places in a new light, and that’s the beauty of outdoor and nature photography — the light isn’t controlled by us. It’s always changing, and we just have to react. I know Linda Cunningham frequents this spot because I’ve actually stood next to her and chatted with her there. Many of my favorite photographers return again and again to their favorite places. That love of place combines with knowledge from experience to become a depth of vision. It pays off here in this stunning shot of crepuscular rays coming down behind the breakwater lighthouse. Thank you for showing us what you know and love, Linda. I can’t wait to see what you show us next.
I didn’t see a lot of sea smoke this winter, which has been a mild one, by Maine standards. Although we had some nice cold and snow in early February, we never got below zero on the coast. But it was cold enough to produce some sea smoke the morning Nathan Johnson took this image, in Bristol. This one caught my eye because of the striking composition. Instead of framing this as a horizontal shot, with the two land masses at the top, Johnson threw us a curveball and went vertical, and I love how, instead of filling the frame, he provided a big swath of negative space in the foreground with just a couple of moorings and a waterfowl. The high-key exposure really works in this image too. I like how bright the sky is in the background, and of course, the mist provides a great sense of depth, since the darkest part of the image is in front, fading into white. There’s something classic and muted about both the boathouse and the home, and there’s the subtlest contrast with that hint of yellow and magenta where the sun hits the sea smoke. There is so much to look forward to in Maine in the summer, but I will miss winter.
The mountains are calling and I must go. — John Muir
The mountains have been calling me this winter, and my appreciation of photography taken in our high peaks has grown. This shot, taken by Chris Bennett, on Sugarloaf Mountain, shows a winter landscape with snow-covered firs and the profile of Mount Bigelow above a sea of clouds. Those familiar with the legend of the Bigelow Range know the mountain closely resembles the figure of a sleeping person lying on his or her back — imagine this figure resting on soft, white bedding, in this case. The layer of clouds is caused by an inversion, where cool air is trapped in a valley and warm air comes in above, creating condensation but keeping the clouds low. Beautiful light on the clouds shows great texture, and the cool blue hues contrast nicely with the warmth on the horizon. Winter in Maine is so spectacular.
Moose Pond Halo
Talk about a “wow” moment! This incredible capture by Eric Storm pretty much takes the cake for the most exciting shot I’ve seen this winter. The sun rising behind the small island on Moose Pond, in Bridgton, creates several beautiful atmospheric phenomena. All of these are caused by tiny, hexagonal, rod-shaped ice crystals reflecting and refracting the light of the rising sun. The crystals, which usually occur in the extreme cold, are sometimes known as diamond dust, and the atmospheric optical phenomena we see here have equally lovely names: there’s a sun pillar, a 22-degree halo, and two prominent sun dogs (sometimes called mock suns). We also see rare upper-tangent arcs above the sun pillar, which look like downward-pointing arrows when the sun is low on the horizon. Learning the science behind all these phenomena can deepen your appreciation for the view, but I think we can all appreciate this as a beautiful moment in nature, filled with wonder and awe. I’m so glad Storm was there to capture it.
Curtis Island Light
Find an interesting subject in good light, fill the frame, and eliminate distractions: you’re likely to come away with a nice image every time. I love Nate Johnson’s shot of Camden’s small, proud harbor light in part because it breaks a few rules of photography. Instead of putting the horizon at the top third of the frame — following the “rule of thirds” — he fills the top two-thirds with a beautiful, warm pastel sky, full of soft cirrus clouds, providing just the right amount of texture and contrast. What’s more, we hardly even see the ocean. It reminds me a lot of the Edward Hopper paintings of lighthouses that don’t include water. Check out Johnson’s Instagram feed for some nice backstory about his adventure finding this little lighthouse.
Barn in Kingfield
There are many reasons why winter is my favorite season for photography. The simplicity, the starkness, the light, the mood, the story of resilience in the face of adversity — all of these appeal to my nature. This image highlights many of those qualities. For starters, I love the mood. The way the blue clouds cascade over the ridgeline behind the barn is incredibly awesome. The dark muted tones of the foreground allow this to stand out. The bare branches of the trees and rusted metal roof of the barn all contribute to the narrative, and together, they make this image just sing. Kudos to Gary R. Smith to this wonderful photo.
