Favorite Images of 2012

Note: Thank you to everyone who left a kind comment on the original version of this post.  I lost all of the comments in a transition to this blog format but I appreciated all of them. One of the things I enjoy most about the end of the year is seeing “favorite images” lists from the photographers I follow. I always find it interesting to see where people have traveled and how their work has progressed. For me, 2011 was the first year I thought I had anything to share. I looked back at that group of photos yesterday and, at least from my perspective, saw quite a bit of progress in my own work. For the first time, I am able to look at some of my own photos and actually like what I see.

I attribute a lot of this progress to being able to spend significant time on photography this year, which has been incredibly fulfilling and a lot of fun. For the last few years, I have wanted to spend some extended time traveling with a focus on photography but just could not find a way to make it happen. In early 2012, that opportunity unexpectedly appeared when I started traveling a lot with Ron Coscorrosa. Ron, a very talented landscape photographer, is about a year and a half into a temporary retirement and for most of this year, I have had the good fortune to join him on nearly all of his trips.

During 2012, I spent about 125 days out photographing all kinds of places, plus many more days doing things like driving from Banff National Park in Canada to Vermont for fall colors (a little crazy in retrospect!). About half of this travel has been immersive and we have spent extended time exploring one location. The rest of the time has been focused on seeing more places in less depth (the checklist approach can be fun at times, too).

For those who are curious, here are the places we have visited during 2012:

  • Arizona: Lower Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon (South Rim, North Rim, and Toroweap), Coalmine Canyon, and White Pocket
  • California: Death Valley (x3) and the Eastern Sierra
  • Colorado: three whole hours at the Great Sand Dunes!
  • Maine: Acadia and fall colors
  • Nevada: Valley of Fire (x2)
  • New Mexico: Bisti Badlands, Shiprock, and White Sands National Monument
  • North Carolina: all over the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Oregon: Alvord Desert (x2), Oceanside and Cannon Beaches, Painted Hills, and a trip without cameras to the Columbia River Gorge
  • Pennsylvania: Ricketts Glen (spring and fall) – didn’t think I would see this place for years and ended up there twice this year!
  • South Carolina: Botany Bay beach and Congaree National Park
  • South Dakota: Badlands National Park
  • Utah: Arches National Park (x3), Canyonlands National Park (x3), Dead Horse State Park (x2), Escalante National Monument (five slot canyons, plus some other places along the way), Capitol Reef National Park, Paria Badlands, and some extended time in Zion National Park
  • Vermont: lots of little tracts of beautiful forest!
  • Washington: Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park
  • West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park and some other places along the way
  • Canadian Rockies: Abraham Lake and Jasper National Park last winter, Banff and Jasper this fall, including a four-day backpacking trip to the stunning Tonquin Valley (one of my top experiences this year)
  • And, last but certainly not least… Almost three weeks in Iceland during June, when the sun never sets and the light lasts for hours and hours and hours!

Considering all of this travel and the reality that I have continued to work during this time, I have processed fewer images than I would have liked and those I did process were not chosen with much thought other than what seemed interesting (and easy) at the time. I processed about 30 images during 2012 but estimate that I have taken an additional 150 +/- images this year that I would consider to be among my better photos. One main result of this year of travel is that I have developed a portfolio that I am proud of, even if it mostly exists in RAW files. After our schedule slows down in 2013, I hope to spend significantly more time processing images and sharing the fruits of all these travels.

In the meantime, here are my favorite images from the small selection of photos I processed during 2012. These are presented in chronological order.

Into the Canyonlands
Into the Canyonlands

In the Canyonlands, Utah: This point is located somewhere near the border between Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park outside of Moab, Utah. Although both Canyonlands and Dead Horse have stunning, grand viewpoints, I find this out-of-the-way overlook to be the most beautiful and photogenic in the area.

Pastel Dunes, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado: I spent a grand total of three hours photographing in my home state of Colorado this year and this photo came about that day. This was taken at twilight, making the pink and blue hues of the dunes more prominent.

