It’s no secret the coronavirus pandemic shaped the year in Maine, but there was so much more to 2020 in the Pine Tree State than the just effects of COVID-19.

In addition to the pandemic, we covered a major election, racial justice protests, Maine’s first transgender valedictorian, opening day of the moose hunt, Maine’s spectacular scenery and more.

Bangor Daily News photographers Linda Coan O’Kresik, Troy R. Bennett, Natalie Williams and Aislinn Sarnacki share the backstories of some of their favorite shots and why they like them.

Linda Coan O’Kresik, photographer

Estelle Pendleton, 81, looks up at her daughter, Ruthe Gray, as they talk on their phones and visit through the window of Estelle’s room at Tall Pines in Belfast on April 22. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“This picture happened by chance. Reporter Abigail Curtis and I were not at Tall Pines to meet Estelle and her daughter Ruthe, but when we saw the two of them visiting through the window, we introduced ourselves and asked permission to share their story. For me, this photo not only captured their love, but the heartache and hardships that they, along with so many others, had to endure because of COVID-19. I am grateful that they allowed us to share such an intimate moment.”

A view of vibrant fall foliage from the Ash Hill scenic overlook on Route 11 just south of Patten on Sept. 28. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“This photo came about as John Holyoke and I were driving back to Bangor after covering the first day of the Maine moose hunt in Ashland. When we crested Ash Hill just south of Patten, we saw a stunning view of vibrant color, beautiful mountains and grazing cows. I had to stop and try to capture just some of the beauty of autumn in Maine.”

Sophie Marquis (right) and Emma Clark of Glenburn pose for a cellphone photo as they leap off a boulder while beating the heat at a swimming hole in Dedham on July 22. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“To me, this photo encompasses the joys of growing up in Maine. Kids enjoying the great outdoors, not seeming to have a care in the world. Total happiness.”

Seniors Samuel Neil (center) and Derek Roberge (right) cheer as Dean of Students Robert Dana speaks during the “corona-mencement” in the Memorial Union at the University of Maine on March 13. “I wanted to say good-bye to all of these people. I love them,” Neil said. Around 1,200 people gathered in the University of Maine’s Memorial Union for a celebration they called “corona-mencement”, for graduation seniors to say goodbye to their friends and to have a makeshift commencement. Organized by senior Sophia Palangas, nearly 400 certificates were given out at the ceremony. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“I love that these students made the most of a horrible situation and found a way to celebrate their years in college. To come up with and quickly organize their own ‘coronamencement’ was clever and unlike any graduation I’d ever covered before.”

For a special keepsake for her friend, Halima Omara (left) takes a selfie with U.S. District Judge Lance Walker and Fatuma Manguera following a naturalization ceremony at Bangor High’s Peakes Auditorium where Manguera (right) became a U.S. citizen. Thirty-four people from 25 countries became citizens at the ceremony on March 6. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“I have photographed many naturalization ceremonies over the years and always love documenting the genuine emotion of the people who are becoming U.S. citizens. Until this ceremony I shot in March, I had never seen anyone grab a selfie with the judge who administered their Oath of Citizenship. It was such a great moment!”

Zoe Umphrey, 6, of Old Town explores by the small brook that runs along side her family’s tent at Megunticook Campground by the Sea in Rockport. The campground opened on May 22, 2020. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“I took this photo while on an assignment about campgrounds opening under COVID-19 guidelines. While talking to a family who was camping, their daughter went off exploring around the small brook that ran by their tent. I was drawn to the smile on her face as she made her way along the edge of the water.”

Thea, a 1-year-old German Shepherd, shakes off after a hot afternoon swim in Dedham on July 24. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“This photo just makes me smile.”

Troy R. Bennett, photographer

Cherry Lemonade crowns Gigi Gabor the winner of the 2020 Miss Blackstones Drag Queen Pageant in Portland on Jan. 25. The annual event is one of the two biggest drag shows in the state. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“I hadn’t shot a drag show since I was in college, and I was really looking forward to this bit of fun. Knowing that I also had to write the story that went along with the photos, I interviewed the four finalists the week before the show. That way, I could concentrate on just shooting during the contest. This image is my favorite of the night because it not only illustrates the crowing of the queen, but I also managed to squeeze the other contestants into the same frame.”