I’m thinking of all of the things I’m grateful for this year, and the fact that I live in Maine is a big one. We recently moved from Brunswick to Bath — big jump, I know — and are looking forward to raising our family in a place that’s, well, sane. I’m not a native Mainer, and that perspective gives me even more appreciation of how good we have it here. From the obvious opportunities for me to do what I love, which is take photographs of scenic and beautiful places, to the less quantifiable properties, such as our resilience and steadfast (if sometimes grudging) optimism, I’m proud of my home. So even if you are missing Maine this year, as many of you are, know that when you do return, it will be waiting with open arms and perhaps a soft breeze to ease you into a peace of mind that’s hard to find elsewhere. Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours! — Benjamin Williamson
Sitting in the Fog
I think the skill that sets great landscape photographers apart is patience. This means recognizing the potential for something special to happen in a particular location and either waiting for the right moment or returning again and again, until the conditions match the vision. Darylann has this skill, and many others, in spades.
Here’s how Darylann describes her image:
“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” — William Wordsworth
I was eyeing this shot all summer, waiting for the right conditions. The cold nights we have been having provided a beautiful display of fog, allowing for the feeling of staring into infinity and of being at peace, tuning into the sounds of the lake waking up to a new day.
The Power of Water
September 22, 2020
The remnants of Hurricane Teddy brought huge surf to the coast of Maine yesterday. Staff photographer Ben Williamson was out in Kittery, taking in this view of Whaleback Lighthouse from Fort Foster.
30+ WOW Photos of Comet NEOWISE
Hopefully everyone has been able to see Comet NEOWISE with their own eyes over the past month. What started as a smudge on the eastern horizon at dawn morphed into a large, beautiful comet that stretched up to 20 degrees across the night sky and became visible for most people in the evening by mid-July. With the waxing moon and the comet receding from the sun and Earth, it has now started to fade. I wanted to commemorate the celestial visitor by putting together this gallery of images made across the state. Maine is lucky to have some of the darkest skies in New England, and Maine photographers took full advantage of that by capturing these stunning images. I’m always amazed at the work I see on a daily basis, and these photos prove that there are more than a few very skilled people wielding cameras across the state. — Benjamin Williamson
The best photographers are usually the most dedicated, and the most tenacious. A lot of planning can go into getting the shot, but it all comes down to reacting to the scene in front of you. Laura’s reactions always amaze me. Her wildlife images are full of wonder and curiosity, and it’s clear she has a deep passion for what she does. This Great Horned Owl would be amazing on its own, but putting the nearly full moon behind it is just awesome!
Comet NEOWISE Over Katahdin
July 14, 2020
We can usually count on Jamie Walter to bring back the goods from wherever he points his camera. The spectacular appearance of Comet NEOWISE is no exception. Although I have seen and photographed the comet myself, my captures are nowhere near as impressive. I’m so glad Jamie got up to Katahdin for this capture!
Clouds Over Pemaquid
July 9, 2020
There are only a few spots where there is a clear view of both the lighthouse and the rocky shore below at Pemaquid Point. While this vantage is well-known, the weather is always changing, and I took advantage of the sweeping cirrus on this morning to lead the eye right into the scene. I just love it here.
June 26, 2020
It’s not always about the grand view. Finding more intimate vignettes can be satisfying, as was the case on the morning in New Harbor.
September 6, 2019
This was captured during a Down East Adventures photography workshop last summer. I was overjoyed that our group got to experience this stunning sunset. This was only the beginning of what turned into a 360-degree canopy of colorful clouds. It was simply awesome. I’m always telling my students to look for subjects that tell the story of a place. Well, it couldn’t have been clearer with these boats and the prominent red lettering “Port Clyde” on the side of the blue skiff. Lining them up in the foreground and having the sun as the main focal point helped to make this a successful photograph.
Kit with Acorn
May 28, 2020
This is a stunning image. That it took much patience and careful observation to capture it is understood, but that’s not the primary reason I love it. What I love is that it takes me into a world that I wouldn’t otherwise see. The perfect profile of the fox kit with an acorn in its mouth is just wonderful. The kit’s burnt-orange coat contrasts nicely with the green background. While I might have been tempted to boost the colors, Nancy rightly resists it — it’s not necessary. The razor-thin depth of focus helps eliminate distracting elements in the background, and I can only imagine how hard it was to get a sharp image with all of the movement going on here. It all comes down to design and composition: Nancy has composed a simple, striking portrait — one of my favorite wildlife captures. If you’d like to see more images of this kit and its adorable brothers and sisters, check out Nancy’s Instagram.
Color and texture are tools at the disposal of every visual artist, and Karen Kurkjian makes masterful use of both here. This is a unique, well-seen image. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. As the outlines of the seashells came into focus, I delighted in the abstract nature of their arrangement. The green seaweed, which some might have dismissed as marring the beauty of the shells, nicely complements the pinks and oranges. I always admire photographers who find more intimate scenes by paying close attention to their surroundings. Karen certainly does that here, and she also captures some spectacularly grand sunrises and sunsets around her home. Be sure to check out her account for more beautiful images.
