My Favorite Photos of 2011

For me January represents a time not only of looking forward to the excitement and challenges of the New Year, but also a time to look back upon the great memories, photos, and growth of the past 12 months.  2011 was my best year yet as a photographer, both in terms of business success as well as creating strong images.  I find I often forget to reflect on my existing shots in my never-ending quest for the next great image, so in this post I’d like to take the time to review my 10 strongest and favorite images from 2011.

Starting with #10…

Temple of the Sun, Capitol Reef National Park

Temple of the Sun, Capitol Reef National Park

In May I took a two-week road trip through Utah… One of my first destinations was the seldom-visited Capitol Reef National Park.  This undiscovered gem of a park encompasses the Waterpocket Fold, a massive wrinkle in the earth’s crust.  There are enough canyons, arches, slots, washes, spires, and geologic oddities here to keep a photographer busy for years.  Because of the amazing beauty and low visitation of the park, I dubbed Capitol Reef “The Coolest National Park You’ve Never Heard Of.”  For me it certainly was an astounding introduction to the area and a great way to kick off my trip.

9) Olmsted Point, Yosemite National Park

Thunderstorm at sunset at Olmsted Point, Yosemite National Park

“I want to hike Half Dome for my birthday.” That’s what my mom said at the beginning of the Summer to kick off this adventure. So she and a number of other women began training. But once they realized what exactly was involved in hiking Half Dome, the women started dropping off like flies. By the time my mom’s birthday rolled around in mid September, only she and two steadfast friends were still gung-ho for the hike. This meant she had extra permits and so I decided to join them as well.

But a funny thing about those permits, they are for a specific date which is non-transferable. So when your day arrives, you are hiking that trail come hell or high water. And in our case it was high water: massive thunderstorms rolled in in the afternoon and absolutely drenched us, flooded Little Yosemite Valley within minutes, and turned the late-season trickles in the park into roaring waterfalls once again. Thank goodness we had already summited Half Dome and were on our way back down by the time the weather began.

Here’s a shot from the night before when the tail end of a thunderstorm caught the sunset glow. I was hoping to shoot in Tuolumne Meadows but when it became clear the best light was happening back out over the Valley, I ran to Olmsted Point to witness this awesome display.

8 ) Shooting Stars at Moonlight, Sabrina Basin

Shooting Star wildflowers at Moonlight Lake, Sabrina Basin, California

There is nothing quite like the Sierras in the summertime. To me, all the soaring granite spires, shimmering lakes, trickling streams, verdant meadows, and rampaging wildflowers create a paradise which seems to melt my brain with its beauty. Maybe it’s the altitude, but once I cross the 10,000 foot altitude line and see all that stark Sierra beauty, all my coherent thought processes break down and I’m left standing there, gibbering like an idiot. At least my fingers still work and I can press the buttons on my camera.

This shot shows a flush of shooting stars growing around the shores of Moonlight Lake in the Sabrina Basin out of Bishop, California.  What a treat to find this display on my only Sierra backpacking trip of the year.

7) Fire and Foam, Davenport Beach

Davenport Main Beach Seastack at sunset, Davenport, California

This is my only seascape image from 2011 that made it into my top 10.  Kinda ironic considering I have a reputation as a seascape shooter.  But also indicative of the fact that 2011 was a year of exploration for me, where I got to know the mountains, the deserts, and the canyons better.  Nevertheless, the ocean is where I live and there’s something special about it when all the right elements come together.

This shot was taken at Davenport main beach, which holds two very interesting attractions for me as a photographer. One is the prominent seastack. The second (and more alluring, in my opinion) is a series of rocky fingers that rise up out of the sand. The fingers are only accessible at low tide, and with the right waves, the contrasts between the dark rock and the white foam is sublime. Top that off with a gorgeous sunset, and you have a recipe for awesome photography.

6) Field of Dreams, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Tidy Tips, Carrizo Plain National Monument

I love Spring for a number of reasons, not least of which is the annual wildflower hunt. As blooms spread throughout California photographers share tips, locations, and gas as they race around the state trying to find the best displays. The Carrizo Plain is typically a hotspot for wildflowers and dozens of colorful varieties can appear in the Monument. Though 2011 was been a mediocre year for flowers overall, I was still amazed by the vast fields of tidy tips that carpeted the Carrizo Plain.

