Best (Most Memorable) Photos of 2021
Bighorn_sheep_BNP_2021_2A bighorn sheep lamb stops by a green bush on a ridge in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Although I could only stay for less than a day, a trip to South Dakota in late May was a great opportunity to reconnect with friends, meet new photographers, and capture a few decent images. ADDED NOTE: This post was written prior to the wildfires that just happened in Superior and Louisville, Colorado. As I finished up this content and added the photos, I watched the minute-by-minute coverage of the heartbreaking catastrophe happening only 60 minutes from my home. Friends were affected. Former coworkers were affected. As you will read below, this year has been very difficult for me. I know it has been very difficult for so many other people. Nothing in my wildest dreams could be worse than what I saw unfold on the news yesterday and continue to see today. Many other people are now experiencing a much worse end to this crummy year, and my heart breaks for them. It certainly puts things in perspective. If you are interested in updates about this catastrophic fire, including how you can help, visit the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management website.
Here we are at the end of 2021, and things feel somewhat worse than at the end of 2020.
If I can be honest with anyone reading this post, this has been a crappy year. I thought 2020 was hard. This year saw every piece of crud that rolled out of 2020 settle on this year. Last year had buffers and cushions. This year didn't have that. It was a tough year personally, financially, and with my business. I feel like my photography has suffered, I have lost interest in doing much of it, and inspiration seems to have disappeared.
It isn't uncommon for artists to struggle. Writer's block, stagnant, loss of vision, seeking a muse, starving artist, stuck in a rut. There are many phrases for the struggles artists experience. But the pandemic threw something my way I just wasn't prepared to handle.
As I started to work on my annual summary of photos, I really thought that it would make me even more down about how many missed opportunities I had this year, how many photos I lacked that really sparked a smile, the money I spent that I didn't have, or the loss of focus.
Going through my images, however, brought back a lot of great memories. I am so truly lucky and so very grateful to do this for a living, whatever lack of living that is these days. For all of the struggles I have had this year seeing places go to reservations and loss of flexibility for visiting some of my favorite places, I know I have seen more amazing locations in my life than most will ever see, and I hope I am nowhere near done on that goal. The way I see them just may have to change a little. And many of these places really did need some controls put in place because the lack of respect I have seen people demonstrate for the outdoors just turns my stomach on some occasions.
And I am so thankful for the great clients and fellow photographers I spent time with this year. Looking at these photos really brought back a lot of those fun moments in the field.
There are so many places I want to visit, photograph and write about, and although that will have to slow down for a while as I seek new opportunities to support my career, I am appreciative of what I have already experienced.
As a working photographer, I have grown to miss just sitting in the field and taking photos. But in all honesty, that isn't what makes money in this business these days and unfortunately I haven't yet reached a level in my career to be paid to capture those collections of images (I am still working on this one). When I do get time in the field, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the right shot, make sure the focus is correct, the backgrounds are perfect, watch those distracting objects, find the right story, seek the right perspective, capture the most interesting action, etc. But that pressure has caused me to make more mistakes than I have in the past. I think about all of the things that need to be done back at my office. I think of all the things I should be doing, and therefore I lose the focus on being in the moment, such an important aspect of nature photography.
I also have found I don't travel as much. I realize I travel more than most people, but I didn't visit many of my favorite places this year, partly for lack of time, partly for lack of money to get there, partly because of many new reservation processes, and partly because Covid continues to make travel unpredictable. A mudslide canceled plans to reach one destination. Wildfire smoke caused me to cancel a backpacking trip. A car accident caused one five-hour outing to turn into a ten-hour, full-day ordeal. A hurricane wiped out my favorite birding location in Louisiana. But I did revisit places I hadn't seen in a long time (Churchill for one) and checked off three new national parks on my list (Teddy Roosevelt, Petrified Forest and White Sands [it was still a monument the last time I was there]).
I had to cancel several projects this year that I was very passionate about completing but hope to renew them in the coming year if things improve.
So I have been working on my goals list for 2022 for a couple of months now. And just because the list says 2022, it doesn't mean I haven't already started towards those goals. Next year will be about refocusing, rebuilding and reinvigorating this crazy passion for photography and writing. Becoming a better photographer and writer isn't always about taking more photos or writing more words. Sometimes taking a step back and studying the masters can give you great insight. Sometimes eliminating what you shouldn't spend your time worrying about and focusing on those things that you can change and improve is a better use of energy. I plan to read a lot of books, revisit some of my favorite magazines, watch hours upon hours of videos to learn new skills, and implement personal lifestyle changes for my physical and mental wellbeing. I am looking at some new options for workshops in 2023 to mix things up a bit and to see how travel evolves as a result of Covid. It will be a busy year of becoming a better storyteller without necessarily taking more photos and learning about new and interesting places to take clients.
