Once more, I find myself in a humble place looking back at my photos with a critical eye. For some of us, year end is a time of reckoning when we pause to ask ourselves some tough questions. What have I accomplished in the last year? How can I improve my craft? Where should I photograph in 2019? These questions rise to the top of my list, as I search backwards and forwards for answers to all things.
Each year, there seems to be a new crop of talented photographers pushing the envelope with fresh perspectives and techniques. For those of us who’ve been around for a while, this can be inspiring and intimidating at the same time, making us wonder if our time has passed. Am I like the Impressionist painter who continues pushing unfashionable art in the new age of Symbolism? That paranoia usually eases when I reason that obsolescence has much less to do with age and experience, and far more to do with attitude. As long we’re willing to learn, adapt, and reinvent ourselves, our contributions are unlikely to become obsolete.
Photographing outside my home base a few times a year is a way for me to keep my work fresh and exciting. This year, I made three big forays outside the Country. The first was to the Canadian Rockies in January — a journey to a snowy wonderland. The second trip was to southern coast of England in spring, one that included photography in the seaside counties of Cornwall and Dorset. And the last was to the rugged Westfjords of Iceland with friends in July, followed by a memorable expedition to photograph the icebergs in western Greenland. You’ll see photos from all these places along with photos of New England in this collection.
So, here we go again with my top twenty picks of the year. This exercise is rarely easy but always invigorating, stirring up pleasant memories and sentiments along the way. As usual, I limited the list to twenty for purely arbitrary reasons, if only to force myself to evaluate more carefully. Below each photo, I also include a behind-the-scenes narrative on the making of the image for those who might be interested in background information.
Wishing you all a Happy Holiday Season and a most rewarding 2019!
EMERALD LAKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. Emerald Lake is the largest lake in Yoho National Park, surrounded by beautiful mountains that include Mount Burgess here in the background. We came on a beautiful afternoon in January and stayed well past dusk. I set up for this composition just after sunset, eager to capture a calm reflection of the building on the lake surface. But the ducks had other plans. For a long time after sunset, a playful group of ducks paddled around these calm waters with gusto, creating large ripples that completely ruined any hope of reflection. The ducks seemed to be enjoying themselves, dipping, flipping, and flapping with wild abandon. Most of my photos from that evening include ducks and ripples. As the “blue hour” began to fade, I gave up hope and began packing my camera bag. Then, the ducks mysteriously disappeared. I hurriedly took a few more photos before it got too dark, including this one of a mirror reflection free of the exuberant duck family. By the way, the lit cabin is a free-standing restaurant owned by the Emerald Lake Lodge.
VERMILLION LAKES, ALBERTA, CANADA. I’ve been to the Canadian Rockies in both summer and late autumn before, but our January visit was by far the most productive. In winter, these gorgeous mountains and trees are snow-covered, and there are very few tourists. The lakes are usually covered with ice as well, except in places exposed by hot springs. We arrived here for sunrise, searching for a low composition that would include a reflection. We soon found this tree trunk at the edge of a hot spring, giving us a great leading line toward Mount Rundle in the distance as well as a nice water reflection. All we had to do is wait for the sun to light the clouds and reflecting pool. This 30-second exposure remains one of my personal favorites from the trip.
BOW RIVER, ALBERTA, CANADA. The Bow River originates from the Bow Glacier, winding its way through the Alberta foothills and prairies. We hiked out to a bend in the river at dawn, hoping to capture color in the sky. While much of the river is frozen in winter, parts of the water remain exposed, thus making reflections possible. We were not disappointed. As the sun rose to meet the horizon, it lit the clouds in vibrant hues of orange, while casting a colorful reflection in the calm bend of the river. I placed my tripod low to the the ground and used a wide lens to capture a circular sweep of the river with the reflection and mountains in the background.
PEACHAM, VERMONT. The village of Peacham is one of my go-to places, especially in winter after fresh snowfall. I hiked out into a farmer’s field on snowshoes at dawn for this photo, waiting for the sun to clear the mountains. It was a cold morn in early February — the kind that sends chimney smoke spiraling up into the air in slow motion. As the sun crossed over the horizon, it cast a pleasant orange glow upon the morning sky.
BASS HARBOR HEAD LIGHT, MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, MAINE. This famous lighthouse is crowded with tourists in summer and autumn, but I was here alone on this cold March evening. I arrived before sunset and set up my tripod low on the rocks at water’s edge. This is my favorite composition of the lighthouse. From this spot, I was able to include several photo elements: the full lighthouse unencumbered by trees; the textured granite rocks with fingers that seem to be pointing at the lighthouse; a clear reflection of the tower in a tidal pool; the residual color of twilight along the horizon; the crescent moon descending at dusk; the stars sparkling in the blue twilight sky; and, the subtle red glow of the bright lantern upon the trees and rocks.
