I was excited to be able to return to national parks in 2017 after a series of projects had kept me away for a few years. In February, I returned to Yosemite for the first time in four years. And in the fall, I photographed some East Coast parks for the first time.
But an even larger portion of the year was spent photographing, re-photographing and re-re-photographing close to home, working to find new takes on familiar subjects. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite images from 2017.
This was the year of the Great American Eclipse, the first solar eclipse to be visible from anywhere near the U.S. mainland in nearly 40 years. Of course, I had to photograph it. Over the years, I’ve photographed several partial eclipses and even an annular eclipse over Lassen National Park. And many more lunar eclipses. But a total eclipse of the sun is truly special. The precious few moments of totality are the only time you can see the sun’s corona, an aura of plasma that streaks for millions of miles away from the sun’s disk. While the close-up of the corona is amazing, I wanted to create a unique image. Within the path of totality in an especially remote stretch of eastern Oregon, I found a rock pinnacle that I could use to include the eclipse in a landscape, connecting the sun and Earth.
This year’s wildfire season was one of the worst that I can remember. I live near Seattle and ash from fires in British Columbia fell in my backyard. It resulted in absolutely spectacular sunrises and sunsets. One morning, I returned to the site of a crow roost that I had visited frequently the year before for my In For The Night project. Crows typically leave the roost a half hour before the sun rises, but I was fortunate to capture one late-riser with the unusually red sun. I have updated my In For The Night ebook to include this image (as well as several others). You can buy the ebook here. (If you already bought the book, you get a free upgrade.)
You can find me glued to the window any time I fly, but this aerial image of the Three Sisters in Oregon wasn’t possible for me until recently. I captured this image on a very early morning flight to Los Angeles where I was taking part in the opening of an art exhibit. Flying over the Three Sisters Wilderness, I saw the trio of volcanoes bathed in the very dim light of alpenglow. On the ground, I can photograph this beautiful light with a tripod and an exposure time of 20 seconds or more. But I was in a jetliner, flying at more than 500 miles per hour. I cranked the ISO on my Canon 1Dx Mark II to nearly its highest setting, making the sensor much more sensitive to light, allowing me to shoot with a faster shutter speed to keep the mountains sharp. And while this high sensitivity makes the image more susceptible to digital noise, with a little processing, the noise is comparable to the grain in fine, slow-speed slide film I used 20 years ago.
I spent a fair amount of time this year photographing the glint of the setting sun, often from the Edmonds, Washington waterfront. (It’s for a project that will probably be ready for release in 2019.) In my previous work, I had incorporated the glint as a portion of a sweeping landscape, but I wanted to try a more abstract, detail image to bring out the patterns on the water’s surface. My attempts could be an exhibit of images by itself. Images captured well before sunset have bright marks of white light against a deep black background, somewhat reminiscent of painter Mark Tobey’s white printing. This image, though, was taken in the very last light of day, long after the sun had faded from view. This allowed me to capture both the golden light of the sky with the deep blue water. The dynamic range that a camera is able to capture is quite limited, so it’s only for a few minutes each day that intensity of the reflections and water color are both within the range the camera’s sensor.
Most of my glint images were captured from a fishing pier, which juts out into Puget Sound. One evening, when I was walking out to get into position to capture the glint, I noticed a large school of fish swimming in a circle, rotating like a hurricane. As it got darker, the reflections on the water decreased, allowing me to see the fish more clearly. While Pacific Staghorn Sculpin are common in the shallow waters of the entire Pacific coast, this was the only time I’ve seen them.
In February, I stepped foot in a national park for the first time in nearly three years. I think that’s the longest break I’ve ever had from the parks. (Other projects and family health kept me away.) My return was to Yosemite where I saw Horsetail Fall in its spectacular “fire falls” show. For a few days each February, if the conditions are just right, the setting sun lights up the waterfall in brilliant red, while the granite wall of El Capitan remains in the shade. The wind was strong, blowing the trickle from the waterfall into a golden mist. It’s not the “ribbon of fire” that appears in some years, but I like the unique look of the golden blast under the violet sky.
In October, I visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio for the first time. It was an interesting experience, which I detailed in a separate blog post. The area isn’t pristine wilderness; it’s a reclaimed ecological disaster area. But today it’s beautiful nonetheless. The park’s crown jewel is Brandywine Falls, which drops 65 feet into a scenic gorge. Rather than fit the entire falls into the frame, I concentrated on one small area where the falling water cut across layers of rock. The rock at the top of the falls is about 80 million years younger than the rock at the bottom.
It was an unusual year for fall color in the Eastern U.S., but then that always seems to happen when I plan a fall color trip. An extended summer pushed the peak fall color until after I returned home or caused leaves to turn brown and drop without providing a photo opportunity. The best fall color I found was in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. While many of the trees were bare in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, the ground cover was ablaze. I especially liked this patch of wilderness where I was able to use a few sprigs of yellow and green to break up the carpet of intense red.
The fall color close to home, though, lasted for weeks. While the fall color along the Sammamish River in Bothell, Washington, tended to be just one color, it was a strong design element for images. I created a lot of images with ducks and other waterfowl creating ripples through the reflections, but my favorite – at least for now – is this image. I like the contrast and how the wake from the mallard traces the outline of the golden tree tops.
This is an image of Snoqualmie Falls in Washington state, although you wouldn’t know that unless you had been there and intently studied the gorge. The Seattle area rarely gets a deep freeze, so I venture out whenever it does. This image was captured just before sunrise on a 17-degree morning. What I wanted to show was the contrast between the icy gorge walls and the flowing river below. Over the years, I’ve worked to simplify my compositions, which I think makes images more interesting. If I had included the falls, viewers would see it as an image of Snoqualmie Falls and move on. I think a bit of mystery causes viewers to more intently look at the ice as I did.
I could probably count on one hand how many times I’ve photographed cultivated flowers. It typically isn’t my style. But while I was driving through the Skagit Valley on my way home from photographing a great horned owl nest, I couldn’t pass up a large flock of snow geese and a field of daffodils at the peak of their spring color. It took nearly an hour to get this image. The geese would settle in one part of the field. Suddenly, one goose would decide the other part of the field seemed better and the flock would follow. I thought the strongest compositions came when the flock was just starting to switch positions.
And, finally, this was probably one of the best sunsets I saw all year. This is the largest pond in Parc des Sources, a natural area in Brussels, Belgium. A deep red gave way to a cotton-candy pink, which I thought paired better with the tones in the rest of the scene. A 30-second exposure allowed me to capture the motion of the clouds, which gave them even more of a cotton-candy feel. If you look close, especially in the clear section of sky in the upper-left, you can see a few stars.