Benjamin Williamson’s photo of sunrise on the east-facing shore of Bailey Island has been chosen for the “O Beautiful” series of postage stamps. Photo by Benjamin M. Williamson

Six years ago, Benjamin Williamson was figuring out how to use a camera. This month, the U.S. Postal Service is using a photograph he took of the surf at Bailey Island as one of its “O Beautiful” first-class stamps that celebrate the beauty of America.

The images in the 20-stamp series, issued July 4 in Colorado, correspond with words to the song “America the Beautiful.” Williamson’s Bailey Island image helps illustrate the song’s last line, “From sea to shining sea.” He joins a select group of artists from Maine whose work has been used on U.S. stamps, including the painters Daniel Minter, Andrew Wyeth and John Marin.

“It’s a huge honor,” Williamson said Tuesday during his lunch break from his job as photo editor at Down East magazine. “It’s amazing recognition from a pretty serious organization and a level of recognition that I think is a big deal to me personally and my parents, who are very proud.”

The image selected by the Postal Service shows a wave crashing on the rocks at Bailey Island, with the soft orange-pink of a dawning November sky in the background.

In an email to the postal service describing his photo, Williamson wrote, “November in Maine can be a somber time with the brown earth, bare trees, and no snow to make everything pretty again. For that reason, I like to head to the ocean. Bailey Island has some of the most beautiful shoreline near where I live and I went there for sunrise. It took about 800 attempts to perfectly time waves that were crashing against the rocky shoreline to get this shot. I wasn’t trying to capture anything other than a big splash, but when I saw the arching form of this wave leading right to the point where the sun was filtering through the clouds, I knew this was the one.”

Williamson, 35, lives in Brunswick with his wife, Kimberly, and their 10-month-old daughter.

Williamson taught himself photography beginning in 2012. He was working nights tending bar while his wife was taking classes toward her college degree, which she received in 2016. He had his days to himself to explore his new hobby. Photography quickly grew into a career and now has brought him national attention in the form of a first-class stamp.

“I had an unbelievable amount of free time. I read as many books as I could get my hands on, and I studied what other local photographers were doing,” he said of his self-taught path.

Photographer Benjamin Williamson poses at Lookout Point in Harpswell on Tuesday. The Brunswick resident’s work is in the national spotlight, with one of his photos selected to be part of the U.S. Postal Service’s “O Beautiful” stamp series. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

He became, in his words, “totally obsessed.” He woke at 3 or 4 in the morning and trekked out to chase the best light and the best weather for scenic photography. His skills evolved quickly as he experimented with his vision and technology, and allowed room in his life for his passion to evolve into a career. He began working as photo editor at DownEast in September 2016.

It wasn’t long after that when a representative of the U.S. Postal Service contacted him about submitting a photo for consideration in the “O Beautiful” stamp series. “They found me online and contacted me,” Williamson said. “They made it very easy.”

Williamson learned in January that his photo would be included in the series. He was invited to a ceremony in Colorado commemorating the issuing of the stamps, but couldn’t attend.

Now with a day job and a young daughter at home, Williamson has less time for early morning excursions, and makes time as he can. He feels blessed to live in an area where so much beautiful scenery is readily accessible.

He favors lighthouses and lobster boats – subjects that he admits are a tad cliche, but still very appealing to photographers. He approaches those themes with a fresh eye and the patience of an artist as he awaits the perfect light, the right wave and that exact moment when infinity seems to linger.

Benjamin Williamson’s photo of surf at Bailey Island is on postage stamps that went on sale July 4.

“Living in Brunswick, I have amazing range. An hour from me north or south are so many beautiful places to visit, and I think I have scoured pretty much all of them,” he said.

Williamson’s success with this project illustrates the power and reach of social media. A consultant hired by the Postal Service was looking for a photographer from Maine to illustrate the ending of the song “America the Beautiful” and saw Williamson’s photos on Flickr. The consultant followed a link to Williamson’s website and sent him an email.

Williamson was paid a fee for his photo, but did not disclose the amount.

His success also illustrates the power of following one’s passion. “I’m still looking forward to taking my first workshop or class. I would love to study photography,” he said, laughing. “But so far, it’s mostly self-taught – tons and tons of shooting, of going out almost every morning and being in the right place at the right time.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes

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