Best of 2016

For the past few years I have enjoyed following along with what has become an annual tradition for many photographers, the Jim Goldstein “Best of… Photo Project.” This is an opportunity for hobbyists, serious amateurs, and professionals alike to reflect on their work and experiences of the past year and to share a sampling (usually what they feel are their 5-10 best or favorite images) with the rest of us. It’s also a chance for photo lovers to discover new talents, make new friends, and join in camaraderie for networking and inspiration. Each season I look on with great appreciation for those who have shared their collections, and honestly every year for the past several I’ve had the intention of doing the same. You know how it goes, though. The holidays hit, I finally have a chance to catch my breath after a busy show season, I’m generally months behind in my edits; and somehow I manage to let the opportunity slip away. Until now, that is…

Somehow this year I am a just little more on top of things, at least in a photography sense. Now don’t let that fool you. I still have a couple thousand images from trips this summer and fall (Northern Rockies and New England) that I need to finish processing, and do believe there are a few gems in there that would have been included here if they were ready. I only disclose that because I don’t want any of my regular readers to grow concerned- in no way have I suddenly become organized or managed to entirely catch up! But I am at a point where I feel comfortable contributing this collection as a fair representation of my work from the past year. For good measure, I also put together an Honorable Mention series, which was posted the other night and can be viewed HERE. It’s never an easy task, selecting your favorite images, and even now I feel like maybe some of those should be swapped out for some of the shots you see here; but it’s all in fun so I’ll let the original selections stand.

That said, here is my inaugural contribution to the Jim Goldstein Photo Project. Many thanks to Mr. Goldstein for the great work he does in putting this together. Like I say, I’ve enjoyed looking on for years and am grateful for this chance to throw my work into the mix. And for anyone interested, once the submissions are gathered a list will be compiled with links to all of the entries. I’ll pass that along here and through my social media channels- so look for that in the coming weeks and prepare to be amazed by some of the awesome work that this project elicits.

And now, in chronological order, my Top 10 images of 2016…

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Tidal Stream, Newport Beach, California

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The Watchman, Zion National Park, Utah

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Old Barn, Yellow River State Forest, Iowa

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Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

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Malanaphy Springs State Preserve, Iowa

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Lake Macbride State Park, Iowa

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The University of Iowa, Iowa City

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Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

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Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine

 

Of course, with the reflection of a year passed it’s only natural to look ahead at what’s to come. 2017 is going to bring great change to my life, as my wife and I prepare to welcome our first child in just a few short weeks. What will this mean for my photography? Only time will tell. But while travel will certainly be limited and other priorities will soon dictate my day-to-day, I do intend to carry on in some capacity. I’ve always been a strong believer in living and leading by example, and I want my child to understand the necessity of passion and perseverance in life. When it comes to career success, nature photography is no easy gig. But I’m going to keep trying; keep working hard to improve and fighting to find a way- if for no reason other than proving to my child that we never give up on our dreams.

Happy New Years, Everyone!

2016 Honorable Mentions

After years of gawking and admiring from the shadows, I’ve decided to finally participate in the annual Jim Goldstein “Best of…” photo project. This is a really cool opportunity for photographers to showcase their work while networking, discovering, and drawing inspiration from that of others. It’s a pretty simple concept. Each year, photographers submit what they feel are their best 5-10 images from the preceding 12 months. Mr. Goldstein then compiles a list of all of the photographers who have submitted, and posts links to their galleries or blogs. Photo lovers can then spend hours or even days clicking through the many excellent showcases; marveling at all of the beautiful captures.
As I’ve tried this past week to select what I feel are my years best images, I’ve realized that this in itself is no easy feat. I’ve been pretty fortunate this year in getting to travel to some amazing places and I’ve taken in some truly wondrous sights. It’s difficult to narrow the thousands of resultant photos down to so few, especially with the emotion of experience involved. I think I’ve finally settled on my selection, and I’ll be sharing that post on New Years Eve. However, it has been awhile since I’ve released any new work (online, anyway…) or written on this blog, so as a little primer here is a collection of 2016 images that were in heavy consideration, but finished just outside of my top ten.

