Nantucket Island, for those of you that are not familiar with this magical place, is 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. Nantucket is a photographer’s paradise. There is something so special about the quality of light, the quaint streets, the history and the abundance of nature. If you do plan a visit, here are my suggestions of where to get the best photos on Nantucket.
As soon as you step off the ferry you will be be “in town”. A word of caution, if you visit during July or August it will be very crowded. The Summer crush results in traffic jams and nearly impassable sidewalks. Late Spring or early Fall is the best time to visit because the island is less crowded.
No matter what time of the year you visit, early morning is the best time to get photos in town. I’m talking 6am-ish, before the cars are lining the streets and people are walking into your shot.
Early morning is such a beautiful light on Nantucket because by 10am the sun gets very strong and you will be dealing with very contrasty lighting. Another advantage of shooting early morning, is that the sidewalks will be mostly empty and you can get some nice shots of the town.
Same goes for another beautiful landmark, the Greydon House.
2. The harbor
While you are in town, another photographic location is the harbor. Again, I recommend early morning or early evening for the prettiest light. Overcast days can be a good light to shoot in too.
A little red dinghy has been anchored in Nantucket harbor for as long as I can remember. It has become a beloved landmark and one of the most photographed boats ever!
Take a stroll down to the harbor after dark and on a clear night the water will be like glass. It’s another opportunity for some pretty harbor shots.
There are many foggy days on Nantucket and other than the “Golden Hour”, a foggy day is my favorite light to shoot in.
3. Nantucket Boat Basin
A stroll down to the boat basin is another spot where to get the best photos on Nantucket. If you are into boats (yachts) this is the place to go. Lining the wharf are art galleries, shops and restaurants with beautiful hydrangea and window boxes to photograph.
All the shops have so much character and charm.
4. Brant Point Lighthouse
A short walk from town is located one of Nantucket’s three lighthouses. This is the lighthouse that the ferry rounds, signaling you have arrived to Nantucket. No matter what time of the day, you can get a good shot of this lighthouse. There is often an American flag displayed on the side, but the coast guard changes it up depending on the season. In Winter there is a Christmas wreath and in the Spring there is a daffodil wreath.
You can easily walk right up to this lighthouse to get close up photos but be sure to capture a shot or two from the ferry as well.
If you do walk to the lighthouse there is a photogenic shack off to the right as you approach.
5. Jetties Beach
Another short walk from town is Jetties Beach. This is more or less the “town beach” and has a huge parking lot. A long boardwalk leads across the sand to the water.
It’s called Jetties for reason, there is a jettie. There is a sign restricting people from walking out but it’s a great place to relax and watch the ferries come in and out of town.
On a cloudy day I captured this shot of a lone sailboat highlighted against the blue sky and blue/green water.
There is no beach on Nantucket that isn’t a ten out of ten when it comes to getting good photos. Madaket is one of my favorite places to photograph.
Sadly, Madaket is also where erosion is causing houses to be swallowed up by the sea. This house below used to be very far from the edge of the sea and now it is the latest structure to be in danger. There are dozens of homes that are already gone.
The beach is beautiful though with wide open sandy beaches and lots of gulls to photograph.
There is a small bridge in Madaket overlooking Hither Creek, which is also a pretty spot for photos.
Madaket is located on the West side of the island and thus the sun sets over the water. In the summer, the beach takes on a party atmosphere leading up to sunset, as seemingly half the island drives out to witness the event. This image was captured in the early Spring when there was just one lone fisherman to witness the beauty along with me.
On the far Eastern end of the island is the tiny village of Siasconset, commonly called Sconset. Sconset is one of the most picturesques parts of the island. Many of the houses were built in the 1700 and early 1800’s by the town residents as summer homes and fishing shacks.
Today, these tiny “shacks” are valued at multi-millions of dollars and it is illegal to make any major structural change or knock them down.
It’s so fortunate that Nantucket has chosen to preserve this history because these houses are true gems.