Our world is drastically changing, and I wish I had the answers on how to slow down that change, but I don't. All I can do is hope that my photos encourage others to enjoy our natural world, become stewards for protecting it, and take a moment to slow down and respectfully enjoy our beautiful planet.
So enjoy this collection of 21 wildlife images and a handful of landscape photos. Be sure to roll over each image for a little description about the image. A full collection of 42 landscape and wildlife images along with a few videos of this year's adventures can be seen on my YouTube channel.
Have a very happy New Year! Here is to a prosperous 2022!
Brown_bear_LCNP_2021_21A brown bear feeds on sedges along a creek bank in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Covid canceled my workshop to Lake Clark National Park in 2020 so I was eager to return to Alaska to see the bears I have spent a dozen years photographing. This year's trip was an unbelievable experience with lots of great photo opportunities.
Porcupine_KP_2021_1A north American porcupine walks across a grassy field in Anchorage, Alaska. I prefer to photograph wildlife at eye level, and for those smaller mammals and birds, that means getting down low on the ground. Many animals, however, will not tolerate you looking directly at them from this perspective and you have to be stealthy about your opportunities to get this angle. Porcupines do not have good eyesight so if you stay very still and quiet, you can capture photos of them from this low perspective without disturbing them.
Polar_bear_Churchill_2021_10A polar bear poses for a portrait in Churchill, Manitoba. The trip to Churchill in northern Canada was scheduled to take place in November 2020. Covid postponed the plans to November 2021. By August, we were still unsure if we would be on the flights so we could photograph polar bears. Finally, by October we were confident that the Canadian border would stay open for U.S. travelers. Four Covid tests later and a few additional pieces of paperwork, and I, along with my group, were on our way. It was a memorable trip–the first time I had been back up there since 2013–with photo opportunities of polar bears, willow ptarmigan (check that photo out in the birds section), eider ducks, gyrfalcon and snowy owls.
Coyote_pup_EP_2021_3A coyote pup peeks out from a current bush on a sunny morning in Estes Park, Colorado. I don't often get an opportunity to photograph coyote pups, let alone at any distance close enough for decent photos. This year I had not one but two dens to photograph. Neither lasted long as the summer season rolled around and the mothers found new locations away from prying eyes of arriving tourists but the week I had with them will be time I will not soon forget.
Elk_EP_2021_24Two bull elk spar in a lake during the golden hour before sunset in a lake in Estes Park, Colorado. This was one of those moments that I was so happy to have my camera ready and next to me. I was driving home after a day down the hill running errands. I arrived back in Estes Park about 45 minutes before sunset when I saw the whole town herd crossing the lake. I pulled into a parking lot and got into position. I missed most of the herd crossing but as elk will do during the fall rut, the bulls followed behind. These two satellite bulls, one with an atypical set of antlers and a spitfire personality to match that I saw and photographed several times during the fall, stopped in the lake and sparred in that beautiful golden light. It is moments like these that make me forget about the challenges of living in a mountain town and remind me that I do love living in Estes Park.
River_otter_EI_2021_1A river otter swims through the water on a cloudy day on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. It was a very cloudy day and had started to rain. I had my camera in tow looking for brown pelicans and had stopped to photograph an osprey (see that photo in the bird images below). Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement in the water. I figured it might be a cormorant or a diving duck but when the head popped up, I stared straight into the face of a river otter. It turned out to be a family of four playing in the canal. They hung around for about 30 minutes before heading deeper into the marsh.
Yellow-bellied_marmot_MtEvans_2021_1A yellow-bellied marmot poses on a rock like he was having a cover shot taken on Mount Evans, Colorado. Doesn't this remind you of photos of models laying on a chaise lounge sofa?
Elk_RMNP_2021_11A large bull elk walks through a meadow while bugling on a sunny day at the beginning of the rut season in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. This is well-known Kahuna. We had a scare with him late in the fall rut season when he injured his back end after fighting with another bull elk. He appeared very weak but I am happy to report that as of about a month ago, he had been seen and was looking better. Fingers crossed he makes it through the winter and we see this impressive bull next fall.
Long-tailed_weasel_ANWR_2021_1A long-tailed weasel pops up out of the snow during a spring snowstorm to look for some prey in Northern Colorado. This was the only image that was a vertical in my selections for this year so I recropped to a horizontal to work better with the other images. This morning was still one of my favorites of the year when this long-tailed weasel popped out of a ground squirrel hole on a snowy day. For anyone that photographs wildlife, you know how hard it is to capture images of a weasel. They are fast, they blend into the landscape and just don't sit still very often. This little one gave me about 30 minutes of running and darting and, most importantly, stationary poses like this one.
