As I see all of the “decade in review” articles proliferating in my news feed this week, it’s impossible not to take a slightly longer look back on my usual “best of the year” roundup. I’ll share those pics below, but for me the end of the 2010s is more than just a calendar anniversary; it’s also the end of my first decade as a serious photographer. I went from curious beginner in 2009 to “emerging photographer” with my first gallery show in 2013 to part-time pro and finally, this summer, full-time professional. Part of that final accomplishment was somewhat unexpected (unanticipated job change), but I end this decade having landed on my feet and continuing–I hope–to grow professionally and creatively.
I was able to actually get out and photograph more this year than I had the past couple of years, and continued to explore the relationship between creativity and depression. It’s a fascinating analytical journey applied up close and personal; and I still have no answers, just the observation that this year I almost unconsciously (but consistently) sought out the company of trees every time I was out with my camera. Lots to ponder on that front, but it reminded me that few subjects simultaneously inspire me and comfort me the way trees do. And my “best of” for the year reflects that.
In approximate chronological order, these were my favorite images from 2019:
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California’s crown jewel at the north end of Big Sur, has long been a favorite spot of mine. This past January, I finally captured to my satisfaction the gorgeous Monterey Cyprus trees and the way they cling impossibly to near-vertical rock faces along the coastal bluffs.
This was a banner year for wildflowers along the California coast and inland mountain ranges. I made multiple trips into my favorite spots to capture the bloom, including perhaps my favorite jaunt over the Temblor Range and into the north end of Carrizo Plain. These are the rolling green hills near the crest of the range.
Once down into the Carrizo Plain area, the wildflowers carpeted entire mountains and hillsides; there are a few places you can wander up into them, and the millions of flowers (bright yellow monolopia in this case) were almost overwhelming to behold. At one point I found myself simply laughing and laughing in response, surrounded by a sea of flowers. What a wonderful thing to experience!
As stunning as the big swaths of flowers painted across hillsides were, it’s also worth getting down to their level and noticing their exquisite delicateness and individual beauty, as with these California poppies and baby blue eyes.
I was able to travel to the Texas Hill Country for a few days this spring for their big wildflower bloom (it was a great year for flowers there, too), which coincided with the plentiful oaks just bursting out in new, bright green leaves. This grove completely captured my imagination, as the trees looked for all the world as if they’d tiptoed over to have a closer look at the photographer.
Those stately oaks are beautiful to behold in any season in the hill country, but especially when they’re surrounded by bluebonnets.
California’s coast redwoods, the tallest trees on the planet, offer nature’s best medicine–Shinrin Yoku (“forest bathing,” and I swear it will heal a wounded soul)–and during late spring the forest floor in the groves sports lush carpets of redwood sorrel, dotted here and there with tiny white flowers. I was quite taken with the way late afternoon shafts of light softly spotlit the sorrel in parts of the forest.
After missing out on fall color in the Eastern Sierra for the previous two years, I was so glad to get back this fall to my favorite place on earth, which has consistently inspired me more than any other place I’ve been. The austerity of the eastern California high desert where it meets the sub-alpine aspen groves on the Sierra’s dramatic eastern escarpment thrills me still, and I loved the way this huge plain of aspen showed every stage of change in an aspen’s fall color finery.
After years of shooting the canyons of the Eastern Sierra, some spots begin to feel like old friends. I look for specific groves (and sometimes specific trees!) and revisit them yearly. This is one of those favorite spots, where the hard gray granite of the canyon walls is juxtaposed with the bright yellow aspen.
This is the year I will remember as the autumn I discovered PINK TREES. I knew that the dogwood in the western Sierra foothills turned a beautiful blush color in fall–I’ve photographed them on the edges of Yosemite National Park in past years–but this was the first time I sought out particular places known for their plentiful dogwood groves, and it happened to be an especially great year for fall color in that species. They won’t displace aspen as my most-loved tree in the Sierra, but I am thoroughly besotted with them, both with their pink color and the contrast of the massive conifers, including giant sequoia, they grow alongside.
As I end this year–and this decade–in a new location (I’ve left Los Angeles for northern California), with a new job and new places to explore, 2020 looks bright and promising. I hope that yours will be, too.