10 Best From 2015

What a long, strange year 2015 was–and one I was glad to see go, honestly.

Various real-life crises and distractions meant I was able to do very little shooting last year–and after living with that frustration for that long, I don’t recommend a creative diet for anyone, ever.  Your art can very often be your lifeline or just your breathe of fresh air.  Give it the priority in your life it deserves, because there may come a time (or two or more) where that opportunity evades you, even if just temporarily.

Life lessons aside, I did continue to explore nature and light and my relationship with both, and these are my favorites from those explorations.

In my ongoing work on my Owens Lake Project, I spend a decent amount of time in the little town of Lone Pine, and love to visit the Alabama Hills. It was after a long day of shooting around the lake last March that I headed up to the Alabama Hills in hopes of a sunset–and indeed, there wasn’t much of one.  But about 10 minutes after “official” sunset, a warm apricot glow began to spread across the sky–I scrambled up a couple hundred feet of boulders to get this perspective that includes an impressive cottonwood tree and both Lone Pine Peak and Mt. Whitney on the horizon.

After a steely, gray day, I was surprised to see a post-sunset blush develop over the peaks of the Whitney range.

After a steely, gray day, I was surprised to see a post-sunset blush develop over the peaks of the Whitney range.

On yet another trip to Owens Lake, I was down on the lakebed photographing some of the new habitats being constructed, and glanced behind me in time to notice this lovely, soft light touching Lone Pine Peak and leaving everything around it in shadow.  There are views of the Sierra that can only be had from the lakebed, and this is one of them–a view that emphasizes the dramatic, steep escarpment of the eastern Sierra.

Stormy winter light throws the eastern Sierra into shadow and mist.

Stormy winter light throws the eastern Sierra into shadow and mist.

I stayed mostly close to home in 2015, and the upside of that was spending more time with some of my favorite places.  In this case, the coastal hills above the seaside village of Cambria.  The inland hills of coastal California seem like a well-kept secret; it’s not photographed to the extent that more familiar places in the state are, but it hosts some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever find.

Golden sunset light illuminates a field of lupine in the California coastal hills.

Golden sunset light illuminates a field of lupine in the California coastal hills.

I end almost every year wondering why I don’t spend more time at El Matador beach above Malibu–it’s a gorgeous spot, and offers some of the best sea stacks you’ll get on the southern end of the state.  Fortunately, I did get out this summer and decided on a super wide-angle portrait of that massive sea arch, leaving the last sunset light to illuminate it from behind.  I (and many other photographers) tend to focus on parts of the stack, using the portals to frame the seascape just beyond–but I really love the way it crouches on the sand like some great hulking beast when you take a few steps back.

A pink sunset glow illuminates one of the great sea arches at El Matador beach, illuminates its multiple portals.

A pink sunset glow illuminates one of the great sea arches at El Matador beach, illuminates its multiple portals.

I like it when pictures tell stories.  In most cases, I think that’s any photograph’s most important job.  And that’s why this photo is one of my favorites not just from 2015, but from my entire time shooting the eastern Sierra.  The slopes stretching out from my feet are covered in the high-desert sagebrush and rabbitbrush, a colorful grove of aspens follows along McGee Creek, and the towering peaks of the Sierra rise up from the back of the canyon.  In one photo, you see the multiple ecosystems that give the eastern Sierra its unique beauty meeting and diverging.

Sage-covered slops of McGee Canyon stretch back to the soaring granite peaks of the eastern Sierra.

Sage-covered slops of McGee Canyon stretch back to the soaring granite peaks of the eastern Sierra.

Autumn as a transition into winter is one of my favorite photographic subjects.  As much time as I spend shooting among the aspen groves, I occasionally remember to look down–the canyon floor often displays some of the most interesting color and detail.  In this case, newly fallen yellow aspens leaves mingle with dried and twisted juniper and granite stones flecked with black and little bits of color.

The remains of autumn scatter across the floor of Bishop Canyon.

The remains of autumn scatter across the floor of Bishop Canyon.

My obsession with aspens is no secret, and it’s something I always look forward to photographing.  The more time I spend with them, the more I try to photograph them in different ways–different stages of color, of bare-ness, and in varying light.  This grove caught my eye as I began my initial exploration of Bishop Canyon’s south fork this fall, and I came back the following morning to photograph it in shadow and using a long lens.  I’m delighted with the result.

Mostly bare aspens above Survey's Meadow show off their delicate bones.

Mostly bare aspens above Survey’s Meadow show off their delicate bones.

Perhaps the only thing I look forward to more than I do fall color is winter–and snow–in Yosemite Valley.  We’ve had precious little snow the last few years, so getting to be there for TWO snow dumps in the valley at the end of the year was an immense treat.  On Thanksgiving morning the clearing storm created a lot of ground fog in the valley, and by mid-morning it was in fierce competition with the rising sun.  The result?  Ever-shifting and otherworldly misty, glowing bodies of light along the river’s shore.  It was magical.

Shifting fog and sunlight created moving, glowing bodies of mist along the Merced River after a winter storm.

Shifting fog and sunlight created moving, glowing bodies of mist along the Merced River after a winter storm.

My last two “best” of the year will be one very small scene, and one very large scene (notable only because I tend to stick with more middle-distance intimate landscapes).  The same morning as the picture above was taken (Thanksgiving!), I found this tiny scene.  There were a few inches of snow on the ground, but on top of that snow was a gorgeous, glittering coat of hoar frost.  I chose a very shallow depth of field for this close up, keeping some of the frozen bits in focus, with everything around it soft and quiet.

Frozen grasses in El Capitan Meadow, covered in hoar frost.

Frozen grasses in El Capitan Meadow, covered in hoar frost.

And finally, a big, juicy icon.  I generally eschew these in recent years, and have gone out of my way NOT to include them in the last few “best of” annual reviews.  But once in a while, it’s okay to shoot an icon.  In fact, you’d be nuts not to record a scene like this if you’re fortunate to find yourself in the middle of such conditions.  Gates of the Valley is my favorite vista in all of Yosemite, and I always stop to take it in even though I rarely photograph it anymore.  I made an exception on Christmas morning, because I have never seen light this pretty in person before.  I’m already off to a good start (photographically) for the new year, and I hope you are, too.  Thank you so much for your support, and have a healthy, happy 2016!

Exquisite light and a fresh coast of snow dress up Gates of the Valley on Christmas morning.

Exquisite light and a fresh coast of snow dress up Gates of the Valley on Christmas morning.

3 thoughts on “10 Best From 2015

  1. Mark

    I hope the photographs from 2015 at least help you overcome some of the unpleasantness Robin. Beautiful work. I like the Matador beast. McGee Canyon seems like a very special place. I hope 2016 is better for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *