As another year draws to a close, it’s time for an annual tradition: a review of my work from the past 12 months.
I’ve done this every year for nearly 15 years now. While I’ve traditionally called it a “best of” post, I’ve never particularly cared for that label. There’s a lot of work that I absolutely love moments after I take the picture. It’s only through the passage of time — and sometimes a year isn’t enough — for me to form a long-term opinion of the image.
But also, my pictures are primarily emotional interpretations of experiences in nature. I’m thankful for any time I can spend in nature, so it feels unfair rank one day over another. So, let’s just call this a review of some of my projects from the past year.
We’ll start with the image above, which was of this year’s “super bloom” in Carrizo Plain National Monument in California. This year’s bloom was particularly spectacular. I’ve never seen quite so many different types of flowers blooming at the same time. A few years ago, then-President Trump threatened to take away this monument’s status. I joined with other photographers to bring attention to help save it and am incredibly thankful that there are still mountains upon mountains of wildflowers for us to enjoy.
Autumn was also incredible this year. Fall color lasted for months, providing me opportunities to enjoy it from mountain peaks in the North Cascades to the Great Basin of the Southwest. I loved how the afternoon clouds were the perfect complement to color on the Wellsville Mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 2024, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in New York will host a solo exhibit of my work. Preparing for it and writing a new book were a major focus on my time this year and I made a trip to Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania, in part, to create some new work for the project. Not far from the museum, I stumbled into a charming, wooded area that was once called the Bentley Sanctuary. I found the area incredibly inspiring and made several images there over two days. As I was leaving, I learned that Peterson himself had explored these very woods in great detail the year before he published his groundbreaking bird guide. This image might be considered an outtake from those sessions — a different image will appear in the exhibit — but my whole time there was very moving and I’m not willing to declare any particular picture from there “the best.”
Water, in all of its forms, has always been a primary theme in my work and I am sure I will never run out of ways to depict it. One gap in my work has been taking pictures while in the water. Sure, I’ve waded into many streams over the years, but I had not previously had the chance to work underwater for any extensive period of time. The Cook Islands in the South Pacific are home to some exceptionally clear lagoons. In one passage, I got to work up-close to green sea turtles. You can read more about that experience here.
On Mitiaro, another of the Cook Islands, I got to work in another type of water. The island is home to freshwater caves with colors that seem out of this world. I worked in two of the caves. This one is Vai Nauri. I did not get to explore the depths of the cave. It appears to go down dozens of feet, at least. But I did swim in to explore the relationship between its water and limestone features.
On the coast of my home state of Washington, I made a few trips to explore king tides. These are the largest tides of the year and occur during the winter when Earth is closest to the sun, and the sun and moon are aligned. When these tides coincide with storms, the ocean becomes filled with drama. Water shapes the land and this image, which contains elements that were inspired by artists Albert Bierstadt and Hokusai, shows that force at work.
No time on the coast would be complete without some wildlife photography. During an outing to the southern Oregon coast, I ran across a colony of harbor seals resting on a small island that was a couple hundred feet from shore. The evening light created more contrast than my camera was able to capture. I set the exposure to record the highlights, letting everything else fall to black to create a peaceful image that matched my mood.
The sun itself was the subject of a couple of my images this year. First up, parts of the United States were treated to an annular solar eclipse this year. In these eclipses, the moon is too close to the Earth to completely block the sun’s face. At the peak of the eclipse, a ring of fire is visible. I caught the peak over the Temple of the Sun in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Even at the peak, the sun is too bright to look at directly, so to make this image, I had to combine two different images: one showing the sun, the other showing the landscape.
I photographed through a lot of wildfire smoke this year. It was smoky when I was in New York in the early summer and on the Washington coast in late summer. This is from the latter. The haze coincided with the time of year when I could watch the sun set through the Quateata Head sea arch in Olympic National Park. You can see other images from that evening here.
It’s somewhat like haze, I guess, but fog was also a repeating theme in my work this year. One of the things I appreciate about fog is that it helps me simplify my compositions by hiding elements that would otherwise be distracting. This scene was from a magical morning on Lake Sammamish in Washington when everything aligned.
Speaking of alignment, here’s an image of two short-eared owls in the Skagit Valley of Washington. I have photographed wintering birds there almost as long as I have been a photographer and there’s always a new perspective to find. This image began as a landscape. I liked the color of the sky against the shade of the hillside. When two owls decided to tangle with each other, I tracked them until they complemented the landscape.
Sunsets used to be a primary feature of my photography. I’ve since branched out, although I still appreciate a good fiery sunrise or sunset. This image was one of my first of 2023 and is from a waterfront park in Seattle. It was one of the most vibrant sunsets I saw all year.