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Little Corona del Mar, Newport Beach, California

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Rock Creek, Cedar County, Iowa

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Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

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Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

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Lanesboro, Minnesota

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Glacier National Park, Montana

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Banff National Park, Alberta

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Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

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Swift River, New Hampshire

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Acadia National Park, Maine

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Tomorrow marks the start of my 7th season with the Iowa City Farmers Market. Back in the summer of 2010, having recently moved home after several years in Montana, I decided to take a chance and see if my photography might actually sell. Out west I’d come across photographers who created handmade note cards from their prints and sold them at the local Whitefish farmers market, so with my wife’s encouragement I decided to give that a try here.

For my first attempt, I made about fifteen cards. Cris and I were living in an apartment in Iowa City at the time, and I pulled two framed prints off of our living room wall. I had little intention of selling these, I just thought they would fill the table and make a nice display. Feeling the weight of my social anxiety, I convinced my sister Tiffany, who had also helped me secure a substitute vendor slot, to come and help me tend the booth. I had little expectation, but when the final whistle sounded that day I was almost out of cards and neither framed print would be returning to our apartment wall. It was enough to convince me to go ahead and give this thing a whirl…

Now here I am, several years later, still going strong. This will be my fifth season as a full time market vendor, I’m looking at some potential retail opportunities, and I’ve been accepted into a number of juried art shows across three states for this summer and fall. It hasn’t been easy- for every success there’s been plenty of rejection and heartbreak along the way- and I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. But at the start of each season, filled with excitement and apprehension, I take a minute to look back and remember how it all started with this table right here.

Maroon Bells

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This sun-soaked mountain scene comes from the Maroon Bells Wilderness of White River National Forest, just south of Aspen, Colorado. The Maroon Bells (the peaks on the right) are said to be the most photographed location in Colorado, and by some accounts possibly even all of North America. The vast majority of these photos depict sunrise reflections of the mountains on Maroon Lake; a gorgeous sight and what I had come to witness myself. (See photo below.) However, with the need to get to the lakeshore around 3 a.m. to stake out real estate (literally hundreds of photographers line the shore each morning during peak season) I arrived the afternoon before and spent some time scouting. It’s always kind of nice to visit well known “trophy shot” type locations like this in less than ideal light, because it forces you to look around, work different angles and take your own approach instead of shooting the obvious standard vantage that has been done thousands of times over. I did enjoy the more traditional Maroon Bells shoot the following morning and was pleased with the results, but was also happy to walk away with a handful of photos like this one which I felt were a little more my own.

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As mentioned in previous posts, this week I’m conducting a little experiment. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

 

And here is the more famous view of the Maroon Bells…

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Below the Fold

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March 27-

Getting back to my Photo of the Day posts with this shot from Orange County, California. I’ve shared a few versions of this before, but it continues to mesmerize me as I work through minor adjustments on this and other images, trying to decide on some new releases for the upcoming season. This one is especially poignant in that regard as I feel it’s very reflective of time. There’s just a certain mystique about it; a mix of something tangible yet really unknown. Kind of like standing in the present and trying to make sense of what’s in the future or what has passed; drifting through tangents of consciousness at the peril of missing out on the beauty of the moment. Such is time and such is life, and if you’re not careful either can get away from you.

On a lighter note, you might be wondering about the title of this post- “Below the Fold.” This is in reference to an old newspaper term, and the practice of putting the most eye-catching images or headlines on the top half of the front page, or above the fold, where it would be visible on the newsstand and enticing to potential readers. In this case, however, I’m curious how many of you actually look beyond.