Red_fox_LA_2021_1Two red fox kits look out from their den near a live oak tree in southern Louisiana. I suspected a den in the area when I was there earlier in the year. I had seen on several occasions an adult fox but no indication of where a den would be. Then I had a call in late April that I was eager to receive. "She has a den and there are six kits." I was on the next available flight but only had a couple of days to photograph the kits, not really enough to get them used to my presence near them. My trip would be added onto another previously planned photo outing to visit a friend in Arizona but as I was walking out the door, I got word that one of the people I was staying with may have been exposed to Covid. There went my trip to Arizona. It turned out to benefit me in the long run because I now spent a week with the kits and their mother. What a special opportunity.
Elk_EP_2021_34A backlit bull elk shakes off the water after chasing a cow elk through Lake Estes near sunset in Estes Park, Colorado. Taken on the same afternoon as the previous image to two bull elk sparring int he lake, this photo wraps up the mammal images as one of the last I have edited from this year's captures. I have more to go but this was one I was excited to find when I went back to the photos from this day.
Willow_ptarmigan_Churchill_2021_2A single willow ptarmigan hides behind a mound of snow during a snowstorm in Churchill, Manitoba. I love white-on-white images of wildlife in snow. Although I loved photographing the polar bears in Churchill, I think this was my favorite photo opportunity while in the Canadian Arctic.
American_dipper_Bear_Creek_2021_1An American dipper poses with a beak full of larva, midges and other small insects for her chicks in a nearby nest near Evergreen, Colorado. At the beginning of each year, I make a list of what I would like to focus on for new photos. This year I had five subjects on my list, including American dippers. The dippers wound up being the one subject I took the most photos of out of those five, including at least six nests. Watching the parents so actively feeding the babies gave me such joy during the summer and a lot of respect on how busy these small birds stay to raise their nestlings into fledglings.
Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_6A cedar waxwing sits on the end of a branch in Slidell, Louisiana. I was waiting in line at Starbucks when I noticed that distinct sound of cedar waxwings. I looked up and sure enough, there was a small flock in the tree next to the line of coffee drinkers waiting in their cars for their hot beverages. I came back the next morning hoping to find a few of the birds. I learned that many of the ornamental trees and bushes in the shopping center parking lot were loaded with berries. I patiently waited for the flutter of the flock. And there it was, but today the flock now had about 100 birds in it. Over the course of a week, I watched the flock grow to at least 400 waxwings, clean out all of the berries, and then dwindle back down to move on to their next location. Another fun and unexpected experience.
Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_1A brown pelican shakes off the wet weather on a rainy morning near Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. This was one of the first photos I took in the year. I have plenty of pelican photos in great light but wanted to find a different way to photograph them, and taking advantage of a rainy morning gave me the chance.
Shiprock_Sunset_NM_2021_3A colorful sky behind Shiprock at sunset near Gallup, New Mexico. I captured this image during the last trip I took in 2021. The sky in this image is actually a portion of what the sky looked like directly behind me at the same time composited into this frame.
Milky_Way_in_GNF_2021_1The Galactic Center of the Milky Way rises above an alpine lake at treeline on a still night in the Gunnison National Forest, Colorado. So many trails and photo spots have become so crowded in Colorado. I found exploring at night has given me a new opportunity to see Colorado in peace and quiet. I was all alone this night, except for the mule deer buck that showed up behind me and a couple of other campers asleep in their tent nearby.
Photographers_BadlandsNP_2021_1A group of photographers enjoy the sunrise in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. This was the first trip I had taken to see other people. I had certainly been out and about and around other people, but this was the first trip I had taken since the lockdowns of the pandemic to see people I didn't know prior to this trip. It was a wonderful feeling to be around others again.
Theodore_Roosevelt_sunrise_2021_1The sun lights up the clouds just before it crests the horizon at sunrise above Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. This was one of the three national parks I checked off for a first visit this year.
Hanging_Lake_2021_1A morning spring view of Hanging Lake in the White River National Forest near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. In 2020, the Grizzly Creek Fire burned near this location, including along the trail. The trail was reopened in early 2021 so I jumped on the website to book reservations (yes, this is another location that now requires reservations) and photograph it during spring colors in June. I had previously only photographed it in winter. I am so glad I did because when the monsoon season hit in July, mudslides filled this lake with silt and further damaged the area. As of today, it is closed until further notice with no indication on when the U.S. Forest Service will work on getting it reopened. This is becoming a more common theme. We have so many unique and beautiful locations yet as natural disasters keep changing the landscape, public agencies don't have the financial or human resources to bring these spots back for safe use.
Beaver_Pond_weather_2021_2dA dramatic sunset above a beaver pond and the peak of Beckwith Mountain in Gunnison National Forest, Colorado. The fall season lingered quite a bit longer than expected this year, which gave lots of unique opportunities. This is a location I have been to a lot over the years but those clouds just made the view better than an other previous time.
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