Best Of 2016 – New Mexico to Alaska and Points In Between

In this post I am showcasing a selection of my most memorable images of 2016. Each one has an expanded caption providing context on how the image came to be.

Are these really my “best” images of the year? Hard to say. The hardest part in doing a “best of” series is narrowing your selects down to a reasonable number. Photographers, even with 20+ years of commercial experience, are still their own worst editors. To help with my selection, I relied on the opinion of others. First, I chose 6 of my top 10 Instagram posts of 2016. Next, I chose several selects from 4 memorable assignments. The remainder are personal favorites with little regard for their commercial potential. They are shots that represent milestones for me or just shots I really dig. My personal favorites include a mix of Alaska and Southwest landscapes and some from my Zion workshops.

Instagram Top 10 – Spring photo workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/4L IS at 28mm ISO800 1/40 sec @f6.3 hand held with Image Stabilization.
This is Roxanne, one of my Alaskan friends that took my spring workshop. After the workshop, she hung around so we could go to places that we can’t go to during the workshop like hidden slot canyons that I don’t reveal. This shot is a bit cliche’ but it is my top Instagram post for the year. It also got picked up by Canon USA and Canon UK where it received thousands of likes.

I always try to challenge my photographic weaknesses, mostly shooting candid portraits. I define “weakness” as being uncomfortable or unconfident that I am making good images in a genre that I normally don’t shoot much of. I like action and environmental portraits better than static ones. I tried this mainly on the trail as I anticipated instant camaraderie with fellow trail hikers. Even then, I only “clicked” with a few fellow hikers that I felt comfortable photographing at close range. Fortunately, 2 of my action portraits, one from the PCT, made my Instagram top 10. That gives me some validation that I am getting better at portraits!

Sometimes great images just fall into your lap. But that is the exception, not the rule. There are a few here where that happened. For example, on a foggy ridge just outside the Glacier Peaks Wilderness on my southbound Pacific Crest Trail hike through Washington, I almost literally “ran into” Hummingbird, a northbound hiker. 5-minutes later, I made an on-the-spot action portrait of her that became my favorite trail portrait and my second most popular Instagram post of 2016.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70/F4 at 26mm ISO400 1/25sec @f6.3, with B+W polarizer, hand held.
This shot exemplifies the ideal of spending more time finding the image than actually shooting it. We arrived at this location at Island Pass in the Sierra in mid-afternoon with the mountains you see in harsh backlight with a stiff breeze across the lake. This is Banner Peak, an icon around Mammoth Lakes and the Minaret Range. Most people shoot this from the well-known Thousand Island Lakes which was 2 miles further down trail. After analyzing where the morning light would be, we decided to stay here to make sunrise shots. When my iPhone alarm went off on this frosty fall morning, we were blessed with clear skies and calm winds. Lauri knew exactly what to wear and where to go. I knew exactly where to shoot from to frame up a pleasing horizontal and vertical versions of this image.

More often than not, great images are the result of spending more time finding the image than the actual shooting. Your ability to find and exploit great light, to make light when Mother Nature isn’t helping, and to read your subject’s emotions and personalities directing and motivating them to get what you are after visually are all important skills beyond your technical mastery that define who you are as a photographer. They define your vision and it is your vision, not your equipment, that gets you hired. On assignments and personal productions alike, there are always problems to solve and creative soul searching to do that lead to great imagery.

As a workshop leader and instructor, teaching and motivating others on how to take better images, I am careful to make sure I always practice what I preach, placing more emphasis on vision and creativity than on technique or equipment. Focusing and improving on your life skills and creative vision make it possible to fully exploit unforeseen, “fall into your lap” photo opportunities even when you are on assignment executing a shot list. It sure helps keep photography fun!

Personal Favorite – Turnagain Arm, Alaska
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 29mm ISO100 1/3 sec @f16 with Singh-Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter
Lupine wildflowers at sunset along Turnagain Arm, near Girdwood, AK. Been shooting these for decades. Never gets old. I just keep updating my landscapes on newer digital sensors. The sky, the water level and color, and feel of the light are always different.