Botany Bay, South Carolina: I never expected to get to South Carolina this year but did! Our trip included about a week in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has become one of my favorite places, along with the cypress swamps of Congaree National Park, the waterfalls of Ricketts Glen State Park, and some unexpectedly beautiful spots in West Virginia. My only other trip to this part of the country was for a family vacation a few years ago. While I had fun on that trip, I left with a pretty ambivalent view on the landscape and hated the hot, incredibly muggy weather of the middle of summer. Going in the spring created an entirely different experience and I left feeling like these landscapes were simply enchanting. Here, erosion has left tree skeletons along the beach at Botany Bay on Edisto Island in South Carolina. This morning, we were treated to a dramatic and stormy sunrise, with the clouds breaking just as the sun came up.

Vik, Iceland
Vik, Iceland

Reynisdrangar Seastacks, Vik, Iceland: Iceland’s black sand beaches are incredibly beautiful, with the contrast of the white waves against the black sand, pebbles, and rocks creating a lot of different opportunities for photography. We visited this particular area on three separate occasions and were fortunate to have all sorts of interesting conditions. This is one of only two photos I have processed from Iceland. At some point, I will process the other thirty or so photos I like from that trip!

White Sands Sunset:  Backpacking at White Sands National Monument is awesome! The soft, white sand stays cool even on hot days, so walking around barefoot for hours is both possible and actually fun. Here, the last light of the day hits interdunal fins. On this day, we were very lucky to walk over a little hill and discover this scene right as a storm cleared and the sun finally came out for just a few minutes.

Wildflowers, Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park: Even though I had seen many beautiful photos of Mount Rainier National Park, I never had much of a desire to see the park for myself. We ended up there this summer during the peak wildflower bloom and it was incredible! Now, I can't wait to go back and am especially interested in seeing the park in the fall.

Alvord Playa, Southeastern Oregon:  I am a huge fan of surreal landscapes, with the Alvord Playa in southeastern Oregon coming in as one of my favorites. Because driving is allowed on this playa, we covered a lot of ground with scouting out different patterns and textures in the mud. On this particular night, we experienced the best sunset I saw this year, with beautiful light in every direction. Since we were surrounded by these interesting patterns, I was able to take four completely different compositions that night and each looks like a different sunset all together.

Ricketts Glen Waterfall
Ricketts Glen Waterfall

Ricketts Glen, Pennsylvania:  Ricketts Glen = 20+ waterfalls, plus little stream scenes like this, along a five mile hiking trail. Incredible, especially in the fall!

White Pocket, Arizona
White Pocket, Arizona

Sunset at White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona: White Pocket has to be one of the most interesting and unusual pockets of sandstone in the world. During my first visit in 2011, I felt completely overwhelmed by this landscape. For 2012, we decided to spend four nights in the area so we could thoroughly explore. It was bitterly cold and we had almost completely clear skies the whole time. Although this is probably “the icon” of White Pocket (which is almost absurd, given this area’s remoteness), it was just too interesting to pass up photographing for myself. While I had fun finding some more unique compositions on this trip, this combination of scenery and sky make this my favorite photo from that trip and possibly of 2012.

Autumn Pastels
Autumn Pastels

Autumn Pastels:  This last autumn, I spent a morning in Zion walking around a few canyons on the Eastern Plateau looking for red maples. When the red maples were not working out very well, I focused instead on this tiny plant, which was starting to change colors for the season. Each of these individual plants is about the size of a dime.

Stormy Sunrise at the Racetrack
Stormy Sunrise at the Racetrack

Stormy Sunrise at the Racetrack, Death Valley National Park: The Racetrack in Death Valley is such a cool place. The rocks that end up on the playa from the surrounding mountains are thought to move through a combination of water, ice, and wind – wind pushes the rocks across the slick surface, leaving a trail behind. On this morning, we woke up under a sky full of stars. Clouds seem to regularly materialize out of nowhere in Death Valley and that pattern continued on this particular morning as storm clouds started forming about 45 minutes before sunrise. Since I have a few Racetrack images that I already like quite a bit, I spent this morning experimenting with my ND filters to increase the motion in the clouds. I lucked out with one decent result. This is a 30 second exposure using a 4-stop ND filter for the clouds.

Thank you for looking and Happy New Year!