ROUND BOULDERS, CORNWALL, ENGLAND. In May, I joined a group of friends on the southern coast of England. This isolated beach in Cornwall is covered with rounded boulders of all sizes. Apparently, these rocks are so tempting as souvenirs that they’re now illegal to take away. The smooth rocks are the work of sea action some 120,000 years ago. Reaching the beach required walking over a thick blanket of wet seaweed that caused me to slip and slide down the final stretch to the rocks on my rump! Having recovered bits of my pride, I set up my tripod over the rocks to emphasize their shape. As the sun crested the horizon, I took a 72-second exposure to smooth out the surf as distant sea stacks rise near the center of the frame.
PIER REMNANTS, DORSET, ENGLAND. After Cornwall, a few of us went on to the county of Dorset. A local photographer and friend graciously agreed to be our guide and driver throughout our visit (thanks again, Rob). We had scouted this old pier in the southeast of Dorset earlier in the week, with plans to return for sunrise. On our last day in Dorset, we drove the hour from our hotel in Dorchester to reach the pier by dawn. But when we pulled up, we discovered that access to the pier had been blocked by construction equipment, fences, and warning signs. Undeterred, we made our way down to an adjacent boatyard with a side view of the old pier. From there, we tried our best to find a composition that would salvage the shoot. With heavy haze in the air, the rising sun nicely colored the scene in hues of orange. The haze also made it possible to include the sun in the frame without significant exposure problems. A passing sailboat entered the scene on the left side in the nick of time, as I positioned the sun and its reflection between two old pylons on the right side.
LUPINES IN THE NIGHT, WHITE MOUNTAINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE. In early June, parts of the White Mountains are in bloom with pink, white, purple, and blue lupines. This time around, I chose to take a night photo with the lupines as the center of attraction. Each year, this remote and quiet lake is host to an abundant and vibrant lupine population, so I arrived in the afternoon to find a composition that would include both the Milky Way and pristine lupines. Returning around sunset, I proceeded to set up the shot and take test photos while it was still light enough to see. It then became a five-hour waiting game involving a lot of standing around in the dark. I took the 1st photo at dusk, while I could still use reasonable camera settings to ensure sharp and motionless lupines (no artificial light was used). Then, I waited until 1am for the Milky Way to shift into the desired position before taking the 2nd set of photos. The frames were later blended in post-processing to yield this final image.
CLAM TREES, CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS. I warn you that this photo may cause momentary confusion. Are those real trees in the ocean? Yes, they’re called “clam trees” and their purpose is to mark the waterway going in and out of the harbor. The young pine trees (now quite dead) are placed in the channel at the beginning of each summer to aid navigation. I took this photo in June as the sun descended toward the horizon. I used a long lens to compress the scene and enlarge the sun in this 30-second exposure. What you don’t see here is all the demented calisthenics and desperate swatting going on behind the camera. That’s because, on a windless summer evening, the sand flies are unmerciful in this place. Huge swarms of the miniature buggers seem immune to the usual bug deterrents, so desperate folks try to fend them off by jumping, running, swatting, and swinging their limps in twisted poses. Pity the fool who dares step on this beach in swimwear at dusk.
ROCKY COAST, OGUNQUIT, MAINE. In summer, the sun rises in alignment with these shapely rock formations along the coast of Ogunquit. I love the form of these rocks — their pointed contours remind me of miniature Alps. I had driven the hour to shoot sunrise here but ended up preferring the pastel light of dawn. I wore knee-high rubber boots to stand in the surf as waves washed up at my feet, always vigilant for rogue waves. I took the photo in late June around 4:45am and made it home in plenty of time for an early breakfast.
HILL OF LUPINES, WESTFJORDS, ICELAND. I had the pleasure of traveling with friends to the Westfjords of Iceland in July. Although this was my 4th visit to the rugged Country, I had never been to the large peninsula that sits on the Denmark Strait and faces the east coast of Greenland. The Westfjords are considered to be the oldest part of Iceland, with verdant stretches of ancient and untouched landscapes, but a low population count. The region has an abundance of large lupine fields in summer, some overlooking fjords like this one near the village of Thingeyri (where we stayed). We pulled off the gravel road on the snaking mountain pass to photograph this glorious scene, with a large field of blue lupines carpeting the entire side of the hill and late-day sunlight scattering across the top of mountains along the fjord.
