My Favorites of 2022... (So Far)

December 30, 2022

I'm sure the "So Far" in this title seems a bit optimistic seeing as how, at the time that I post this, 2022 only has about 36 hours to go- so let me explain. I've been dealing with a wide range of computer problems for the past couple of months and am currently without the ability to process new work. I believe that I have more images from this fall that would make this list, but I'd just begun to edit my autumn shoots when these issues started, and what's included here is as far as I got. Hopefully I'll have more to share soon.

Also, I'm opting to call these my favorites of the year rather than best. Photography can be so incredibly subjective, and I recognize that sentiment and experience factor heavily into several of these choices too. More and more for me the story behind a photo is every bit as important as the image itself, so this is as much a collection of favorite moments from the field as it is my year's best shots.

That said, I present my favorite images of the past twelve months, so far, starting with the photo above from Wildcat Den State Park in Iowa. I know I sound like a broken record sometimes, but I love to show that there's more to my home state than just cornfields. I think this image does a nice job of capturing the woodland feel that can be experienced in many of our state parks there. I really like the sharp detail in the limestone and leaves and how the deep early summer greens in the foliage and ferns contrast with the rock walls behind them.

This was a really great morning amidst a very busy week as I prepared for an upcoming art show- but I chose to drop everything so I could get out and spend a couple of much needed hours in the forest. I was a little bit better about doing that this past year than I have been the few prior, but there's still room for improvement. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the busyness of life and feel guilty when it seems we're falling behind- but I'm working to do a better job at prioritizing the need to just stop sometimes and breathe. I hope that it will lead to many more mornings like this ahead in 2023.

Cedar County, Iowa

This view has been a mainstay of my life. Up Rock Creek, past the old arch of the 1890 railroad bridge, across my family farm. My grandparents first moved here after World War II, and including my great grandparents who helped them get established, we're at five generations now with ties to this land. I've spent countless hours here at this spot (taken from the modern road bridge) -fishing as a kid, daydreaming, tossing stones to the water below.

Dozens of barn swallows build their mud nests just under the railing here, and scenes like this are common in early summer as they hunt for insects and tend to their chicks. I can remember watching them dart this way and that when I was a kid, amused by their aerial acrobatics. Something pretty cool occurred to me on the day this was taken, however, that I'd never really considered before. Since swallows return to the same nesting site every year, chances are these birds are descendants of the same I'd watched in my youth.

A kinship spanning generations too.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The Tetons are one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, and this photo would have probably made my favorites list on merit alone. I like how the color palette subtly underscores the imposing presence of those snowcapped peaks; enhanced in lighter contrast by their reflection on this calm morning along the Snake River. It has taken on significantly more personal meaning in recent months though.

While waiting for the sunrise, I shot a quick video of the scene and texted it to my childhood best friend John. We'd traveled to the Tetons together once during our college days and it immediately became one of his favorite places. I was reminiscing about that visit while standing here, and on a whim decided to share the view. He was excited, and responded by joking that he needed a road trip.

John suffered a stroke and fell into a coma in late October. He is still fighting for recovery and has a long road ahead. I posted a story of our friendship along with that video shortly after this happened, and vowed that he would see these mountains for himself again one day. This image from that morning has come to symbolize that hope and I dedicated it to John in his birth month of July in my 2023 calendar. I left a print of the scene while visiting him in rehab a few weeks ago, as a promise of my unwavering belief that he'll pull through.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

This image from Yellowstone National Park was taken at dawn the morning after the Tetons shot above. I'd been hoping to catch some vivid sunrise color over the canyon, but heavy rains had moved in the previous afternoon and persisted overnight. (This was the same system that brought historic flooding to the park, which began in earnest later this day.) While not the view I'd anticipated, the patchy fog and low hanging clouds created an intriguing mood that worked well to compliment this dynamic scene.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Though this is a popular photo location and thus not the most original scene, some times you take what you're given and wind up pretty happy with the outcome. I was back in Montana for the Whitefish Arts Festival over Fourth of July weekend, and it goes against every fiber of my being to be in the area without at least a quick visit to Glacier. Between entrance permit requirements and my show schedule I was limited anyway, and overnight construction on Going-to-the-Sun Road left Apgar Village my best option for sunrise over Lake McDonald.

