This is the longest blog I’ve put out so far. Hopefully it is broken down into easy to read segments. It is about my favorite images for 2013.
Usually my editors or my clients choose the best of my images and trust me, this is a good thing. This time I am choosing my favorite images for 2013 with a brief description as to why. This was a good exercise in practicing what I preach and doing a tight edit. Most photographers struggle with objectively editing their best work. That’s why this blog is about my “favorite” not necessarily my “best” work. I mean I would like to think my favorite work is my best work, but that isn’t reality. I will still show deference to my editors.
With nearly 42k images shot in 2013 and edited down to 10.3k in my Lightroom master catalog, it was tough to narrow them down to 13. (OK, I’m stretching the truth a little. I’m counting 3 very closely related pairs as 1 photo so total is 17.) Why 13? It’s not because it was 2013 but more because I’m feeling “anti 10.” Too many things seem to be “top 10 this” or “best 10 that.” Why is “10” the most popular number for a collective? Who knows? It could be due to the metric system or Moses. If Moses had come down the mountain with 9 commandments our magazine world might be different today. Magazine articles or blogs that read: “9 best whatever” don’t sound all that bad to me. Well, baseball and golf courses like 9 so it can’t be all that bad. How does 9 “whatever” relate to 13 photos? It doesn’t. It’s just silly thinking. Let’s look at some photos. Hope you enjoy them.
PEAK EXPERIENCE. Sometimes timing is everything when going after the “killer shot” It takes me about an hour to hike from the top of Chair 2 at Taos Ski Valley to the top of 12, 400′ Kachina Peak. We picked a great day with fresh snow, blue skies, light winds and two great skiers. Everyone expects killer ski shots to involve air and exploding powder. For me pulling off a good ski lifestyle shot is more difficult. Hiking up Kachina slows me down and, as my lungs are searching for oxygen, it gives me time to think about crafting different shots. This shot is being used in an ad campaign to promote Taos as a winter destination. About a half hour later we started doing ski action shots with my two great skiers, Matt Gresham and Andrea Krejci.
On this action shot, shooting into the sun with a fixed 20mm lens, I asked Andrea to ski right at me and do a sudden stop about 5 feet in front of me. This is where I trusted her ability to execute a precision move and not mow me over. The reason I had her do this is because the terrain opposite the sun sloped downhill and away from me and thus not providing enough natural fill. I knew that if Andrea executed this move the way I envisioned (which she did – several times) she would create her own fill light at the last second. It worked. This shot was used by the original client for the cover of the Taos Ski Valley Visitor Guide.
THE GRAND ROYAL HIKE. Good friend John Hoffer, Lauri and I got to go where few people go to and what could be the most awesome and moving spot in the Grand Canyon – the Royal Arch. It took three days of backpacking to get here. As the sun was cresting over the top of the arch, I laid on my back and captured my two hiking companions with the 15mm fisheye. Leaving the arch involved a precipitous hike out and gnarly descent with a 20 foot rappel (with backpacks) down to the Colorado River and a two-day hike out along the Western Tonto and out Bass Canyon.
BRING EARPLUGS NEXT TIME! This is a mental note I made to myself after sitting in a raft, 4 feet away from screaming 8 and 9 year old girls. This is a shot I had envisioned for several years but was never able to pull it off due to timing and scheduling. The original concept was to cast a group of college age women all enjoying the thrill of a raft trip. I still plan to do that. In this shot, all five people in the raft, the guide, Matt, and the four girls are all skiers and I worked with all of them the previously at Taos Ski Valley. When I saw how well the girls worked together I knew they would be a hoot in a raft. With the water being really low last summer, it seemed more fitting to have a younger crew based on the smaller rapids. We scheduled the shoot for later in the day for better light and I sat on the bow with my rig in a housing. This shot is a fav because of the girls and their energy and because I had envisioned this for a long time. This is a classic case where literally the success of this was 90% planning, 10% shooting.
