I definitely enjoy looking back through my pictures each year. My goal when I start is to pick out my 10 favorites so I can share them here. What ends up happening is I remember trips I’ve made, time spent with family and friends, and beautiful sights I’ve seen. This year is no exception and I’ve had a chance to capture some scenes I had been wanting to visit for a long time.
This year I made a photographic trip to Oregon to shoot waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge and I also made a family trip to Europe. Both trips are well represented here. As I do every year, I made a couple of short trips to Yosemite and Big Sur as well as other areas closer to home. So in no particular order, here are my favorites from 2016:
McWay and Milky Way
I’ve made several attempts over the last few years to capture this scene. McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur is a California icon. It is hard to beat a picturesque waterfall pouring directly into the Pacific Ocean in a beautiful cove – especially if you can add some stars to the scene. I attempted this shot a couple of times this year, and both were affected by the nearby Soberanes fire that was burning in the area. My first trip was a bust – I didn’t even take out my camera. The heavy smoke in the area was much too thick to allow the stars to be captured.
The day I took this shot, the forecast looked perfect. The skies were supposed to be clear and there was a sliver of moon that would be in the sky to the west to provide a little bit of light. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived we learned that the fire had jumped containment and the park was closed. I looked around and found this spot by the road which we could still access. As it turned out, it was exactly the view I wanted. This is a blend of two shots. I took the first one about half an hour after sunset to get a nice clean image of the waterfall and cliffs. Leaving my camera in the same spot, I waited until the sky was completely dark to capture the stars. The haze on the horizon from the fire made it easy to blend the two images.
Every since I’d seen pictures from Spirit Falls, I knew I wanted to see it for myself. So when I planned a trip to the Columbia Gorge with some friends in May, I put this at the top of my list for our agenda. We left our hotel before sunrise to maximize our chances of having the scene to ourselves while making sure we’d have some nice soft light to photograph the waterfall. The “trail” is pretty much just a scramble down a steep hill until you get close to the river. At that point everything turns slippery and wet. This viewpoint is reached by climbing down a small waterfall to get to the river’s edge. But this was my reward – turquoise water and green scenery. This is a blend of three images, each focused on a different part of the landscape so I could keep everything as sharp as possible.
Mespelbrunn is a late-medieval/early-Renaissance moated castle between Frankfurt and Würzburg in Germany. It is a popular landmark fairly close to the town that my wife’s family is from so when we visited the area this summer we added it to our itinerary. Prior to taking the tour of the interior, I slipped past a small fence to frame this image of the castle and its reflection in the moat. The moody skies added some drama to the scene and I had the shot I wanted.
Punchbowl Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge – but not just because of the waterfall. The ~4 mile round trip hike along Eagle Creek is beautiful in its own right. Because of its popularity, we chose to visit Punchbowl Falls on a weekday so we’d be less likely to have to deal with crowds. Going on a rainy day didn’t hurt either! The result was just what I wanted. The wet foliage saturated the colors and we had the scene to ourselves.
I have been to Punchbowl Falls a few times and wanted to try something a little different. In previous trips I had set up closer to the waterfall. This time I waded across the river and got as far from it as possible. Using a longer lens, I wanted to compress the scene to better show the landscape with the fall. For this image I took seven vertical shots (from left to right) and combined them to make this panorama.
Black and White Horsetail
Horsetail Falls has become a major event each year in Yosemite Valley. Crowds come to the park each February to see and photograph this seasonal waterfall as the setting sun makes it glow red against the dark rock face. I have captured this scene before, but since we finally had some decent rain this year I figured I’d try it again. I knew that the park would be crowded, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found! I arrived more than two hours before sunset and cars were everywhere. The roads were packed and lanes were closed to allow people to park along the road. I found a place to ditch my car and went to a spot I knew I liked to set up for the picture. While waiting for sunset I found some friends that were also in the park and decided to enjoy the party-like atmosphere.
Everything looked perfect. The water was flowing nicely and there were some nice wispy clouds in the sky. I started to get concerned, though, seeing some thicker clouds forming to the west. If they blocked the sunset, we wouldn’t get the famous “firefall” effect. As the sun approached the clouds I noticed that the waterfall, although not colorful, was nicely back-lit against the cliff face. I decided to take some shots thinking they might make a nice B&W image. The streaks of clouds in the sky rounded it out. As I had feared the sunset fizzled, but my B&W shot ended up being something I really liked. So here it is!
I commute every day from my job in Silicon Valley to my home in Pleasanton. Traffic is often horrible so sometimes I look for diversions to avoid the worst of it. Calaveras road isn’t much faster than the stop and go freeway, but it is far prettier! I had found this spot several years ago while commuting and had been waiting for a chance to photograph it when conditions were nice. One day this spring I decided to give it a shot. The hills were green from the recent rains and a storm was forecast to be clearing during my drive home. The scene ended up wonderful with nice clouds in the sky and some soft light on the distance hills. This is my Bay Area!
Notre Dame and The Seine
We spent a week in Paris this summer and one of my favorite activities was to take off with my wife and find a nice spot for sunset each evening. After photographing the darkening city we’d find a cafe, get something to eat, and watch the activity around us. My goal this evening was Notre Dame. I love this building, especially the buttresses on this side of it.
My goal before I arrived was to fill the frame with the cathedral as the lights took effect. Two things changes my mind: (1) I didn’t want to cut off the tall spire at the top of the building so I had to shoot fairly wide; and (2) As I was shooting I decided I really liked the lights along the river and the reflections of color in the water. So I waited for the river to be clear of boats and took this shot. The star effect in the streetlights is created by shooting at a relatively small (f/16) aperture.
Bowling Ball Sunset Motion
Bowling Ball Beach is probably my favorite beach on the Northern California coast. It is only about 15 minutes from my parent’s house so I have been there many times. Photographers flock to the beach for its namesake rocks, but it also has some great cliffs and tide-pools that make it a great place to explore anytime.
I drove up with a friend in early December looking to capture sunset with water around the rocks reflecting the colors from the sky. The tide tables were promising as was the weather forecast. We were rewarded with a beautiful evening and it was hard for me to select one image from that day for this list. I ended up choosing this one based on the great colors in the sky, the reflection of those colors in the back-lit rocks, and the motion in the water as a wave receded.
Miltenberg, Germany is across the Main River from Großheubach, which is the town that my wife’s family is from. The historic district has cobblestone streets and gingerbread buildings – just what you expect in Bavaria! My wife and I came to the market square for sunset one evening and I selected this composition of the fountain and buildings. It wasn’t quite what I was after as I had to avoid a car parked just out of the frame on the right side, but it is still special to me as a reminder of Germany.
I think this is my favorite image from my trip to the Columbia Gorge this spring. It wasn’t the waterfall I most wanted to see but I really liked the green/black rocks in the foreground along with the rushing water from the falls. I had to wade about waist deep in the water for this image and brace myself against the rock behind me.
I hope you like my list and I’d love to hear if you have any favorites. Painfully enough, I ended up leaving out my Milky Way over Glacier Point and my Berry Creek Falls Rainbow images. So I guess they are my honorable mentions!
Here’s to a great 2017!