Certified deaf interpreter Regan Thibodeau works with Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah at a press conference in Augusta on March 19. Thibodeau emerged as a celebrity with her expressive interpretations of the daily coronavirus briefings. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“At the beginning, when Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah was still doing in-person briefings, certified deaf interpreter Regan Thibodeau emerged as a pandemic celebrity. Thibodeau’s expressive face gave a silent voice to the unspeakable anxiety gripping many Mainers. I made this picture on my last visit to Augusta in March. I haven’t been back since.”

Tanisha McKenzie of Bowdoinham shouts at the head of a racial justice protest march down Middle Street in Portland on Sept. 5. Black Lives Matter Maine had originally scheduled a rally but called it off due to threats of violence. Some protesters showed up, anyway. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“The defining events of my summer were the many racial justice protests I covered in Portland. They were huge and intense. I spent a lot of time backpedaling in front of determined marchers, huffing and puffing through my face mask. It was exhausting work in the summer heat. Some of the rallies went on for six to eight hours, but — as always — it’s a privilege to photograph history in the making.”

Wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, James Holmberg (left) argues with a protester, who only gave the name Tara, in front of the Portland Police Station on Sept. 5. Holmberg, along with a handful of other counter protesters, showed up at the racial justice rally and mostly taunted the protesters. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“This photo comes from another racial justice march in Portland. The original Black Lives Matter march was called off that night due to threats of violence, but an ad hoc group of protesters decided to go ahead anyway. A small group of counter protesters taunted them from across the street and trailed them to the police station where they spoke on the steps. There, a man with a Make America Great Again hat approached the speakers and asked for a turn with the bullhorn. They let him speak for a moment before he was shouted down. Then he got into a heated discussion with one of the protesters. I was close by and made this photo.”

Five fishermen ply the waters of Back Cover in Portland on June 8 night at low tide. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“After the stress and the drama this summer, I knew I had to have this soothing picture when I saw it from the highway. I got off at the next exit and walked a half mile to get to where they were, fishing Portland’s Back Cove. The sunset only lasted another couple minutes after I got there.”

A carload of people celebrate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ unofficial presidential victory on Congress Street in Portland on Nov. 7. Hundreds of cars paraded, honking horns and waving signs. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The BDN had called the election for Joe Biden the day before, but it took the rest of the world another 24 hours to catch up. I knew that when the rest of the media declared him the winner, something spontaneous might break out in downtown Portland. I just didn’t know when that might happen. I was on my way back from a dump run when I heard the news. I stopped by my house, grabbed my cameras and followed the sound of blaring horns.”

Natalie Williams, visuals coordinator

President Donald Trump signs autographs while making an appearance at Treworgy Family Orchards on Oct. 25. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

“This assignment was unexpected as President Donald Trump made an impromptu visit to Maine one Sunday before the election. People packed into Treworgy Family Orchards for Trump’s brief visit, and I stood on a bale of hay to get up above the crowd for this shot. I like it because you can really tell how many people were there, with Trump at the center of it all”

The Biddeford Tigers celebrate after learning they placed first in Class A during the state championships in Augusta on Feb. 8. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

“This moment was captured after a long day of cheer finals. All the teams had gathered on the competition floor to hear the winners get announced. The defending champs at Biddeford had completed their routine without any visible mistakes, so I set up near them as the Class A results were called out, as they were the likely winners. I like this because you can see the emotion in the girls celebrating their victory, and you can get a little bit of a sense of how packed that floor was.”

Demonstrators stand across from police officers on June 1 in Bangor to protest George Floyd’s death. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

I had never seen so many people in downtown Bangor as I did on June 1 as hundreds showed up to protest George Floyd’s death and police brutality. This day was full of passion and energy, and I took quite a few photos I liked, but this one stood out as my favorite.”

