This is the seventh edition of my annual “best images” postings and, in many ways, it was one of the most difficult. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve likely read that my wife desperately needs a kidney transplant. As I write this, she’s beginning her 16th month on dialysis. As her caregiver, my travel was extremely limited. I worked incredibly hard to make every one of those days count and even harder to create opportunities at home. Looking back, I believe that this year’s group of select images is as strong as ever.
Before we get to the images, however, please let me make a plea for kidney donation. There are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. who are in the same position as my wife and only about 20,000 kidneys become available each year. In our state, there is about a four-year wait unless one finds a living donor. Many people can donate a kidney with no long-term health impacts. If you are interested in donating, you’re assigned a medical team whose only job is to find a reason for you to not donate. If you are cleared, you are a truly special person who can make a dramatic difference in someone’s life. If you would like to help my wife, please call the hospital's transplant center at 206-341-1201 on behalf of Jennifer Owen. You don’t need to be in the Seattle area or even a matching blood type. The hospital has organized a number of exchanges where lives of several people across the country have been saved by one selfless person stepping forward.
And now the images. (You can click or tap on any of these images to enlarge them.)
The image at the top of this post certainly drew the most attention. It’s the Super Blood Moon over Mount Rainier. Lunar eclipses are not especially rare. Some years have had two. This eclipse drew massive media attention because it happened as the moon was at its closest point to Earth, making it appear more than 10 percent larger than usual. For nature photography, however, it was more special in another regard. In Washington, the eclipse was just reaching totality as the moon rose above the horizon at sunset, providing a rare opportunity to photograph the blood red moon with a landscape that was still bathed in the red light of sunset. Almost all of the other eclipses I’ve seen happened in the middle of the night where it’s nearly impossible to combine the moon with a landscape.
People from the Midwest like to tell people from other parts of the country that they have no right to complain about bitter cold winters. And as someone from the Pacific Northwest who finally experienced part of a Midwest winter, I will now admit that they are right. After all, their winters are cold enough to freeze our continent’s largest lakes. Even more spectacular than that, however, is how the Great Lakes actually freeze. Sheets of ice form on the surface of the lake and then strong winds break those sheets and blow the icy layers into piles. This process repeats until the entire lake is frozen, leaving gorgeous ice sculptures near some shorelines. I found this on the southern edge of Lake Superior, about a half-mile from land.
It’s also cold enough for waterfalls to freeze, although my arrival brought warmer weather. At first, I cursed my luck — who curses warmth? — but I think it actually made for a stronger image. As the ice thinned in places, it refracted light differently, creating an array of stunning colors. This is the backside of the mostly frozen LaSalle Canyon Falls in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois.
For some wildlife photographers getting the image involves hiding; you get the image because the animals don’t realize you’re there. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I prefer to win their acceptance. It’s not easy to do but it can result in truly precious images when it does happen. Like this scene from the Seattle Arboretum. I was photographing the patterns of the rhododendron trunks and was stunned when I practically walked into this barred owl. It looked at me and then went back to sleep.
The Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina used to be a barren wasteland. Wildfires and poor agriculture and logging practices had stripped the land of its vegetation and wildlife. Restoration efforts began in 1939 and the refuge is now home to several endangered species, including the very rare red-cockaded woodpecker. I did get to see several woodpeckers, but was even more drawn to the ponds teeming with yellow-bellied slider turtles (you have to look close to see them). The low-angled lighting and some red vegetation added to the scene.
This year, I resumed work on my Legends of the Land series, an ongoing project to combine contemporary nature photography with ancient native legends. I created this image to illustrate a great story that involves Douglas fir cones providing cover for mice escaping a forest fire. This is one of the very few images in my career that I’ve staged. I experimented with fire photography early in the year and in the spring a very good friend allowed me to turn part of his yard into a set. A "making of" image is at the bottom of this post. (The burn marks in his yard lasted all summer.)
Another project has involved documenting the daily migration of more than 10,000 crows that roost in a very small part of Bothell, Washington. During the day they scatter all over the greater Seattle area in groups of a dozen or so. As the sun sets, they all return to the roost over the course of about a half hour. At times, the sky can nearly be blacked out by the black birds. Of all the crow images, however, I’m especially proud of this one. The three crows here are waiting in the fog for the rest to arrive. It’s a color image, but looks almost black-and-white. I also like the peaceful design.
Nooksack Falls is a nearly 100-foot waterfall that drops into a narrow gorge in Washington’s North Cascades. When photographing a waterfall, the usual temptation is to try to capture the entire thing, which I’ve done many times. This time, however, I was drawn to detail. This is a tiny section of the falls, probably not more than 5 or 6 feet tall, but I loved how this section balanced wonderfully with the rock — almost a yin and yang.
Speaking of details, here’s a small section of a tree stump that was submerged for 100 years. A prolonged drought drained Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend, Washington, of much of its water, exposing this stump to air for the first time in a century. With a casual glance, it looks like an ordinary stump, but if you look closer you see unusual colors, including flecks of gold, that are a product of being under water for so long.
This image is a weather opposite. After a very dry summer, a heavy rainstorm had Wallace Falls in the Cascades of Washington state producing enough mist for a bright rainbow. I waited a few hours for the sun to shine in the right spot to trigger the rainbow. As I began the hike, it didn’t appear the sun was ever going to shine through the clouds so I ended up at the falls hours before the ideal late-afternoon light.
One of the things that I love most about the Pacific Northwest is that mountains and the ocean — or at least a huge saltwater sound — are always within easy reach. Getting them both in one image, however, is a bit more challenging. I’ve wandered out on a fishing pier in Edmonds, Washington, numerous times to photograph sea birds or the Olympics, but on this cold morning, I turned the camera north toward Mount Baker. The fog layer and gulls add interest, but otherwise this is a relatively simple image that reflects what I love about the area.
Finally, this image looks like a simple close-up of a waterfall, but I photographed it because of the contrast between the vertical streaks of water and the horizontal layers of rock. I didn’t notice it at the time, but people who’ve seen the image have thought it was actually a water fountain. It is, in fact, a waterfall, located in Matthiessen State Park, Illinois.
(Learn more about Kevin Ebi's newest book, Living Wilderness, the first comprehensive portfolio of his fine-art images and download a free preview. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram .)
And, as promised, here's the behind-the-scenes image of the flaming Douglas fir cone session: