From 9,700 edited images from 2019, which is about 25% of what I shot, I struggled to pick 1 landscape image from each month that I felt represented some of my best work. This is always a great exercise for photographers to do. My mantra as an adventure and travel photographer is to carry less, shoot more and journey further.
Today more than ever with enormous popularity of most iconic locations, especially in national parks, I am even more motivated to hike/ski/paddle in somewhere to get a more unique landscape. So my preference is definitely to shoot away from the roadside and that is what I did for many of these. In fact, the 2 selects from the Grand Canyon are from difficult backcountry trips. July’s image was from our 343 mile hike on the Washington Pacific Crest Trail. My September choice from Alaska is from an overnight backpack trip specifically done to capture some unique sunrise landscapes.
January: Snow covered sage, upper Rio Grande Valley, from Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico with dusk and Belt of Venus over the Sangre De Cristo east of Taos on a single digit day in early January. Canon 5D Mark IV, canon 16-35/F4 lens at 25mm ISO 100, 2.5 seconds @ f16 Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer
As a versatile and opportunistic shooter, I still shoot roadside scenics and iconic scenes popularized by Instagram with decades worn tripod holes. There is nothing wrong with photography of easy to reach targets, especially if conditions and light are ideal or you find a unique way to present a well known location. I just don’t limit myself to that and it is much more gratifying to capture something good with minimalist gear that can’t easily be duplicated by the masses. Doing a tightly edited collection of your favorite work is a great way to help define or reinforce your style and preferences.
In reviewing this year’s picks, there are no surprises. I still gravitate toward bold color and contrast, water in the desert, cloud formations and shots with a “peaceful easy feeling.”
February: Sunset over Zion Canyon from Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park, Utah. Record snows fell in February and we dropped everything in Taos to get out to Zion ASAP! No matter how you slice it, the drive is 11 hours. Canyon overlook is about a mile hike from the Mt. Carmel Highway (you can see part of the road climbing out of Zion Canyon) just above the tunnel. Normally a sunrise photography location, I couldn’t resist hiking up there for a sunset shoot, especially with all the new snow bouncing light around. This dynamic would not take place if the snow hadn’t been there. A familiar location, I knew exactly where I wanted to be to catch the sun sinking behind the sandstone towers above Zion Canyon. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35F/4 lens at 24mm ISO 100, 1/15th second @ f16 Breakthrough Photography 3 stop, hard step graduated ND
March: Sunset at Picacho Peak State Park near Tucson, Arizona with backlit cholla cactus and saguaro cacti in the background. This was from a scouting trip for my Going Pro workshop with Arizona Highways Photoscapes. Canon 5D, Mark IV, Canon 16-35F/4 lens, at 33mm ISO 200, 1/5th second @ f16 Breakthrough Photography graduated ND filter and holder.
April: Elves Chasm, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. This is somewhat of a cliche shot as damn near every rafting party on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon stops here. But for foot travelers, it is a 2-3 day advanced hike involving insane exposure and a 20′ rappel to reach here, the end of the Royal Arch Drainage on the Royal Arch loop. So only a few hundred hardy backpackers a year might see this desert gem. The key was to arrive here mid morning before any direct light hit this beautiful oasis. Fortunately, no rafting parties arrived when the morning light was good and even. Sony A6300, Sony-Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens at 20mm ISO 400, 1/13th second @ f6.3 hand-held
May: Spring cottonwood tree below Emerald Falls and sandstone cliffs in Zion National Park, Utah. The predominantly wet pattern from winter continued into spring and it created some magical moody scenes with the explosion of fresh spring greenery in Zion not normally seen in late May. After precipitation falls for a prolonged period, like over 6 hours, evaporation cools the air to the dew point and fractured stratus clouds begin forming below the nimbostratus cloud base and in mountainous or canyon terrain, these clouds cling to mountainsides or cliffsides. The fresh spring green in Zion Canyon created stark and complimentary contrast to wet sandstone and moisture forming below the cliffs. A flowing waterfall into upper Emerald Pools is icing on the cake. Canon 5D, Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 lens, at 70mm ISO 100, 1/3 second @ f16 Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer cuts back on reflections from wet leaves and wet sandstone cliffs for better color saturation.
