2012 Retrospective

The seeds of 2013 are just beginning to take root and I find myself looking toward the new year with an odd mixture of nostalgia and excitement. Major change and growth is in store for me in 2013 and I am looking forward to meeting the new challenges and successes of the year. At the same time I’m looking back on 2012 and realizing what an incredible year it was, wishing I could relive parts of it. For me 2012 held many breathtaking moments, some unforgettable adventures, huge challenges, and ponderous frustrations. But despite a few setbacks 2012 was my most exciting and successful year as a photographer. And when I look back through the images I made in 2012 I can’t believe some of them exist in my portfolio, and I’m reminded how fortunate I am to be on this path. So I’d like to go back and take a look at the best and most memorable moments and photos from this year.

I’d also like to give my sincere thanks to all of my excellent friends and fans. I wouldn’t be where I am without your support. Cheers.


Best Battle with Poseidon: Tempest
Hole in the Wall Beach
Hole in the Wall Beach at sunset, Santa Cruz, California

It was a battle. Me versus the wind. For every blow I would land in the form of a good shot, the wind would land a punch of its own by covering me with salt spray, tipping my tripod up on two legs, or tumbling my backpack into a tidepool. We went back and forth all night until I snagged this image. Thinking I was the victor, I stuffed my filters in my pocket and tromped off to find another composition. Which is when the wind had its last laugh: plucking the filters from my pocket and depositing them somewhere in a thousand square feet of tide pool. I looked and looked, to no avail. With the rising tide, the relentless wind, and the near-invisibility of the filters I knew it was a hopeless task.

Coldest Legs of the Year: Mountain Light
Hooker Lake, Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand Hooker Lake icebergs, Mt. Cook / Aoraki National Park, New Zealand

It turns out that glacial lakes are cold, really cold. Not that I noticed right away. I was wearing hip waders so I could stand thigh-deep in the just-above-freezing Hooker Lake while shooting icebergs and Mt. Cook at sunset. Because I wasn’t wet, I didn’t feel the cold right away. No, it was only after I’d been standing in the water for 40 minutes then tried to move that I felt it. My legs had turned to cold iron, and I could practically hear the creaks as I willed them to move back up to dry land.

Hottest Legs of the Year: Southern Splendor
Sealy Tarns, Mt. Cook National Park
Sealy Tarns, Mt. Cook / Aoraki National Park, New Zealand

The day after I froze my legs off in the glacial Hooker Lake I decided to go for another hike in Mount Cook National Park. The trail description didn’t make it sound bad at all: “Track starts out gently then ascends steeply to the Sealy Tarns.” A pretty unassuming description. Glib, even. But I learned my lesson the hard way: in New Zealand, when a trail guide says steep, it means steep. In truth it was a staircase from hell. To take my mind off my aching lungs and shaking legs I tried to count the number of individual stairs in the climb but I lost track somewhere in the two thousands. When I finally reached the top and saw this magnificent view at sunset, that endless trudge seemed like a small price to pay to witness the splendor of the Southern Alps.

Most Idiotic, Manic Moment of Brain-Addling Light: Wharariki Lightstorm
Wharariki Beach, New Zealand
Wharariki Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Having prioritized a few locations in NZ, I was prepared to spend up to five days at Wharariki Beach, shooting every single sunrise and sunset until I got something good. On day 2, barely 24 hours after I arrived at the beach, the sunset exploded and so did my brain. Seeing the vivid colors, pronounced lightbeams, and glassy reflections I ran around cackling like a lunatic.

Best “Something from Nothing” Shot: Watching the Watchers
Trail of the Gargoyles, Stanislaus National Forest, California
Stanislaus National Forest, Trail of the Gargoyles, Back lit pine trees

This was one of those days you know is just going to be a bust. I was running around, scouting for a workshop I was conducting as part of my artist residency in the Stanislaus National Forest in September, and ended up at the fascinating Trail of the Gargoyles at sunset. The skies were completely clear and I wasn’t expecting anything interesting to happen. Moreover, I couldn’t find a compelling composition of the Gargoyles themselves. I was about to pack it up and head home when the sun sank into a deliciously rich haze to the west and golden light scattered about the trees on the slopes below me.

