As with everything at year end, it is time for yet another top 10 list. In addition to your 10 favorite movies, albums, TV shows, sweaters, selfie apps, etc., here is the official list of my 10 favorite photographs I created in 2017. Trust nobody else, this is the definitive list! These may not necessarily be my best photographs, since best is always debatable and I want the list to include a sampling from throughout the year. Selecting images was especially challenging this year as I had a chance to visit some really special locations including Banff in the winter, Iceland, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Zion, Yellowstone and even beautiful Corvallis, Oregon for the total solar eclipse. I could have selected 10 shots that I really liked from a 12-hour period in Stokksnes and Jökulsárlón, Iceland and called that a good year. In the end I cheated and created a runner-up list you can check out here. Without further ado, and in the order taken, here are my favorites from 2017:
1) Vermilion Sunrise – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
With my daughter home from college for the holidays, we decided to take a family trip to Banff in early January to see this beautiful location in the winter. It didn’t disappoint – either in beauty or in being frigidly cold. On my first morning I photographed sunrise from this same location in -38°F temperatures! I returned a few days later hoping to get some better light and I was rewarded with this scene. I arrived at 3rd Vermilion Lake well before sunrise and a photo tour had already set up along this opening in the ice. Tripods were in place and their guide was setting everyone’s cameras to capture sequences of photos with identical compositions of the mountain and reflection. I looked around and saw this spot away from the crowd. I liked that I could get low which gave me a more complete reflection and that I could use the edge of the ice as a leading line. I thought the snow covered branches in the water were a nice touch as well. The morning clouds broke up just in time for sunrise and caught some color over Mt. Rundle with a perfect reflection. I included two other photos from that trip in my honorable mention list, but the clouds and reflection in this one made it my favorite from the trip.
2) Milky Way Over Tunnel View – Yosemite National Park, California, USA
This is the view of Yosemite Valley you are treated to after you pass through a long tunnel coming in via the South entrance to the park. I’ve stopped here many times, often just to enjoy the scene and unwind from my drive before heading somewhere else. It is definitely a great introduction to Yosemite with El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls all visible. I made the drive to the park in early April with the goal of capturing this shot. I saw that the moon would light up the valley before setting at about 11:30 pm and then the Milky Way would arch over the scene at about 2:00 am. When I arrived I saw that the moon was highlighting Bridalveil Falls nicely and I captured a few shots of the valley. I left my camera on the tripod and waited until the Milky Way moved into the position I wanted before capturing some images of the sky. Once I got home I combined the two files into the image below. The biggest challenge was that any car in the parking lot (and there were always cars in the parking lot) lit up the tree on the left with their red tail lights. A little Photoshop magic took care of that.
3) Sunol Oak and Hills – Sunol Regional Wilderness, California, USA
The Sunol Regional Wilderness is a beautiful park near my home in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hike there often, both alone and with my wife, and sometime photograph it too. I grew up in this area and the rolling hills and oak trees of the East Bay have always been part of my life. We had a nice wet winter in 2017 and the hills were a vibrant green. I decided to haul my camera gear to the top of the hill and photograph the sunset to the west toward San Francisco. Just before I reached the top I saw this lone tree and thought it caught the late afternoon light nicely with the hills and clouds behind it. I went on to shoot the sunset, but this image ended up as my favorite from the evening and my favorite local image from 2017.
4) Stokksnes Sunset – Höfn, Iceland
I had the privilege of visiting Iceland for 8 days in May with a couple of friends. Iceland has earned its reputation as a bucket-list destination for photographers and I ended up with many favorites. One of my goals was to photograph the Vestrahorn, a 2900 ft peak rising above the black sand beach of Stokksnes near the town of Höfn. We spent 4 nights in Höfn to maximize our chances of getting good light for both the Vestrahorn and the Jökulsárlón area further to the west. The weather forecast was promising on the evening we arrived in town so after checking into our hotel we quickly made the short drive over to Stokksnes. As usual we were running a little late, so I was in a rush when we arrived at the pay station at the Viking Cafe. The owner thought we were trying to avoid the fee, but I ran in to cover it while my friends went down to the beach. When I joined them I saw that thick clouds had completely covered the mountain and the wind was roaring across the beach. We dutifully set up with little hope of capturing anything special and stood there shivering in the wind. Fortunately the wind kept moving the clouds and every once in a while the mountain would appear. After a while I looked behind us and saw some wonderful sunset light across the bay toward Höfn. After shooting some reflections there we headed back up the road to a little cove we spotted on the way in. This cove had streaks of water through the sand (more like a muddy muck) that were now lit up by the colors of sunset. I found this composition with those reflections leading into a colorful scene of clouds and mountains.
