Here we are again and for once, this year it wasn’t too hard for me to pick. Sometimes I agonize, but this year I didn’t. I looked through my catalog and because I almost always rate a photo between 1 and 5 stars, it was pretty easy and I didn’t spend any time dithering. Mostly because it doesn’t really matter. Nothing is riding on this. No cash prizes. No all-expenses paid vacations. Just my photos and my memories of the times I had creating them.
Maybe it’s my recent medical issues that have caused me to be so pragmatic about it, but I’ve had worse and still vacillated. So, for what it’s worth, here is my best work for the year, in order they were taken and so we start with some snow.
If you’ve been following the blog, you know the reverence I felt while exploring the Mandan Village in North Dakota. Even removed by a year I still feel that way. My happiness with the pictures I took had more to do with my solitude and the light than my approach or execution, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I worked with what I had and what I had was great.
From the tone and atmosphere of this next one, you’d have no idea it was the same day, but it was. Coming in on the plane I noticed strange shadows behind houses and other buildings. The closer I got I realized they were made by the blowing snow. The wind is so fierce with nothing to block it in North Dakota, it piles and shapes the snow in distinct patterns. And it comes with very little warning as it did on the day I visited. One hour it was sunny and the sky was blue and the next it was like this. I love the bleak feeling and the way the near hills frame this lone tree with the farther hills faded away into the horizon. There’s a tiny scrim of sunlight still left in the scene, giving texture to the grass. One of my best landscapes for sure.
There is a lot of wildlife around here and I often find myself shooting through the windows of my house. Not a lot of success there to tell the truth, but the day a fox woke up in my side yard and caught breakfast was different. I got the shot. Not just one, but a darn good series of this gorgeous canid that graced my morning. Even though I didn’t get any photos of it catching and killing this squirrel (the deck railing was in the way), I got this one of it taking it away to eat in privacy. I was so startled to see it curled up on the snow sleeping and I’m shocked I was as successful as I was with shooting out the window. Focus is good, exposure is good and because it’s walking there’s some animation and life. And death, too, but frankly that’s what squirrels are for – lots of predators are dependent on them and because they’re rodents there will always be more.
And now an area of the country almost directly south – Louisiana. A place I’d never been before, but one I’m planning to go back to in November (more swamp!!). This was my first day at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (phew!) and it was pretty great. I set out early and explored in a very leisurely fashion. When it started to rain I stuck it out for a while, standing under a palm tree in my Goretex waiting for it to pass. That’s when I got this shot. I love it because it was raining and I don’t often shoot in the rain even though my camera can totally take it. And the composition isn’t bad. The light either. I did eventually seek shelter in the visitor’s center for a while.
Another from the same trip to Louisiana, this time on a day-tour in a kayak. Even though it was relatively cold and my feet got to be freezing because they were so wet, I loved it. Bald cypress trees are amazing and so odd. They fascinate me and I even though there wasn’t a lot of color for this sunrise, the clouds were so dramatic that I couldn’t get a bad shot here. The stillness, the light, the trees and sky – all conspired to let me get this dramatic image.
Oh and hey, will you look at that, more cypress swamp. This was later in the day as my guide led me deep into a side channel from the man-made canal (that’s above). This is a real bayou and so magical my head practically spun off my shoulders from my looking around. We didn’t go much deeper than this, but I love this one for its stillness and the reflection with the bendy tree. You know how I love a bendy tree. It was only March, but so far south that the greenery was well advanced and I was starved for it I can tell you.
And now for something completely different – an abandoned house. Yeah sure, the state is loaded with them and I’ve passed this one maybe a hundred times always meaning to shoot it before it falls down completely. That day came when the fog came. I had no idea there would be this great puddle, too, but the reflection totally makes this shot and I’m glad I had the presence of mind to use it well. My processing knowledge helped me keep the mood I wanted without making it seem to cartoonish. Oh and it was raining slightly for this shot, too. You can see a raindrop or two in the water.
More travel pictures! You probably got totally bored with my Portugal pictures, but I hope not. It’s a beautiful country that was a pleasure to visit and I shot more than I ever have on a vacation. That meant a lot of blog posts, but also a lot of chances for great shots. This one I’m proud of because while it is in a popular tourist attraction in Sintra, it’s off the beaten path there. Between the main ‘road’ that winds to the top of the hill to the palaces, are dozens of smaller paths with stairs and windy bits and then there was this. Arches! I have no idea if they were created by the crazy people with the crazy landscape architect or if they were a natural product, but either way I love how unusual and like a fairy land they look. I don’t know how many people visit this place and hardly see any of it, but I was happy to explore the nooks and crannies.
