wildlife photography

My Top 10 Images of 2018

I know, I’m a slacker. Here we are one month into the new year and I’m just now getting around to publishing this. Selecting my top images for the year is an exercise I’ve been doing for the past several years. It gives me a good look at how the year went photographically, and also helps me to understand how (or if) I have improved over the previous years. If you are passionate about photography and really want to improve, this is something I highly recommend.

I’m not going to lie, 2018 was kind of a down year for me photography-wise. Not that there weren’t plenty of opportunities. There always are. From a trip to Charleston back in March for a photography conference, another excursion to Utah in May, to some vacation time in Colorado in July, there were some good photo ops for sure. No, last year was more a question of motivation, or lack thereof. That was compounded by some creative roadblocks and waning passion. Simply put, I found myself in a “funk” for much of the year and just couldn’t claw my way out.

In any creative pursuit, it’s not unusual to find oneself lacking in the creativity department now and then. Authors call it writer’s block. Does that mean for photographers it is called image maker’s block? I’m not sure, but whatever it is, I’m working my way out of it and am looking forward to a new year. Who knows what 2019 has in store, but i’ll have my camera in hand and ready for whatever comes my way.

So, without further ado, and to put a seal on the 2018 that was, here are what I feel are my top 10 images for the year. Choosing a top ten is not easy. There are many images that may have sentimental value, but are not necessarily “good” images. Sometimes the process and the adventure of capturing a particular image gives it more meaning. Reminiscing about what it took to get that image brings back good memories that may cloud your vision. Just because an image has a good story behind it doesn’t necessarily make it a good image either. In these selections, I try to take all these things into account. Then there is the all-important technical aspects of an image. What makes it good might be the light, composition, patterns, textures, gesture, color (or lack of color), or any combination of these things. Cutting through the emotional aspects and really drilling down to the nuts and bolts of what makes an image a good image is what is important.

So, here they are. In no particular order. I hope you enjoy them. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to say about any of the images or questions about how they were created. I’m always happy to help.

“Reflections of Color”, Historic Middleton Place in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Milky Way over Lower Fox Creek School”, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, near Strong City, Kansas.

“Morning Gold”, a Pelican on the Mississippi River, Lock & Dam 14 near Le Claire, Iowa.

“Lower Calf Creek Falls”, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

“Sunrise on the Beach”, Morris Island Lighthouse, Charleston, South Carolina.

“Milky Way over the Watchman”, Zion National Park, Utah.

“Fast Food”, a Bald Eagle fishing the Mississippi River at Lock & Dam 14 near Le Claire, Iowa.

“Sunset in Canyonland”, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.

“Milky Way over Escalante”, a panoramic image of the night sky over Escalante, Utah.

“The Bright Side”, a sunset capture at Grinter Sunflower Farms near Lawrence, Kansas.



Eagle Photography at Lock & Dam 14

It’s hard to believe, but another year has passed and I’m here again sharing about another trip to Le Claire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles. My presence on the blog was pretty much nonexistent last year, but I hope to make some changes and share more in 2019. I hope you’ll come back to check it out on occasion.

Note: Don’t forget to click on the images to see them larger and much more detailed!

This year’s trip started out like all the others, with a 5+ plus hour drive north on Interstate 35 to Des Moines, then east on Interstate 80 to Le Claire. It was mostly an uneventful drive, except for the last hour or so as some freezing drizzle was beginning to create some problems on the roadways. After white-knuckling it for the last leg of the trip, I checked into the hotel to get things ready for shooting the following morning.

January weather in Iowa, and in the Midwest in general, can be quite unpredictable. This was my 4th year making this trip, and weather the previous years had been somewhat mild. This year was a bit different. On Saturday morning, I woke up to a frigid temperature of -14 degrees. At least there wasn’t any wind to contend with. I made the short drive to L&D 14 to find that I was the second person to arrive for the day. L&D 14 can get pretty busy, as it has become one of the most popular locations for eagle photography. Even on this cold day photographers slowly poured in anxiously looking forward to putting some pixels on birds.

The first hour or so was a wash, as the fog on the Mississippi River was too thick to see, much less, photograph anything. There were, however, a couple of eagles perched in the trees above the parking lot. They don’t seem to mind all the people snapping photos. In fact, it’s almost like they enjoy posing for us photogs at times. The dense fog and frigid temps had created a coating of hoarfrost on all the tree branches, which made for some interesting images.