5) Frozen Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park

Tenaya Lake frozen at sunset, Yosemite National Park

Thanks to unseasonably dry conditions in the Sierras in the early Winter of 2011, Tioga Pass through Yosemite stayed open till the end of the year (and is still open as of the writing of this post).  However, the late night high country cold ensured that all the lakes at elevation would be frozen over.  When I started seeing videos of people ice skating on a frozen Tenaya Lake, I knew I had to pay a visit to the park to take advantage of this unusual opportunity.

Just after Christmas a series of partly cloudy days was forecast so I hightailed it to the park and spent three days exploring the normally-inaccessible high country.  This was the fiery sunset on the first night, and the incredible light show along with the fabulous cracks in frozen Tenaya Lake helped make this shot an instant favorite of mine.

4) Painting with Wind, Death Valley National Park

Ibex Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

Truth be told, I’m not much of an abstract shooter. I just love grand vistas and soaring landscapes. But sand dunes are such amazing studies in lines, light, color, and textures that it’s easy to lose yourself in these elements. The way that light and shadow feather so gracefully around the curves of the dunes is pure magic. The smoothness and subtleties can be so perfect they almost look like they were painted in. And it was these tones and textures which caught my eye and camera in this shot.

3) Coyote Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Coyote Falls in Spring, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Call me impulsive, but sometimes I plan trips based only on a single photo of a place. The first time I did this I visited L’ile de la Reunion in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all because of this amazing photo by Yann Arthus Bertrand. In May of this year I decided to backpack through Coyote Gulch, Utah, thanks to a spectacular shot by Michael Anderson. The Gulch did not disappoint: soaring walls, massive amphitheaters, gigantic rock arches, and even a waterfall or two.  This place was truly a southwest paradise.

2) Zebra Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Zebra Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

I’m not sure why “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is such a pervasive maxim in our society. As if every stranger is hell bent on our personal destruction and by talking to them we’re unleashing all of their fury and ire. I find this to be slightly ridiculous. In my opinion “Talk to Strangers” is a much more interesting and enjoyable maxim to live one’s life by.

As I was backpacking through the wondrous Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, I struck up a conversation with four backpackers who were also overnighting in the canyon. Being from Utah, this group had a wealth of knowledge about the area and clued me in to a number of excellent places to visit, including this one, Zebra Canyon. I probably would have missed this otherwise, so thank goodness I like to talk to strangers.

As to the photo, this is probably the hardest I’ve ever had to work to get a shot.  The canyon walls are so narrow that positioning my tripod was a nightmare.  After a ridiculous amount of fiddling and careful adjustment, I was finally able to get my camera into the right spot to take this shot.

1) Breathless, Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe

Sand Harbor State Park at sunset, Lake Tahoe

My favorite photo of all time, this shot has pretty much everything I ever look for in a photo:  an intriguing and unique composition, a huge array of complementary colors, reflective water, clear water, rocky textures, color and shape contrasts, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and a beautiful sunset to top it all off.  This is one of those rare photos where I knew I had something special as soon as I pressed the shutter button.  In fact, I was so ecstatic at the time of the capture that I was literally jumping for joy, shouting at the top of my lungs, which is part of the reason I titled the photo “Breathless.”

2011 was a wonderful year, and I’m looking forward to the magic moments 2012 is sure to bring.  Happy New Year everyone and have a great year!

If you’d like a print of any of these photos, they are 50% off till January 31st, 2011.


6 Responses

  1. Hi Joshua, Just wanted to let you know I am a fan of yours and your all time favorite photo is mine also. As to why there are fewer women photographers, I think the main reason is that they are still the primary caretakers of their children. How many men are willing to be stay at home dads while their wives/partners go traveling all over the world as a primary job and not come home at night to tuck their children in? Not to say there are exceptions but I think this is the primary reason. I wish I knew that photography could be a career when I was younger and was not steered into an acceptable field for women. I became a teacher because I did not know what I wanted. Now at my age I know that I would have loved to be a photographer and traveled the world!. That is why I take as many workshops as I can. To try and live my dream and someday even take a few photos in your league!!!! Nancy

  2. I like how you create interesting foreground to lead into you landscape images- I have been struggling with that. Great collection of images!

  3. Your photography is really amazing! Wicked Kool! I love living through the lens of your camera. You truly have a talented eye for beauty and capturing it!

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