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.



 

A dolphin, the Santa Barbara Channel and Santa Cruz Island. I like showing the immensity of big habitats and there are four very basic elements at play here: water, island, sky and a very tiny fin.
  Aspens and fall color in Lundy Canyon.

Lundy Canyon in October in the Eastern Sierra of California. It's a nice shot with a person -- my partner Julie -- to provide some scale.
 

A good view of the Los Angeles River from a vantage point few people get: the 25th floor of MTA headquarters in L.A. The telephoto lens, of course, compresses the scene and helps make the point: this is more catheter than river.
  Slot canyon in Zion National Park.

Slot canyon in Zion National Park. The light was okay -- the reason this works better in black-and-white than color -- so I worked with finding some interesting lines and shapes.
  Bee and an artichoke plant.

I actually took this photo with a telephoto lens, not a macro one. I had to stand seven or eight feet away from the artichoke plant to get the shot. It's quite interesting -- the bee's legs are smeared in pollen and the purple looks great against the dark backdrop (actually a dark green shrub). The only real knock on it is that I got the bee's hind side and the plant isn't entirely in focus.
  Turkey vultures in Zion Canyon.

Turkey vultures against the cliffs of Zion Canyon. Again, small creatures versus big habitats :)
  Gas station at night, near Inyokern. Not the most original thing, but still makes for a nice rural America kind of photo. Taken with my iPhone; I should have used my real camera on this one. And will in the future. Here's 'gas station at night' done by a pro. Very nice light for this bridge shot and I used split toning to help with the processing. The only niggling thing that bothers me wit this photo is that the clouds are hiding the far end of the bridge. On the one hand, that happens frequently -- that's part of the allure of the Golden Gate. On the other hand, it may throw off the balance of the photo. Yellow aloe and cactus at Huntington Gardens.

Yellow aloe and red cactus, Huntington Gardens. This is a photo that I like quite a bit, it's just not the kind of thing that is going to blow anyone away. I spent a lot of time trying to get the shot right as the late afternoon sun began to fade. The black-and-white version may be better.
 

I've been trying to shoot more photos with shallow depth-of-field, this among them. I like how the horse that is the primary subject divides the frame into left and right. And then the right side is divided by two horses, or parts of them.
 

I actually managed to get some nice shots of hummingbirds in flight this past year. But this remains my favorite hummer photo because of the light, the bird's colors and the pose.
 

Another try at working with narrow depth-of-field. I really like the photo but it didn't make the "best of" cut because I didn't think it was quite original enough.
  A sea gull on a cliff above the sea at La Jolla Cove in San Diego.

I used a telephoto lens to frame the bird against the deep blue water of La Jolla Cove in San Diego. That was the smart part. The knock on the photo may be that the very end of the sea gull's peak is out of focus and he's eating something. No, I didn't feed him -- but I think other tourists may have.
 

Nice light, shadow and dog taken with the VSCOcam app for iPhone. It's my go-to camera app with a lot of great vintage film filters, similar to the presets that VSCO makes for Lightroom and Adobe Raw.

 

Wildflowers along the Green Lakes Trail in the Deschutes National Forest near Bend, Oregon. Simple composition works well. Not sure the remnant of the spider's web works. It was there. But I wish it wasn't.

An osprey at Wrights Lake in Northern California.

An osprey making a fuss over something at Wrights Lake in Northern California. Fun shot. Too bad it came on a day when the sky was ruined by smoke from the Rim Fire in Yosemite.



Speaking of Wrights Lake...kayaking the lake's inlet while rain clouds gather over nearby peaks in the Desolation Wilderness.

 

Jury duty neatly summed up in this photo taken with the Hipstamatic app for iPhone.



The Eastern Sierra casting a shadow on the Inyo Mountains as the sun sets and the moon rises. Sky, mountain, shadow neatly divides the frame and the moon provides the fourth element. I like it.



Small pelican, big sky. Perhaps this one of small sea gull, big sky is better.

Murres at Yaquina Head along the Oregon Coast.

A neat scene but suffers a tad from lack of one thing to focus on. Too many birds!


Life of a goalie in the beer leagues. After doing a shred job on my ACL last January playing hockey, I had some time on my hands. Tough sport to shoot -- glad I'm back to playing!

And that's it for 2013, folks. Not a bad year, with plenty of room left for growth. I

I've got to start taking more people pics. I need to finally invest in a remote flash unit and learn how to use it. I didn't do much notable when it comes to city photography (despite working in the nation's second-largest city) and I overlooked night photography in an urban region with no shortage of things that look interesting at night -- freeways, buildings, street lights, neon signs. 

I'm going to take a breather for a couple of weeks and then dive back into it. 

Thanks for looking and Happy Holidays and Happy New Years! 

Steve

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