GLACIER EXPRESS. These 2 were part of my assignment for the State of Alaska covering tourism in the Portage-Whittier area. Our tour included taking my two super models, Melody and her son, Adam, both lifelong Alaskans, out to Spencer Glacier were we would be in the very capable hands of Matt Szundy, owner of The Ascending Path, for a short paddle and glacier hike. I really wanted to capture a shot of a person feeling the wind and being enthralled with the scenery as the train whisked along through jaw dropping Placer River Valley. This was a very tight space as both Melody and I had to squeeze in the 4 foot space between rocking and rolling train cars. I have my back slammed up against the car opposite of Melody with my arm stretched out as far as possible blazing away. I knew that shooting really wide at such close distance would create facial distortion. I did not want to ruin her pretty face with the brutality of 17mm lens. This is one of my favs because it was a “longshot” and it is all Melody. She really pulled off a nice look that I was after and she held up well against the 17mm lens.
After several near backbreaking sessions to get the shot I really wanted Melody stuck her head with her hair down completely out the window and I loved her long black hair flying forward. A quick re-positioning of the strobe and I got a light hearted shot I liked even better.
CLASSIC TURNAGAIN ARM IN JUNE. The great thing about tourism assignments is they can involve landscape images in addition to the recreation, adventure and portraits involved in travel photography. Literally the day after we arrived in Alaska and not even fully unpacked we were down on Turnagain Arm where every few years there are epic blooms of lupine. Wait for a high tide around sunset (near 11:30pm here), employ 3 strobes and a 3-stop ND grad and presto, lupine at sunset shot. In full disclosure, since I am a commercial shooter I use all tools available to maximize visual impact. I strive to do as much as I can in the field. To fill in the sky I added some low clouds I shot a few days later near the same location at sunset.
BEARFOOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD? I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked Denali Park and have driven the 90 mile road on permit and assignments for 20 years. Even though I focus primarily on landscape images there I still have a healthy file of wildlife – including bears from Denali. I am not a big fan of “wildlife on the road” shots either. This is my only decent shot from Denali this summer. Because of assignment demands I was only able to use 2 of my 10 allotted days and we were basically weathered out, as in no mountain. We followed this young bear early one morning as we were heading west for Wonder Lake. Park rules say you can’t force wildlife off the road. Generally, they leave the road in a few minutes anyway but not this fella. No, we crawled behind him for 45 minutes stopping and shooting whenever I saw a decent composition. We could have pushed him off the road. It was just us and the bear but we behaved and just let it go. The foot makes the shot. In post I brought back a little of the dusty backlit morning sun feel that we sometimes see there. It was just a subtle tweak.
NEVER TIRE OF THAT MOUNTAIN. I always look for new ways (at least new to me) to show North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley (a.k.a. Denali). Believe it or not I have never shot much in Denali State Park. I was astounded how quick it was to get to this location from the road. The thing is, you can’t see this from the Parks Highway. Last summer we had an exceptionally long stretch of clear and I mean HOT days. In an hour and a half we were able to walk through the horrifying mosquitos in the bog and forest below to the less horrifying mosquitos on the tundra of Ermine Hill with this commanding view of Mt. McKinley towering above the rest of the Alaska Range. We went up here a few days earlier and shot on assignment with 2 hikers for the State of Alaska tourism. On this shot, Lauri and I went by ourselves and ventured higher and off trail to this little knoll. We went early to avoid cumulus clouds obscuring the 20, 320′ peak. The light is “good” not “great” but I am always a sucker for a good shot showing the scale of Denali relative to a hiker. It is not as easy as you think and I just love this south side view.
MY FAVORITE SHOT OF THE SUMMER with some super outdoor ladies. This is another case where talent and timing are EVERYTHING! A couple of years ago I did a ladies getaway as part of a campaign promoting South Carolina. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to do this my way. Well, after dealing with assignment pressures all summer I was able to get a group of outdoor, lifelong Alaska ladies together who just have GREAT synergy. Meeting after work, my crack team of Lauri and our hard core talent hiked 5 miles in one of my favorite haunts, the South Fork of Eagle River Valley, to shoot an hour of a ladies backcountry getaway, pack up and hoof it back to the car after 10pm returning in the waning August light. My plans to shoot with a warmly lit alpine peak backdrop quickly eroded when low clouds off Cook Inlet started invading the valley. So I turned into the setting sun, employed our speed lighting skills and captured this shot of the ladies enjoying a glass of wine at camp perched on this rock. I would never tire of doing shoots like this. Too bad it rains so much and people have to work all the time!
