Favorite Photos of 2023

December 30, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

As another year falls into the record books, it is time to reflect on the year's adventures and photos produced from that time outdoors. 

With the significant increase in writing this year, I spent a lot of time photographing content for those stories, and most of those photos captured events, museums, speakers and other such images outside of what I would call my favorite photographs. But as a result, as I look back, I also didn't spend a lot of time enjoying the outdoors as much as previous years or as much as I would have liked. 

But that is life, work and the pursuit of paying bills. I am happy to be working in an industry I am passionate. As I take a break between articles, I pulled together my favorite nine images from 2023. 

These nine represent not necessarily the best photos from the year — those images worth submitting to photo contests or magazines — but rather those photos that made me recall the time capturing them more than any other. To me, the stories behind the photos can really make the image into a good story, bringing together words and the image into one package. These photos represent those times over the year that have a unique story behind them that may not be visible just from the image itself. 

I hope you enjoy the images and the stories. This post doesn't include any affiliate links but if you enjoy these stories and would like to help support my work, you can buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.

Wishing you a very happy New Year and prosperous 2024!

Semi-palmated Plover

In June, I traveled to Nome, Alaska with a fellow photographer. Our goal was to scout as much as possible during our trip of the are in preparation for a workshop in 2024. I had previously been to Nome but only in the fall. This trip would be in early summer to coincide with the abundance of birds in the area as well as the opportunity to photograph baby muskox when they are still cute and small. 

There are only three roads out of Nome and all end in remote villages. The only way in and out of Nome to the rest of Alaska is by plane or boat. We explored each pretty extensively during our weeklong stay.

On one of the roads, we discovered a recreation area. While walking around, a semi-palmated plover caught our attention — or rather he kept trying to draw our attention away from the area. Turned out, his mate was on a nest. This pair was nesting on top of a small ridge covered in these adorable little pink tundra flowers. I couldn't help but wait for just the right moment when the bird walked along the ridge as I crouched down below him to photograph him walking through the color. 

Muskox Calves

This is one photo I really wish I had been better prepared to capture — or rather maybe just another five minutes of prep time.

Photographed in the Nome area again, my fellow photographer and I were returning from an all-night photo session. (We were in Nome near the longest day of the year, which gave us the opportunity to be out all night during the longest golden hour I had ever experienced.) As we approached town, we saw a herd of muskox on the side of the road. We pulled over, exhausted but not willing to lose a chance with these amazing beasts, and as we did, the calves lined up on the side of the road. A minute or two earlier would have allowed me to set my camera up a little better and get into a better position but oh my, how can you not resist those adorable faces!

Three-toed Sloth Baby

In February, I had the amazing opportunity to work as a guide for a photo tour to the Amazon Rainforest of Peru. 

The ten-day trip was an unbelievable experience where I came home with nearly 14,000 files to review and edit (I will be working on those photos for a long time). 

Although we saw so much diversity, including 320 different species of birds, seven different species of primates, at least one sloth a day and quite a few sightings of snakes and interesting insects, it was the one baby sloth that we saw that captured my heart. 

Western Grebe

In July, I discovered a western grebe nest while walking my dog. It was close enough to my home that I could watch it on a daily basis. 

Although I had seen the pair courting each other, with neck stretches and swimming activities, it wasn't until the nest building started that I took a distinct interest in the daily changes. As one sat on the nest, the other would bring in new pieces of grass and reeds. The one on the nest would carefully place it in just the right spot. Then a storm came through and the heavy rains damaged the nest, causing more repairs and work by the birds. Sometimes I also caught them calling out to each other and performing more pair-bonding activities.

Based on when I first saw the nest, I anticipated the eggs, of which there were three, to hatch around the week of July 16. But on the night of July 10, something happened to those eggs. They were not there in the morning and although I do not know exactly what happened, my suspicion is on the neighborhood raccoons as the culprit to the demise of the eggs. 

The light was tough with the nest, never facing east or west but rather north and south so the light always seemed to be coming from the wrong direction. I found cloudy days to be the best to photograph the nest and it was a wonderful opportunity even if it was short-lived and never produced chicks.

Great Blue Heron

At the same lake as the grebes, there were numerous great blue herons from spring into the fall. The lake was quite shallow for much of the spring and early part of the summer season, creating a perfect place for the herons to fish. 

Using their usual stalk and stab hunting method, the birds would wade in the shallow east end of the lake for the most success. 

