I was on a “national parks” high in 2016. My Haleakala National Park postage stamp was released. I participated in a series of exhibits to honor the National Park Service centennial. And I released a new book, Our Land, which features my national park photography. But, unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to actually set foot in a national park this year.
The late New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham once said, “He who seeks beauty will find it.” For me, 2016 was about finding beauty wherever I was lucky enough to be, whether it was a city park, a fishing pier or the side of the road. There is a lot of beauty in this world. Here are a few of my favorite images. You can click on any of them to view them larger.
The image at the top of this post is of Mount Rainier in my home state of Washington. Mount Rainier is a national park, but many of my favorite images of it have been from outside the park. When you’re in the park, you’re essentially on the mountain, so you’re standing on — and therefore not seeing — about a third of its height. Around the winter solstice, if the clouds are just right, Mount Rainier casts its own shadow on the sky at sunrise, which you can see toward the upper right corner of the image. It's a phenomenon I’ve seen several times with my own eyes, but it eluded my camera until this year. While I made a tighter shot of Rainier and its shadow, my favorite is this panorama that also shows the crepuscular rays formed by the shadows of the smaller peaks.
Meteors had also eluded me, but the planetary alignment this summer pulled much more comet dust into the path of Earth for the annual Perseid meteor shower. Meteors are specks of comet dust burning up in our atmosphere. Seconds after setting up my camera, I caught this meteor streaking along the Milky Way toward Mount Baker. This was an image that I had planned, but there’s never any guarantee the meteors will cooperate.
I’ve been following the wintering eagles in the North Cascades of Washington for as long as I have been a photographer. But even though I’ve photographed them dozens and dozens of times, there are always new images to be made. When the water level of the river is low, hundreds of eagles are forced to congregate in a few locations where they can feast on spawned-out salmon. The Nooksack River was running high on this trip, which allowed the eagles to spread out — that doesn't usually make for great photography. I managed to track one flying over fresh snow, giving me a new take on a familiar subject.
One of my recent projects has been to capture the nightly arrival of 15,000 crows to their roost in Bothell, Washington. It’s an amazing, noisy, sky-filling spectacle. With any project, however, it’s important to capture a variety of images. I made this image on a night when I was working to catch them leaving one of their staging areas before making the final approach to the roost. I put the camera in burst mode and was fortunate to catch a few flying over the moon. The project is now available as an ebook, called In For the Night. Ten images are also on display through March 2017 at the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon.
I try to take advantage of any opportunity to photograph dramatic weather. While in Chicago, a severe thunderstorm passed overhead just after sunset. I grabbed my camera and took off on foot, following it to the shore of Lake Michigan, taking cover under awnings as much as I could. I captured a couple of different lightning strikes during this one 30-second exposure. Those strikes lit up the higher-level clouds, acting like a powerful camera flash. (On this trip, I also got to photograph the stunning Morton Arboretum at the peak of its spring color.)
A dramatic light show isn’t always a requirement for making a favorite image. I met this harbor seal on a rugged stretch of California coastline just north of Malibu. I spent about an hour watching it sleep and then stretch to avoid crashing waves. Shortly after capturing this tender moment, a jogger came up and told me how lucky I was to even see a seal here. Warmer ocean temperatures decimated their food supply. An outbreak of disease cut the numbers of seals even more.
I’ve always been drawn to patterns in nature and I saw great possibilities in this patch of sea foam near the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Over the past few years, I’ve studied the work of abstract painter Mark Tobey, especially his paintings that are packed from edge to edge with calligraphic lines. Like my favorite Tobey works, I loved the three colors of abstract marks in this scene. A harbor seal hunted nearby and I waited for a half hour for it to pop up in the center of my frame, helping to break up the patterns without throwing the image off-balance.
I made several trips to Venice, California, this year in connection with the G2 Gallery’s 100 Years of National Parks exhibits. Almost every time I made the trip, I also made a point of photographing the ocean from the Venice fishing pier. I set up this image as an in-camera triptych: I wanted the ocean, wet sand and golden sand each to take up about a third of the frame and composed the image where the ragged dividing lines were most interesting to me. Occasionally, gulls would wander into the scene, feed and then get chased off by the waves. I captured several images with large flocks of the gulls, but my favorite is this image of the solitary bird. I think it adds visual interest without overwhelming the original concept.
On a different California trip, I headed inland to photograph the spring wildflowers. I found beautiful hillsides full of wildflowers near Tehachapi, but decided to drive through Antelope Valley to check out the poppies. It wasn’t a good year for poppies there, but I loved how the sun would occasionally break through the thick clouds, casting small, waves of bright light that emphasized the nature of the rolling hills.
I’ve driven past this small patch of forest near Deming, Washington, many, many times without really noticing it, but it turned into a spectacular sight on this 17-degree morning. The ice-encased trees glowed as they were lit from behind by the rising sun. I appreciate how weather can truly transform a scene.
Washington is the Evergreen State, but I still try to capture fall color. This image is from the forested area of the Bellevue Botanical Garden. I like showing several fall colors within a single image and was drawn to these trees, which showed the full range. I used a 400mm lens to zoom into the scene, eliminating as many distractions from the colorful leaves as I could. The forest is also beautiful in the spring.
I often have a photographic plan when I venture out, but over the years I’ve learned that the key to my success is being willing to abandon that plan. I heard there were native roses blooming on Richmond Beach, located on Puget Sound north of Seattle. The roses I found, however, were tucked in heavy brush, so I decided to look for a different photo opportunity. As I walked the beach, this scene really spoke to me, so I stayed for sunset.