LEAP INTO THE LIGHT. Sometimes you just gotta play and test some lights. I was getting ready for my ‘Speedlights, Camera, Action’ workshop that I teach and thought it would be a good idea to just test all the lights and sharpen up what I wanted to demonstrate. So we took Lila and 3 speed lights, 2 on stands with 1/8″ grids, and one overhead with a soft box and lit Lila up as she is running along a hill in the dark green woods surrounding Anchorage. Love the woods and all the devil’s club but man, is it dark in there! So thankful for portable, wireless, TTL speedlight systems.
WELCOME TO MY WORLD. This shot is from the Business of Outdoor Photography class that I teach at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana. This was our last field shoot and I got to take my group to Holland Lake to do a sunset shoot DeYoung style. We hiked out to Holland Falls late afternoon dealing with forest fire smoke, rain, hail, thunder and lighting. Those who were patient were rewarded with this well above average sunset overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains. Then we hiked back returning to the trailhead under headlamp. All in a day’s work.
ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES. This is out of the box for me, or should I say, “in the box.” I’m not an indoor shooter but my awesome editor at one of my agencies worked with me on doing a series of personal trainer and client fitness shoots. Well, fitness is right up my alley so why not take it indoors once in a while and stretch my lighting skills. Why this shot is a fav is because I was able to actually execute what I visualized. When I saw what Jennifer was capable of, I wanted to focus on her intensity as she threw a punch with trainer David Garver at Aura Fitness in Taos, New Mexico. I am programmed to usually use big soft boxes or scrims when photographing women. To keep it real and show a more raw training environment including some real sweat, I kept my light on the harder side. I think Jennifer still looks great. How can you go wrong with those eyes! I took a related shot that focused on David after the training session.
25th CELEBRATION IN THE DOLOMITES. Lauri and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary hiking Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites and I’ve blogged about that earlier. Yes, this was a personal trip but to do it without bringing a camera ensemble and at least trying to capture pro images would be unthinkable especially in a place like the Dolomites. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty good feel for knowing when to put the camera down and enjoy the moment and the company you are with and when to get serious and make an image. Any place I go be it on assignment, shooting stock or just personal I at least try to capture that one shot that sums up the essence of the place and why we are there. We were only at each place for a day so I have to make use of all my skills to make compelling shots. This is our second morning leaving Prato Piazza. I loved the pastoral nature of the valley beneath these towering peaks. We went out early, before breakfast to catch sunrise light on the trail we would eventually leave on. I was blessed to get some radiation fog below us as I had Lauri walk toward the trail sign. There were clouds to the east blocking light on the foreground. The way the terrain was situated didn’t lend itself well to using a graduated ND. So I took separate exposures and blended them in post to capture the feel I wanted. Of the thousands of shots I took documenting our trip in the Dolomites, this one says it all to me.
FIVE MINUTE SUNRISE SHOOT AT ZION. In the mid latitudes or prevailing westerlies (the westerlies shift seasonally) there are two scenarios that predictably produce dramatic light. They are approaching storms at sunrise and clearing storms at sunset. This was shot on the morning of an approaching cold front and Lauri and I raced from Springdale up to one of our familiar valleys on the East Mesa section of Zion National Park. We had scouted this the morning before. The light on the cliffs and the color in the clouds lasted maybe five minutes but we were ready for it. Off camera speed light with a grid was used to pull Lauri away from the dark background. Five minutes done. Flat stormy light the rest of the day. This was the first week of November and due to unseasonably cold temps, we were late for fall color this year in Zion Canyon. This shot was the best we got.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME, OR NEAR ANYTHING FLAMMABLE. I love it when an unplanned street shot works out. I don’t do that a lot. Such was the case with a Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration on Bent Street and the John Dunn Plazza in Taos. Melarie Roller was out twirling her flaming firestick or baton. Even though we are shooting from the hip, we don’t sacrifice good technique. Lauri was working the gridded speedlight off camera and I was using a slow shutter to blur the motion of the baton while the strobe rendered her sharp. During a break prior to this shot I had asked her to stand closer to this group of kids and face the camera so I could make this shot. No model releases, nothing serious, just out having fun and celebrating the holidays.