Assignment Image – Clovis, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/2.8L at 40mm ISO320 1/500 sec @f7.1 with ST-E3 transmitter and 600RT speedlite with Spinlight 360 grid.
I got another chance to make some sports portraits using our strobes and mixing the light with the waning sunset colors and stadium lights at the Clovis High School. This was Rohan, a Wendy’s High School Heisman 2016 national finalist.

Personal Favorite – Tonto Trail backpacking, South Kiabab Trail to Grandview, Grand Canyon National Park.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 16mm ISO3200 15 seconds @f4
This is our friend and fellow photographer Ike on a November backpack trip. At an at-large camp above the Inner Gorge with virtually no light pollution, we were shooting lit tents (Lauri painting with a headlamp) when I noticed his LCD screen illuminating his face. So I made him next to his tent my subject allowing the very low intensity light from his camera LCD to paint him with light. Ike did great holding still for 15 seconds. I shot this with my new backpack camera, the Sony A6300 mirrorless with Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Subway, Zion National Park, Utah
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO100 1/20sec @F/16 with B+W circular polarizer
After our Zion Fall Landscape Workshop, I got a permit for the Subway, a 6 mile hike to this very spot. We can’t go here during the workshop so I went here the day after it ended and one of my participants went with me. I’ve been at the Subway multiple times but the last 5 times has been from the top down, which most photographer’s don’t do since the top-down route is technical and involves swims and rappels. When I do that I focus on the adventure side of the Subway. I wanted to go back and re-do a lot of landscapes on newer cameras. When we got here there was a group of 6 people lined up all across this scene. But no other shooter saw this angle. When one photographer pulled out I went to his spot but I decided to stand in the waist deep pool behind me and shoot this low angle. I asked the photographer to my right to move over slightly (which he obliged) but I still got a piece of his tripod in the image.

Assignment Image and Instagram top 10, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 20mm ISO200 1/125sec @f16 with St-E3 on camera and 600RT with Spinlight 360 with half cut CTO and 1/4″ grid
This is from the La Tierra Trails in Santa Fe. I love working action with more than one person and using off camera lighting and making it all work. I prefer to shoot into the light with some sort of natural fill light (snow, sand, light colored dirt or walls) and then using off camera strobes to supplement the light. This is the type of assignment shooting I love doing the most.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Cascade Mountains, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 44mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f7.1
Southbound (SOBO) thru hiker trail name, “Neemore” (need less, want more), hiking in early morning at Scout Pass with Mt. Rainier in background. I met Neemore at like 6:30 am at Scout Pass as I was frantically looking for my lost spoon, my only eating utensil. He simply gave me his spoon (which was identical to the one I lost) saying he wasn’t using it and thanking me for lightening his pack. People rarely look good with direct sunlight but the sun was just on the horizon and still soft enough to make a decent front lit portrait.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 19mm ISO400 1/20sec @f8 with B+W circular polarizer
First light on peaks above Lemah Valley with reflection on small nameless pond near timberline. This was the first location on the trail where I had to remind myself that this hike was not just about making miles. I stopped here in mid-afternoon and stayed predicting that I would get nice first light on these peaks. The altocumulus clouds were a plus. I did not bring a tripod on this stretch so I relied on the image stabilization in the camera to help. It did great.

Instagram top 10 – PCT, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss16-70F/4at 70mm ISO400 1/80sec @f9
Most long distance hikers adopt trail names. Somebody else gives you one and you can choose to accept it. They are often funny and easier to remember than real names. But, I do know her real name as well. This is northbound PCT hiker, “Hummingbird”, walking in the fog as she was approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness. We talked for a good 5 minutes. She has a warm and outgoing personality and she was the first person on trail that I asked to photograph. I could not pass up such a great subject in soft light that makes everyone look good. She is the real deal and about as authentic as you can be as a thru hiker. This is my favorite trail portrait from all of my hike.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Washington Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 41mm ISO400 1/60 sec @f9 hand held
After a frustrating week of wet, cold weather with very little good light, in July, I awoke on the summit of Grizzly Peak in fog. But this time I rejoiced knowing that at some point the fog would thin and I would get some great sun shafts. This was quite a treat after a week dry spell in photos.