I've tried shooting the boat dock here a few times before, but have never been pleased with the results. Conditions came together nicely on this morning though and I came away with one of my best shots of the year.

My favorite thing about this photo? The tiny little sunbursts on the ripples in the water.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Another product of opportunity, I hadn't necessarily planned to visit this area of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was coming off a show in Boulder and passing through, but didn't anticipate being able to get a last minute permit to access the popular Bear Lake trailheads. I was able to score one though, and with only a morning to spend decided to do the Dream Lake hike- just because it's familiar and always enjoyable. While on the trail I saw a sign pointing to Lake Haiyaha, and realized that I'd never taken the short side trip up to check it out. I'm glad that I finally did. The emerald glacial-fed water and rocky shoreline were a lot of fun to explore and enhanced the experience of this alpine gem.

Arapaho National Forest, Colorado

Shot the morning after the photo of Lake Haiyaha shown above, this image represents my most ambitious effort of the year. Again trying to navigate the permit system that has become increasingly common and necessary to protect many of our public lands, I wasn't able to get an overnight backcountry reservation that would have allowed the ideal approach to witnessing sunrise here- to hike in and spend the night. Instead I had to tackle it as a long day hike, leaving the trailhead at 2 am in order to get myself in place and ready before dawn. But it was well worth the effort to finally see and photograph this gorgeous mountain that's been on my bucket list for several years.

Tony Grove, Utah

While these wildflowers made a nice scene cast against Tony Grove Lake in the background, this is another that I chose more because I remember it as a special moment than for the image itself. It was taken at the suggestion of my five year old son, Caden. While he's tagged along on various excursions before (I used to push his stroller over some pretty rugged terrain for photo ops) this was our first real photo hike together where we both carried cameras- me my DSLR and him his tablet. I mainly walked along watching and encouraging him; it was so enjoyable seeing him discover new views through his lens (or at least his screen) and I will never, ever forget the constant smile on his face that evening as we quietly wandered the lakeshore. I'd had my camera tucked under my arm for quite awhile at this point, content to just keep watching him.

"Dad," he said noticing, "you should try to take a picture of these flowers."

Here you go, buddy...

Logan Canyon, Utah

This photo has a familiar feel to me- as in, I kind of suspect that it could be one that I personally really like, but maybe won't appeal so much to others. That happens a lot actually, and can bring kind of an ebb and flow of emotion. It's easy to become disappointed when we get really excited about sharing one of our images, only to have it received as a dud. But as we grow as photographers, or as humans, or whatever it is we're growing as, it's kind of cool to realize that it's okay to get excited over an image simply for our own sake. So yeah... I think this one's pretty neat. Trails always speak to me anyhow, and I love how the one here helps to create a story- and the sense of tension enhanced by the sunlit vertical cliff to the right, and the expansive mountain coming into detailed view across the canyon. It definitely has a provocative quality to it- a hint of adventure and a call to explore. (Or at least I think so.)

Cache National Forest, Utah

I spent a fair amount of time hiking toward the tail-end of peak autumn color this year, and several evenings found me deep in the mountains at dusk. I love how aspen leaves continue to catch light and appear to glow, even after sunset has vanished from view. I tried in vain to pull myself away from this scene, but kept finding new compositions and ultimately stood in this spot until the waning light completely faded and I was left to walk several miles back in the dark. Always part of the adventure... and always worth it.

That's it for now. I hope everyone has a Happy New Year- and please be safe this weekend. I look forward to sharing a few more fall shots still to come, and to getting started on my collection of 2023 favorites soon!