2015 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

I recently finished compiling my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. The gallery is an assortment of my various trips and outings, including trips to India, Mexico and Canada. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, including some previously unpublished.

Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

To view the gallery, click here to see individual photos.


If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 lists.

Fun With Palm Trees

Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

One thing that struck me on a visit to Mexico this year was the variety of palm trees in the vicinity. I watched the way palm leaves of different sizes interacted with each other, and decided to create some abstract photos showing some of the patterns the leaves create.

I played with a variety of angles, shooting up into the trees. However, this didn’t really give me what I was after. In most shots, the sun created a harsh back light and I couldn’t see enough of the palm details. I then realized that I could try shooting down into the trees instead.

Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Using a telephoto zoom, I climbed to the fifth floor of a hotel and got out onto a balcony. By shooting directly down over the edge, I was able to get a great vantage point of the tops of the palms. Using different focal lengths of the zoom gave me a variety of compositions. My favorite is the shot below, zoomed out a bit and showing more of the trees.

Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Interwoven palm fronds create various designs when viewed from above, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

As always, playing with the edges of the frame (what are you going to cut off) and with the negative space within the image are all critical to the success of the image. Through experimentation I found several compositions that I liked, balancing the palms throughout the frame.

A Broken Down Treasure Trove

On a spring trip to Oregon to shoot the coast, my friend Dan and I were met with gray, overcast days, limiting the dynamic light in which I usually enjoy shooting landscapes. Still wanting to get in lots of time behind the camera, and keep exploring the area, we chose to go for some interesting macro opportunities. We heard word of a nearby boat repair yard and headed to Charleston, Oregon to check it out.

Weathered wood shows a variety of texture on aging boats
Weathered wood shows a variety of texture on aging boats

Upon arrival, I was happy to see a wide variety of boats and parts in various stages of repair or lack thereof. There were many textures and subjects to choose from, which I quickly set about exploring with my 100mm macro lens.

An old weathered bumper hangs off the side of a paint-peeling boat
An old weathered bumper hangs off the side of a paint-peeling boat

Before pulling out our cameras however, we found someone who works in the yard in order to get permission to shoot. It is important to always be respectful to people you are around, and do your part to represent photographers well. In addition, any time I am shooting on private property, I want to make sure I have permission to be there. The added bonus of asking for permission was that we got plenty of local knowledge of what else was interesting to shoot in the area, and met a really nice guy.

Steaks of paint form patterns along the front bow of a boat
Steaks of paint form patterns along the front bow of a boat

As I made my way through the repair yard, I came across what I found to be the most interesting single item, a Trackson Company logging tractor.

Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

While I couldn’t find details on this specific model, Trackson Company was founded in 1922 in Milwaukee Wisconsin. They made a variety of excavators and formed a partnership with Caterpillar. This particular machine was obviously made for the logging industry, and it looked very old and was covered in rust.

A frayed rope lies against dark rusted metal in a boat repair yard
A frayed rope lies against dark rusted metal in a boat repair yard

This logging tractor provided many different framing opportunities.

Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

On the other side, a small plant was growing through the wheel. Here I was able to show a nice bit of nature verses machinery contrast.

Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

Finally, the tracks themselves were interesting with all the rust that had built up over the years. Here I created a balanced image emphasizing the symmetry of the tracks. A smaller aperture of f/5.6 let the detail of the rust disappear into obscurity.

Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon
Ancient logging machinery rusts in the damp weather of Charleston Oregon

Eventually we worked our way around the yard and it was time to go. But we were very happy with our decision to change focus for the afternoon due to weather conditions. With all photography, it is always beneficial to be flexible and creative.

California’s Coastal Redwoods

Rhododendrons grow amongst the redwoods along the California coast. Fog regularly permeates the forest, giving these giants the perfect conditions in which to grow.

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip north to shoot old growth redwoods during the spring rhododendron bloom. It was my first time to the area and was quite an experience. First of all, I found the landscape quite challenging. Once I entered a redwood forest, it was a sensory overload, with subjects to shoot everywhere. The forest was so busy with life that it became difficult to distill each shot down to an individual subject. I could shoot everything from a super wide angle with trees converging into the fog, to macro detail shots of leaves, moss and flowers.

