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My best photos of 2013: the Honorable Mentions

Sunset over McGee Canyon.

I posted my best photographs of 2013 the other day.

Above and below is a long offering of other photos from the past year that I liked -- the honorable survivors of my efforts to brutally evaluate my own work.

One of those survivors is above -- sunset over McGee Canyon in the Eastern Sierra. I literally shot this one as I was getting in the car after a long dayhike. At the time, I thought it was a throwaway, but I really like how the frame is divided into thirds: dark mountain, less dark mountain, sky with an interesting cloud. That's it. Very simple. 

As I wrote the other day, I think it really helps to look back at work and see what still impresses and doesn't after some time has passed since shooting and/or processing an image.

I find that my contempt for much of my work grows with time. Flaws magnify. Questions gnaw (what the fuck was I thinking?). Doubt festers. And a little self-contempt is a good thing.

In the competitive field that is photography, the only way to really get better is to practice, practice, practice and make a good, fine mess of things. If you do that, something will come out the other side that doesn't entirely suck.

If I made any progress in the past year, it's on a few fronts:

•I never put my camera on automatic any more. EVER. This forces me to consider the fundamentals of photography every time that I shoot: aperture, shutter speed, focus and ISO.

•I spend a lot of time thinking about composition and shapes -- and getting rid of extra crap from my photos. I found this post by Ken Rockwell on composition to be extremely helpful.

•I actually remove my tripod from the trunk of my car and use it. This allows me to shoot at low ISOs, slow shutter speeds and narrow apertures when called for.

•I rounded out a nice lens lineup for my Nikon D5100 by purchasing two used lenses: the Nikon 70-300mm telephoto (on a DX camera it's the equivalent of a 105-450mm lens because of the smaller sensor) and the Nikon 85mm macro lens (Nikon calls it micro, but it's macro). They joined my existing Nikon DX 35mm 1.8 lens and Nikon DX 10-24 wide angle lens. All four of my lenses are sharp and they all have specific uses.

•I found some presets for Lightroom 4 that I really like that make my digital photos look more like film -- and also speed up the time I spend processing. I limited my post on my best work to 14 photographs.

I was more forgiving with the honorable mentions -- it was a nice chance to revisit some photos/memories from the past year and offer up some insights/critiques.

All of these photos are available as prints at very reasonable prices, including mounted options that are ready for hanging. More info here. Please feel free to check out my SmugMug site for all my work.

Mt. Morrison as seen from Benton Crossing Road.

A nice view of Mt. Morrison and the Eastern Sierra near Mammoth Lakes, taken from Benton Crossing Road. It's a nicely composed photo. The only real knock is the light could have better. This was shot in the early afternoon of an early March day.

It's just a common fly. But there are two things in this photo I really like. The first is the fly seemingly looking at its own shadow. The second is the composition: three leaves neatly divide the frame with a little bit of black space thrown in. I didn't include in my "best" photos because the primary leaf is perhaps just a little too shiny and that shininess is smack in the middle of the frame.
  Zion National Park at sunset, as seen from outside the park looking in.

The peaks of Zion National Park as seen at sunset from a vista on nearby BLM land in a photo that's about the interplay of light and shadow in red rock country. If there had been a few puffy white clouds, this probably makes my "best of 2013" list.

My best photographs of 2013

Laurel Creek fall colors, near Mammoth Lakes.

Is this my best photo of 2013? Read on...

I've been reading a lot about photography the past couple of years. What started as a hobby as turned into a quiet obsession: the mad pursuit of more and better images. 

One tip I've held onto (among hundreds of others) is that a good goal is to shoot one strong image a month. That is, by the end of the year a serious photographer should have at least a dozen really strong images. 

I like that tip. It provides structure, it's a way to monitor progress and improvement. 

The following are my favorite baker's dozen images from 2013. They don't represent each month. I tried to choose my best work. I was pleased that I had to leave out a few images that I really like to get to 14. 