This beautiful image of the moon rising behind the Bowdoin Mill and the Green Bridge connecting Brunswick and Topsham immediately caught my attention. I have a strong connection to this place, having worked in that mill for a good part of my adult life. The composition is strong. I love how the forms of the building and bridge are reduced to an almost abstract representation. The star on top of the cupola and the moon beside add a sense of awe and wonder. The level of detail is also nice, considering the difficulty of getting sharp images at this focal length. A lot of folks wonder how you make the moon appear so large in an image without resorting to Photoshop. You do it by using a long (zoom) lens and superimposing other objects over the distant moon, which makes it appear unusually large. The view is outside of our everyday experiences, so there’s often skepticism about how it’s achieved. I always enjoy seeing the work of Maine Mountain Media, and I’m glad we have such talented photographers seeing familiar landmarks in unique ways.
April’s full moon is nicknamed the pink moon, but it was looking orange when staff photographer Benjamin Williamson got this shot on his evening walk last night. The name of the lobsterboat caught his eye. “It reminds me of the word ‘constancy,’” Ben says. “The dictionary defines it as ‘steadfastness of mind under duress.’ I think we could all use some of that.”
The Pier at Old Orchard Beach
As winter transitions to spring, many of Maine’s scenic photographers find themselves by the ocean because the landscape is drab brown, with neither fresh white snow to cover and simplify it nor green to liven it up. The rocky, sandy coastline is reliably consistent, and Maine has blessed us with a great diversity of scenery. Perhaps with this in mind, Mark Jones created this inspiring capture of one of Maine’s most beloved icons, the pier at Old Orchard Beach. A lot of photographers stand back to get the entire structure stretching out across the beach. A much harder challenge is standing underneath the pier and creating a well-balanced composition featuring the wooden pylons that support it. It’s like working a puzzle to make sure that everything lines up and no distractions cross the frame. Mark has used the sun star as a focal point in a scene that otherwise wouldn’t have one. Mark has spearheaded Shutterbugs4Charity, an amazing group of photographers who dedicate their resources to helping others. There are a lot of folks in need right now, and this group will be lending a hand in many ways over the coming months. More information can be found at shutterbugs4charity.org.
Staff photographer Benjamin Williamson captured the beauty of downtown Bath during this month’s spring snow. “The streets were empty, and the quiet was hauntingly beautiful,” he said. “These are strange times we’re living through, but there’s still beauty to be appreciated.”
Sea Cave, Popham Beach
Not many people get to glimpse this sea cave at Popham Beach, where staff photographer Ben captured this beautiful sunrise shot this morning. It’s only accessible at low tide and only about 14 inches tall — just a large rock supported on its sides by other rocks, forming a small opening. The camera’s perspective makes it feel larger, thanks to clever placement and a wide-angle lens. Always use caution exploring Maine’s beautiful coast — consult a tidal chart and don’t go alone.
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
After a day of rain and clouds on Tuesday, the light broke through for just a minute at sunset and cast a beautiful glow on Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland.
Snow, snow, snow. It doesn’t get much prettier than this. I love how Darylann fills the frame with this heavily laden birch tree on the edge of a lake. The real draw, and what makes this a special image by an obviously talented seer, is the small island in the distance perfectly framed by the branches. The overall monotone palette works well, and the cloudy sky was perfect for this. I’m also amazed by the level of detail in the myriad of small twigs and branches, creating the familiar fractals that we know and love about trees. As we wind down from winter and look forward to spring, I think we can expect more beautiful images, no matter the season, from Darylann Leonard Photography.
Winter is a great time of year for photography. I know many people feel that summer is best, but the real winters we have here in Maine provide unique opportunities for image-making that you just don’t get anywhere else. Take this beautiful shot of Camden Harbor by Laura Zamfirescu. The ice in the foreground is fascinating, with the various-sized shapes reminding me of a Matisse collage. I love the time chosen, when the first light of day brushes the tree tops left and creates a warm glow in the sky that contrasts nicely with the blue tones in the rest of the image. The composition is rock solid. The harbor is framed nicely around the edges, and most important, the three winterized windjammers in the foreground point in a diagonal line from bottom left to upper right, creating a strong leading line that moves the eye across the image in a dynamic upward motion. An overall impressive landscape image by one of Maine’s most talented nature and wildlife photographers! Laura can do it all. Please be sure to check out Laura Zamfirescu Photography for more amazing images.