I would love to see the inside of this early home below.
While in Sconset be sure to walk over to the Chanticleer Restaurant. It’s just around the corner from the Sconset Market and on the same street as the public restrooms. There is a horse carousel in the garden that has become another iconic Nantucket image.
If you have time, the Sconset Bluff Walk is absolutely photo worthy. The path starts right in town and it’s a little over a mile. The walk will take you right through people’s backyards so you can get a close up look at some of the most beautiful and expensive properties on the island.
A peek at the backyard gardens alone is worth the trip.
As you walk from town, on the left will be magnificent homes and on the right will be miles of ocean. Here is a shot looking backwards over the bluff.
I mentioned above that Madaket is where everyone gathers to watch the sunset. Sconset is the reverse being located at the Eastern end of the island. All the early bird photographers will be lined up predawn, tripods in the sand and cameras at the ready to photograph the sunrise over the water.
Lastly, another shot not to miss is the Sankaty Head Lighthouse. You can walk up close to the light from one side of Sconset but another good capture is from the Polpis road overlooking the golf course.
8. Alter Rock
Alter rock is one of the highest elevations on the island. It is located mid island, deep in the moors. You can drive in (four wheel vehicle recommended) from the Polpis road or walk in from the Land Bank conservation path off of the Milestone road.
The golden hour, either sunset or sunrise will make for the best images. You can see for miles over the moors in one direction and all the way to the ocean in the other direction.
Here is another capture taken at dusk looking out toward Polpis Harbor.
Another beautiful beach for photography is Miacomet. This beach is located a little off the beaten path, so it’s a bit more remote. There is parking for a few cars but another way to approach it is from the Miacomet golf club road. If you choose to walk all the way in you will walk through beautiful conservation land.
As you get close to the beach, Miacomet Pond is to the left and beautiful fuchsia colored rosa rugosa is everywhere!
In the many times I have been to Miacomet beach I have never seen more than a handful of people.
10. Cisco Beach
Cisco holds a special place in my heart because I lived a stone’s throw from this beach back in my twenties. Both Cisco Brewery and Bartlett Farm is on the way to the beach and both these locations also present good photo opportunities.
Back in the day, Cisco was the “cool beach” i.e. no families or kids.Today that isn’t the case as Nantucket Surf School is located at Cisco and during the summer it can be very crowded.
If you visit Cisco on a good surf day there will be dozens of surfers in the water to photograph.
Bonus Location: Great Point and Great Point Lighthouse
If you are into nature photography, then a trip out to Great Point is where you can get the best photos on the island. The problem (or actually benefit) is that it is not easy to get there. First of all, Great Point can only be accessed by a four wheel drive vehicle and second, you will need to purchase a $250 Oversand Vehicle Permit in order to drive out there.
It’s a long, very bumpy ride to reach the end where the Great Point Lighthouse is located. Along the route though is pristine ocean, breathtaking scenery, and plenty of wildlife.
There are two different routes to reach The Point, the outside ocean route and an inside route which will take you along the inner harbor.
Either route is spectacular and if you are into birding the drive out will be a very rewarding.
In the early Spring, Great Point access is limited in order to protect hatching season. By early June though the Point is usually reopened and a great chance to see the baby chicks. Check the website first if there is any question about access.
The Great Point Lighthouse is located all the way at the end and can be photographed from two different angles.
No vehicles are allowed near the lighthouse but it’s fine to walk up for a closer look.
That’s my wrap up of where to get the best photos on Nantucket. Others might have a slightly different list, but no matter where you head with your camera, there is no shortage of beautiful things to photograph. Simply remember to be aware of the light and if possible shoot early morning or evening for the best lighting.
Bottom line, Nantucket is a magical place. Those who love nantucket understand the powerful hold it has over us. I personally have been going to nantucket for over 45 years. I know pretty much every inch of the island, yet each time I visit, I continue to be in awe of its beauty.
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