There is a definite bias toward images made more recently. I traveled more in the second half of the year and, to be honest, got more competent with my camera.

The photos below also show a strong bias toward the kind of images that interest me stylistically: I like to put nature and/or humanity into perspective. I like little things in big habitats.

All photos were taken with my Nikon DX 5100, a 16 megabyte cropped sensor DSLR. I used four lenses, all made by Nikon: the 10-24mm wide angle, the 35mm 1.8 lens (which is super sharp), the 70-300mm telephoto and the 85mm macro. 

In descending order, my best work of the year: 
  A pair of ducks on Hosmer Lake in the Deschutes National Forest.

This photo was taken from a kayak on Hosmer Lake in the Oregon Cascades, near Bend. I like the near perfect symmetry between the duckling and the mama duck. The only knock on the photo is the color of the water; it's a little too pea green. A slightly different color and this photo is higher on the list. 

On a warm October afternoon, my partner and I biked to Will Rogers beach in Santa Monica. I was messing around with my wide-angle lens (the Nikon DX 10-24mm) in the surf when I saw the sailboats off-shore. The wide-angle lens was perfect for trying to show the tiny size of the boats set against the big ocean. 
  Bee hanging from a flower.

I picked up a macro lens at a camera flea market this fall. I thought it would be fun to capture the vast landscapes encountered by smaller creatures -- the landscapes too small for humans to appreciate. I took this one in my backyard. There are certainly crisper and more closeup shots of bees out there; this photo isn't even perfectly focused. But I like the bee hanging from the flower, something almost humanlike. 

Christmas time in the Rose Garden

The Rose Garden at the Huntington Gardens, taken yesterday afternoon. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, dear readers! 

Please check out more of my photos on my SmugMug site. Interested in buying a print? More info here. And please follow me on Twitter. Someone has to. 


The above photo is ©Steve Hymon and may not be used elsewhere without my advanced written permission. All rights reserved. 

Great blue heron

Great blue heron at Ellwood Mesa in Goleta, CA.

During my recent sojourn up north, I came across this very docile guy in the dunes along the beach below Ellwood Mesa in Goleta. I tossed my telephoto lens on the camera and took a series of shots, the one above being my favorite.

Santa Barbara Harbor

Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara at sunset.

Very nice sunset last Friday in Santa Barbara.

Sea Gull and clouds at Arroyo Burro

Sea gull against a blue sky at Arroyo Burro beach in Santa Barbara. Taken from the comfort of my beach blanket. 

Goleta monarch butterfly grove

I visited the Goleta Butterfly Grove at Ellwood Mesa this past weekend (it's 12 miles north of downtown Santa Barbara, California). There were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of the monarchs who had returned for their annual winter migration and were flitting about a very small area.

And my best photo? The one above with only two of the monarchs -- one prominent and the other blurred in the background.

Surfers and monster sunset at Arroyo Burro

Taken at 5:14 p.m. on Monday at Arroyo Burro beach in Santa Barbara. Not too shabby, eh? See what it looked like eight minutes later, after the jump....

White-tailed kite hunting at Ellwood Mesa

White-tailed kite at Ellwood Mesa in Goleta, California. Click above to see larger. Much more after the jump.

Rose bud, black and white versus color

Taken at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino with my Nikon D5100 and Nikon DX 85mm micro lens. Color version after the jump.

High-tension wires

I'm not sure whose decision it was to string up high-tension wires along the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains -- it's not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing thing for a mountain range that serves as open space for a lot of the Los Angeles region.

Ladybug inside a rose

I was screwing around trying to take water drop photos at the Huntington Gardens on Sunday when my partner Julie had the real find of a day: a ladybug inside a pinkish rose. 

Sunset over Eaton Canyon and the San Gabriel Mountains

The sunset on Saturday afternoon in Eaton Canyon in Altadena.

Walking through fall colors in the Eastern Sierra's Lundy Canyon

I posted a similar photo earlier this fall -- in that one a motorcycle was going down the road away from the camera. I thought it was my best photo from this spot in the Eastern Sierra's Lundy Canyon. 

