With the start of a new year, it’s time to go back and consider my work from the year before, prompted in great part by Jim Goldstein’s annual invitation for photographers to share their ten best images of the year. This is a daunting task that Jim takes on every year, and I very much appreciate all the work he puts into cataloging everyone’s lists. It also serves to help me consider where I am creatively, how I grew the most this year, and what areas I’d like to concentrate on creatively in the coming year.
For my list this year, I’ve deliberately excluded photographic icons–locations such as Yosemite Falls or Delicate Arch–all of which I was privileged enough not just to photograph, but to capture in extraordinary light in 2011. You can find those images easily enough in my galleries here, or on my Flickr photostream. While I’m greatly pleased with those images (as well as with the opportunity to have visited them in person), they aren’t exactly innovative or original (obviously). For this list, I wanted to focus on the images that bring together the best elements of light and composition, without the easy eye-grabbers of icons that have been photographed thousands of times.
First up: a vertical panorama of Cascade Creek where it tumbles vertically down the walls of the Merced River Canyon in Yosemite. This is one of my favorite spots in the park to photograph, but it’s a challenge to photograph. Because of its location, access and compositional possibilities are rather limited. The cascades go on for hundreds of feet, and it’s difficult to capture that kind of drama in a single image–it simply won’t fit. This spring, I decided to try a vertical panorama combining three horizontal shots stitched together, and was pleased with the results.
On that same trip in mid-May, I spent some time photographing the delicate dogwood blossoms that grace the valley in early spring. A favorite subject among photographers, I’d seen (and photographed) the typical blossoms-over-rushing-water scene before, but wanted to try for something slightly different this time. I arrived at the west end of the valley early enough in the morning to catch the dogwoods near the Pohono bridge in deep shade. This threw a slight purple-blue cast to the Merced raging by underneath the branches, so I zoomed on a single dogwood branch and decided on a shutter speed that would capture a single long swoosh of water rushing by. This is the result:
I was fortunate to spend a great deal of time photographing the eastern Sierra Nevada this year, which is probably my favorite place on earth to spend time. We received a near-record amount of snow this past winter, a hint of which you see in this shot of Convict Lake. One of the easiest to reach alpine lakes in the Sierra, it has year-round access, so it’s possible to capture scenes like this without arduous hiking or skiing to get there. I was the only person there on this morning–incredibly–and it was perfectly still and very cold. Catching the setting moon in pre-dawn light was an unexpected bonus.
The moon played a part in a few of my other favorite shots from this year–sometimes planned on, sometimes taking me by surprise. This image was one of those unexpected gems, taken at the end of a warm spring day in the Sierra foothills in California’s central valley.
I was finally able to visit a location that has been on my list for some time this year–the Patriarch Grove of the Ancient Bristlecone Pines high up in the White Mountains. These ageless wonders, the oldest living non-colonal organisms on earth, grow only in a few locations at very high altitude. My first attempt to photograph them in July was scuttled when I was hit with a nasty bout of altitude sickness, but I was back again a month later, and had the great privilege of standing among these gnarled trees at sunset.
This next shot is one of my favorites from 2011, and also perhaps the luckiest shot I’ve ever taken. I was on a trip to Las Vegas this summer, and found myself watching a dramatic thunderstorm over the mountains just south of the city. I noticed lightning dancing across the ridge tops, and on a whim I set up my tripod and long lens in an attempt to capture some of the action. It wasn’t until I returned home a few days later and uploaded my photos that I saw this heart-shaped lightning bolt. I’m pretty sure I’ll never get another lightning bolt as whimsical as this, and it always makes me smile when I see it.
On several of my trips to the eastern Sierra, I was fortunate to see some of the most beautiful and dramatic light and clouds. This image shows what can happen when monsoonal moisture is swept up from the Gulf of California, resulting in violent but beautiful storms over the high sierra. This particular storm was powerful enough to close the Whitney Trail for 24 hours, as well as several of the roads leading down to the small town of Lone Pine at the base of Mt. Whitney. I took this shot in the Alabama Hills just above Lone Pine as the storm began to dissipate at sunset, making for incredible clouds and color.
On another trip later this fall, I was able to capture an image I knew was possible, but didn’t know if I’d ever be in place when all the conditions came together for some “range of light” magic. One of my favorite vistas on the east side is that of the Evolution Range as it rises up behind Bishop Canyon. The slopes of the canyon are covered in aspen groves, which turn vivid yellow and orange in the fall. I’d wondered just how dramatic that vista might become if I could catch a colorful sunset over those glowing aspen groves–and I was lucky enough to capture exactly that a few months ago. A thunderstorm was just beginning to break apart over the peaks shortly before sunset, so I set up to capture that vista. I was awestruck as I watched the clouds overhead turn vivid pink above those aspen groves, and thought “nobody is ever going to believe this is real.” Well, it was real all right, and I’m so glad I was there to witness it.
Fall color is perhaps my favorite subject to photograph, and I was happy to return to the eastern Sierra this fall to see the aspen groves put on their show again this year. This shot from Bishop Canyon is my favorite of all my fall color images this year, thanks to the zig-zagging cascades of Bishop Creek and that brilliant red aspen among the other yellow ones.
Finally, in looking over my shots from this year, I noticed a definite minimalist bent in many of my landscapes. One of the best places to capture such a scene is at the odiferous but strangely beautiful Salton Sea just south of Palm Springs. On hot, cloudless days, a haze settles over the lake by sunset, which turns the surrounding mountains into an abstract of layers and color, with the sky turning various pastel shades. There were two paragliders flying along the shore the night I took this shot, so I opted to include them in the composition. They look like a pair of fermata hanging in the sky, marking the slight pause before sunset fades to night.