top 10

My Top Ten Images for 2017

Another year is in the books, as 2017 has come to an end and we begin 2018. The past 12 months weren't some of my most productive photographically, at least in terms of quantity of images captured and locations visited. A look at my Lightroom catalog shows exactly 14,000 images for the past year. Of course, that doesn't count several thousand that were taken for use in time-lapse videos, which aren't in the catalog. My guess is the number for the year is closer to 20,000.

The quantity of images, however, really isn't any way to measure the success for the year. Taking lots of pictures can be a good thing, but it certainly doesn't mean that any of them are going to be any good. Instead, I like to look back at some of my favorite photos and the great memories attached to them. 

The year started off with a bang, with a trip to Maui the first week of January. A week in the tropical island paradise provided numerous photographic opportunities, and you'll see a few images from that trip on this list.

Shortly after the Maui trip was a quick trip to LeClaire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles along the Mississippi River. The number of eagles was down compared to the previous year (which was my first), but the trip was a blast and I came away with a few 'keeper' images. 

In March, I attended the Improve Photography Retreat in Phoenix. I made the decision to make it a road trip with intentions of a few side trips on the way there and back. That turned out to be a great decision. One of my favorite Milky Way images was created in Kansas on my way down there. While in Phoenix, there were plenty of opportunities to shoot as well, which resulted in a couple more images in my Top Ten list. Then, on the way back, I spent a couple days with Aaron and Brendon of Photog Adventures fame exploring in and around Zion National Park. There was a ton of driving involved, but that trip was ever so worth it. 

The rest of the year was kind of quiet, with most of my shooting done close to home. There were no other photo trips planned, which was kind of a bummer, since there were still a lot of months left in the year. It's not surprising that what I feel are my best 10 images were taken in the first 3 months of the year. It is kind of disappointing that the other 9 months didn't yield anything that made this list. I'm not complaining though; it was still a very good year with the camera. 

Without rambling on any further than I already have, below are my top ten images for 2017. These are in no particular order. It's hard enough narrowing it down from 14,000 to 10, so I decided there was no need to rank them. Let me know if the comments which one you like the best.

"Island Dreams" - Night time on the beaches of Maui, captured on January 4, 2017. Not a bad way to spend some time in January. 

"Twin Falls" - Captured on January 6, 2017, along the Road to Hana. 

"Are you squawking to me?" - The image was captured along the Mississippi River just south of LeClaire, Iowa. January 21, 2017.

"A Whale of a Tale" - On a whale watching cruise while in Maui. Captured January 4, 2017.

"Bamboo Forest" - On the Road to Hana, while in Maui. Captured January 6, 2017.

"Monument Rocks Milky Way" - This is a panoramic image created at Monument Rocks, about 30 miles south of Oakley, Kansas. This was early in the season (March 8), so this was captured very early in the morning, not long before sunrise.

"Kanarra Creek Falls" - Located just outside of Zion National Park, this is a fabulous short hike into the canyon, with the reward of waterfall scenery. Captured on March 13, 2017.

"Picketpost Mountain Milky Way" - This area just east of Phoenix offered some surprisingly dark night skies for capturing the Milky Way on March 9, 2017. This was less than 24 hours after spending the night at Monument Rocks. 

"Canyon Overlook Sunset" - A wonderful view of the canyon in Zion National Park. Captured on March 12, 2017.

"Kolob Canyon Sunrise" - Captured on March 12, 2017, after doing some night photography and catching some sleep in the car while waiting for the sun to come up. Another of the amazing locations in Zion National Park. 

So, there you have it! My 10 best (and favorite) images of 2017. Hope you all enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed capturing them. Part of this exercise is to reflect on the year and to also look back to see how (or if) my photography has improved from previous years. I feel that it has. There is still much room for improvement. I look forward to 2018, and the adventures that are in store. My goal is to bring my camera along on the journey and share it with you. 

Thanks for reading!

 

    

Top 10 of 2016 (#8)

Night photography is something I have tried to do more of this past year.  It is so much fun to do and it really gives you so many creative opportunities.  I enjoy shooting the Milky Way, but even though we live several miles outside of any city, there is still too much light pollution.  Star trails are the next best thing, and I have thousands of images on my hard drive to prove it.  