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe it's better to have a person walking toward me. If push comes to shove, I'd probably now pick this one as the better one. 

Santa Monica Bay sunset and a white balance issue

Okay, L.A. haters, try this on for size. The above photo was taken in the hills above L.A. looking across Santa Monica Bay toward Santa Barbara Island -- one of the Channel Islands chain that sits off the Southern California shore. 

In fact, I think you can also see a sliver of San Nicolas Island on the right hand side of the frame, just above the horizon line. 

You may hate the city, but it's hard to be putting the hate on much of the surrounding scenery. 

Sammy the dog on his favorite bed

Sammy the dog on his favorite bed.

Pumpkin pie

Taken with Hipstamatic, Loftus lens and Ina's 1982 film, no flash. 


Tough life of a Painted Lady

Get up close to a butterfly and you better appreciate the tough life they must have. Looks like someone took a chomp out of his/her right wing; I think this is a Painted Lady, the very common butterfly seen around Southern California.

Bee, macro

I'm still playing around with my new macro lens (Nikon DX 85mm). Here's an image I captured at the Huntington Gardens this past weekend. 

It's almost really good. The mix of colors is great. Only one problem and you've probably spotted it: looks like there was something in front of the flower in the foreground. With the thin depth of field of macro lenses, it's hard to tell. 

Spectacular sunset over downtown Los Angeles

The sunset on Nov. 22, 2013, over downtown Los Angeles. The photo was taken from the 25th floor of the Metro headquarters building behind Union Station. 

Yellow aloe

Yellow aloe plant at the Huntington Gardens. Click above to see larger.


More bird action from my backyard. I believe this is a finch, but I'm never sure. If the birds aren't carrying a driver's license or other ID, I'm never really sure. 

Los Angeles graffiti

Shot this one for work, the reason I needed to get a bus into the photo (I work for a transportation agency). There's probably a better way to compose the scene (at 7th and Hooper in L.A.) although vantage points are somewhat limited. 

Horse closeups

More after the jump! 


Tomatoes at a farmer's market shot with iPhone5 and processed with Snapseed.



Stable horse

Went over to Burbank to see the 100 Mules at the L.A. Equestrian Center; the mules just traveled 100 miles from the Owens Valley in California's Eastern Sierra to L.A. to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

My first macro lens: Nikon 85mm DX micro lens

I went to the regular camera swap held at the Pasadena Elks Lodge on Sunday. Never been there before and I was lucky to come home with only one lens: the Nikon 85mm DX micro lens designed for extreme closeup photography. 

Freeway ramp photography

Took this one for work -- it's a new onramp to the notorious 405 freeway in Los Angeles. I had access to the ramp a couple of days before it opened to traffic. 

AMC Pacer

A retro looking car deserves a retro look -- courtesy the iPhone5 and the Snapseed app's retrolux filter.

I can't recall the last time I saw one of these on the road. This one was parked in West Hollywood along with a sign in the window offering it for TV and film shoots.


This photo is ©Steve Hymon 2013 and may not be used elsewhere without advanced written permission.

The poor condition of the Veterans Administration campus in West Los Angeles

UPDATE: My timing on this post was impeccable! One day later the National Trust for Historic Preservation came out with this study criticizing the VA for its poor stewardship of historic structures and campuses around the country. Of course, it's not just about architecture -- many of those buildings are used to care for our vets. 

I was in West Los Angeles during my lunch hour the other day and took a stroll through the sprawling campus with my camera. Here are a few shots along with some commentary:


Here is a building at the VA that looks like it was last painted seven or eight wars ago. (I think that gets us back to WWI or Spanish-American). I later learned that this is an old streetcar depot that was built in 1900 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Gee, glad to see it's being meticulously cared for.


Far too many buildings appear to be either shuttered, neglected or in disrepair. It makes me think that vets aren't super high on Congress' list.


