The end of any year provides a great opportunity to reflect—time to reflect on goals, dreams, aspirations, progress, setbacks, hopes, and challenges. Keeping goals and a clear vision in your mind of what you want to create can be a powerful tool in bringing them to reality. This visualization has helped me progress in multiple aspects in my life, perhaps the most tangible being photography. I remember this same time last year, clearly thinking about what I wanted to have accomplished through the lens by the end of 2013, and now here we are with my best photos of 2013. Like many other enthusiastic photographers, I work a full-time J.O.B. and photography is very much a side passion of mine. This means making the most of the precious vacation time and weekends, which I’m more than willing to fit photography and outdoor adventure into these spaces. Whether you’re pursuing photography as a profession or more of a passion, I encourage you to sit down and visualize what you’d like to have accomplished, keeps these goals in mind and the steps from concept to reality will be easier to align.
This past year I have had some amazing opportunities to visit and photograph some of the places that I had only held as a vision in my mind at this same time last year. What will you have on your memory card by the end of 2014? Think BIG.
Here is a 12-image recap of some of my favorite images and moments of 2013. My hope is my best photos of 2013 may inspire and motivate. This is a big beautiful world we live in just waiting to be photographed, and more importantly, experienced.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 500mm F4, 1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 400, 500 mm
I was driving on the causeway to Antelope Island hoping to get lucky and see some wildlife. From prior experience (and frustration at missing the shot!), I already had the camera arranged on the seat next to me. The camera was ready with a telephoto lens with the correct settings for such a high-speed image. These Barn Owls don’t hunt in the day often, so I REALLY didn’t want to miss the shot. I was able to parallel the bird while driving and snap some images that fortunately came out sharp! This is a lesson in preparation, as I most likely would have missed the opportunity if my camera wasn’t already tuned for this type of photography.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40 L, 1/4 second, f/16.0, ISO 100, 20 mm
Bryce Canyon National Park at sunrise is hard to beat. When the morning light bounces off the orange hoodoos, it creates an unreal glow that you have to see to believe. This image is one I had visualized from a previous winter sunrise that I had shot in the area a few years prior. I wanted to capture the famous Hoodoo "Thors Hammer" with a sunstar and snow. After arriving well before sunrise, I got set up in the area I hoped would lend well to the image I had in my mind. Fortunately, the sun rose in the area I had in mind providing the sunstar I wanted to capture.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40 L, 13/10 second, f/18.0, ISO 100, 19 mm
This was taken in Lost Dutchman State Park outside of Phoenix, Arizona. I hadn’t ever been here before, but I had an idea from other images I’d seen of what to expect with the angle of the sunset light. In finding this composition, there were four elements I wanted to highlight; the yellow wildflowers that were on display at the time, the Teddy Bear Cholla cacti in the foreground, the tall and ancient Saguaro Cacti off to the right, and lastly the Superstition Mountain range in the background. It took me quite a bit of hiking to find an area that encompassed all these elements in a balanced way. One suggestion in finding comps is never settle, get greedy, and keep searching until you’ve found what you want to show the viewer.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40 L, 2/1 second, f/14.0, ISO 100, 24 mm
This view is from the towering cliffs of the south rim of Arizona’s Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is so big and impressive it can get a bit overwhelming when trying to capture some of the grandeur on camera. Even with all that size, it’s important to create depth for your image. I wanted to do this by finding elements to place in my foreground that would create a tiered effect as the canyon fell away to deeper depths further in the scene. After a bit of scrambling, I hopped out onto a jutting cliff that provided the depth I was looking for. The clouds were also a big factor in my decision making process of putting the comp together. I was at this spot much earlier than the actual sunset, which allowed me to be prepared at this location when the light and color peaked at sunset.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 L, 8/1 second, f/4.0, ISO 200, 80 mm
Let me preface by saying that lightning is pretty damn scary. I’ve been caught in a few violent lightning storms in the backcountry and have developed what some might consider an irrational fear of lightning. With that being said, this image was taken from the safety of my vehicle. I was returning home from a sunset shoot driving on I-15 and couldn’t help but notice how often this powerful storm was putting lightning on the ground. Ever the opportunist, I pulled over and angled my car to where I had a clean view out my window, awkwardly set up my tripod inside my car and waited for the show. I hadn’t ever shot lightning before so it took some trial and error. I found that exposures of 8-10 seconds were very effective in capturing correctly exposed strikes, so I dropped my lens to its widest aperture (f4) boosted the ISO a bit (ISO 200), and kept the shutter open as much as possible. After about a half hour of shooting, I came home with some great strikes on the memory card. A lot of nature photography is taking advantage of opportunities!
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40 L, 1/15 second, f/18, ISO 200, 17 mm
This is a waterfall in the area known as Naturalist Basin in Utah’s Uinta Wilderness. A friend of mine had taken a great image from the area a few years ago and I wanted to capture a version of my own. Since the best light for this scene is at sunset and the area is about 6-7 miles from any road an overnight backpack trip was required. The shot itself was a challenge. The wind was howling angrily up the ridge line and made for difficult conditions. The angle needed for the shot was close to the fall, and it took me about 10 attempts to get an image free of water spray on the lens or filter. After I'd thoroughly cleaned the lens and filter, I'd try to wait out a small break in the wind blowing, and time and time again the wind would gust and spray the falling water back at me and my gear making a clean, water-free shot elusive. Fortunately, I was gifted the small break I needed that allowed me to capture this shot so I could get off the ridge and try to dry off and warm up before the approaching night!