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 200mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f4
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f9 with Singh_Ray LB polarizer.
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Personal Favorite – Stock production.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f8
This was completely different from what I planned on shooting and I am glad I have the ability to be adaptable and think outside the box. I planned on doing hiking scenarios with a young couple at Byron Glacier. But Whitney, one of my favorite people to work with, shows up with a new, clean car with a sun roof. If anyone can pull off still looking good with a 17mm lens in their face it’s Whitney. I knew she excels at enthusiastic expressions. I quickly summed up the resources I had in front of me and remembering the credo of “shoot what’s happening”, I abandoned, or rather postponed our hiking plans to shoot this concept on a beautiful early evening in Portage Valley. Please, no comments about how I am promoting unsafe activities. We were well aware of the Bear Valley to Whittier tunnel schedule and we did this on a half mile stretch with virtually no other vehicles on this side road.

Assignment Image – Chartered Sport fishing from Seward, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 42mm ISO400 1/400 sec @f10
Photos can be made more compelling by finding interesting and unique perspectives. Being a fisherman myself, one of the crew members brought a flyfishing float tube and fins so I could get in the water and get this nice low angle of a charter fishing boat in Thumb Cove. The tides are always changing so I am shooting while kicking with my fins to keep from spinning around and drifting too far from the boat. And, yes, even with thick fleece pants and waterproof chest waders, this glacial water is still damn cold!

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Buckskin Canyon, Paria Wilderness, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 176mm ISO1600 1/160 sec @F4.5
After our Spring Landscape workshop in Zion, I took some friends and fellow photographers to Buckskin Canyon – a well known and popular place amongst photographers. It was a great day. Remembering Jay Maisel’s words, “If you are shooting something everyone else shoots, make it your own.” So I began keying in on people’s expressions and emotions seeing this magical place for the first time. This is our friend and fellow photographer Tammy. I’ve worked with her before as talent and I saw that she was very impressed with this location and experience so I asked her to re-create her expressions I saw earlier. The best part was that others got to see my whole creative process from coming up with the idea to creating the shot to the post processing.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F4 at 17mm ISO100 1/15 sec @f16 with Singh_Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter.
When I find a place I really like I go back there multiple times at different times of the year, if feasible. This is one of my “go to” sunset locations overlooking Hop Valley. The clouds, and sun position are always different. My favorite landscape technique is to shoot backlight with reflective subject matter, like the light sandstone which helps bounce warm light around. After our Spring Landscape Workshop, I took a few participants to this location where we can’t legally go to on a commercial workshop.

Instagram Top 10 – Sunset over Hop Valley, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/20sec @f16 with 3-stop soft step graduated neutral density filter.
This is how we ended the day on a very challenging shoot. This is Heidi who has shot for us for years in Alaska. This was her first shoot with us in Utah. I was in a funk because Lauri had broken her leg earlier in the day. (We didn’t know it was broken at the time.) She was resting comfortably at our friends house in Springdale and encouraged me to go out and do our planned shoot. Heidi is just awesome and has time after time saved a shoot when my creativity wasn’t where it needed to be. Luckily, I knew the location and we shot a bunch of stuff earlier with her partner, Hunter, as a couple. When she did this I knew it was golden. Getting great talent is half the battle.

Personal Favorite – Winter trail runner, West Rim Trail, Taos, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4 at 155mm ISO400 1/1000 sec @f7.1
It is rare when I can get someone doing something while there are big flakes falling with no wind. Usually, it’s too cold, windy, or no talent is available when soft snow is falling. This is Kendra who is the real deal and hikes and or runs daily. She is on the very popular West Rim Trail, a 7-mile trail with a gentle grade that has great views into the Rio Grande Gorge. I almost always use a telephoto to help emphasize the snow. This one was tough to choose as Kendra is really photogenic and I wanted to show her face. But the running away from the camera and the contrast of the trail unfolding in front of her captured my imagination more.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Emerald Pools, Zion National Park, Utah in winter.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 70mm ISO100 1/2sec @f16 with circular polarizer
This is another example of bad weather = good images. The falls don’t run all the time. With the sun out, the light would be harsh and contrasty. With the new snow melting, the falls were running strong, and great colors and saturation were happening. I love snow in the desert! A similar to this was selected for a State of Utah Calendar.

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