A 12/31/11 Edit: HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! Wishing you a beautiful start to 2012!
Every year, for five years now, Jim Goldstein at the JMG-Galleries Blog invites photographers to participate in his “Best Photos” project. Bloggers post about their top five or ten images from that year, then send the link to Jim who compiles a master list which he then publishes in January.
I’ve never participated in this project nor any other end-of-year recap because for one, I’m hyper self-critical and always figure my “best” is still coming … you know, next year. And second, well, I never did it because I never knew about Jim’s project until this year. That’s the real reason.
This month, I came upon a beautiful compilation of bird shots over at The Birder’s Report, posted by Larry Jordan. Looking through Larry’s images, ranging from a Green Heron feeding a chick to a Bushtit in flight, I realized that Larry’s favorites were not only lovely, but they had significance based on the short story behind many of the captures. And that idea resonated deeply, based on my own motivations for carrying a camera. (Thanks, Larry, for being that source of inspiration.)
My great joy in wildlife photography revolves around the moment, the emotion, the elation of witnessing something that either adds dimension to a wild animal’s psyche or social behavior — or something that draws me further into the circle of trust, as it were. My favorite example of the Trust Circle was my session with the Shorebird Nation on an Oakland dock. That year, one of those photos happened to be one of my best as well. But even if it were technically or artistically poor, that picture would rank among my all-time favorites, for what it captured: a fleeting revelation of something new.
In keeping with that spirit, I’ve picked my Top 10 Favorite Images of 2011. These are not necessarily my best. But they best represent the idea of a photo being a story … or a window into a new emotional experience.
#1 – The Eurasian
After relocating to Seattle last year, I found a 15-acre parcel of habitat in a city where very little public shoreline (relative to California’s shore) is public and accessible. So, I spent a lot of time with the local fauna. In October, a large flock of American Wigeon showed up on the duck pond and, with them traveled a solitary male Eurasian Wigeon. He remained with them through the winter and I had the chance to photograph him often. I took this shot in the midst of wigeon mayhem, as a juvenile Bald Eagle passed overhead several times, spooking the wigeon into nearby Puget Sound.
#2 – Snow Geese as Escher
In the late 60s, my parents had an M.C. Escher coffee table book I dog-eared and chocolate-smeared for all of the times I studied Liberation or Reptiles or Encounter — and marveled at the impossibilities. When I find patterns in nature that even remotely resemble Escher’s work, it takes me back to those days when my brain was forming its earliest notions of artistic license. I photographed these Snow Geese playing at Escher, last February, in the Fir Island area of Skagit County, Washington.
#3 – Quest of the Night Heron
When I visit my mother in Southern California, I’m always itching to haul my camera down to the local harbor where pelicans, egrets and herons congregate on the breakwater and fish around the cement edges. It’s my peculiar affinity for wildlife in urban or industrial backdrops that drives photo sessions like this one. It’s not that I encourage pelicans or herons flocking to humans for handouts. It’s simply that I appreciate the ingenuity and adaptability of the birds as they time their return from the ocean with the precise hour at which the fishing vessels chug into port. This Black-crowned Night Heron had probably engaged this vessel previously. He tagged along as pictured here, then landed on a table of fish scraps, grabbing his share before the gulls descended.
#4 – “Eagle One, I Repeat: State Your Intentions!”
I did not expect any close-up Bald Eagle encounters on this short walk around Union Bay Natural Area in Seattle. But when the Lake Washington wigeon flock flushed, I knew it was just a matter of time before an eagle came into view. The birds will sometimes flush minutes before that specter of a raptor is even visible to me, and in this case, as I was looking up for that shining beacon of a white head, this Bald Eagle swooped low in front of me with a legion of crows on its tail. I snapped this shot on one of the many passes the eagle made to secure herself a duck from the lake. To me, the crow resembled a fighter-jet escort, hence the title. Ultimately, the crows and a solitary Red-winged Blackbird escorted her from the turf without any prey in her talons.
#5 – This Is Not a Duck
I mentioned earlier, my favorite duck pond on that 15-acre parcel of Seattle waterfront. One morning the pond was socked in silence, shrouded in Puget mist with not one duck on the pond or preening on the embankment. I knew something was off because there is always a resident Mallard — without exception — any month of the year, any hour of the day. I heard a huge splash and thought it was a large salmon heading up stream to spawn. But, as I focused my lens in the direction of the splash, this Northwestern version of Nessie emerged from the pond. There’s a stream that leads from Puget Sound into the pond area which accounts for the occasional otter in the mist. Because otters will sometimes grab ducks as prey, it’s no wonder my usual duck cohorts were nowhere near where they could be nabbed by this interloper.
