2014 is winding to a close, and so it’s time once again to make my selections and publish my choices for my favorites from the photos I took in 2014. 2014 was a strange year for me in photography: I spent many fewer days out in the field taking pictures, but I spent significant time on intensive photo trips that created some significant and interesting photography, so the number of images that I added to my library and the percentage I consider “portfolio worthy” are about the same as other years. It can be frustrating to literally not touch a camera for weeks at a time, but when I look back at the results of 2014, my only regret is that not one image of a Sandhill Crane made even the first cut evaluation of images for this list.
As he has for a number of years, Jim Goldstein is overseeing the Your Best Photos: 2014 blog project, and with this list I’ll be participating. Last year I did an in-depth look at the lists submitted to this project in Thoughts on Jim Goldstein’s ‘Best of 2013′ project that got a lot of interesting and thoughtful feedback, and I hope to do something similar again this year. If I have time, which has been in tight supply the last few months.
The two big highlights of my photographic life in 2014 were the week I spent in Yellowstone, and the Fall Foliage workshop Laurie and I took from Michael Frye based out of Mono Lake and the Lee Vining area. You’ll see strong representation in this list from both trips. Also represented are my trip to take in the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, shoot the Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas, my continuing fascinating with the Moss Landing area, and my refuge visits, which were seriously impacted by the ongoing drought here in California. My lack of free time these last few months are also represented well in this list given that only two images taken after my June Yellowstone trip made the list, other than my entries from the October Fall Foliage trip. So this list could most properly be called my “best images of the first half of 2014 and one break from work in October” list. I do think 2015 will not find me quite that busy and away from the camera.
That said, I ended up with 21 images on this list, which is a fairly large list, but I didn’t see any more that were “easy” cuts, and I decided to keep it to one list instead of splitting between my landscape and birds and building two lists hoping you wouldn’t notice… (because I know you will).
I haven’t yet decided what my photography plans or trips will be in 2015. I’m learning towards the Northwest coast and Olympic National Park, but I won’t make any decisions for a while. In January I expect to get a couple of days down with the elephant seals again, and we’re planning on visiting some of the refuges around the central valley in the next few months, but I’m not sure when and how often I’ll be able to break free or take an extended trip; I don’t see anything like Yellowstone this year, although I want to get back there (who wouldn’t?) and spend a week or two focusing on thermals. (If you haven’t seen it, Stephen Bumgarner, the cinematographer behind the Yosemite Nature Notes, has done a beautiful video on Yellowstone geysers, his first video for that park)
In no particular order, here are the images I’ve chosen for this year. You can see them collected over on my Smugmug Portfolio as well.
This is the image everyone looks at and goes “oooh!” over. I love it, too, and there’s a bit of a story behind its creation you can find in my discussion about taking the workshop. Having said that, it’s not my favorite shot from the workshop.
This is my favorite shot from the workshop. it doesn’t have the “alien landscape” aspect the tufa brings to the previous image, but I like the composition and color best of all of my shots, and this is my favorite image of the year excluding my Yellowstone trip.
Some of you might note that there isn’t actually a fall foliage shot in my best-of list, despite having taken the workshop. Guilty as charged, not because I didn’t create some images I’m proud of (like this) but because I didn’t think any of them were quite good enough to kick any of these images out of the list.
I wasn’t a prolific year for bird photography for me, but I did make some images I particularly like, and had a few sequences with birds where I got a large number of images with differing behaviors of the same bird in a short time period. This Long-Billed Curlew is one of those, where I was able to spend some time while the bird bathed and paid me no particular attention.
This White-Faced Ibis is a similar situation where I was in my car and using it as a blind, and the bird wandered up quite close and ignored my existence while it foraged and fed.
While it wasn’t the most productive year I’ve spent in the refuges, I did get to spend some quality time with the Ross’s Geese at Merced. Hopefully this winter will be a bit more interesting now that the rains have started.
Sea Otters. Right about now, I think most of you have stopped reading and are just going “Oh, cute!” They are, and I love photographing them when they’re within reach. I’m fortunate that two of my favorite places — Moss Landing and Morro Bay — both have populations that are frequently accessible without intruding on them.
Another species that hangs out in the Moss Landing area are the harbor seals, which have a haul-out in the harbor, so there are always at least a few. Sometimes they get as curious about you as you are about them.
As I’ve been heard to remark, if you can’t find me, start looking in Morro Bay. Sweet Springs Nature Preserve is where I first realized I’d gotten serious about birding as a hobby, and it’s a place I always return to when I visit that area. I don’t do much (enough!) Black and White, but this one I’m particularly happy with.
Speaking of getting large sequences of images from a single bird in a short period of time, this Western Gull caught a crab and swam it over to within 15′ of me to tear it apart and eat it, clearly aware that I was there, and completely willing to ignore me. But he did feel like showing off his prize a bit first.