June: High Water, (3500cfs) on the Racecourse Run of the Rio Grande, Pilar, New Mexico. This is one of my favorite views upriver just above Sleeping Beauty, an engineered play wave. We frequently boat this 6-mile, class II-III section, but on this evening I remained shore bound with my camera. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70F/2.8L lens, at 24mm ISO 100, 1/3 second @ f8, Breakthrough Photography polarizer and 3-stop grad ND
July: Alpine wildflowers (lupine) and sunrise on Mt. Rainier, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Pacific Crest Trail, Washington. This was from our 343 mile southbound hike on the Washington PCT. We camped about 100 yards downhill from here so we could photograph this scene and surrounding views both at sunset and sunrise before continuing on over the Knife Edge. Sony a6300, Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 25mm ISO 400, 1/30th second @ f5.6 Breakthrough Photography polarizer hand held
August: Aurora borealis display above Tangle Lakes, Denali Highway, Alaska. In late August, the nights begin get long enough for visible displays of aurora. This is my favorite time of year to shoot the northern lights. The lights are as active as they are in the winter months without the biting cold. I love capturing reflections and off the Denali Highway there are numerous small ponds not to mention rivers that serve as good foregrounds for aurora displays. Canon 5D, Mark IV, Canon 20mm F/2.8 lens ISO 3200, 20 seconds @ f3.5
September: Timing is everything. Sunrise above Snow River from Lost Lake Trail, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. We timed an overnight backpack trip and camped in the alpine to catch an incoming storm system at sunrise. When we left the day before it was clear and warm (Seward hit 70 on Sept. 14). I photographed a clear sky sunset toward Cooper Landing. The forecast called for rain by noon the next day. An approaching system from a westerly direction almost always produces colorful sunrise layered clouds and I was ready for it having carefully chosen a view camp the day before hiking in 7 miles from Primrose. The fall colors last well into September on the tundra of Lost Lake Trail, a perennial favorite of mine. Sony a6300, Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens, at 16mm ISO 200, 1.5 seconds @ f8 Breakthrough Photography 3 stop graduated ND filter in Breakthrough Photography X3 holder.
October: Deer Creek Narrows, Grand Canyon National Park. This is from a 4 day backpack trip on Thunder River Trail to Deer Creek and Thunder River off the North Rim. Sony a6300, Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens at 23mm ISO 400, 1/5th second @ f13 Breakthrough Photography polarizer
November: Sunset, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico a week before Thanksgiving. About a 20 minute walk out on the dunes. Luckily I found exactly what I was looking for – a simple design of yuccas asymmetrically placed, wind patterns on the sand and a splash of glowing cirrus clouds post sunset for color. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35F/4 lens at 16mm ISO 100, 1/3 second @ f11 Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer
December: Arches National Park, Utah: Turret Arch framed through North Window Arch in morning light. Normally I avoid cliche shots like this but my options were limited by time constraints on our last day and I thought I should shoot some iconic scenes as I am planning to offer a winter workshop. I love any snow/water in the desert, especially in slick rock country. We were blessed with 6-8 inches of new snow the previous 2 days. Arches is a small park with many great and relatively easy photo ops. This shot was from Dec. 29, on a Sunday morning during Christmas break and there were hundreds of people in the park on a single digit morning. After the holidays, crowds will diminish significantly until spring break. When photographing very popular locations it is difficult to not get people in some of your landscape images. I position them to make it easy to Photoshop out if desired, but the silhouette of this solo woman provided a good sense of scale so I left her in the image. Canon 5D, Mark IV, Canon 16-35F/4 lens at 25mm ISO 100, 1/20th second @ f11 Breakthrough Photography polarizer.