5 Not-To-Miss Photo Ops in Portland, Maine
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Your Ultimate Guide for Spending One Day in Portland, Maine and Not Missing a Single Photo Op!
Whether you're stepping off the cruise boat for a day, road tripping your way along the Maine coast, or spending a few days in the area, these are the places to plan for the best photo opportunities. Portland has something for every photographer: Sunrises and sunsets at Portland Head Light, catch fishing boats coming and going from the working wharves, 200+ year old buildings rich with historic charm and architecture, IG worthy backdrops, or the just-for-fun family and friends candid shots.
Full Disclosure: I am not a professional photographer, lol. This is a collaboration of novice/hobbyist/tourist photography using a cellphone (galaxy 20+) and a true professional using his Canon camera, Canon lens that's almost as heavy as a newborn baby, and 40+ years of knowhow
Portland Head Light, Portland, Maine (Photo Credit: Mike, Pro)
As a photographer, Mike Carmo has been to nearly every state in the United States, 46 to be exact. Driving from event to event is a great way to see the country! I normally check with him prior to making definitive plans. "Hey Dad, have you ever been to..." and usually he can give me great places to stop and check out.
Below you will find a collaborative father-daughter list of the 5 best places in Portland to grab some pretty unique shots. And ya know, a wicked good donut or 12!
Breakfast: THE HOLY DONUT
Believe me when I tell you this, the line is worth the wait! Get here early as the line will not only go out the door but it will quickly stretch down the block! In case you are reading about this for the first time, The Holy Donut is a potato donut and quite honestly, is heavenly. You can view the menu online so when its your turn at the counter you can get down to business.
Get your camera ready! While waiting in line by the front door, ask someone to take your picture with the Holy wings! I'm a sucker for posing with fun backdrops and statues, so this was a no brainer for me.
We were there in early October. Weather was crisp and exactly what we were seeking from a New England autumn day. The wait was not that long considering we got there around 10am on a Saturday morning. We scored parking within that block, paid for an hour, and went exploring.
Gen with Wings (Photo Cred: Hubby)
Dozen Potato Donuts, The Holy Donut. Commercial St, Portland Maine (Photo Cred: Gen)
Just look at these donuts! My husband picked these. You could say he was a little excited (and hungry) when ordering. His favorites? The maple bacon and the toasted coconut.
To all the gluten-free folks out there, the best news in this post (IMO, as a celiac) is that The Holy Donut DOES have gluten free donuts! I ordered SIX, one of each flavor, and they were incredible. My favorite was the toasted coconut as well!
3 Slabs of the Berlin Wall (Photo Cred: Gen)
Did you know there is a (rather large) piece of the Berlin Wall in Portland? Go, touch it, feel the history. You'll find this at Commercial Street and Moulin Street, a few yards down the dock at Long Wharf. History Lesson: the Berlin Wall was installed virtually overnight in 1961 by the Communist government of East Berlin, separating the east and west of the city until its fall in 1989.
The Wharf has plenty of spots to whip out the camera and grab some candid shots. Between playing with the shadow effects from the fun wave fence to getting unique perspectives with the chain link fence full of locks next to the Berlin Wall slabs, the Wharf is ripe with opportunity for photo ops and fun mini photo sessions. My husband and I walked one block down and walked along another wharf which definitely did not see many tourists. We found stacks and stacks of lobster (lob-stah) cages, fishing boats, and cool signs. (Photo Credit: Gen, Wavy Fence at Long Wharf)
Walk up the hill from Commercial street a block or two and you will run into the creme da la creme of historic photo shoot opportunities. These 200+ year old brick buildings are just screaming out for you to make them a backdrop! This is THEE best place to go if you are into taking historic architecture photography.
The streets to check out are Commercial, Exchange, and Fore. Cobblestone streets, 19th-century brick buildings, fishing piers, boutiques, bars, shops, and beautiful cityscapes will mesmerize you and be a playground for the urban photographer! Photo Credit: Gen
Lighthouse: PORTLAND HEAD LIGHT
Portland Head Light is the most photographed lighthouse in the entire United States. Not even joking here. Professionals, hobbiests, and cellphone-photographers alike will agree that getting a good shot of this lighthouse is not hard to achieve. Below are FOUR ways to get your perfect shot... here we go!
Portland Head Light at Sunrise (Photo Cred: Mike, Pro)
SUNRISE! The above photo was shot at sunrise from the cliff walk which is to the RIGHT of the lighthouse.
Pro Tip! When you Google "When is sunrise for Portland Maine" you may get two times. "First Light" and "Sunrise". The difference? If you show up about 10 minutes prior to first light, it will be pitch dark. You'll get to experience true sunrise with the sky transforming into a watercolor explosion of blues, oranges, pinks, purples, and shades of reds even before the sun makes its debut. Sunrise is when the sun peaks over the horizon. The sunrise photo above is before the sun actual rose. It can seem you have endless opportunities for photographs in this first hour of light in the morning; every second that passes the sky is slightly different!
Portland Head Light Cliff Walk
Portland Head Light, along Cliff Walk, to the left of the lighthouse (Photo Cred: Mike, Pro)
PORTLAND HEAD LIGHT CLIFF WALK offers the best vantage points for shots of the lighthouse. Walking down from the parking lot below the battery ruins you can turn left or right and head along the walking path. The path runs along the coast and gives easy access to 4 ruins of batteries in Fort WIlliams Park in addition to classic views of the lighthouse. If you are looking for urban, military history, or "abandoned" type photography, the Cliff Walk is the right place for you.
Battery Blair, above and to the right of the lighthouse. (Photo Cred: Gen)
Battery Garesche, follow Cliff Walk to the right of the lighthouse, keep right when the path makes a Y
Photo Cred: Gen
The only disappearing gun battery that is fully exposed and almost intact, Battery Garesche (Gen)
Lighthouse Boat Tour
Taking a boat tour turns your photography into a true experience. If I had to rank these shots, this would be Level: Expert. Not only are you on a boat and potentially battling seasickness, but you have to stay steady enough to handle your camera, keep both it and your body steady as the boat bobs with the waves. I would say this isnt ideal for cell phone photography if you plan on developing or entering contests. Since Mike makes a living as a professional action sports photographer, he already has the perfect camera set up for shots like this. Even with the best equipment on the market, this author highly recommends coming prepared with motion sickness meds! It may go without say, but that photo credit goes to Mike!
AT The Lighthouse
Directly at the base of the lighthouse looking up (Photo Cred: Gen)
I know you're out there! All y'all who want to get all up in that lighthouse's business. Up close and personal. This is one of my favorite ways to photograph a lighthouse. I like seeing the architecture, the fine details of the body of the structure, and just looking up at that majestic light at the top. This position allows you to shoot overtop the heads of the (at times) throngs of tourists and get nothin' but lighthouse. Here you can mess around with your lighting and, depending on the lens you have, zoom in to the tippy top! Also at this location you have access to the lighthouse buildings and a pretty neat museum.
Thanks for reading folks! Ever since my dad went to this lighthouse several years ago and shared his photography with the family it has been on my bucket list. He has returned three more times and has plans to go back again sometime soon. My husband and I put Portland, Maine, very high on our 2022 New England fall road trip bucket list. And thanks to Mike for sharing this information with me so now I can share it with YOU!
Stay tuned for the launching of our online storefront which will feature lighthouse photographs from the professional. They make terrific gifts for christmas!