As the end of another year approaches, it’s time for me to go back through my Lightroom catalog and pick a dozen favourite images from the year. With things finally getting back to something like normal after two years of pandemic, my catalog growth rate is now back to the image counts I’ve typically seen over the last decade or so with 20323 new exposures added. For comparison, the total in 2020 was only 8424 and 2021’s tally was 16355. Pictures added this year were taken using 10 different cameras (including the drone, a GoPro and a couple of phones), and 12 lenses (excluding the phones and drone). Of the 20K images, I have 400 currently marked as “good enough to publish” though there are probably a couple of thousand exposures in there that I have yet to look at so this number will likely go up a bit as I process those.
Choosing my favourite 12 from these proved very challenging. My initial cull resulted in about 50 possible candidates and I had to throw out some shots I absolutely love to get down to the final set. In some cases this was because the subject already appeared and I didn’t want too many duplicates in the set but in others the decision between shots was essentially arbitrary. I’m also, as always, wary of declaring that these are my “best” photographs of the year because some are included for emotional reasons rather than strict photographic merit. Here they are, though, in purely chronological order.
At the beginning of April, I took my relatively new DJI Air 2S drone down to the Seaholm Development to take some downtown skylines during blue hour. I love this flying camera! The pictures, even in low light and some wind, are crisp with good colour and I can finally get great aerial images at dusk without worrying about noise or fuzzy results. This was my favourite shot from that evening with the Texas State Capitol visible to the left of the frame and that wonderful sunset gradient across the mirrored side of the new Google “sail” building on the right.
Late in April, one of the main signs of life returning to normal was Dripping Springs Founders Day weekend. This is a highlight of the community calendar and I always spend Friday and Saturday photographing the various people and activities that take over the centre of the town. The main activity on the Saturday is a huge barbecue cook-off featuring teams from all over the state and I love capturing portraits of the characters manning the kitchens. This image of Junior, one of the members of the well-known Lone Star Chili and BBQ Team, was my favourite from the weekend. Taken with a wide angle lens, it emphasizes the size of his arms and hands. His shirt read “The Man, The Legend” as far as I can remember.
During the last weekend of April, Nikki and I took another trip to Big Bend National Park in West Texas and it was every bit as glorious as it had been on our first trip back in 2020. While driving towards the trailhead for one of the hikes we planned to do, the misty, early morning conditions were creating some fantastic layers from the mountains over on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande. When we reached a point where the closest ridge had a bunch of ocotillo plants, we had to stop so that I could grab this image. I love the minimal, graphic feel which, I have to admit, I mucked with to replace the predominant browns in the original with this cooler blue.
I wouldn’t normally include an image from a workshop in a list like this because I often feel that it’s not fair to claim credit for an amazing picture if someone else set up the shot and the lights for it. In this case, however, I’m breaking that rule because the person who set up this shot was Joe McNally whose dance photography workshop in Cedar Park I had the great pleasure of attending at the end of May. Emmakate and 3 other dancers from Ballet Austin and local studios spent the day gracefully leaping in front of large lights to the delight of the dozen or so photographers who were there. It was an amazing experience and, after being a fanboy for a couple of decades, it was fantastic to meet Joe in the flesh too.
After a couple of years of restricted travel, it was wonderful to be able to take a trip back to Europe again this summer. Our first port of call was Zagreb, Croatia and our family all fell in love with the city’s architecture, people, food and general atmosphere. I took this image during a wander around the old town at the start of our stay and processed it to look rather grungy. I suspect I would have used a brighter tone had I taken it after getting to know the place a bit better.
From Croatia, we traveled back to the UK for some family time and spent a lovely day wandering the South Bank area of London. Our route took us over Tower Bridge, undoubtedly one of the most photographed landmarks in the city, and I took this picture in an attempt to do something different. I did also take the standard postcard compositions but I definitely prefer this one.
The start of football season saw me return to my regular gig as one of the photographers for the University of Texas Longhorn Band. I’ve been doing this for about a dozen years now and it’s getting trickier and trickier to find new compositions each year. This year, I spent some time playing with my fisheye lens and, although conventional wisdom states that you shouldn’t use a fisheye for portraits, I loved this image of one of the drumline members.
I love taking photographs of insects and this image of a robber fly, taken as it was sitting on my car, was definitely my favorite of the year. It was also one of the first I’ve taken with my new Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens and Flashpoint macro flash. It’s a manually blended composite of three or four images to allow me to show more of the subject in focus than would be the case in a single image.
This year’s NxNW photography trip was a reprise of our 2021 expedition as we returned to Utah. About half the places we visited had been on our location list in previous trips and one of those was Dead Horse Point State Park. Since I had photographed it before, I had fun trying new compositions such as this fisheye shot of a well-photographed cedar tree that perches on the lip of the cliff.
I think it’s fair to say that Factory Butte just outside Hanksville, Utah, is my favorite landscape photography location anywhere. The butte and the surrounding terrain is absolutely stunning. It’s also a location offering amazing opportunities for drone photography since you really need some elevation to see the eroded ridges radiating out from the butte itself.
Having visited before, I had learned lessons about the best angles and times to photograph at sunrise so I had the drone positioned exactly where I wanted it as the sun peeked over the horizon. On this particular visit, we were lucky enough to have some clouds and good color in the sky so the results were exactly what I had been looking for.
In my original image cull for this set, I had 5 Factory Butte images but I felt it was a bit much so I narrowed it down to two in the final collection.
I spent most of my time during our Factory Butte sunrise shoot photographing from the drone but I also broke out the infra-red camera and used it after the sun had risen and the light wasn’t as good for “normal” photography. This was my favorite of those images. This clump of grass jumped out from the dark background of a stock pond very nicely, offering a great foreground element for a photo of the butte and its reflection.
Armando Martinez is seen here in silhouette standing at the entrance to a slot canyon in Utah. This was another location we revisited this year and which I had photographed heavily during our 2021 trip. I decided to travel light that afternoon and carried only a single camera and lens. In the end, I took two of my favorite images from the trip there, this being one of those. Sometimes removing choices from photography decisions can actually free you up to see and take better images!
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