Our 10 Favorite Down East Photos of 2023

Our 10 Favorite Down East Photos of 2023

From epic wildlife pics to offbeat and intimate portraits to slices of Maine life as it's lived.

Picking favorite shots from the past year of Down East issues is no easy task. Our talented photographers have a way of filling our pages with an abundance of beautiful landscapes, delicious-looking food, striking wildlife, interesting people, and much more. Nonetheless, photo editor Tara Rice, staff photographer Dave Waddell, and editor in chief Will Grunewald each did their darndest to choose a few of 2023’s true standouts.

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LyAnna Sanabria, Gene Valentin, and Ronnie Medlock of Papi, in Portland, Maine
LyAnna Sanabria, Gene Valentin, and Ronnie Medlock of Papi, in Portland, Maine

Papi Portland portrait. “Best of Maine 2023,” September. Photo by Ryan David Brown.

I love this engaging, atmospheric portrait of LyAnna Sanabria, Gene Valentin, and Ronnie Medlock of Papi Portland by Ryan David Brown. I’m drawn to the texture and color in the background, the moody directional light, and the casual-cool, band-like attitude of the subjects that makes me question whether I’m actually cool enough to patronize Papi’s in the first place. — D.W.

Pamela Chévez, Miranda Rico, and Britt Dahlberg at Scarborough’s Pine Point Beach. “More Women+ Surf Is Making Maine’s Surf Scene More Welcoming (Even in Winter),” March. Photo by Tara Rice.

I’ve been an avid skateboarder and snowboarder since middle school but for a long time never lived in a place that provided me access to the original sport from which all other boardsports were born: surfing. So I was immediately drawn to this glimpse into the frigid world of winter surfing here in Maine. The cold-water surfing scene is primarily dominated by men, and it was especially refreshing that Tara focused on a group of hardy Maine women donning their thick neoprene and braving the 40-degree water in search of waves. You see the bleak chill of winter but also to the warmth of comradery and fun that’s present in the surfing community. — D.W.

A bull moose along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway
A bull moose along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway

A bull moose along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. “Mark Picard Has Likely Photographed More Moose Than Any Other Mainer,” April. Photo by Mark Picard.

Mark Picard’s cover shot from our April issue, of a bull moose in the Allagash wilderness, is probably one of the best photos of a moose I have ever seen. The light is soft and the shadows are long. I love the mix of blue and green hues, the textures of the grass, the centered mountain backdrop, and the stoic forward gaze of the moose. You’d be hard pressed to find a more classic photo of one of Maine’s most iconic and beloved animals. — D.W.

A coyote caught on a trail camera. “Is Wildlife Getting More Photogenic Or Are Trail Cams Really That Good?” April. Photo by Ethan Eisenhaur.

Ethan’s trail cam photography is not just an incredible technical feat and an exercise in extreme patience but also such a captivating and new way of seeing wildlife. With all of the technology we have now, we take a lot of photography for granted. But it is not easy to pull this off — it requires so much finesse with lighting and gear, plus braving the elements and having a really intimate understanding of how and when animals move. It’s important to remember just how many things have to go exactly right to end up with an image like this. — T.R.

a spotted salamander
a spotted salamander
A spotted salamander. “Maine Big Night Volunteers Want You to Make Way For Amphibians,” April. Photo by Greta Rybus.

This is just one of a series of beautiful images by Greta depicting a “Big Night” in Maine, when a huge number of volunteers track amphibians crossing roads during their spring migrations. This story encapsulates something that I love so much about living in Maine: the way communities band together around creatures big and small. The tenderness and care with which Greta approaches every subject, even the slimy ones, further illustrates that fact. — T.R.

The Avocado tostada at Regards, made with lint corn grown at the Somali Bantu Community Association’s Liberation Farm
The “Avocado” tostada from Regards. “Central-Maine Corn Is the Star Ingredient In This Dish at Portland’s Regards,” November. Photo by Nicole Wolf.

Nicole is so skilled at distilling an image down to the most important components. I love how collaborative she is with chefs in coming up with creative, eye-catching photography that really makes the food sing. I mean, how could you not want to eat this tostada? — T.R.

Alewives running in Damariscotta Mills. “Maine’s Alewife Run: A Spectacle of Abundance,” May. Photo by Michael D. Wilson.

If you’ve ever seen a Maine alewife run from shore, it’s amazing — this great silvery mass wriggling its way upstream. Even more amazing, I think, is this underwater view. Dams and pollution did a real number on Maine rivers over the years, and to see waterways so dramatically teeming with life again is pretty spectacular. — W.G.

The Island Store, on Isle au Haut. “Maine’s General Stores: Where Tradition Thrives (and Retail Giants Don’t)” November. Photo by Tristan Spinski.

Part of a feature about Maine general stores that serve as vital sources of provisions and camaraderie in small communities, this image of Isle au Haut’s Island Store really stuck with me: the faded tones, the spare and orderly shelves, the weathered varnish around the door handle, the easy, unhurried postures of the guys in line. It feels almost timeless, like any good old general store should feel. — W.G.

roller skater skating close to the floor
roller skater skating close to the floor
Roller skating at Happy Wheels, in Westbrook. “Happy Wheels Rolls On,” January. Photo by Jason Frank.

When Happy Wheels reopened, it was a huge deal for the greater Portland area’s small but ardent cadre of roller skaters. There aren’t many such rinks left in Maine — or anywhere — and they provide such a particular way of letting loose. The way Jason captured color and motion (and a physics- and physiology-defying skating move) is pure fun. — W.G.

A night at Daint’s Place, on Swan’s Island. “The Maine Coast’s Best Bar Isn’t a Bar At All,” September. Photo by Dave Waddell.

Daint’s Place, on Swan’s Island, isn’t a bar, at least not in a typical sense. Rather, it’s a free hangout that just happens to be stocked with lots of booze, and it’s the social center of a tight-knit island community. You really need to read the story to understand just how unique the place is. But I think this photo makes pretty darn clear that a rollicking good time can be had there. — W.G.

Happy New Year from all of us at Down East!

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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