SHIPWRECK, WESTFJORDS, ICELAND. Summer is the time of the “midnight sun” in Iceland. In July, the sun sets around midnight and rises again just a few hours later. We had driven by this shipwreck on our way to the guesthouse, and decided to come back for sunset that evening. It turned out to be the most spectacular sunset of the trip. The sky first turned orange, gradually changing to deep reds as the night wore on. And it remained colorful for hours as the cycle slowly shifted from sunset to twilight and then sunrise again. This is the oldest steel ship in Iceland, deliberately beached here in 1981. It was launched as a whaling vessel the same year that the Titanic sunk, and had now served as a monumental foreground for our photos.
PUFFIN, WESTFJORDS, ICELAND. Latrabjarg is the largest sea-bird cliff in Europe and one of the most spectacular in the world. The cliffs span over 5 miles long and rise up to 1400 feet, with fragile and loose edges that pose danger to humans. The gravel road leading to Latrabjarg is a challenge all its own, best traveled in a 4WD vehicle with a good suspension and passengers with nerves of steel. The puffins tend to be fearless and tame here since no predator can reach them on the cliff face, so we were able to get quite close to the birds. The best time to photograph the puffins is just before sunset, when the birds fly back to their nests after a day of hunting at sea. I took this photo as the puffin flapped its wings to cool off after flying back to the cliffs.
ICEBERGS, DISKO BAY, GREENLAND. Disko Bay lies near the village of Ilulissat on the west coast of Greenland. The area is recognized as a Mecca for iceberg chasers. The Kangia glacier (located nearby) is among the most prolific glaciers in the world, releasing a large quantity of icebergs into Disko Bay. I traveled with friends to this part of Greenland in July, where we joined up with another group to photograph icebergs from a 20-person sailboat. It was an adventure I will never forget. I took this photo from our sailboat at around 1:45am as the sun began to rise again. The red sailboat in the photo was one of the two boats at our disposal — we often included its stunning red sails in the shot for contrast. The waters of Disko Bay are sheltered by the Kangia Icefjord, making for smooth water that often reflects back the breathtaking scenery.
RED SAILS, DISKO BAY, GREENLAND. I took this photo of our sister ship at around 1am, as the setting sun approached the horizon. The scene was backlit as gentle sea fog encircled a group of icebergs that reminded me of Egyptian pyramids along the Nile River. Glacial ice comes in all shapes and sizes, and there was an abundance of small iceberg chunks in this part of Disko Bay, as you can see in the foreground. Our young Russian sailboat captain was very careful to navigate around the bigger ice chunks to avoid damaging the hull, while sailing right through smaller pieces that thudded off the steel hull with alarm.
TRADITIONAL COSTUME, OQAATSUT, GREENLAND. Oqaatsut is a small village in western Greenland with only about 50 inhabitants engaged in the fishing trade. The only access to the village is by sea, and when the bay is covered in ice during winter, the village can only be reached by helicopter. We sailed to the Inuit village one afternoon to experience a traditional dinner along with a demonstration of Greenlandic costumes. The lovely woman in the photo is modeling the traditional (and expensive) costume she wears on special occasions. I took the photo near sunset as the model looked out over the bay amidst a beautiful late-day sky.
AUTUMN PATH, BAR HARBOR, MAINE. In autumn, the trees that frame this path in Acadia National Park turn bright yellow in color. And those yellow leaves create a beautiful contrast against the white bark and green undergrowth. I came here early on a Saturday morning and it was already crowded with tourists and photographers. Nevertheless, it’s a stereotypical New England scene not to be missed.
NAUSET LIGHT, CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS. Nauset Light is located in Eastham, Massachusetts. The red and white lighthouse is featured on one of the Massachusetts license plates. I’ve photographed this place many times in the past, but never under such ideal conditions. The sun sets behind the lighthouse only in autumn, so the window of opportunity for a backlit shot like this is somewhat limited. At that time of year, the underbrush also takes on orange and red hues that serve to beautify the foreground. I had tried to photograph sunset from here on the prior day, but the color was dull. So, I came back the next day only to hit this jackpot.
NAUSET MARSH, CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS. I make a point of going back to Cape Cod regularly just to photograph the marshes. In autumn, the marsh grasses turn a golden color, especially when lit by the early morning or late afternoon sun. Nauset Marsh dominates the east side of Eastham — it’s one of my favorite places on the Cape. I took this photo at sunrise in early November as the sun cleared the horizon. I positioned my tripod at the end of a large tidal pool to include a reflection of the orange sky and mottled clouds.
RED COVERED BRIDGE, NORTHFIELD, VERMONT. This wooden bridge spans over the Dog River in Vermont. It’s been on my winter bucket list for years, so it was gratifying to finally capture the scene in fresh snow. In fact, it was still snowing lightly when I arrived in the early hours of a late November morning. The bridge was built in 1872 and is one of five surviving 19th-century covered bridges in this town. I like the simplicity and serenity of this image. It could almost pass as a black-and-white photo were it not for the red covered bridge.