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A Fort Stark Iconic Sunrise (feat. Portsmouth, NH)

Being a bit of an adventure junkie (and being cooped up all spring due to COVID-19 concerns), I suggested that fellow photographer Cynthia and I explore some new places to take photos. We tossed around some locations, and I reached out to Kayla and Eric to see if they wanted to adventure with us. For those of you who've scrolled through our blog, you might remember Kayla and Eric's wedding photos from June 2019. I thought, "doing an anniversary photo shoot with some epic adventure shots would be a pretty fun celebration." So, Cynthia, Kayla, Eric, and decided to head up to Portsmouth in mid-June this year. Little did we know, Portsmouth was near and dear to K & E, and making more memories there at their 1-year anniversary was really special for all of us.

I researched a few spots, and settled on sunrise at Fort Stark. Given we all drove up separately from Boston, we agreed to meet at 4:45 AM at the Fort (parking illegally, I might add). The night before the sunrise adventure session, I had photographed a maternity and couples session, and I stupidly stayed up until midnight editing the photos from the sessions instead of getting enough sleep to call it anything but a "nap". So, with 2 hours of sleep, I got up, packed the car, grabbed Cynthia, and headed up to Portsmouth.

Cynthia and I arrived and started scouting 30 minutes before the sunrise. We hiked around the path leading to the ocean, and saw Portsmouth Light, a tiny beacon in the distance.

When Kayla and Eric arrived, we learned a few critical things for next time:

  1. Bring headlamps or flash lights for all parties involved pre-sunrise.

  2. Make sure everyone wears all-terrain shoes to get to the location, and swap once we all hike/climb/slip/jump over to the photography location.

Kayla and Eric were so charming and romantic together, with Eric helping her hop over crevasses in her sandals; I asked them to pause and slowly continue hiking, so I could capture some of how lovingly they guided each other over the rocks.

Pro tip: make sure you're not going to fall over while squealing in delight about the pink and orange sunrise glow. I definitely almost fell off a big rock while Cynthia took photos of the scene. The panic-filled photo of my precarious mis-step will not be included so I can keep my last shred of dignity.

Kayla and Eric climb onto the rocks at Fort Stark at sunrise, with Portsmouth Light in the background.

After the sun came over the horizon, we started walking back to the car and saw this grassy tidal marsh, complete with driftwood. It was too beautiful to resist, and we asked Kayla and Eric to slowly and carefully trudge over to a few spots, while trying not to step in marsh-sludge. We only moved 50 feet from the cliffs and realized the terrain looked like we had been teleported to the Marshlands of Northern Ireland!

We walked back toward the parking lot, and I noticed a small walking path leading toward a marina that I wanted to explore. Walking over, I saw the low tide had exposed some rocky beach, and there was a cliff overlooking a marina. The sunrise hadn't quite reached the entirety of that beach, so I retracted my "we're almost done" statement and we explored the west side of Jaffrey Point and the Piscataqua River.

This was one of my favorite images: the mist rolling through the marina as the sun rose above the hills protecting the inlet:

We got our fill of photographing Kayla, Eric, and the misty marina, and turned to head back to the cars. At that exact moment, the sun was only waist high on the horizon, so I grabbed Kayla and Eric, told them to stand on the little hill, and snapped this one, which ended up being one of my favorites of all time:

Guess what? We did all this before 6 AM *and* before breakfast! All of us were feeling the high from the excitement of such an epic sunrise (we just kept squealing "WORTH IT!" every few minutes), so we drove to our next portrait stop on the adventour: Goat Island.

You might ask yourself, "why aren't there more photos of Goat Island? And, were there actually goats?"

Alas, this location wasn't as much of a jackpot as Fort Stark. Main reason? No goats. Secondary reason? Really super slip-and-slidey low tide marshland. I had scoped this spot out on google maps, not realizing we had to climb over a road guard rail and down a rocky slope to get there. I had hoped to have the Memorial Bridge in the background (had we been able to get farther out toward the river, it may have worked...

The other fun part of this specific location was the very adorable pup who insisted on alerting the entire island of our presence, so we VERY quickly snapped a few photos and headed back to the car to explore the city of Portsmouth.

Our first stop was Prescott Park (again, somehow managed to park illegally and not get ticketed or towed as it was well before people were stirring). We had the gardens to ourselves. Getting to shoot through the fountains *may* have been my favorite part of this portion of the session.

Kayla was really wonderful following prompts and suggestions for movement. I'd make a suggestion of "why don't you lead Eric," and she'd not only physically grab his hand and lead him, but also add a backstory: "Eric, come this way so we can explore this side of the sidewalk! No, Eric, this was is more FUN!"

After Kayla led Eric all over the gardens and Marcy St., we headed over to the Strawbery Banke Museum to check out some of the historic buildings.

I don't remember the names of any of these beautiful historic homes, but this big white one was my favorite because I stole a fresh fig out of their garden, and it was delicious. Oh, and because it was an absolutely gorgeous spot for photos. (But, come on, fresh fig takes the cake...)

After frolicking in the gardens of the Strawbery Banke Museum, we headed over to Memorial Bridge and greater Portsmouth, including tugboats, a tasty-smelling alley, and a romantic walkway in front of a bakery.

As we were walking through Market Square, Kayla and Eric showed us the spot that Eric had dropped to one knee, told Kayla how much he loved her, and asked her to marry him: right in front of the famous clock tower, right on this corner:

At this point, it was about 8 AM, so we decided to do one last outfit change and just take some photos walking around Portsmouth. Here are a few highlights:

I think we did okay for a Sunday morning... all before 10 AM!

A word (more words) from the author:

I'm Daniela, the owner of Sacred Harbor Photography. As you may know, I'm passionate about the environment, and especially our beautiful coastal waters, and getting to explore Fort Stark, the Piscataqua River, and the coastal marshes/estuaries around Portsmouth was a phenomenally fun experience. If you read up on my Mission page, you'll see I donate 5% of my annual revenue to an conservation-focused non-profit (this year is Save the Harbor/Save the Bay). My goal is for my photography studio to be adventure and outdoors-focused so I can continue to highlight the beauty of nature (along with all my clients). If you have an idea for an epic adventure shoot, like hiking up a mountain, heading out to/into the water, walking through grasslands... you name it, I want to be there with you to capture it! Send me an email at

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