Prettiest Lake, Fieriest Sunset, and Happiest Backpacker Moment: Sky Island
Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness
Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Eastern Sierra, California

It’s possible that I’m cursed, or perhaps it’s that I only go backpacking in the summer, but I never see any good light in the backcountry. It’s always brilliantly blue skies. Any clouds that do form inevitably disappear by sunset. I’ve seen no shortage of gorgeous, crystalline lakes in the high Sierra, and also no shortage of megawatt sunsets, but never the two together. At least that’s the way it was until October when a friend and I packed into Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness east of Yosemite. I should say that with its innumerable islets and unforgettable perch beneath one of the Sierra’s most recognizable peaks, Thousand Island is surely among the prettiest lakes I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t need amazing light to be photographed well. But during the afternoon of our trek the clouds kept building and building, sticking around through sunset when they caught this red and orange explosion of light cascading over the Sierra. True to form I began whooping and hollering, and doing a little happy dance as the scene burned its way onto my SD cards and into my memory.

Most Alien Landscape: Motukiekie Galaxies
Motukiekie Beach, New Zealand
Motukiekie Beach starfish, West Coast, New Zealand

With its shrub-capped seastacks, endless tidal pools, and unusual animals, Motukiekie Beach in New Zealand is an otherworldly landscape. During my April NZ Adventure I visited the beach at sunrise to find hundreds of 12-legged seastars clustered together in “starfish galaxies.” I really wanted to enhance the surreal and alien feel of the place so I used a minute-long exposure to transform the incoming waves into mist.

Most Unexpected Shot: A Godley View
Southern Alps, New Zealand
Godley River and Lake Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand

When I took a scenic flight around New Zealand’s Southern Alps, I expected to come home with scenic photos of the Southern Alps. Um, duh. But whether it was the time of day of the flight, my position in the plane, or some other factor, I didn’t shoot any jaw-dropping mountain images. Instead, my favorite shot from the whole deal was this photo showing the weirdly bifurcated Godley River dumping its glacial silt into the tropical-blue waters of Lake Tekapo. Surprise!

Coolest Shot: The Light Within
Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

A helicopter flight, a slot canyon of slightly luminous ice, and an afternoon spent wandering around on top of a glacier. Yup, pretty cool.

Favorite Accidental Shot: Seastar Sunset
Motukiekie Beach, New Zealand
Motukiekie Beach sunset, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

This photo almost didn’t exist. I was scouting compositions in preparation for sunset when I plunked my tripod down in front of this pool and almost as an afterthought snapped off a single quick shot before walking farther down the beach. I must’ve been thinking too much about sunset to realize what I was looking at. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I was reviewing my images that this one popped out at me and I said “holy crap!”

Best “DAMN YOU, CLEAR SKIES!!” Shot: Zen Garden
Death Valley National Park
Ibex Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

As a photographer I dread blue skies. They make my style of photography so…..boring. Death Valley, one of the driest places in the US, gets so little rain that blue skies are almost guaranteed in the park. However, Death Valley also contains sand dunes, and sand dunes are one of the best things to shoot in clear weather, especially as the sun nears sunrise and sunset. The low angle of direct light creates intense patterns in the ripples of the sand dunes, the sort of thing that makes photographer me love life.

Favorite Shot of the Year: Wanaka Dreaming
Lake Wanaka, New Zealand
Lake Wanaka Willow, South Island, New Zealand

Any artist will tell you that it’s important to have vision. An idea that you can follow as you create. But in photography there is nothing so rare as having a photo actually match your vision. With the unpredictability of conditions, and physical limitations of your body and your gear it’s almost impossible for the reality of your photo to match what’s in your mind, especially if what’s in your mind was formed years before taking the photo. After first seeing an image of this tree back in 2010 or so I knew that I wanted to shoot it in fall with a long exposure to streak the clouds and turn Lake Wanaka into a silky dream. It wasn’t until 2012 that I even had a chance to attempt to make this photo. I booked my plane tickets for early April, hoping for fall color, then I headed straight for Wanaka when the first hint of clouds entered the forecast. Alas, I shot the tree all morning under completely cloudless skies. Disappointed, I started packing up but stopped to talk with a few tourists also checking out the tree. As our conversation wound down I noticed thick banks of clouds forming to the north and moving quickly to the south. Miraculously, even though the clouds began whipping by overhead there was almost no wind at lake level, meaning that after a full minute-long exposure the leaves on the tree were still and sharp in my photo. Seeing the result on my LCD I let out a whoop of joy and cracked a smile that didn’t leave my face until I got back on the plane to leave New Zealand some three weeks later.