#6 – The Turns of Terns
Less than a mile from our Seattle apartment, I discovered a gem of Caspian Tern habitat: a roof of a seafood warehouse where the Caspians set up shop while they fished the salmon smolt from Puget Sound. I’d had the occasional Caspian encounter in the Bay Area, but never two months of this proximity to a Caspian Tern colony with only the occasional photographer sharing the location with me.
The spot where I photographed was a straight-line channel where the terns descended at great speed, then repeatedly dipped their bills into the Sound as they traveled farther out for their smolt dinners. I learned to discern which terns would be returning with food, by the calls they made in the distance as they flew toward their rooftop home and dining area.
#7 – An Osprey With No Dropped Calls
There are wildlife photographers who would cull this photo — or at least not post it — for all of the distracting elements and a few blown highlights. But, the clutter of this image — with the Osprey leaping in the frame — is what means the most to me. This is where I camped out in my “car blind” throughout the summer, photographing an Osprey pair that returns each year to its cell phone tower nest.
There was drama that drove me to anxiety … like the time period where I did not once see the male and feared for his well-being. The previous year, an Osprey not too far from this location was [fortunately] rescued by a wildlife team after the Osprey was discovered hanging and entangled in a power line. So I watched — and worried — and snapped photos of this Osprey pair’s existence as it played out in the context of modern technology. The two never did produce any young, but I hope to find them rebuilding their possibilities at this same site next year.
Oh, and … the highlights were blown because I forgot to turn off bracketing. This frame was then captured with too much exposure compensation. It was the only image I snapped with this particular pose.
# 8 – Spawning Homeward
This is one of my most poignant and significant photos of 2011. Until we moved to our little flat near the Ballard Locks in Seattle, I did not fully grasp the complexity and nuance of a salmon’s journey home to spawn. I didn’t know that salmon may, in fact, navigate by stars at night … or that they can smell the pebbles and brackish waters that lead them home to dig their redds and lay their eggs … or that those who return sometimes have the battered faces of prize-fighters, surviving as they have for five years in the wilds of the ocean before returning home to spawn.
Watching the homebound salmon every week through the viewing panels at the Ballard Locks fish ladder, I developed a fond association with the salmon I never anticipated. As much as I feel connected to the seasonal migration of birds, I will now always feel utmost respect for the power — the imperative — of the salmon cycle that drives these animals to their ancient homes, against all possible natural and unnatural odds.
#9 – Mt. Rainier and Its Lenticulars
I’m not sure this photo needs much explanation except to say that the phenomenon of lenticular clouds over Mt. Rainier is awesome — in the truest sense of the word “awesome.” I shot this from a hillside park in Kent, after Hugh and I raced to this location when we saw the lenticulars forming over the peak. On that evening, there was a collusion of shape, texture and color to render this image. These were the real colors and the real clouds. I tweaked just a bit of contrast and sharpness, and brought up shadows in the foreground greenery.
#10 – Barring the Hat
I describe my first encounter with a Seattle Barred Owl in this post — a short blurb that also gives the background on how the owl came to own this hat. The long and short of it: she snatched it from a boy’s head (no harm to the boy) and toyed with it for ten minutes before losing interest and dropping it. This is definitely a favorite moment. I’m not sure I’ll ever have this experience again.
Honorable Mention: Crow Moon
I’ve had so many opportunities in Seattle to shoot the moon, as it were. I’m always looking for interesting foreground when a full moon or a wolf moon or a harvest moon rises behind the city. I shot this image — two exposures, actually — at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. A crow was perched on a chimney near the famous red-neon market sign. Her silhouette perfectly overlaid the rising moon. I shot one frame to expose for the crow and one to expose for the moon, then layered the two shots in Photoshop.
I think I will do the same. I just looked back at my year’s postings and I should be able to come up with 10 good shots.
I’m sure you’re kidding, Glenn … because you’ll have a lot of trouble whittling it down. 🙂 I’ll be looking for the post …
Should it only be photos I have placed on my blog pages, or can I link to any photo from my site from the last 12 months?
Glenn, if you want to add your “best of” to Jim’s project, this is what he says. I don’t think the photos need to have appeared in your blog previously, but you do need to consolidate them into one “best of” post.
How to Participate (Read Carefully)
— Review & select your top photos from 2011.
— Note: Photo edit carefully narrowing down your results to your best 10 or 5 photos. Reference Pro Tips: Photo Editing with Gary Crabbe for pointers.
— Create a blog post on your web site or a Flickr/500px set containing your top photos from 2011.
— Complete the form below by Saturday JANUARY 7th at 11:59PM PST to take part. The following Tuesday I’ll post a link to all submitted sites and photos.