Ferns grow at the base of a large redwood tree, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Ferns grow at the base of a large redwood tree, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

I visited several old growth forests in the vicinity of Redwoods National Park. However, I never visited the park itself, as the oldest forest is preserved in several state parks in the area. These California state parks contain the first trees to be saved from the lumber mills, with the national park encompassing whatever land was left unprotected decades later.

Rhododendron grows throughout a redwood forest shrouded in fog, Del Norte Redwoods State Park
Rhododendron grows throughout a redwood forest shrouded in fog, Del Norte Redwoods State Park

This time of year is very popular for photographers because of the massive rhododendron bloom throughout these forests. The best way to capture the flowering bushes against the giant redwood trunks is to wait for thick fog to permeate the forest, which luckily happens quite often this time of year.

Fog does two things – first, it evens out the lighting in the forest by diffusing sunlight. This prevents the harsh contrast sometimes seen in thick forests when thousands of small light beams spotlight the vegetation. Cameras can’t capture this kind of contrast, and the fog cuts it out completely. Secondly, fog fills in behind the closest trees and greatly simplifies the scene. Instead of seeing a dense forest and all its detail behind the closest redwoods and rhododendrons, you instead see a misty fog. The viewer’s eye can stay focused on the main subject matter.

Intertwining leaves of false lily-of-the-valley form an abstract pattern, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Intertwining leaves of false lily-of-the-valley form an abstract pattern, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

In addition to capturing my main target, the forest provided opportunities for macro shots as well. Walking along the trails, I always kept an eye out for interesting patterns formed naturally. I found the large green leaves of false lily-of-the-valley intertwined and zoomed in to pick out a pattern among the leaves.

Naturally, there were also other interesting subjects, such as this fungus growing on a decaying tree branch.

A fungus grows from the branch of a decaying redwood, Del Norte Redwoods State Park
A fungus grows from the branch of a decaying redwood, Del Norte Redwoods State Park

The last morning I was in town, I was greeted by a light steady rain. Normally this kind of weather would see me rising, checking the window, and then jumping back into bed. However the rain also came with more fog, which actually created ideal conditions for more forest photography. Not necessarily the best conditions for me, but with my camera well protected with its own rain gear, the resulting photos came out just fine.

Rhododendrons grow amongst the redwoods along the California coast.  Fog regularly permeates the forest, giving these giants the perfect conditions in which to grow.
Rhododendrons grow amongst the redwoods along the California coast. Fog regularly permeates the forest, giving these giants the perfect conditions in which to grow.

The forest offered more than just lush green vegetation and enormous trees. Some of the older trees had large gashes and burns which lent to more graphical than subjective photographs. Here the negative space formed by the dark burn marks frames and offsets the light window to a distant tree.

Dark burns cut a graphic pattern through the base of giant redwood trees, Del Norte Redwoods State Park
Dark burns cut a graphic pattern through the base of giant redwood trees, Del Norte Redwoods State Park

Once the fog cleared, there were moments of magical, ethereal sunlight filtering through the canopy. I loved finding backlit ferns juxtaposed against a much darker wall of redwood. The photo below contains a bonus element of a double swoop of sorrel framing the bottom of the photo.

Sorrel, fern and redwood trees all contribute to the many shades of green of a redwood forest, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Sorrel, fern and redwood trees all contribute to the many shades of green of a redwood forest, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

It was a brief, challenging weekend. I’m not sure if I quite hit my stride in the redwood forest, which is usually an indicator that another visit is in order in the near future. There were difficult shooting conditions with the rain, and the sheer complexity of the forest had me scratching my head more than once. It is times like those that I have to take my hands away from the camera and just sit with the surroundings, listening. More often than not, it will tell me where to point my lens next.

Rhododendrons grow amongst the redwoods along the California coast.  Fog regularly permeates the forest, giving these giants the perfect conditions in which to grow.
Rhododendrons grow amongst the redwoods along the California coast. Fog regularly permeates the forest, giving these giants the perfect conditions in which to grow.