Thanks for reading! Comments are very welcome.

14 Responses

  1. These are great photos, I found your images through Pinterest and happy I did. I will be following from now on! I love the scenic views you posted. Looking forward to seeing some more.

  2. Great work. Because my father pioneer color photographer Philip Hyde was full-time for nearly 60 years, I know it is not easy being a full-time pro in some ways and it’s a dream in others. Your wind story to go with the first image was harrowing. You tell excellent stories with words as well as photos. My favorite images here are the two beach reflections from New Zealand and Mt. Brooks also from NZ. Enjoyed reading and viewing your journeys.

  3. Hey Josh,
    Just wanted to let you know how much i have loved your work since i discovered you….(makes me sound like Colombus!) I love your sense of humor and writing style also. Someday i would like to take your Big Sur workshop…..i bet you are a blast to be around! Do you have a 2012 calender with your favorite prints? As for the book, please do one on ALL your work, you DEFINITELY have enough, especially with your witty blurbs, stories, captions. Put me on the waiting list for it! Happy New Year and keep up the amazing work that you do….can’t wait to see what’s new for 2013! Nancy Holsten

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Well thank you so much! I really appreciate all those kind words.

      To answer your question, I do indeed have a 2012 calendar. This is first year in awhile that I’ve actually done one, so your timing is good. If you’d like to order one they’re $15 + $4 shipping. Feel free to send me an email, or you can order directly from my website here:

      2013 Wall Calendar

      As to the book, all I can say is we’ll see what the future holds. 🙂

      Take care and Happy New Year,


  4. Hey Joshua, is there a chance that you make a photo book out of your NZ adventure? That would be something I’d purchase in a heartbeat. Greetings from Germany, Jan

    1. Hey Jan,

      This is something that an increasing number of people have been asking me about so I’m definitely considering it. However, the catch at the moment is that I don’t have anywhere near enough quality photos to fill a whole book. Let me get a few more Kiwi photo adventures under my belt and then it’s a much more likely possibility.

      Happy new year,


  5. Hey Josh.. First want to wish you a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR.. I just love your work as you well know but now I’m looking forward to what you can do in 2013
    I would also like you to write a book.. You have such a way of explaining the photo you are taking and what you went through it to ‘make it happen. I love your blogs and think if you can publish your photos with blogs, it would be absolutely a sell out. You are a story teller and I love reading your ‘stories’. Keep up the good work and look forward to your work in 2013

    Again .. HAPPY NEW YEAR. all the best adventures and trips are your’s to happen and I know they will

    take care

    1. Hi Gail,

      Happy New Year to you too! And thank you so much for your support over the past year. You’re not the first person to suggest that I do a book, so believe me, the idea is lurking around in my mind! But so are a million other projects I want to work on. 🙂 If the book happens, believe me, I’ll let everyone know.

      Wishing you many great adventures this year as well,


  6. Thank yor for your gorgeous photographs. I would love to meet you and learn from you in one of your workshops. Do you ever come to So. Cal.?
    I will sign up for one of your workshops but I will need area accommodations.

    1. Hi David,

      Thanks so much! It would be great to have you on a workshop. We don’t have any workshops in Southern California per se, but we do have an awesome one in Death Valley. And the registration fee includes lodging on that one. You can check out our calendar of workshops here:


      And we’re happy to provide lodging suggestions and answer any other questions you might have. Just let me know.



  7. Hey Josh! I rarely ever comment on your Flickr or Facebook page but I would like to say that I’m for sure a fan of yours! I’ve been enjoying your images lately especially the few from the Ansel Adams Wilderness area. Looking forward to your new work in 2013!

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