One of the main buildings. Like everything else, it looks like it has seen better days. 


So...we have the money to ship people over to Mideast to get blown to bits but a basketball net at the VA when they get home? Nope. The campus does have a golf course although I didn't see any vets walking around with their clubs. 


A piano that was apparently donated to the VA and now sits on an outdoor patio along with a tarp in case it rains.


While taking pics of the VA chapel that is closed -- vets can find God elsewhere, I suppose -- a VA employee in new silver Mercedes drove up and told me I'm not allowed to take photos of federal property without permission. Even though a parade of choice words was lining up in my brain in response, I was literally too flabbergasted to respond. 

This isn't a military base. Nor is it a courtroom. It's a campus dedicated to caring for our soldiers. And shooting the side of a dilapidated chapel is a far different thing than taking a camera into a doctor's office or waiting room. 

At home later, I went on the VA website where it explained that journalists need permission to shoot ahead of time because of patient privacy concerns. Okay, I get that. But it's a big campus and precluding photography also serves another dubious purpose: it discourages people from trying to show the poor -- a charitable word -- condition of much of the VA. 

Are the above great photos? Not really. The second one is decent, a few of the others are good ideas badly executed. I shot all of them within the space of an hour with my Nikon D5100 and 10-24mm wide angle lens. I didn't spend a lot of time composing shots or being artful -- I just shot what I saw and then processed quickly last night. The point of the exercise was to weave together images to try and tell a story. Easier said than done, people. 

Missing are a few photographs showing the sprawl of the place - it literally covers hundreds of acres on both sides of Wilshire Boulevard. More egregious is the absence of veterans in the photos. When you drive around, it's easy to see that the VA is likely the last resort for many of these men and women who served our country and now must rely on government healthcare. That's the story waiting for a talented photojournalist.

Go see the campus for yourself; it's Brentwood and Westwood adjacent, meaning it's next to some of Southern California's priciest real estate. Of course, respect patient privacy. Always. And bring a camera for everything else. It's your government and you have a right to take photos of it. 


The photos on this post are ©Steve Hymon 2013. Feel free to use the VA campus photos as you see fit. 

Getty Center cafe

The one decent shot I got at the Getty Center yesterday. Great place to take photos -- the architecture is spectacular, but you really need time to figure out how to frame decent shots. 

Moonrise over the Inyo Mountains

This is a moonrise over the Inyo Mountains, photographed just south of Big Pine in California's Owens Valley. The shadow was created by the sun dipping behind the crest of the Eastern Sierra. 

Putting fall colors in the Eastern Sierra in the proper context

Another one from my fall colors trip to the Eastern Sierra in October. This is a closeup photo of Laurel Creek near Mammoth Lakes. I'm going to show several different views, including one that I posted earlier and is my favorite. 

I tried photographing this from several different places, near and far and with different lenses. I went out in the morning when light was best and had the time to explore some vantage points. (Actually, it's smarter to explore in advance). 

Here's a super closeup, which is kind of colorful and also kind of boring: 

And here's one taken from far away but with a 70-300mm telephoto lens on my Nikon D5100:

This one's actually pretty interesting but raises some questions. Is the tree line too close to center of the frame? Is the telescoping effect of the lens a little too obvious? I think the answer to both questions is 'yes.' Which is the reason I keep circling back to that first photo:

For me, it just works. There are nice diagonal lines, the frozen pond makes the foreground interesting and the colors of the aspens can be appreciated more when seen in their larger context. 

I've shown it to several people and shared on one of my favorite forums and the collective response has been "eh." Nonetheless, I'm sticking to my photographic guns on this one -- I think this one is best. 

Check out more of my work on my newly-redesigned SmugMug site. If you're interested in joining SmugMug, click here for a $5 discount on membership. Very affordable prints of any of the above images are available -- click on the image above and then click on the buy link. 


The above photos are ©Steve Hymon 2013 and may not be used elsewhere without my advanced written permission.