It’s the last day of 2012, and once again it’s time to try and pick some favorites for the year and reflect on all that has happened. I find this to be a fun exercise that forces me to look at everything I’ve done over the course of the year and to reflect on each image and what significance it has for me in the context of the year’s work. Last year I picked 11. This year I’ve selected 12 to follow along with the last two digits of the year (in 2010 I picked 20). This year started with a double trip to my favorite National Park, Death Valley. First, I took a couple friends on a grand tour of much of the park, from Dante’s View to the Racetrack and back to the Mesquite Dunes and everything in between. Then I met up with Steve Sieren and we set course for the remote western parts of my favorite park, now made accessible by my 2011 Nissan Xterra 4X. After a few days there, we headed back to civilization and were able to meet Carr Clifton at the opening reception for his show at Mountain Light Gallery. It was great to meet Carr, and great to go shooting with Steve. What a way to start the year.
After the Death Valley trips, the day job took over. While back at work I started preparing for my gallery show, and made contact with the Eastern Sierra Inter-agency Visitor’s Center to see if I could donate a print of The 97 Switchbacks At Night to them. I ended up loaning a print to the visitor center and it was able to hang there all summer, a very happy moment for me! I then proceeded to select and print 34 images for my gallery show in my home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was nice to visit the home town a couple extra times this summer, and the show was a great success. I also printed (at the suggestion of seemingly everyone) posters and postcards and set up my online store during this time. In May I also was able to photograph the solar eclipse over LA, producing a surreal apocalyptic scene.
I was then able to make a couple of trips to the Eastern Sierras to photograph the fall color, something that the day job almost always interferes with. It was so great to spend time amongst the golden quaking aspens. I spent six days amongst the trees and valleys, from Bishop Creek north to Carson Summit and back, with most of my time on the South Fork of Bishop Creek which was really exploding with fall color. I came back to photograph a spectacular thunderstorm over Los Angeles, and also got to chase the Space Shuttle Endeavour as it made its historic journey through the streets of Los Angeles to its final resting place. I finished off the year with some camping time in the Alabama Hills and a couple of final visits to Death Valley National Park, including a trip to the Eureka Dunes, a place I had long wanted to visit. The Eureka Dunes were every bit as spectacular as I had hoped, and you can bet I’ll be spending some days there in the future.
This first image was from my first trip to Death Valley this year. Out on the salt flats I encountered this rock resting on cracked wet mud, with coyote tracks walking by. The sun was blazing in the background, and I decided to try and use my neutral density grad filters to tame the extreme dynamic range. I ended using 5 stops of ND filter on the top of the image. This image surprised me with how different it was than so many other photos I’ve taken from this location. To me it seems almost like an alien landscape.
While climbing around on the Mesquite Dunes with my two friends, I spotted this lone outcropping of plant in a sliver of light amongst the deep shadow of the surrounding sand hills. I raced closer to it and switched over to my 100-400mm zoom, framing up this view at 400mm before the light faded. At any other time of year, surely the light would not have hit just this one bush this way. I considered myself lucky.
Here is another 400mm view at the dunes that caught my eye. I really like the abstract nature of the sand avalanche at the edge of the sand with the horizontal shadows.
Morning and evening light are both magical in the dunes. The two shots above are just before sunset in the Mesquite Dunes. This one is sunrise in the Saline Valley Dunes, and I love the sweeping foreground arm of this dune with the edge lit ripples. This one is a particular favorite of my 99 year old Grandma, and I have to agree.
Remnants of old human activity can be found throughout Death Valley National Park, and in this salt lake we see the ruins of a salt harvesting operation long since abandoned. The rotting wooden posts suck up the salty water through capillary action and the salt crystals slowly obliterate the wood from the inside out. The still salty waters provide a mirror for the morning alpenglow on the mountains beyond.
May brought an annular eclipse to North America. In Southern California we didn’t get the perfect circle, but we did get this apocalyptic view of West Los Angeles with the marine layer clouds providing a nice natural filter for the Sun.
On a day trip to the Mount Whitney Portal Store, I came across this stormy scene at Owens Lake on my way back. The setting sun was illuminating the high clouds, the soft blue light of the sky and dark clouds above colored the slightly bluish corrugated metal into a more vibrant blue, and red algae on the lake gave the whole scene a vibrant colorful quality I had never seen before.
No trip to the Bishop Creek area is perhaps complete without a visit to North Lake to see what the fall color was doing there. This iconic location has been shot by countless other photographers. I thought I might see what happened this morning on the far side of the lake with a setting moon. The morning twilight ended up providing the best light of the morning, and the conditions created a star flare from the Moon that I usually more associate with the Sun.
I love aspens. This whole hillside was just on fire with backlight, and in the center in the shadows you can see some red plants in the underbrush.
Every trip I try to explore somewhere new. In this trip I explored the area at the Sierra foothills known as the Buttermilks. I was driving towards a grove of I spotted from afar. I went and set up a shot, watching as the light came and went with the rapidly passing clouds. Finally the Sun was just disappearing and I caught its last rays in this little valley shining on the little grove of aspens.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour traveling down city streets presented some unique photo opportunities. After waiting for hours and hours, finally the Endeavour arrived at Randy’s Donuts as the Sun was starting to get low in the sky. I stuck around long enough that I could frame the Sun in the eye of the donut, and at that moment the Goodyear Blimp decided to fly by. This was quite a juxtaposition.
The Eureka Dunes at last. Finally after years of wanting to go there, I visited the Eureka Dunes. These 700 ft tall dunes are amazing. Their scale is mind blowing. And here, my favorite pic from there so far is of the detail of a side of them. Here some sand avalanches had fallen down the steep side of the dunes. The near noon light proved to be perfect for highlighting these surreal shapes.
So there they are. 12 favorites from 2012. I’m sure I’ll change my mind tomorrow, but then it will be a new year. I hope you have enjoyed my selections as much as I enjoy sharing my images with you. I hope to have many, many more blog updates in the new year. 2012 has been exhausting in many levels, and I have high hopes that 2013 will be much better. I also have a number of adventures planned for next year and I hope to share those experiences here on my photo blog. Check back again soon for more updates and reflections on individual trips. Best wishes for a fantastic 2013!