Simply put, 2019 was a transformative year for my photography career.
Building upon what I started in 2018, 2019 brought forth into motion many things that I am working towards.
By the end, I had established quite a name among my friends and other local photographers. Dozens of festivals were done throughout the year, my first couple of gallery exhibitions, and I became a member of a local art cooperative. This is just to name a few notable events throughout the year.
Let us not forget the countless hours spent exploring the outdoors! I visited so many locations new and old and took some of my best (and worst) images ever. The process of going out almost became rote as I eased into my way of working the craft.
Also, making the choice at the beginning to start a YouTube channel had me refocus my priorities when out in the field. Images were a means to an end on most outings as I looked to tell a story to prospective viewers, sharing my thought process and techniques.
Below is a hand-picked list of my favorite photos from the past year, one from each month of the year. Hence the number twelve, imagine this as one would a calendar. A highlights reel, a curated collection. In no way are these the only twelve images I took for this year (believe me, there was way too much to sift through) but that is a good problem to have!
I gave pause when choosing this selection of images. Some are my favorite moments from the year, whether it be an emotional or other significant importance to me in that instance. Other photos are impressive in a technical sense, where the composition, lighting, etc work in tandem as everything aligned to how I envisioned or planned.
The culling process was rather tricky as some months were much busier than others for photography. Working a booth with my art during the summer time meant other photographical obligations were put on the back burner, as well as other distractions and responsibilities in life during the year. For me the busiest months were February, May, June and October whereas March, September and December in particular saw little to no action. This made the year quite scattered as I hope to refocus on a more consistent schedule for the next year.
Regardless, each one is special to me in one way or another. They embody a specific feeling or experience in time from the previous twelve months and I am grateful to share the stories behind them with you. Sit back and enjoy the storytelling.
Without further ado, let’s start with the beginning of the year..
January: Lone Tree
The first big snowfall of the year had me eager to get out there. One photography goal I had for the year early on was to capture more snow-covered images as I felt my portfolio was lacking in that regard.
This day was the catalyst to that goal coming true. Blowing and drifting snow out in this open farm field was a bit of difficulty however I made the most of the conditions. I am a total sucker for isolated trees and so this lonely tree out in the open stole my eyes.
Trees and the stories they can tell. The coldness is felt in the photo and that is why I enjoy it so much. The first proper photo op that wasn’t just in my backyard and the start of a great year.
February: White Tailed Deer
February brought about a lot of change as I became heavily involved in the art of filmmaking and storytelling alongside photography. A very productive month as I held my first gallery exhibition and I braved colder temps that weren’t so bad after a while.
It was a quiet winter hike at the Glen. Early morning meant that I was the first one there. Overcast lighting and snow meant photographing practically anything was easier to expose for. Only a few feet away off the trail, these two deer stared back and forth at me while foraging for food before slowly moving on. As is usually the case with deer, they see and hear me before I do them. Just a few feet away, a 600mm telephoto zoom lens meant I could shoot these wildlife headshots of them. At this close proximity, all the details come into clear focus.
I was quite surprised the whole time that they did not seem deterred by my presence. Certain individuals of deer may be skittish but staying completely still for others. I spent about half an hour with these two and while reviewing this shot and many other similar ones, I looked back up. They left without a sound and I never saw them again.
March: Skunk Cabbage
March was the first month of the year where my photography stagnated, not quite because of anything in particular but simply needing some time to persure other things personally and to work on editing images. February had me gather a lot of material in the form of photo & video so I was kept busy. I also wanted to avoid burnout and used the time to create some in-the-home videos and prepare for submitting festival applications.
With that said, this is one of the only images I took of about a dozen that month. A solitary night time photo shoot in my backyard of a tree during the new moon phase and of the skunk cabbage here during a guided hike. Skunk cabbage rises from the earth with a warmth and heat during late winter and early spring, beating out other plants to the race. A wider angle shot showing the plant as it is among the dead plant life around it. Simple but effective to document the moment.
April: Great Horned Owl
April meant that I was busy starting to photograph spring bird migrants and emerging wildflower blooms. I picked up the videomaking right where I left off in February and was eager to begin again.
This day was a highlight for my photography adventures. After being told of a possible nesting site at a nearby location the week before, I made sure to visit it before time was out. It was the end of April and most owlets have grown and left the nest. I set out in the afternoon to pre-scout the faily small fen for any possible trees high up in the canopy. Nothing came of luck even as I passed other visitors who echoed the same statements; the owls were still here. I went back to my car for a break, unsure of finding them later on.
About 45 minutes before dusk, I set out one last time to make a loop trail hike around the fen. Within a couple minutes of this last effort, I see a massive wingspan of a possible raptor at least 80 feet high up through the trees. Their nests are typically up that high and so I mount my large telephoto lens and camera on the tripod to go to work. Their hearing is so precise that this one pretty quickly stared me down as seen here even from that far up and away. Viewing the eye contact through binoculars is enough to get your heart racing. For my first sighting of these apex predators, this was an intense one I am glad to have witnessed and photographed.
May: Cascading Waterfall
If I had to choose one, just one image from this year…this might be it. In terms of landscapes and scenics, the month of May is perhaps prime time for me to chase waterfalls. Ice and snow has fully thawed and melted, vibrant green foliage is growing around and the longer days allow one to be out more. This image was among a very large assortment of photos taken on just a single day towards the end of the month.
I had found waterfalls in spots I never knew existed and this one was the largest of them all. The curve and design is followed by your eyes down the path as the scene composes itself. Compared to my first experiments with long exposures at creeks just three years before, this image elevated my standards to new dizzying heights. It is a wonder that this is from a state park so close to home too!