You want to stop a full boat of birders in its tracks for an extended period of time? Find a mom sea otter holding her pup out in the harbor. You may all go “awww….” now. This one, by the way, looks absolutely stunning as a print. Just saying’
Does she look happy? No, she doesn’t look happy. Sex between elephant seals isn’t consensual, and here we have a female where the male controlling the harem she’s in has noticed she’s gone into heat. I’ve been shooting the elephant seals on and off for a couple of years now and studying their behaviors and environment more, and I’m finding them to be a fascinating subject and species to spend time around. As long as I’m upwind.
Male elephant seals fight for dominance (and the females) on the beach. These two males were fairly evening matched and the fight went on for over two minutes, which is a very long time for these fights. Size matters, and the larger male will win the fight almost 100% of the time.
Another area I love to frequent is the hills out beyond Milpitas near the Calaveras Reservoir. We’ve seen a significant growth in the number of eagles out there (and in the region in general), and there’s a bald eagle nest I’ve been monitoring when I can for almost a decade now. So it was rather nice to drive around a blind corner and stumble upon this immature eagle with a fresh kill. It got even more fun when a small group of Yellow-Bill Magpies popped in and decided to help the bird with the kill. The eagle was not impressed, and the magpies were not easily intimidated, leading to a fun time.
This is a Peregrine Falcon giving me that “I’m outta here” stare. Have you ever wondered if that moon roof in your car is useful? Answer is — once in a while, very.
Colusa NWR is up in the Sacramento area, so it’s a bit of a drive, but Laurie and I try to get up there once a year. It’s been hosing a quite rare Falcated Duck on and off for the last few years (so far with my trips, ‘off’), but is a great place to get flight shots of Greater White-Fronted Geese, which hang out there every winter.
Yellowstone. I’ve been trying to get there for three years — or more correctly, wanted to go back since my visiting in 2008, but I’ve been planning an intensive photo trip for three years. This year it happened, and I spent a week in the park shooting wildlife. Came home exhausted, thrilled and with many really nice pictures, and of course some frustrations over missed opportunities. No complaints, though. you can read my write-up to find out more.
My goal was to spend time shooting what the park offered me, but Bison, Elk, Moose and the Pronghorn Antelope were a priority, along with the beavers and lake otters, if I could find them. Bison, fortunately, were not a problem, and were a fascinating subject that I was happy to treat with respect. I actually got within ten feet of a bison at one point when I was headed north near Madison and a herd decided to commute south towards Firehole, and so I pulled over, parked, and tried not to annoy them as they went by. No photos of that fly-by, because I was too busy being fascinated by being that close to those stunning beasts (and being quiet and still to not attract attention).
Pronghorn were a joy and a challenge, in that a lot of the females were moving around (and most were very pregnant) but finding them in a situation where they were in range and comfortable with the encounter was more rare. I did get some nice shots, but I don’t think I got very many that were as good as I wanted them to be. A reason to go back on another trip, of course.
Lewis Lake is on the road out of the south gate of Yellowstone, on the way to Flagg Ranch where I was staying (highly recommended). As I went by the first time, the color and the ice really caught my eye. I went back two days later to try some new compositions, and the ice was already melted and gone. A good reminder to get the shot, and not to plan going back for the shot later — if at all possible.
This elk decided it wanted to be a celebrity, so it staked out a piece of meadow maybe 25′ from the road near Artist Point, and decided to just hang out. As you might imagine, that led to a great cluster of people around it and some rather hard-working and frustrating rangers trying to keep everyone from getting run over standing in the middle of the street to take pictures. The Elk, as fare as I could tell, enjoyed creating the chaos, and three days later, it was still there, and still getting its picture taken.
Did I mention working with the Bison was a priority? The Bison were all over the park, but the Bison calfs were distant and hard to find until I got to Lamar Valley. Have you ever noticed how how wildlife fans and photographers start to whimper and drool at the mention of Lamar Valley? There’s a reason.
Oh, did I mention that Lamar Valley was at the furthest possible distance from where I was staying at Flagg Ranch? Long drive, totally worth it.
And for my final image of this list, my final image from my Yellowstone trip. The last day I was in the park, I felt like I’d worked the wildlife about as much as I wanted and I was satisfied with the results. I was playing tag with the intermittent thunderstorms (great clouds for images in distance, awesome. random drenching from overhead, not so) and really felt unmotivated to do much photography, so I wandered the park a bit and ended up on Firehole drive, where I stopped near Firehole Spring to, if you want me to be honest, take a break and have a snack. I then spent 30+ minutes working on getting a shot, and this is the best of them.
And if you want to know why I want to go back and spend a week shooting thermals, well… this.
Until next year….