— Read more: https://www.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2011/12/19/blog-project-your-best-photos-from-2011/#ixzz1hxhN9pji
Since I didn’t go with my “best” in this post — rather, my “favorites” — I may not participate unless I create another “best of” list.
No you can submit this post. It contains your top 10 photos, regardless of what the title of the post says.
because he says…
– Create a blog post on your web site or a Flickr/500px set containing your top photos from 2011.
Ingrid, these photos are wonderful. Thanks for taking them and thanks for posting them here for us to enjoy. Wishing you a great 2012 —
Thank you, Luisa. Once I discovered the concept, as I wrote above, I thought it was a great idea. I’m looking forward to seeing the links on Jim Goldstein’s master list. At your blog, you mention your California lineage. Where did your family start out in the 1800s? You must have some fascinating tales.
Those are some great photos! Great year.
I’ve got my 10 shots up.
These shots are brilliant Ingrid!
I did a “Best of” on my blogspot but chose more than 10 for numerous reasons as it wasn’t just nature and I bought a decent camera in August.
After reading yours I am inspired to do my best of nature – and most likely birds as I have thoroughly enjoyed linking up with World Bird Wednesday.
The photos are amazing! They really tell a story and have this particular (personnal) touch that distinguishes them from the others. Great work, very inspiring.
@ Liz and Sophie … thank you … merci bien … and Happy New Year to you both! I appreciate the kind comments and also the links to your lovely blogs. I look forward to spending more time with your photos and writings. Thanks for stopping by.
@ Glenn, I love how this project brings focus to each photographer’s work. Your Top Ten could only have been shot by you and I appreciate that exclusivity of content. btw: your Dan photo at the top sticks in my mind for that priceless expression … and for the story/context of the image.
Those photos are awesome (makes me feel like a horrible photographer). This blog is great- I’m adding it to my blogroll. Thanks!
Just looking through your shots again, Ingrid. I am in awe! Your flight photos are absolutely stunning. You must have an amazing lens to capture these and of course a steady hand and a real gift for photography!
The photo of Mt Rainer is gorgeous – the snow capped mountain & the cloud formations are beautiful. And the geese photo – that’s an awfully huge flock of geese!! I really am in awe. Thanks for sharing and thanks for your lovely comments.
Oh, Liz … my kingdom for an amazing lens! 🙂 That’s definitely on the wish list. Right now, I’m actually shooting with what I guess would be construed as a budget lens — a $300 Zuiko 70-300mm (Olympus). I have an E-3 which is a lovely DLSR with great Image Stabilization in the body, so between those two pieces of equipment, my love of sitting and waiting for animals to appear, and some old-fashioned luck, I make some sense of this world through the viewfinder. Thanks so much for the very kind comments!
I hear you Ingrid!
My telephoto zoom lens is a 55-250mm IS (Canon) and cost me $300 but being new to DSLR photography I am loving it. I call it my “stalker lens” for obvious reasons. I love how I can zoom in on objects quite a distance away. I also have the kit lens which is 18-55mm IS… and my Christmas present from my husband a 50mm fixed lens (so incredibly sharp!!)
I never lose my appreciation for the speed of DSLR photography. Even as my E-3 autofocus acts up (it’s been problematic, even after repair) I still remember what it was like to photograph birds in flight, using a bridge camera with serious shutter lag. Modern gear is pure magic to me. 🙂
Thank you, Fish Cop. For anyone who hasn’t checked out this blog (Fish Cop Out of Water) — it’s written by a state game warden and is about, as she says,”my day to day life — everything from changing diapers to arresting poachers. This is what it feels like to be a fish out of water.” It’s an educational view into this facet of law enforcement. https://fishcopoutofwater.blogspot.com/
Your nature photography is amazing! I’ve only just found your site and have spent some time browsing, and shall come back again soon to see more. So far I’ve enjoyed hummingbirds (or rather, Hummingway), your ‘Escher’ Geese (they’re probably at home right now doing a webbed claw drawing a webbed claw), and the story of the Owl and hat… which reminds me of two Red Kite that had designs on my head over our garden one day (I’m in rural Wales, UK). They were circling overhead – I didn’t have my camera with me – and I had a nice lilac hat on my head that they were very interested in. I felt the safest thing to do was to run indoors, for the sake of my head and their digestion!
Val, thank you very much. Your art work is gorgeous! I’m glad to have found your site, thanks for linking out. As another commenter wrote, I appreciate the instructional aspects you added to your images. It’s lovely. It also reminds me to be more diligent about noting the process in every effort. I enjoy reading how others achieve particular effects.
As far as the lilac hat, that’s very funny. Perhaps the owl I witnesses is pictorial evidence of what might have been.