Every year I start to gather this list and often pause and wonder if it’s too gimmicky or pointless–and then I immediately remind myself what a great way it is to reflect on my creative output for the year and how I got there. 2016 was an interesting year, with a lot of challenges both personal and creative. On my photography, I simply wasn’t able to get out and shoot as much as I usually do. In spite of that frustration, I actually feel good about the things I saw and captured this year–and that’s a welcome realization. Getting to the list, in no particular order (click on any image to see it larger):
Aspens and Undergrowth
If you’re within earshot or reading distance of me any time from August to November, you know how much I love shooting fall color, and aspens in particular. I think one of the reasons this subject appeals to me so much is that it demands that you stop and consider composition. With a couple of popular exceptions, there are really no iconic, classic views in the eastern Sierra canyons in fall. You have all the raw materials of (hopefully) great images, but you have to get inside your own head a bit to figure out what you’re looking for–and what you see. And how to express that. I was happy with several of my aspen pics this fall, but didn’t want to dominate the list with them and narrowed it to this one. The undergrowth in this June Lake Loop grove had taken on a gorgeous complementary color, and created both tension and balance with the aspen leaves above them.
Avocets and Stilt, Owens Lake
My Owens Lake Project has involved a great deal of bird photography over the years, but I still seem to subconsciously gravitate to landscape-like comps (over the more portrait-esque typical wildlife images). This past spring, I did this deliberately when I spotted this group of American Avocets (and one Black-Necked Stilt) throwing a perfect reflection on the middle of the lake.
Clearing Storm, Lone Pine Peak
The Lake Project also puts me in the same neighborhood as the Alabama Hills and the Whitney Crest, and I never waste a chance to spend some time photographing both. A wildly windy storm had blown through overnight, and when I made it to this spot the clearing storm provided great and dramatic clouds over the crest. And the crest being what it is (long and majestic), it just always seems to call for a long panoramic composition.
Intertidal Meditation (Big Sur)
This image confounded me for weeks and weeks–and then it led me to a little creative breakthrough. I had spent a couple of hours shooting a few spots along the Big Sur coast, but instead of setting up for the usual wide-angle seascape, I just focused on the breaking surf with a long lens. I got home, started going through my pics, and thought “well, that was dumb–why on earth did I shoot this that way?” I’ll spare you the deep, philosophical meandering, but when I finally saw the 1:2 panoramic comp in this, I had an “aha!” moment that has morphed into my Land/Sea project (study, series, whatever). And I just dig that blue line in the swell.
Last Light on Coastal Hills
This is my run-away-from-home place. It’s the gorgeous, rolling coastal hills of west Paso Robles, easily explored from Highway 46 West. You get killer views of Morro Rock, endless undulating hills of oak woodland, dramatic fog (when you’re lucky)–it’s just a stunning place, and great fun to photograph. This is from late last winter, when the hills had greened up to an intense emerald and the setting sun lit up just the tops of the hills.
This little chapel, sitting all by itself on a hilltop near Shandon, California, is a subject I’ve had my eye on for a while, just waiting for good light, good conditions. On my way home from a trip to Paso Robles, I passed this late in the afternoon as rain clouds threatened. I don’t do many black and white conversions, but I love the drama it provides on this image.
Mt. Whitney Sunset Sunburst
There are some perspectives on the Whitney crest that you only get if you’re down on the lakebed at Owens Lake. I try to be mindful of this when I’m shooting at the lake, and look over my shoulder often. That’s exactly what happened on this evening as I was photographing birds with my 150-600mm lens–I had just enough time to swing around and get a few shots off, and went with the telephoto take you see here before the sunburst created by the setting sun disappeared. Shooting at that focal length, I again went with a panoramic crop to emphasize the drama of the peaks.
Sunrise, Bitterwater Road
As I so often do lately, I was on my way into Paso Robles very early one morning and saw conditions shaping up for a foggy, hazy, dramatic sunrise–and it was going to look perfect down one of my favorite backroads. It did not disappoint.
Sycamore and Lupine, Central Coast
One of the images in Land/Sea, this little spot in a transitional zone of chaparral/oak woodland is a reliably great location for fragrant lupine during wildflower season. This panoramic crop allowed me to isolate the hard, gnarly sycamore limbs against the soft green below. And the light was pretty nice, too.
I have a new documentary project just underway on a Year in the Life of Wine. After heavy October rains, this vineyard had a burst of second growth–something that is not wanted (and killed off not long after by the first hard frost). But as unwanted as the second growth was, it was certainly strangely beautiful. I loved the way the backlit new leaf growth looked–almost like fireflies against the hard, dark lines of the vines and the green of the new cover crop below.
2016 was, I feel now, a better year for me photographically than I would have admitted just a few months ago. I’m excited about shooting new things, revisiting old favorites and simply getting outside more often in 2017. Happy new year!