Welcome to the annual post of my favorite images from the past year. And let’s just get this out of the way right now: eagle, fox, rabbit.
The image of the bald eagle that stole a rabbit from a young fox quickly became a defining picture not just of my year, but of my career. Just hours after I posted the story and a sequence of images on my blog this spring, TV stations and newspapers were emailing me, wanting to do a story on it. By the end of the week, it had run in papers from Russia to Australia, on network TV news and was a featured story on National Geographic. And now, CNN named it one of the pictures of the year.
What I have enjoyed even more, though, is how the image has touched people. Friends called, telling me of how people at their dinner parties were talking about the picture. And when I shared the story in my bald eagle nature talks, people have erupted into applause after I show them the fox ended up OK (although the eagle ended up with the rabbit).
No other image of mine — and that includes the those that ended up on postage stamps — has had anywhere near the impact. I don’t expect to be able to repeat the feat, although I intend to try.
With that out of the way, in no particular order, here are a few of my other favorites of 2018. Feel free to share your favorites and thoughts in the comment section below.
While I regularly post images to this blog and my social media channels, these year-in-review posts are one of the best avenues for illustrating the themes and styles that I am concentrating on at the moment. One shift in 2018: I returned to using weather as a key element in some of my images. Weather was one of my first interest areas, but I shifted away from it over the past several years as I worked on more wildlife and detail images. This year, when conditions looked ripe for a fiery sunrise or sunset, I worked to find a complementary landscape. This image of the dramatic sea stacks of the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area near San Francisco also features water as a prominent element. Water was also a key theme of mine for 2018 (for a project that’s on track for release in 2020).
I am back to making annual trips to Yosemite National Park. While the Valley View overlook is popular with photographers, I tried to use a passing storm and a high water level in the Merced River as elements in a relatively unique image. Again, you can see where weather and water are essential ingredients in my composition.
I traveled to the Normandy region of France to visit some of the locations that inspired my favorite Impressionist paintings. Seeing the arches and the towering chalk cliffs of Étretat was a highlight, although the image I created of the arch known as The Manneporte has more of a resemblance to Picasso’s Blue Period work than the Impressionist masterpieces of Monet, Boudin and others who primarily inspired me. (You can read more about the trip here and see a golden sunset on Mont Saint-Michel, which was a favorite image of my social media followers.)
This picture of Weavers Needle in the Superstition Wilderness near Phoenix, Arizona, takes advantage of the colorful light about a half hour after sunset. Weavers Needle is a distinctive 4,555-foot peak that’s visible from miles away, but as part of a sweeping view from Fremont Saddle it feels smaller than it actually is. I scrambled up a rock pile and found a boulder that somewhat mimicked the shape of the spire. I used that boulder, in silhouette, as a natural frame to isolate Weavers Needle, making it appear in my image as majestic as it is in real life.
(If you’re up for even more sunrises and sunsets, this sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, and this sunset over saguaros and the Coyote Mountains from Saguaro National Park, Arizona, get honorable mentions in my Best of 2018 list.)
Thanks to dramatic improvements in the sensitivity of digital camera sensors, it’s now possible to create images that capture the wonder of the night sky. This image of Mount Rainier didn’t go exactly as planned. I thought I was going to get a more typical image of the Milky Way emerging from the summit of the volcano. But as I arrived in the park before midnight, a high-altitude band of cirrus clouds was passing over the peak. The rest of the sky was clear. I couldn’t believe my luck: the scene was so much better than I imagined! I quickly worked to get into a position where the clouds would appear to radiate from Rainier. (You can read more about that experience here.)
This image of giant flock of snow geese passing in front of Whitehorse Mountain in Washington’s North Cascades was technically shot in the final hours of 2017, though I’m including it here for production reasons. I find that once the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, most people stop caring about the previous year. To be able to post this blog in a timely fashion, my “photo year” typically runs from Christmas to Christmas, although this is the first year I’ve had to carry an image over to the next calendar year. I think this is a worthy subject. Wintering snow geese are a favorite subject of mine. I often try to combine them with mountains that are decked in fresh snow. I think this is one of my best attempts to date.
If you want to photograph an elephant seal, you have a small window of opportunity. Except for the youngest, they are on land for only a few months each year. Females come ashore to give birth, spend a few weeks weaning their new pup and then get pregnant again just before they return to sea. The males are only on land for that last part. For animals that are used to being in water, being on the beach in the sun is uncomfortable, so you will often see them toss sand onto themselves to try to keep their skin moist and cool. While you see them do it all the time, it was a very difficult behavior to capture. This image was the product of three days of experimentation with lighting, vantage points and shutter speeds.
Another highlight of the year was photographing the wild horses of Assateague Island, Virginia, the same band that inspired the book, "Misty of Chincoteague." They’re more commonly photographed in the summer when cowboys drive them across the river to be rounded up and checked out. I went in February, capturing their beauty in the golden light of the low-angle winter sun. (You can read about the trip here.)
For years, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington state was a favorite subject of mine. In late spring, I made my first trip back to it in years, capturing the beauty of Lake Dorothy. It was an inspiring trip that resulted in several images, but one of my favorites is this one, which features pollen streaking across the lake’s surface. Early morning sunlight filtered through dense forest adds to the effect.
The Luray Caverns are certainly one of the photographic highlights of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Some of the formations, especially the limestone curtains, are world-renowned. My favorite feature of the 1.5-mile cavern, however, was Dream Lake. The lake is less than 2 feet deep, but the mirror effect is so perfect you can’t see the bottom.
I don’t do a lot of work with captive animals, but I had to make an exception for this emu. The more I looked at its back, the more colors I saw in its feathers. It was a very cooperative model, allowing me to photograph from different angles until I found a composition that flowed from edge to edge while still capturing the full range of tones.
(A new edition is available of Kevin Ebi's bald eagle book, Year of the Eagle, which tells the story of a year in the life of Pacific Northwest bald eagles. Follow his photography on Facebook or Instagram.)