The heavy fog slowly cleared out for the most part. It remained overcast for the entire day and there were a few patches of fog every now and then. One thing that was consistent was that it was cold. I don’t believe the temperature ever got above 6 degrees. To top it off, there was not much fishing by the eagles all day. One would fly overhead now and then, but the action was very minimal. Bummer!

The view across the river from L&D 14.

The dark spots in those trees are eagles, but they stayed put all day.

Looking along the shoreline at the viewing platform. Not many people were out yet.

The nice thing about L&D 14 is how close you can get to the action, when there is action. The eagles typically fish the waters right in front of the viewing platform, which makes capturing images much easier. Another nice thing is that you park literally just a few feet from the river. On a cold day, that’s nice so you can hop in the car to warm up now and then. That was the name of the game on this day. Here are a few more images:

Going for a fish…

…and came up empty handed.

Coming in for a landing.

The second day was much different, weather-wise. Skies were clear and temps were “only” -4 degrees to start the day. It sounds cold, but what a difference 10 degrees and sunshine makes! The morning light was absolutely beautiful. There was more fog hanging over the water, but it was much thinner and allowed the morning light to shine through. Landscape photography is my favorite genre and this morning’s sunrise was right up my alley. I grabbed my Fuji mirrorless camera to focus primarily on landscape compositions for a bit.

The weather seemed perfect for some eagle action this morning, but they still were mostly staying perched in the trees. Oh well, with wildlife photography, you just have to take what you get and make the best of it. I didn’t get the shots I really wanted, but that’s OK. It was still a great time and I’ll be back again.

A look at the viewing platform bathed in the early morning sunlight.

Another Trip to Lock & Dam 14

For the past three years, I've made the 5 hour drive to the north and east of where I live to photograph the eagles at Lock & Dam 14. Located along the Mississippi River in LeClaire, Iowa, this location is well-known as one of the best places to photograph these majestic birds in action. It's not necessarily because it has the highest number of eagles. The real magic is in how close you can get to the river where the eagles are fishing. 

Taken last year, this image shows the boardwalk right along the river. Most people were standing along the river bank or on the boat ramp downstream from here this year. 

This year was a bit different than the previous years. Last February, a winter storm took out two trees that had been a mainstay at Lock & Dam 14 for many years. Those trees are where the eagles liked to perch and fish from, and their location typically placed the eagles directly in front of a slew of photographers standing on the boardwalk above the river. It was a perfect setup.

This image, also taken last year, shows the two trees that were lost in the storm last February.

Last fall, replacement perches were installed to take the place of those trees. The new perches are basically power poles with some extra cross members for the eagles to sit on. So far, the eagles have not taken to the new perches. When I was there the third weekend in January, they were fishing from a cove just down-river from the boardwalk. The best place to view the action was from the boat ramps along the edge of the wooded area. That meant that the eagles were not as close most of the time, but the number of eagles was really good and the activity was the best of the three years that I've been there. 

This shows the poles that were installed to serve as perches. According to the locals, the eagles don't want anything to do with them. Hopefully, that will change.

This has been a much colder winter than the previous two, which may have contributed to the higher number of eagles. The weather the first day was perfect, with some good light to make photographing the eagles much easier. They move fast and a really fast shutter speed is required to freeze the action. Having good light is important so the ISO doesn't have to be so high. The second day was completely overcast, but the eagles seemed to be more active. On both days, the morning was the best time to capture some fishing activity. 

It turned out to be another really great trip to LeClaire. Hopefully the eagles will begin to use the new perches by the time I return next January. The new trees that were planted won't be large enough for them to use for many years. Either way, it's always a great time, especially to catch up with some old friends and make new ones. 

In case you're interested in learning more about Lock & Dam 14, I wrote much more detail about the history in my blog post from a couple years ago. You can click this link to find that post: https://rusty-parkhurst.squarespace.com/new-blog/2016/2/10/the-eagles-of-lock-dam-no-14

Now for more images. If you follow me on social media, you may have already seen most of these. Enjoy!

The competition is fierce among the eagles. When one catches a fish, there is at least one other eagle looking for an opportunity to take it away.

There were lots of catches...

...and a few misses.

Heading for the trees with his loot.

We had a nice sunrise the first day I was there.

The pelicans caught their share of fish, too.

Moving in for the kill.

And he dropped it!

Waiting for their chance to steal a fish.

And another miss.

Hope you enjoy the images. If you're ever in the LeClaire, Iowa area in January, stop by and maybe I'll see you there. Thanks for reading!