If I could sum up this year's photography in one word, it would have to be, rarity. When I looked at my best this year, there seemed to be more rare images, than award winners. I don't think that is a bad thing, and can actually be very rewarding in so many ways. Sometimes, it can be monetary reward, but often rarity means a reward of a job well done, and a warmth of the heart. Now, before I start waxing eloquent, let's get right into this years best images (from my perspective).
Number Ten - Socco Falls
Those who follow me know that I started my nature photography back in the 1990s, and back then, my number one subject was waterfalls. To this day, I try to make one trip a year to photograph a waterfall. This year's trip was to Socco Falls in beautiful North Carolina.
This type of vertical is my signature waterfall image. I use an extremely low level to introduce foreground elements and let the leading lines stretch back to the twin falls.
Number Nine - Ruby-throated Hummingbird
My love affair with the hummingbird seems to never stop. Every year, I wait with anticipation for this colorful tiny bird to arrive.
In this image, taken with my Sony a7R III, I have frozen the wings as he gathers nectar from this flower. I love the amazing flash of ruby from his gorget!
I am going to miss my Sony a7R III. It has the best image quality of any camera I have ever owned, but I had to buy a video camera and the A7R was just not used enough to justify owning it anymore.
Number Eight - Cormorant Sculpture
Here is where the rarity begins for me. While out photographing bald eagles at a local lake, we came across these perching cormorants. To me, they look like a sculpture created by a wonderful artist.
To help set the scene, this was the top of a tree, way out into the lake, by itself, and provided the perfect resting spot away from danger.
Number Seven - Early Morning Canada Goose
While laying on my belly photographing several snow geese in a field, I looked over to see a beautiful morning glow on the horizon. After trying unsuccessfully to siloghette the snow geese that were feeding on the ground, I rose up to my knees and was rewarded with this Canada goose.
Besides the lighting, I like this image because it is an optical illusion. When I look at this image, my mind sees a goose flying slightly toward me from right to left. In reality, the bird was flying away from me.
Number Six - Landing Snow Goose
There were about four snow goose images in the run for this spot and honestly, I am not even sure this is my favorite, but I decided it would do.
I like this image, because it shows how large the snow goose really is and this is exactly how they land over and over again.
This was my first year photographing the snow goose and I had a great time doing. My only regret on this trip was that my brother could not join me, due to bad virus.
Number Five - Angry Bird
I was out testing the Sony FX-30 to see what it could do with still images, when I observed this mocking bird in full defensive mode. Don't worry, he wasn't angry with me as I was hidden in a blind, but he was angry with several other birds in the area who kept coming within 20 feet of his nest.
When processing the image, I was immediatly taken back to the hit game, Angry Birds. If there was one bird that should have been in the game, it should have been the mocking bird. Sony FX-30 Review
Number Four - Feeding her Young
Out of all the years I have been photographing bluebirds, this one clearly got my attention at processing time.
I love the gaping mouth of the little baby bluebird in anticipation of a fresh insect from mom. It really describes the selfless attitude of the bluebird. They are a true joy to watch and photograph.
Number Three - Northern Harrier Attack
Now, the rarity gets real.
On my annual trip to Florida, I was just beginning my afternoon hike along the wetlands in Polk County, Florida. I was really feeling pain in my legs and joints from the morning adventure, and frankly I wasn't quite as into it. It had been a brutally long week with poor weather and poorer sleep.
Walking along the trail, I saw a good looking red-shouldered hawk perched on the top of a dead tree to my right. I would say it was about 30 yards out. Like any good photographer, my immediate thought was, "that bugger is going to bolt!" To my surprise he didn't. I figure he must have been a local, and was used to hikers.
I stopped and brought my Sony a9 to my eye and began to shoot in 20 fps bursts. That is when a heart stopping moment was captured completely by serendipity!
In the 20 fps, this heart stopping encounter took about 4 frames in total. That was how fast the grey ghost was coming inbound!
But, there is one thing very unique about this image, beyond this unusual timing. The fact is, I think it was me that saved the red-shouldered hawk from taking damaged .
In this image, the harrier is staring right at me, but why? It is not that unusual for a raptor to stare at the photographer as he flies by, but in this case, I was a complete surprise.
You see, I was standing behind a thick pine tree that was in front of the dead tree. As is common for a northern harrier, it was swooping up from the swamp to take the red-shouldered from behind. Harriers tend to be low lever hunters. That ghost saw me and immediately started his climb away. I don't think he got one talon on the red-shouldered hawk. The fact he is looking right at me, was a plus and really helped make the shot. Sony a9 Review
Number Two - Man and Wife
Blessings, serendipity and sometimes just blind luck play into a rare shot. But, without some level of skill, blind luck can only go so far.
In this shot, which I have never been able to capture until this year, I was able to make two shots in a row of this mating pair of bluebirds. For each shot, I changed forcus , and later focus staking them into one. It is literally impossible, from a physics perspective, to attain focus on both birds. This is exactly how these birds were perched at the time the focus stack was taken.
Why do I call it man and wife? Because, I have always seen in the bluebird mating pairs the human struggle of raising young. I see it take its toll on them physically every year. I see their babies die from disease and predators, but they keep pressing on.
I am going to call this shot a blessing from God!
Number One - Bull Elk with Big Lip Curl
As always, I struggled greatly with picking the number one slot. I sort of let social media pick which one would be chosen.
This was indeed in the top three for me, but it went sort of crazy with likes and comments online. I entered this one in several contests. We will see how it does.
On this day, I was out in western North Carolina, photographing a couple of the herds located out there. It is a yearly adventure for me.
As I arrived on location that morning, I could see the elk walking through the fields in the darkness. I love that time of day!
As the darkness gave way to the sun, it's rays began to burn off the the the beautiful mist that gives the Smoky Mountains its name.
This bull elk was simply in the right place at the right time and was willing to perform this lip curl for me. The balance between the fog and clear locations help make this shot a winner in my book.
By the way, this was shot with the lower end Sony a6700 while testing!