Welcome to the annual post of my top images from the year. Despite all the challenges 2020 dished out, there is still a lot of beauty in the world. The year helped me see how much there is within a few miles of my home.
I have never traveled as little as I have this year. I spent the first week of the year in Yellowstone National Park. My photography for the rest of the year consisted of images of my yard, my neighborhood, and the occasional day trip. Rather than being limiting, I have found staying close to home to be an incredible creative exercise.
I do not mean to minimize how utterly terrible 2020 has been. While my family and close friends have managed to stay healthy, I know many have not been as fortunate. Even if your health is fine, maybe your finances are not. I can sympathize as the arts were hit hard.
It’s easy to get down, but the moments in nature have brought me a lot of joy over the past year. I hope this collection of my best images of 2020 will bring you a moment of relief, too. Here are a dozen favorites in color and a bonus in black-and-white. You can click or tap on an image to enlarge it and see options for buying prints.
This was a literal bright spot of 2020. Comet NEOWISE seemed to come out of nowhere. I monitor forecasts for comets that are likely to put on displays. NEOWISE didn’t even appear as one worth watching until there were already reports of it shining through the twilight sky. (The comets that were expected to dazzle us turned out to be duds.) I spent much of July creating different images that featured the comet. This is from the night I spent watching it move across the sky above Mount Rainier. You can see other pictures in the comet series here.
I made my first wintertime journey to Yellowstone National Park this year — and I got the full winter experience. It seemed almost every day there was another heavy snowfall, which made photography somewhat challenging. But I had quality time with coyotes and moose and I got to see bison in a new light. The snow didn’t slow them down. They’re specially equipped to push it out of the way.
Deception Pass in Washington state always delivers impressive views, but this image began with the clouds. I loved how the cirrus clouds streaked away from the horizon. I went to Deception Pass because I knew the shape of the strait would somewhat mirror the pattern in the sky.
I have photographed barred owls many times. That familiarity and the lack of pressure to come up with an image gave me the freedom to experiment with a more creative approach. And this one was in a park just a few miles from my home. The light was fading, but I liked the way it brushed across the owl especially when the bird turned to the side. I used my strongest lens and a magnifying teleconverter to create a very tight portrait of the owl. You can read more about my thought process here.
The Seattle area is not known for particularly brilliant displays of fall color. It’s in the “Evergreen State,” after all. But we do get some and one of my goals this year was to capture as many different colors as I could in a single image. I wanted to create a photograph that was more like a modern art painting than a traditional representation of fall color.
I’m proud of the fact that such an ordinary subject, like mallard ducks, could qualify as one of my best images. This image is not the work of Photoshop. Rather, it takes advantage of one of the limitations of powerful telephoto lenses. Essentially, the more a lens magnifies, the less depth there is to its focus. While appreciating the simple beauty of ducks in golden fog, I noticed that there was dew clinging to the leaves of a plant. I positioned the plant between the ducks and me. To the camera, the dew drops appeared as out-of-focus circles of light, adding a little magic to the foggy scene.
This is one of the final pieces I produced for a small portfolio that I hope to share with you in a few months. I’ve been fascinated with solar glint. It started with an effort to get a single image for a big water project, but then the glint work took on a life of its own. This is another case where the limitations of cameras can add drama. In order to show the sun, I had to darken the exposure, causing the blue sky to render as black. My initial composition featured just the glint and the Olympic mountains, but when the cirrus clouds blew into view, I adjusted to include them. I got just a few frames before they floated off to the left.
During the March/April quarantine, I really appreciated the daily visits from this Anna’s hummingbird. I got this image within a few feet of my front door. Several years ago, I planted flowering currants to give hummingbirds a natural source of food. The shrubs are grown up now, so it was a bit of a challenge to track the bird through the thick branches. But it didn’t seem the least bit bothered by my presence, so I had plenty of opportunities over the weeks.
The rose campion is a flowering plant that’s native to parts of Europe and Asia, but it’s used in gardens here. This is taken from the driveway of a friend’s house. I loved the intense color of the flowers against the gray stalks. It’s almost a black and white image with splashes of red-violet. As they say, beauty is wherever you find it.
This year, I made contrast a theme of some of my wildlife photography. This image of a trumpeter swan is an example of extreme contrast. While I’ve photographed the swans many times before in their wintering grounds in the Skagit Valley of Washington state, I’m always trying to find new ways to depict them. One afternoon when the sky seemed especially golden, I got the idea to try to capture them with the sun. Even though I have never seen so many swans in the valley, I managed to get just one crossing over it. Luckily, it was in the perfect pose. You can still tell what it is, even though it’s in silhouette.
This elk family is the other extreme in my contrast series. The fog on this morning outing was much, much thicker than I expected. But in 2020, venturing out was a rare treat so I tried to make the most of it anyway. I could hear the elk, but I couldn’t see them. I decided to set up the camera and hope for the best. I caught a brief glimpse of a young elk walking up to its mother. That they’re hard to see is what makes this image for me. I think you get drawn in as you’re trying to make out their eyes and other details. And I think that makes the whole encounter more delicate and tender.
I love to photograph unusual trees, so a western red cedar that’s swallowing a giant boulder is a captivating subject for me. I spotted it while looking for a place to watch the sun set over Samish Bay in Washington state. The tree and boulder were catching the low-angled, golden light, helping them to stand out against the dense forest. I created an image that I liked — then a robin hopped onto one of the exposed roots and made the scene even better.
Nearly all of my work is in color, but a black-and-white treatment was the only way to do justice to this scene in Olympic National Park. I found an arched piece of driftwood, which felt like a portal to the beach. But it was almost sunset and the scene somewhat appeared like an explosion of colors. It was too much. You noticed the color and not the contrast. I liked the alternating textures — the arch log is smooth, the driftwood next to it is rough, the ocean waves are smooth due to a long exposure, and the sea stacks in the background are rugged. That’s what I wanted to express. To do that, the color had to go.
I hope you enjoyed this series. Feel free to comment about your favorites below. And here’s hoping that 2021 is much, much better.