5) Diamond Mountain – Jökulsárlón, Iceland
After shooting the sunset at Stokksnes for the shot above, we made the drive west to Jökulsárlón for sunrise. The weather forecast was good, calling for broken clouds in the morning. Jökulsárlón is famous for its lagoon at the foot of a glacier, where you can photograph icebergs and mountains around the water. There is a channel from the lagoon into the ocean where many of those icebergs wash up onto the black sand beach, commonly referred to as Diamond Beach. As we drove through the night (sunrise and sunset were only 5 hours apart and it never truly got dark), I was concerned to see that we were driving through a thick fog. We arrived at the beach and I resigned myself to shooting moody black and white images of the ice and retreating waves. I looked up after a while and saw some patches of color on the horizon. I started playing with the idea of getting really low and putting the color behind a chunk ice so it would shine through. A little later I looked up again and saw that the sky was exploding in color. I captured this image with the glowing sky reflecting off of the wet sand and shining through a polished piece of ice before working on some wider scenes. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had shooting a sunrise and this remains my favorite of those images.
6) Moonbow and Milky Way – Yosemite National Park, California, USA
I’ve made many trips to Yosemite over the years attempting (and sometimes succeeding) in capturing moonloit rainbows over Yosemite Falls. I had seen some shots from this angle along the Upper Yosemite Falls trail and had wanted to give it an attempt for several years. After doing some research, I decided that it might be possible to capture both a lunar rainbow and the Milky Way in a single shot at the end of June. I made the drive out to Yosemite and made my way up the trail to a likely viewpoint and waited for darkness. The moon was a quarter full which I hoped would be enough to create a rainbow but not so bright as to wash out the stars. As it turned out, everything lined up and even the lights from the valley below added somewhat of a fantasy feel.
7) Total Eclipse 2nd Contact – Corvallis, Oregon, USA
This year’s total eclipse was the astronomical event that I decided I couldn’t miss. My aunt lives in Eugene, just half an hour from the path of totality, and I decided to visit her and check out the eclipse at the same time. On the morning of the eclipse my wife and I got up at 5:00 am to avoid the predicted traffic apocalypse (turned out to be not so bad between Eugene and Corvallis) and made our way to an empty field with a clear view of the sun. I had pre-set my camera to take brackets of 15 shots at different exposures so I wouldn’t have to fiddle with settings during the event. I had seen several partial eclipses, but this was a totally different experience. The sky darkened and a black disk replaced the sun in the sky. I captured this image just as totality began and you can see the last bit of sun peaking around the moon at the bottom. I combined several exposures in Photoshop to show some of the solar prominences along with the corona reaching into the sky.
8) Grand Prismatic Sunset – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
My wife and I made a trip to Idaho in late September and I took her on a one day tour through Grand Teton and Yellowstone while we were there. One goal I had was to find some wildlife for her, and we ended up seeing a moose, a fox, some elk, some pronghorn antelope, a grizzly bear, and a herd of bison walking along the road next to our car. We stopped at some of the main viewpoints in Grand Teton and watched Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone. We ended up at the Grand Prismatic Spring about sunset, and I saw the sky lighting up to the west. I found a spot with some nice foreground lines and composed to put the sunset light behind the steam rising from the spring. This ended up as a great keepsake from a really nice day.
9) Subway Autumn – Zion National Park, Utah, USA
I traveled to Zion National Park in Utah at the end of October to hike the Narrows gorge at what I hoped would be the peak of fall color. I wasn’t disappointed, with lots of yellow trees and a beautiful (but exhausting) day. But the fun wasn’t over yet! I had successfully gotten a permit for the next day to hike the Left Fork of North Creek to an area commonly known as the Subway. This is a 9 mile round trip hike up the creek to a gorgeous scene carved into the rock canyon. I had been here several years before during the middle of summer, but this time I wanted to take advantage of the autumn leaves in a wider view. The glow in the curved portion of the rock comes from sunlight reflecting off of the canyon walls. I looked for a composition that highlighted that glow while showing the yellow leaves above it and the greenish water in the foreground. This shot covered all of those bases and ended up my favorite of the trip.
10) Desert Bighorn Sheep – Zion National Park, Utah, USA
I don’t photograph a lot of wildlife, but I had a chance to capture puffins, a grizzly bear, and a desert bighorn sheep this year. I ended up picking the sheep for this list in part because I had been trying to find one for years and in part because the scene ended up just about perfect. I’ve always thought that the curved horns of a bighorn sheep were really impressive and I had gone to likely locations to photograph them in Zion, Yellowstone and Banff several times over the past few years – all with no luck. On the last night of my Zion trip in October we drove to the eastern area of the park to check out the landscape while also looking for bighorns. We made it all the way to the park boundary and turned around without spotting anything. As we came around a corner on the way back there were cars stopped in the road and we saw some sheep up on the ridge. I quickly grabbed my camera and ran up the hill to catch this guy posing nicely for me. I moved a little bit to put him against a nice background and to make sure all four legs were visible and snapped a few shots. We found a larger herd a little further up the road, but this shot was the keeper.
So that’s my list – feel free to comment below with your favorites!