With the turn of another new year I thought I’d look back on the past 12 months and offer up a bit of what goes through my head when I photograph. And why I do it.
In today’s world, where anyone holding a smartphone is now a ‘photographer’ and every subject has been photographed endlessly and there really isn’t any way that you can compete with the millions of images that exist of every subject, you might ask, why photograph at all?
If I choose a general subject – say - birds in flight, or mountain photos, I can see on Google and elsewhere that there are millions of examples of photos that would out-compete my images on all levels. There’s simply no way I can get the best photos of anything – no way I can get complete coverage of all seasons or weather in a place. No way I can capture all stages of an animal’s life, no matter how ‘common’ it might be or how often I pursue it. The reality is that there will always be another time when someone else is ‘in position’ with an image-taking-device when the light or the situation is better than when I happened to be there.
So why bother you ask? My answer is simply that I do it for the love of it. I do it because I love to stand at the edge of the lake in the crisp morning air or to sit and watch birds feeding or flying by. I love to share such moments with Anya or with clients who wish to learn something from me, or those who simply want to share such moments with other like-minded souls. I love to capture memories so they can be re-lived and I love having the chance to see something new that I haven’t gotten in my photographs before. No matter how many times I’ve been to say, the Canadian Rockies, I still love standing at the edge of a lake there and waiting for the sun to rise, just in case it might make the clouds glow a bit differently this time or because the reflected mountain might be perfect this time or because I think, maybe an ethereal layer of fog might show up today. It’s not complicated at all, this love I feel and for me it’s wonderfully ideal.
I take pictures for myself, simply to be in the moment when it happens and to hold a camera in my hands and to capture whatever it is that takes place. I truly don’t care if anyone or everyone has a ‘better’ image of a flying bird or a reflected mountain. If I get a shot that makes me feel joy or creates some sort of memory, then it’s enough.
And so, at the beginning of this year, 2017, I decided to look back on 2016 and to offer up my favorite images. My favorites. Maybe some of you will look and say ‘oh, it’s not very sharp’ or ‘why is it so dark, light, contrasty, etc’. I don’t care. I like each and every one of these images. Not one of these was taken with hopes that they would sell or because I wanted to try and get ‘likes’ on Facebook. I know that none of them would win a photo contest and that there are perhaps millions of more impressive pictures in existence of each and every subject I’ve chosen. Still, looking at each of these 25 images that I captured, I feel happy. To me that can truly be considered success.
Here are my top 25 shots (in no particular order) and a short explanation of each.
House Finch Eating Ocotillo Flower
I was alone and sitting in a wildlife blind in southern Arizona. There were songbird feeding stations just outside my blind and I had set up numerous props hoping that songbirds would come. The Ocotillo plants were blooming and I had put one nearby. I simply hoped a bird would land there but when this House Finch landed and then picked off a bloom in order to eat the nectar, I captured an even better image than I had imagined I might. I was thrilled. Canon 7D Mark II and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Awesome Clouds Over Eastern Colorado
I’ve always been in awe of huge cumulous clouds that sometimes form in afternoon summer skies. Most of the time they happen when I’m at home or not really ready to photograph. On this day we were driving on an interstate highway and I stared and muttered to Anya how great the clouds looked and bemoaned the fact that I didn’t feel safe stopping along the side of a busy interstate simply to take a picture. But soon we came to a ‘no services’ exit and took it to get off the highway. I worked as quickly as possible with my tripod and camera because I knew that plenty of times such moments don’t last. Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Capri Island, Italy
After Anya and I led two very successful Italy photo tours we left ourselves 5 days in Italy to travel around a bit on our own. We went south to Capri Island and were really taken with the stunning beauty of mountainous island and blue sea. From the top of the cable car viewpoint on Solaro Mountain we had marvelous views and flower filled foregrounds. I took this picture to try and show the grandeur of it all. I’ll always remember one of the tourists standing near me and telling his wife, “this is the number one view in all my life!” Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Savegre River Falls, Costa Rica
We visited Costa Rica for the first time in 2016 and loved it, and will definitely go back. While staying at a cloud forest resort called Savegre I mostly photographed birds but upon Anya’s urging we did take the difficult jungle hike to this waterfall. I loved the misty, almost foggy light we had after scrambling down to water level. Anya posed motionless for the 4 second exposure to give the scene a great sense of scale. Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Red Fox, Grand Teton National Park
I spotted this fox in the Tetons and he was an absolutely perfect specimen. Talk about healthy - with a thick, full, colorful coat. He was hanging out near some human habitations and so he was also very used to people and I was able to really take my time and photograph him for quite a long time. The temperature was darn cold at about -10 Fahrenheit but capturing an image like this warmed my heart. Canon 6D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Lake MacDonald, Glacier National Park
We got up really early and were the first ones along the shoreline of Lake MacDonald. The sky was completely bald and seemed a bit boring to me. I searched for something to add some interest to my scene and then came up with this idea of having Anya pose while wearing a headlamp. The shot in my mind’s eye was exactly this! Canon 6D and Canon 17-40mm lens.