On one morning, a cold, damp fog had moved in across the area. The stillness was heavy in the air. The fog, cloudy weather and absolutely still air caused the water to look like glass. 

I sat on the edge the lake as calmly as possible and for over an hour photographed these birds hunting. I loved the high key effect created by the unusual weather conditions. 

Fall in the San Juans

Every year I block a 10-day window for fall color photography. This year was no different. Also what was no different is that the ten days went to six, then five, then three. That was all I could manage to squeeze in of my favorite season.

We took a whirlwind trip across Colorado, spending a night near Cottonwood Pass for tundra colors and night photography, then a morning hike to an alpine lake I had been eyeing up for several years before heading farther south towards Ridgway. 

Although we didn't have a ton of great skies during the three-day trip (bluebird skies are nice until you want to photograph some clouds), the colors were fantastic — both in the trees and in the sky on this one sunset evening. 

Thanks to a friend who warned us about the crowds on one road, we heeded his advice and went to another location. There wasn't another soul in sight and we had this stunning view of the Sneffels Range all to ourselves.

Northern Lights in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Northern Lights run in an approximately 11-year cycle. We are currently approaching the peak of the cycle when the light shows should become stronger and more intense. 

That was definitely the case several times this year as I photographed them at least three times from the Lower 48 states and I know there were other evenings that I missed the colorful light shows even as far south as Colorado.

In April, I was out on a night photo tour with a client. I knew there was a four forecast for the Lights but the goal was his photography and he said he was not interested in the Auroras. I thought he was crazy and explained how rare it was to see them this far south in Colorado but it was his night out.  

We spent the whole evening out and whenever I could find a minute or two, I pointed my camera north to photograph the Lights. They were so strong that night that I could see them with my naked eye — not hugely visible or what you might see in Alaska but there was definite color dancing in the sky.

About 2 or 3 in the morning, we visited Sprague Lake to photograph the Milky Way and the stars. While we were there, I set up the camera facing north and then went back to help him with his images facing south. 

It wasn't until I downloaded the photos the next day that I found this stunning image of the Northern Lights mixed with the amber glow of light pollution on the lenticular cloud. 

I saw the client about a week later. He showed me his photo of the Northern Lights that he captured. I chuckled as I saw the big smile on his face from that unique photograph. Glad he listened, even if he didn't admit to me that night. 

The Headdress

Every year, during the fall elk rut, I hope to capture an image or two of a bull with a headdress. These are the bunches of grasses, branches, twigs and other vegetation the bulls get into their antlers and then prance around to impress the cows. I don't know if it works but they sure do try hard every year. 

It isn't always easy. The stuff doesn't usually stay in the antlers long. 

This was one of the bigger bulls this year and when I saw him thrashing his antlers around in an area I know to be marshy, I knew he would come up with something, I just wasn't expecting it to be quite this impressive. And then he gave that look, that googly-eyed look the bulls do during the rut. What a look!

      The Moose and the Bear

This is one of those perfect examples of photos that may not catch the eye of the viewer but the story behind them is quite interesting. 

I was out with another client in Rocky Mountain National Park in August. We focused on going to the west side early in the morning looking for moose. As we approached Milner Pass, there was a cow and her calf eating in the tundra willows. We stopped and photographed this pair on a the cool, damp morning. 

The client decided he wanted a longer lens so we went back to the car. As we turned around to go back, the cow and calf were gone, or so we thought. 

All of a sudden we see the cow and the calf come darting out of the forest. They ran our direction, over the hill, past us and then across the road into the forest on the other side. 

The client was so upset that we had done something to startle her but I knew we had not. We didn't approach and we were so quiet. 

So, I looked back. Something must have spooked her. And then I saw it, a dark shadow in the trees just past the edge of the forest.

My first thought was a bull moose. It was close to the beginning of rut season so maybe a bull started his courtship. 

But then the shadow moved into an open area. It was a black bear! 

The client started to turn and run. I quickly grabbed his arm and told him you never run from a bear. As I calmed him down, I reassured him that the bear was more than a safe distance away and he had just put his longest lens on his camera. With a bit of cropping, he could capture a decent photo if he acted quickly. 

We watched the bear move in and out of the forest edge along what I knew was a game trail in the area. The bear popped out one more time before heading up and over the mountain. 

As with the previous client and the Northern Lights, I looked at this client to see that big smile I love so much when I have people witnessing nature and making experiences of a lifetime. 

This post doesn't include any affiliate links but if you would like to help support my work, you can buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.

 


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