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Rokinon 14mm F/2.8, f/2.8, 30/1 second, ISO 5000
We were standing on the edge of String Lake in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. It was a completely dark night with no moon illuminating anything; the starlight was all we had. The shoot was a little tense. We had opted out of getting bear spray that day and we both wished we had it if only for comfort during this evening. We were quietly enjoying the stars watching the Milky Way drift from left to right across the sky when I heard a branch snap in the trees very close along the banks of the large lake. I grabbed my wife and pushed her behind me, heart pounding, snapped on my headlamp to illuminate a doe mule deer walking no more than 10 feet from us. I walked her back to the car, and after waiting another hour or so for the Milky Way to move to the location you see in this image, I reluctantly took the stroll back down to lake to snap this shot and get back to the car! I'm pretty sure there is a shooting star or meteor in the top right of the image, and the yellowish glow on the bottom comes from the tungsten light of Jackson Hole.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 L, 16/10 second, f/11.0, ISO 200, 24 mm
The higher elevations of Montana's Glacier National Park still had a huge variety of wildflowers on display during our summer visit. This is the view near Logan Pass looking to the west entrance of the park. Both the high and low elevation zones of GNP are incredible, but I'm sucker for some high elevation tundra and peaks—this is probably my favorite landscape image that I created during our four days in the park.
Like a few other sessions on this trip, this was a bit of tense shoot. I let the rangers in the area know where I was planning on shooting that evening, and they somberly advised me to be careful because there had been two large grizzlies seen in the area earlier in the day. In fact, they had the hike I was planning to trek closed earlier in the week due to too much bear activity. Not to be deterred, I put on my pack and hiked the relatively short distance to where I wanted to post up for sunset. After a nervous hike, I arrived at the stream bed I wanted to have aid in my composition. I was loudly singing "Gangham Style" (the damn song was stuck in my head) to avoid startling a bear when I came through a stand of trees and startled a couple of other photographers instead. After a quick greeting I left them so I could explore the winding stream down below. As soon as I saw this section of the stream winding through this particular comp, I knew I'd shoot there. There was a stand of trees only a few yards behind me that had plenty of creepy hiding places for a bear. I would take some shots stand up and yell "HEY BEAR" back into the trees. Fortunately the only wildlife that I encountered was a group of 7-10 mountain goats enjoying the sunset along with me.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 500mm F4, 1/4000 second, f/5.6, ISO 400, 500 mm
This was a great experience seeing a grizzly in the wild at Glacier National Park in Montana. As night closed in, the bear had drawn quite a crowd. It was dropping lower and lower off the mountain to a chorus of "ooohs" and "awws" as it would emerge in and out of thick brush. I knew my chances were slim that she'd come down the mountain to area I was at, but I got lucky. I ran along the side of the road with parked cars as cover and posted up a rock to balance my lens. I wanted as low as angle as possible so I was nearly lying down shooting up at the bear coming closer and closer. My heart was pounding, seeing this amazing 400-pound predator (although about 90% of their diet is roots, berries, and other plants) walking almost directly towards me. She was so close at one point I could hear her breathing and groaning, branches snapping. I was safely behind a string of cars so there wasn’t any danger to either of us. After she got near the road and saw the human obstacle course of cars and people that were between her and the creek I believe she was trying to get to, she decided to wait us out and moved back up the mountain. The experience was incredible as this was by far the closest I've ever been to a big grizzly, and I felt fortunate I had my camera and telephoto set up to get this shot among others.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 L, 1/5 second, f/11.0, ISO 100, 37 mm
This was taken in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. Autumn in Utah is beautiful with a variety of colors and foul weather often lends well to great imagery. This scene was begging to be photographed as the fog hung in the valley, slowly breaking up and retreating back into the higher peaks and elevation.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40 L, 1/5 second, f/11.0, ISO 100, 28 mm
I had the opportunity to visit both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks on a three-day weekend escape last year. During the trip, I wanted to find scenes that would be improved by the empty solitude of winter. I scouted out the valley during the day and when I saw what I was looking for, I went on my way to complete another hike and then returned during the golden hour of sunset light to capture this. I donned on my trust waders and walked out into the Virgin River of Zion NP. I wanted to highlight the impressive peak known as the Watchman and used the rocks in the stream to create a lead to the sandstone peak. Pre-visualization is key in photography, and knowing the elements of a scene you want to display will help drive you to find new views and execute your vision.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40 L, 1/2 second, f/11.0, ISO 250, 17 mm
Zion National Park's unique area aptly named "the Subway" is an amazing geologic feature. Erosion has carved a beautiful curving structure that almost has to be seen to be believed. Although not a true "subway," it does have a small opening in the top, but when you're standing there at certain angle deep in the canyon, it certainly feels like a subway. The ice formations seen are formed by water trickling through the sandstone and finding an exit in the location from the rock itself. Interesting to think of how long a journey the H2O molecules might have taken through the rock to finally see the light of day in this particular location. I've heard in some places in the Zion NP area it takes thousands of years to filter water through rock. I had been to the Subway a few other times and had wanted to get back in the winter. Our original plan was to drive back home this day, but my wife hadn't been to this amazing place yet and showing her was just the excuse I needed to get the backcountry permit and hike back. It's a strenuous hike in any season, but the icy conditions (and being out of shape from winter hibernation) made it a visit we had to earn.
For those of you who made it this far, thanks for taking a look back on 2013 with me. Here’s to many more adventures and photographs we can be proud of in 2014. I wish you luck in your journeys next year!
As always, if anyone has any questions on techniques, locations, or anything photography related don’t hesitate to drop me a line on my website.