Andrews Lake, Colorado
I had a new Tamron lens that I was working with and specifically trying to get some really wide-angle scenes with it. I scoped out this lake the night before and knew that the group of oxeye daisies would make a great foreground. The next morning I got into position just before the sun broke above the horizon. Luckily it was a calm morning as I needed a small aperture for the starburst and this made for a fairly long exposure. Everything worked just right. Canon 6D and Tamron 15-30mm lens.
The Summit of Mount Sneffels, Colorado
I’d photographed this mountain in southwest Colorado many, many times and had always wanted to climb it. Finally in July of 2016 I did it. Anya and I began at 3am and hiked up, up, up on a cold and gorgeous day through fields of wildflowers to reach the top. At the summit, which we had to ourselves, the views across Colorado were stupendous and just this one photo made the supreme effort well worth it. Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Upper Lake, Canada
I love when I can find a truly great wide-angle scene that works. I hadn’t been to this lake before and when we found it one evening I thought that it might work for a shot the next morning if only the wind would be calm, the sun would be at the right angle and there would be a few clouds in the blue sky. Low and behold - that morning at sunrise all of my previous night’s wishes came true and this scene was on full, awesome display. Canon 6D and Canon 17-40mm lens.
Curving Driveway, Tuscany
Before leading my Tuscany tour in 2016 I had researched a couple of new places to try and find and photograph. We were with a very flexible and ‘willing to try anything’ group so we went off the beaten path and thanks to the help of a good navigator – we found this exact spot I had been thinking of. And the Italians are so amazingly friendly! When I asked at the driveway gate intercom if we could photograph their property, the owner welcomed us in without any problem whatsoever. Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Bow Lake, Canada
Clouds greeted us when we woke up well before sunrise to get to this spot. I was leading my photo tour group in the Canadian Rockies and we got set up lakeside at Bow Lake. I hoped for some nice light as the sun rose and wow did we get it! With no time for me to get my tripod I simply held as steady as possible while putting one of my clients in the corner of the frame for a sense of scale to this grand scene. Excellent! Canon 5D Mark IV and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Rock Formation and Rainbow, Arches National Park
It was threatening rain as my Arches photo tour group left the parking lot for a short walk to Broken Arch. Some rain quickly moved in at the exact moment when the sun was rising. There was a small gap in the east and the sun came screaming across the desert and lit the formations on fire…and moments later a gorgeous double rainbow appeared. I zoomed in on the most distinct part of the incredibly intense rainbow for this image. Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Orangutan in the Pouring Rain, Borneo
After two days of traveling from the US to arrive in Borneo during my Borneo Primates photo tour we finally got to the Orangutan sanctuary. And there were Orangutans. And then there was a HARD rain. Luckily we also had a small shelter to protect ourselves and our gear. This particular animal went up high into a nearby tree and tried covering itself with leaves as protection from the rain. The entire situation made for excellent, enchanting images. Canon 5D Mark IV and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Osprey with Fish, Florida
I love the birds of Florida because many of them eat fish and because they often hunt right where we humans can watch. This Osprey flew back and forth across an area and I knew he’d eventually get a fish. After 3 or 4 missed dives he finally did get one and then he decided to fly right past where I was standing. An awesome moment for sure! Canon 6D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Mother and Young Proboscis Monkey, Borneo
I love the expression on the young one’s face. This is a highly endangered species that lives only on Borneo. During my Borneo primates tour we were privileged to see and be able to photograph several troops of these animals. They are excellent climbers and jumpers. This juvenile seemed quite scared from the flurry of activity all around as the troop of about 30 animals scurried about. Canon 5D Mark IV and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Black Skimmer, Skimming, Florida