June: Shadow Darner
2019 was a big year for photographing Odonata, that is the order for dragonflies and damselflies. The majority of June photos were macro-styled close-ups of these tiny carnivorous insects. I was very fortunate to learn so much about them and come into their world for a bit.
I was enthralled the more hours I spent among these tiny insects as I watched them fly about on warm sunny days. The amount of photos and different species I had to work with were amazing. This male Shadow Darner stood still for several minutes as I fired away some shots with a small telephoto (that distanced the subject from the background) as well as firing off an external flash.
July: Prairie Sunset
July had photography take a bit of a backseat compared to very busy May and June. I did a single festival early on and then got out a couple times, most notably to Huffman Prairie two days in a row. This image was the result of the first evening.
This moment. The one where everything comes together in a grand show of color and composition. I was equally not ready for it as I was prepared. Being my first photographic visit to the prairie, I had spent my leisure all afternoon photographing birds and blooms around the area. This shot was an idea I always had but didn’t have any specific location in mind to achieve it at.
This image became everything I had wished for in my vision for the potential photo. The foreground symphony of various wildflowers; namely various coneflowers and bergamot. Then there is the horizon treeline with a gorgeous falling sun and the Golden Hour lighting. A wonderful July evening hike throughout the historic prairie led me to the end of the path and day. The “Golden Hour” light was at its’ peak after I set up my DSLR camera on a tripod and pointed a wide angle lens at the beautiful nature scene before my eyes and lens. Serendipity at its finest.
August: Quarry Sunset
August picked up the pace a bit as I challenged myself to go out every single day for a solid week. I chose my local wetland corridor as each day had me visit one or two locations. Later on I became busy with many festivals, often multi-day events to promote and support what I do.
This sunset brought forth a beautiful amount of quality light and color I would expect from late summer evenings. The light at this time of year stays around for a long time before turning into twilight as it transitioned into here. I even had enough time after nailing many compositions to take some silhouetted self portraits with the remaining bit of time.
The gradient lighting is my favorite aspect of sunsets when I am not shooting directly into the sun and this image is on full display with that. The mid-ground subject that is the stack of rocks made sense for the environment; a rock quarry.
September: Black Rat Snake
September once again was a slow burn as festival season hit its peak and I was left with little energy or time to get out with the camera. Despite this, I made the most of each trip outdoors.
Leaves were shaking, I thought a big stick in the middle of the flat trail was merely that until it moved a bit. Not quite, as two friends I was with made it clear this was no garter snake either. I dropped to the ground in curiosity and to get a better image. This was the result with the uneven lighting. Much less an exciting photo and more a wonderful moment. This was perhaps the best photographic result to come out of the month.
What I later identified as to be a black rat snake made for a captivating a harmless subject. This interested me more in learning about “herping.” Thanks to a friend, I have this awesome photo below to remember the day by!
In all honesty, I prefer this image over the actual one of the snake as it tells more of a story than the isolated face shot.
October: Great Blue Heron
October felt more or less like a return to form as festival seasons died down for the year and photography took center stage for me. I was gifted more time to go out and filmed several more videos, as well as simply rediscovering the joy of having a camera in the first place. I simply went out a lot to take photos of autumnal colors and foliage, whether they were good or bad.
This heron image was from a downpour of a rainy day, I laying flat out in the open along the lake edge at Caesar Creek. While I had landscapes in mind as I hiked the perimeter loop trail, this single heron was the most patient I’ve ever seen them. I took notice and crept closer on the hard edge stones.
Still a fair distance away, I nabbed these amazing perspectives of the heron sitting in the pouring rain. The drizzle can be seen in the background of the image. By the time I got up almost an hour later, my entire front side of the my clothes was drenched in mud and more. The results above show it was worth it.
November: Winter Twilight Woodland
November slowed me down a bit as I shot some videos and photos here and there where I could, and some very nice ones at that. The end of the year was coming closer as I began to look back on what made 2019 so important to my personal and professional growth.
This image was the afterthought of when I thought I was “done” with a video and closed it with an outro. However, a photographer should never pack away the camera until after leaving the location. The “blue hour” light here was stunning with the color it cast on the snow. A well-trodden dirt path became my leading line in the frame and a vertical composition is what I sought.
December: Foggy Woodland
I ended the year off with photographing many, many landscapes. Having just acquired a Canon 16-35mm f/4 wide angle lens, now “playing the wide game” became a focus to round out the remaining trips in the field.
This particular morning was Christmas Eve, and I was eager to take the camera out somewhere after seeing the dense fog develop the night before. The morning drive was quite evident, this was a thick covering that ended up lasting hours after daybreak.
I am not the most familiar with photographing fog and making it look the best. The image above was one such attempt at conveying the mood and mystery of that morning out there alone.
Being an outdoor photographer at heart, Mother Nature tested my limits at times.Tweet
Being out in the bitter cold with blowing and drifting snow. The burning sun overheard and drenching sweat, the wet rain all day, getting up early and staying out late. All of it is a test of resilience and strength. It’s a personal battle I choose to take as the results are always worth the cost; getting the shot.
Well, here’s three cheers for another wonderful year of photo taking and to another successful year (and decade) of exploring and adventure.
2020 is a new decade, a new day, a new start. Like 20/20 vision, we will be able to see clearly. The decade of clarity and everything will begin to make sense in the next 10 years.
Thank you to all who have joined me on this journey, as this ride is just getting started.
I’m already eager to get back out there!
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