This image was created back in late June.  The hay had just been baled, so I decided to take advantage of that for some foreground interest.  Without any kind of foreground, these usually turn out to be pretty boring images.  There are a couple of different methods for creating star trail images.  You can take a single, really long exposure.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 30 minutes.  Or, capture a series of shorter exposures and stack them together.  Either way will show the apparent movement of the stars over time, as the earth rotates on its axis.  

I choose the use the multiple exposure method for a variety of reasons.  With several different exposures, it is possible to throw out one or two that have issues.  If you take one really long exposure and something messes it up, then you have to start all over again.  One longer exposure will also tend to have more digital noise (grain) due to the sensor heating up.  

The creation of this image consisted of capturing about 50 exposures.  Each image was exposed for 30 seconds, with only about 2-3 seconds in between each image.  They were shot at the relatively wide focal length of 14 mm, at an aperture of f/2.8 to allow in as much light as possible. I kept the ISO at around 1,000, which is about all you need for star trails.  A small flashlight was used to light paint the hay bale in one of the images to provide a little more foreground accent.

After shooting, the images were loading into the Lightroom, minor exposure adjustments were made, then exported as JPEGs.  The JPEG images were then stacked together in a free software program call StarStax, which works really well.  Finally, the resulting star trail image was blended together with the light painted image in Photoshop.

Another thing I should mention is that the camera was pointed in the general direction of the North Star.  This makes the circular pattern in the star trails.  The extra light trails in the final image are actually fireflies that were buzzing around as I captured the images.  I originally thought about removing them, but feel that they add some interest and context to this image. What do you think?   

Top 10 of 2016 (#10)

I've been doing a version of this for the last couple of years, so wanted to continue the tradition. This year, I'm doing it a little differently in that there will be a countdown, starting at number 10 and going down to number 1, and my very favorite image for the year.  There will be one photo each day from now until December 31.  

These photos are not only what I consider some of my best, but also some of my favorites for this year.  It was very difficult narrowing it down to 10.  My initial list had close to 75, which was reduced to 25.  From there, it wasn't easy to get rid of 15 of my favorites to get it down to the final 10.  After much deliberation, this is what I've come up with.  Hope you like them as much as I do.

Each image has a story.  From that story and the process that goes into to making the image, an emotional connection is made.  I will share a little about each image for each day, including the process that went into making the capture.  Of course, the click of the shutter button is only the beginning of the creative process, so the post-production of the images will also be explored.  

Without further ado, here is image #10 for 2016: 

Late Summer Sunset

It's kind of ironic that a sunset image starts off my list for 2016.  If you have followed me for a while, you might remember that last year was filled with sunset images.  It wasn't a daily thing, but there were a lot of sunset images captured for 2015.  This year, the sunset image wasn't quite as ubiquitous, but there were still a few scattered about.  There's just something about that late evening golden light and the way it can make the landscape seem to glow.  

This image was taken at 7:08 PM on August 14.  The sun was right on the horizon, which gave me a great opportunity to practice one of my favorite techniques.  Stopping down the aperture (i.e. making the opening smaller) on the lens when the sun is just on the edge of something allows you to create this starburst effect.  You will notice that I do this quite a bit in my images.  Maybe too much, but hey, I like it.  

For those who like the technical details and camera settings, here they are: 

  • Focal length: 10 mm
  • Shutter speed: 1/20 of a second
  • Aperture: f/22
  • ISO: 200

Photographers would look at this image and note that many "rules" have been broken.  The horizon line is pretty much right in the middle.  The sun is dead center in the image.  But so be it. Rules are made to be broken, especially photography rules, and I'll do so when it works for an image.  I think it works here.  There happened to be some great clouds in the sky, so that would normally mean accentuate the sky.  However, I also liked the warm glow on the grasses in the foreground.  So I showed them both off as much as possible.  

In post-processing the image, I accentuated the great light as much as possible, and especially the glow of the seed heads on the grass.  The shadows were brought up and the highlights were dropped slightly to deal with the high dynamic range of the scene.  The colorful sky was accentuated with a boost to the vibrance and saturation.  Finally, a trip through Topaz Color Efex Pro gave the image the contrast and glow that I was looking for.  Hope you like it!