Skimmers are birds, which feed by flying low over the water and inserting the lower mandible of their beak just below the surface feeling for small fish. They do this mostly at night or at twilight times. I watched one pass by multiple times before the sun came up but the light was too low to get a photo. As the sun broke the horizon I asked for just one more pass by a skimmer and minutes later it did happen and I managed a few shots. I was very happy. Canon 6D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Anhinga Flipping a Fish, Florida
Anhingas swim underwater and spear fish with their sword-like bills. Then they surface in order to swallow the meal but they must manipulate it so it goes down head-first. This one flipped a captured fish just as I was shooting away and I managed to stop the motion of the entire scene. Canon 6D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Alligator in the Rain, Florida
Rain is actually kind of a difficult weather phenomenon to show properly on still images. This alligator was a little ways out in a pond when a good, hard rain started up. I had a very inadequate umbrella over me and my camera but I was super happy that I took the chance on getting wet and captured this shot. Canon 6D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
This is a lovely little village and one of the ‘five lands’ known as the Cinque Terre in Italy. I led my small group of clients up to an overlook and we enjoyed waiting for the sun to set and the town lights to come on. A tripod and a long exposure brought out the detail and the beauty of this scene. Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Mother with Baby Orangutan, Borneo
At a sanctuary in Borneo, one of the rangers told us that this baby was just two weeks old and I was almost beside myself with excitement because she had brought him close enough to my tour group to photograph. I absolutely love the way he clings to his mother’s thick fur and just look at the nonchalant expression he seems to be making! Canon 5D Mark IV and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Sunset, Coast of Italy
This was one of the easiest photos to get of my top 25. Just a 30-second walk from our accommodations in Manarola, Italy during my Cinque Terre tour, my small group gathered with cameras, food, and wine and we watched as the sun set directly in front of us. The colors were great and we were enjoying the scene when that small boat came through making a good shot even better. Canon 6D and Tamron 28-300mm lens.
Snow Geese Flying in Pink Sky
Yes, it’s blurry on purpose. Before sunrise in Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, the sky was this nice pink color. Of course, before the sun comes up there isn’t enough light to stop the motion of fast flying birds. I set my shutter speed to a tenth of a second and panned across the sky as groups of birds went by. The result is an artistic impression of the moment. Canon 5D Mark IV and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Basilisk Lizard, Costa Rica
At a lodge in Costa Rica called Selva Verde, I saw this perfect Basilisk lizard. He is a dominant male and he was king of his territory where I spotted him several times. Finally, early one morning he was up on a rock and he allowed me to approach close enough to get this photo. Canon 6D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Silver-Throated Tanager, Costa Rica
At a place called Savegre in Costa Rica they have several bird feeding stations and lots of tropical birds I had never photographed before. The bright yellow Silver-Throated Tanagers were my favorites. This one, captured while singing, quickly became one of my favorites. Canon 6D and Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Star Trails, Grand Teton National Park
Good night shots are a lot of trouble. Partly because I like to sleep at night but also because you need to scope out the exact camera position beforehand, you need to pre-focus your lens and you need perfect atmosphere conditions. I’ve tried lots of times and have often gotten nothing after a couple hours of work. This time at the Tetons it all worked. I even captured a shooting star (center right) in my final photo. This is a series of 30-second exposures added and blended together using starstax software. Canon 6D and Canon 17-40mm lens.
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