High school senior Syd Sanders talks about his upcoming graduation and how he’ll be valedictorian of Belfast Area High School. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Syd Sanders became Maine’s first transgender valedictorian this year. This was one of those assignments I squeezed in while I was running from one part of the state to another. I normally take lots of photos during an assignment, but I essentially only took two photos of Syd and loved them both. This one shows a hint of Syd’s joyful personality as he stood in front of the school he was making history at. A brief, but memorable assignment for me.”

Two calves graze with the herd at The Highlands in St. Albans on April 24. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

“I spent about a week visiting different farms in the state taking photos of baby animals on farms as a sign of spring. Although I had many favorite photos from that assignment (so many cute animals), this one tops the list because of the contrast between the fluffy babies and the horns on the nearby adult cow, as well as the light, airy feeling of the photo.”

A family takes photos of a graduate from the back of a truck during a drive-thru graduation ceremony at Bangor High School on June 14. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

“Graduations were different everywhere this year as schools opted for ways to celebrate students during the pandemic. Bangor High School opted for a drive-thru ceremony at the school. This photo summed up the entire experience as a graduate posed for loved ones in the back of a pickup truck.”

Aislinn Sarnacki, Act Out editor

A gull carries a large sea star to the beach of Blue Horizons Preserve in Bar Harbor. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

“I’d been searching for sea stars in tide pools all summer to no avail, but then I took this photo. It was a sunny November day, and I was exploring the coastal Blue Horizons Preserve on Mount Desert Island with my husband. From a distance, I thought the gull was carrying a crab, but when I looked through my 100-400mm camera lens, I saw that it was a big sea star. I took several photos of the pair, then selected one in which the sea star was angled just right, so you could see all five legs. Clarity of detail was also important to me in this shot. I love that you can see the bumpy texture of the sea star.”

BDN reporter Aislinn Sarnacki sits on the exposed bedrock of the east peak of Borestone Mountain on July 15, in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness region. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

“Some thought and improvisation went into capturing this seemingly simple photo atop Borestone Mountain. That’s me sitting at the edge of the Earth. The camera was propped on a nearby rock, on a 10-second timer. After pressing a button on the camera, I carefully crawled to my sitting spot (because I could just imagine how catastrophic it would be if I tripped while running). Since I often hike solo, I’ve done this many times on many mountains, and it doesn’t always work. However, this photo came out just right.”

Katahdin reflects off Lower Basin Pond on Sept. 25 in Baxter State Park. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

“This photo didn’t take much skill, but I did have to be there at just the right time, standing at the edge of Lower Basin Pond in Baxter State Park. The water was completely still in the early morning, so it reflected Katahdin — Maine’s tallest mountain — perfectly. The location can only be reached by hiking. I think the bits of fall color here and there really add to the photo as well.”

Two loons swim together in Millinocket Lake on Aug. 1 in the Katahdin region. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

“Loons are one of the most photographed wild animals in Maine, and for good reason. They’re stunning, with black, white and dark green plumage and bright red eyes. But it can be challenging to come up with a photo of a loon that’s truly unique. In August, I think I managed it while canoeing on Millinocket Lake. While this photo isn’t especially detailed, I love the composition, with the two loons facing away from each other, a mirror image. It almost doesn’t look real. I promise it is.”

Tree roots criss-cross the trail in Reversing Falls Preserve in Pembroke. (Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN)

“I’ve photographed Maine hiking trails for about 10 years, and I still can’t get over how ‘rooty’ some sections of trail are, with tangles of exposed tree roots criss-crossing just waiting to trip you. The odd beauty of it is often challenging to capture in one image, but I think this photo, taken at Reversing Falls Preserve in Pembroke, came out beautifully. The sunlight is just muted enough (likely by some clouds) for it to be patchy without too much contrast on the forest floor, and the moss adds a little extra color to the scene.”

What were your favorite photos of the year? Let us know in the comments below. For more of the BDN’s best photography, follow us on Instagram, @bangordailynews.

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...