The reason I’m wondering is lately I’ve been kind of reevaluating my online efforts and looking a little closer at the analytics that accompany this blog and my social media accounts. With this page in particular I’ve noticed some discrepancies that I’m trying to figure out- namely the fact that somehow my posts seem to receive more “likes” than “views.” For those of you not familiar with WordPress analytics, bloggers have access to limited information which provides a glimpse of how people are engaging with their sites. This includes various stats, but it’s primarily centered on how many times people have viewed blog posts and how many have expressed enjoyment by clicking a little star icon to indicate that they like what they see. (Much like the little thumbs up on Facebook, a heart on Instagram, etc.)

So how is it possible that people are liking my posts without viewing them? It’s not exactly a chicken or the egg scenario. I mean a person has to first view a blog post before they can decide they like it. Or do they?

I kind of have two theories as to what is going on here. A) The WordPress analytics are inaccurate or B) Other bloggers just go through and randomly “like” posts without actually viewing them.

As for the latter, WordPress has this thing called the Reader to help you find new content or follow the work of other bloggers. Basically it will show you the title of a post, a lead photo if there is one, and the first couple of lines a blogger has written. For whatever reason there is a “like” button attached to this preview. I’m not well versed in all of the functions of WordPress, but I’m assuming that a blog post only gets credit for a view if a person clicks on it to read beyond the preview, whereas it can get likes right on the spot.

So what does it matter? Nothing really, but it is a little bit frustrating to spend time on a blog post and realize that very few people are actually reading it. Beyond that, it seems kind of insincere to me that other bloggers would take this fly-by approach and I can’t help but wonder why. The only explanation I can think of is they’re “liking” the previews in hope of others turning around and actually looking at their own sites. Views and visits are important in this online world, arbitrary as it seems, especially if the occasion should ever present itself (jobs, sponsorships or freelance opportunities) where you need to demonstrate your digital relevance. There have been times when I’ve put out a 1,000 word blog post and within seconds of it going live I already have 12 likes, much faster than a person could have possibly read it. Even if those on the other end mean well, it’s always demoralizing to pour yourself into something and have someone brush over it and say “yeah, sure, that’s great…” without giving it a second thought.

So this is all my roundabout way of asking for your help. Like I said, I’m wondering how many people view my blog to read these posts in their entirety (aka below the fold) and how that compares to how many “likes” I get. If you’ve made it this far, please leave a comment below and let me know that you have. You don’t have to say much if you don’t want to… just write “Yes” or “Read it” or something to that effect. And if you have thoughts, insights or similar experiences you’d like to share, please feel free to mention those here as well.

It’s just a little experiment I’m conducting, and I’ll discuss what I learn in a post to come soon.

Lake Louise Bouquet

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March 24-

It seems this wild bouquet might be a good share on an otherwise nasty day here in Eastern Iowa. It’s especially frigid where I sit; as I listen not only to the driving rain against winter plastic still covering the windows of our old farmhouse, but also to clanging in the basement as the furnace repairman tries to get us heat again. It could be much worse- better the furnace go out during a 35 degree March cold snap than one in January when it’s 35 below! Still, if I thought I could type while wearing gloves I’d have them on right now…

This photo was taken in August 2011 while my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Canada’s Banff National Park. Truly one of the most beautiful places in the world, and a spot we hope to return to soon. I mentioned in a previous post that I have a number of files that were shot long ago that are in need of revisiting, as they’ve never been properly processed. Those from this trip, which included stops at four of Canada’s National Parks, are among them. At the time I was just beginning to learn the ins and outs of digital photography, and while I didn’t yet have editing capabilities (i.e. computer and software) I knew that I’d eventually go in that direction. Therefore, I shot in a mode called JPEG + RAW which saves two file versions of every photo.

When the camera saves a JPEG file it basically makes the editing decisions for you, providing a fairly polished, fairly final product. When you shoot in RAW the camera basically saves a whole bunch of conditional information, leaving it up to you to edit and process to your liking. This gives the photographer far more control over their final image.