Another one from Portugal, this time from the banks of the Duoro river. We took a traditional Rabelo boat up river and I practically fell overboard taking pictures of all the abandoned houses and other buildings on the banks. I didn’t have much time to shoot this one as everyone was already in the bus, but I got this angle and I love it. It’s dramatic and different and arresting. Not having a lot of time forced me to capture something memorable and I rose to the challenge.
Back home we go. This year I did more kayaking than usual and that was because I wanted to explore some undeveloped lakes in Vilas and Oneida counties. It takes a little time to get to them, but they are worth it. Not just for the peace found on lakes without people, but because of the wildlife. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a wild eagle and I was awed and humbled that it let me so near. There was one other person on the water with me (far away) and some loons were calling while I photographed this amazing bird, but it didn’t seem to mind. I chose this one from the set because of the pose and the angle. Not knowing it was so patient, I shot like crazy and of course couldn’t keep the boat in one place. I didn’t want to scare it, but I still got good focus and exposure. Phew! I see eagles at least once a week and often from the backyard or the windows, but they’re still special and awe-inspiring, especially up close. Thank you beautiful bird!
More kayaking! This one is special because it was my birthday and it was another undeveloped lake. I love drifting in the shallows under trees and that’s just what I was doing for this. The clouds moved in, but it was still relatively calm giving me that reflection. The processing is maybe a touch dramatic, but I like it. It’s balanced and has depth.
More wildlife photography from a kayak. This time a very tiny bird. I was doing a thing I love which is to leave the main channel of the Spirit river and paddle into the woods and just kind of sit. When I do this, I notice all kinds of things and if I’m lucky, the wildlife comes to me. Like this little lady. I noticed her flitting in the trees on the edge of the water and she landed on a branch over my head and at a really awkward angle to photograph. So I just watched her. She buzzed off, but returned and this time closer. Luckily I had the 35-100mm lens on the camera because when she landed just over my bow and looked over her shoulder, I got her. This is hardly cropped at all. She’s like 3 feet in front of me. I can’t take the credit for that (red boat), but I can take the credit for good focus, exposure and composition. All in just a few seconds. I’m amazed I had it in me.
Another from the boat. This one I just love looking at. It didn’t take any great skill to produce, but it is a pleasing image to me. Lots of colors and shapes. I used a polarizer to bring up the intense green of the lily pads, but managed to keep the whites in the flower from blowing out. Actually there are more flowers in there – watershield, which is named for the leaves that basically do this – completely cover the surface where they grow. It’s part of why being on the water is so wonderful for me. I’m surrounded by beauty.
You might recognize this from my many posts about the Spirit river. In 2019 we had a lot of rain and snow melt that kept the river high and wide. This channel is one I’ve never seen before. Normally the way into it is too shallow and blocked by branches and trees. With the water high, I could zip right in, but once I was, I stopped zipping. Like a great cathedral is to many religious people, this channel is to me. I feel connected to the earth in places like this. It makes me feel special, too, since probably hardly anyone else has been here. The soft light, the leaning trees, the turning of the foliage colors, the stillness of the water – all of it fills me with peace and gratitude that I get to experience it. And yeah, I did a pretty good job with all the photographer stuff, too.
I didn’t spend all my time on the water, but I do spend a lot of time near it. This is the Devil’s Kettle in Rusk county. I managed to take quite a few good photos of it while on a group hike back in October. Usually I’d do these shots with a tripod, but I didn’t have one with me so handheld it was. The others hung out and chatted while I shot and shot and found this angle on the way back out to the cars. I like the composition and the colors and will be making another trip to the area to shoot this and other cool stuff nearby.
More fall photography, but with a difference – fog! I’d planned to visit this stretch of woods anyway, but the fog just kicked things up another rung. It adds so much mystery and emphasizes the shapes of the tree trunks. This little patch of over-browsed woods lent itself to some great compositions and of course – a bendy tree! There are just enough trees with leaves left to signal autumn, but it’s still not a typical fall shot. Oddly it’s also handheld. I just decided to go that way when I got there and it worked well; leaving me free to really move through the environment and feel more connected to it.
There you have it – my best 16 photos for the year. I may do a runner’s up post or something like it if I can’t get out and shoot soon, but I don’t know. I’ll play it by ear.
I have a few ideas for stretching myself a little next year. One in particular that I can do in a kayak or on my feet so that’s good. My usual photography is exploring Wisconsin so there will be a lot of that. I have lists of preserves to hike and lakes to paddle. Not sure where we will go on vacation this year, but I’m sure that will be good. If we don’t do a wine tour like the last couple years, I have an idea to go to Olympic National park. Still up in the air. And I have one photo workshop already booked for the fall so I hope I can do my best for that, too.
Lots of opportunity to put great things in front of my lens!