There’s a little bit of a stigma people have toward “computer enhanced” images. In reality, all digital photography is computer enhanced to a degree, it’s just a matter of if it’s done by the photographer or by the processor inside a camera. People hear of photographers editing or processing and jump to the conclusion that this somehow means we are manipulating our images. The term “Photoshop,” while itself a popular editing software has become synonymous with acts like patching a giant purple moon above a rainbow spanning a backlit waterfall. (Unicorns and stardust optional.) While it is true that modern technology makes such creations possible, it falls on the photographer and his or her own sense of ethics and integrity to decide where to draw the line.

Personally, I believe in presenting photos that are as close to how the scene really looked as possible. I believe there is abundant beauty and enchantment in the natural world as it is without alteration. In a photo such as this one (which has been processed from its original RAW file) I made adjustments to brighten and add some contrast to the overall scene. I also made the decision at the time it was shot to use a slightly longer exposure to allow motion blur in the stream. Without these choices, the image would appear flat, lifeless and dull, which is in no way representative of how things appeared in real life.

Just something to think about next time you hear a photographer speak of editing, and something I’ve been wanting to clarify in case anyone has questioned times I’ve mentioned it myself. All digital photography, from that shot on top end DSLR’s to what you shoot on a cell phone is computer enhanced. It’s all a function of processing, just as it was in the days of film. The burden falls on the photographer to decide on the level of honesty in their work.

World Water Day

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 Kootenai River, Montana

March 22-

Happy World Water Day! Today as we recognize and celebrate the vitality of water and the importance it plays in every facet of life, we also must face the grim reality that over 660 MILLION people worldwide lack healthy access to this most precious resource. That’s something easily overlooked in developed nations where we fight wars over oil, waste millions of gallons of water on carefully manicured lawns and give little thought to countless other practices that reflect how badly our priorities are askew. A change of course is imperative. Our practices are unsustainable, and a wholesale social refocusing needs to occur on several fronts.

First of all, we need to support both government and philanthropic efforts to address the issues of water access- at home and abroad. This includes well construction and sanitation projects in developing nations, where often people must forego schooling and other productive daily pursuits because of the inordinate amount of time devoted to gathering clean water. We also need to consider our aging infrastructure in developed nations. Crumbling, out-dated methods of conveyance not only leak (wasting freshwater and the energy used to pump it) but contaminates such as lead can also create public health emergencies as we’ve recently seen in Flint, Michigan. It’s very easy for us here in the United States to take clean water for granted, but without a concerted effort and investment in maintaining the systems that allow us access, Flint will merely be the writing on the wall.

Along those same lines of not taking water for granted, we must alter our consumption habits. Of course I’m not talking about drinking less water. The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water for household purposes each day, most of which is not ingested. Instead we take long showers, excessively flush toilets, and leave the faucets flowing while brushing our teeth. We’re obsessed with green grass and shiny dust free cars to the point of judgement toward anyone who dares deviate from this social standard. In these examples, it’s easy to come up with home remedy type solutions for how we can cut water usage; and in fact, we absolutely should! But in addition, people need to be more conscientious of other practices that are extremely water intensive, such as industry and agriculture, and alter consumption habits with this in mind as well. Consider all the plastics that we use. Massive amounts of water is needed to produce it. Think about how much food we throw out and the water that was irrigated to grow it. This is yet another case of how we can lessen our environmental impact by not being so damn wasteful.

Finally we need to do everything within our power to protect our natural water sources. We need to be mindful of chemical disposal, yard care applications, and what we allow to wash down storm drains. We need to support organic food production and responsible agricultural practices in order to limit the amount of nitrates and pesticides entering our waterways. We need to protect our aquifers, rivers, lakes and streams from contamination by mining and energy production. And we need to do away with corrupt politicians who are clearly in the pockets of big ag and big industry, working to invalidate safeguards such as the Clean Water Act.

Freshwater is not an infinite resource, but it is infinitely necessary. It’s time we act accordingly.