There have been numerous times when I've wanted to revisit a location because I knew I could get a better shot than I did the last time. Last week I went to the same location four times for a different reason: There was a different shot each time. I was at Jekyll Island with the Georgia Nature Photographers Association for my first annual expo. It was a wonderful learning experience with some of the finest photographers and humans I've had the opportunity to meet!
So I went back to Driftwood Beach four different days and always included the same subject. A solitary tree at the water's edge. The first time was a sunrise shoot. This shot was taken before dawn when a sliver of a moon could be seen along with the glow on the horizon: The next time I returned at 2AM. Soon after we arrived with a group of about 15 photographers led by Ed Zawacki, clouds rolled in, obscuring the Milky Way. I took advantage of the clouds to form a bright background behind the tree in this 30 second exposure:
Another sunrise shoot contained a multitude of clouds that formed an interesting texture behind the tree. Plus the sunrise color was relatively rich:
I returned to the beach on our last morning despite the heavy clouds and fog blanketing the island. I spent my time shooting close ups of woodgrains and black and white patterns. When I noticed it suddenly getting brighter I hurried back to my favorite tree and shot the sun peeking through the clouds. It was still so filtered by the clouds that it had no color and looks more like a full moon than the sun in this shot:
Four days. Four very different images of the same tree.
The best part of being a photographer is visiting beautiful places and sharing that beauty with others. Photographer Mark Denman put it well: "God creates the beauty. My camera and I are a witness." But selecting the best photos of the year is daunting, challenging, exasperating, and fun. It is a valuable exercise to look through my photos to identify those that are exemplary. But it is frustrating and much like being forced to choose a favorite child. Thanks to friends and family who helped me narrow them down!
"The Cathedral" on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai'i. A doors-off helicopter flight was a beautiful part of our 30th Anniversary Hawai'i vacation!
Lava pours into the water from the coast of the Big Island in Hawai'i.
An ocean-weathered tree is the foreground of this beach sunset:
Hoarfrost covers a spider web in the Smoky Mountains.
Japanese Maples and Bald Cypress trees color the autumn landscape at Gibbs Gardens.
Sandhill Cranes descend on Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.
A long exposure blurs the waves on this rocky Hawaiian beach.
Looking Glass Falls near Brevard, North Carolina.
Morning Fog covers the valleys of the Smoky Mountains.
Fog and Hoarfrost on Sparks Lane in Cades Cove
The challenge of selecting the top 10 photos of the year is daunting! I enjoy taking on this challenge each year because it forces me to really evaluate my images for artistry. Throughout the year I put my favorite photos into a folder and then come December I pull the best ones for this project. Usually I'll have 20 to 30 shots that I think are pretty good. This year I had 89. I'd like to think that means I'm getting better but what if it means I'm just getting less selective?
Here they are in no particular order:
Reflected White Waterlilies, shot with a Canon 5d mk IV.
Hoarfrost on Hyatt Lane, Cades Cove on a cold morning walk.
Great Blue Heron in Clearwater, Florida. I love the simplicity of the heron's shapes against the light pastel background.
Graceful Great Egret on her nest. How can anything look so elegant when she is cleaning the bugs from her body?
Butterfly, waterlily, and reflections
A couple watches the sunset on the Oregon Coast. The repetition of shapes makes the image.
Early morning light hits the rolling hills of the Palouse in Eastern Washington.
Early Winter at Tremont in the Great Smoky Mountains
Wedding Gazebo Reflection at Gibbs Gardens
Mom Always Liked You Best! I love the look on the young egret's face
The Roots of Autumn. This one is a bonus. I shot this in 2015 but processed it in 2016. Does that count?
This was actually shot in summer and was all green but I thought it would be a more interesting image with orange leaves (and since I didn't get back to the Blue Ridge Parkway in October, I painted them in Photoshop).
Q. Hi Tom. I have a question for you. My wife and I are starting up a photography biz on the side and I was wondering how often you sell prints on your website. I don't know if it's worth messing with doing that or not, so I figured I'd ask someone that would know.
A. Honestly, I don't sell many prints from my website. But I didn't set up my business that way. After a photo shoot, I meet with my clients in person to share images and products. This way I can be assured that my clients' needs and interests are being met. So why have a website? It is the online face of your business. If people are interested in hiring you they will certainly check your website before committing. There are also pages on my website that the public does not see. Some pages are strictly for clients to see their images. Some are geared toward student groups so they may purchase photo books that are not available to the public. So for me, it is worth the cost. Here are some other things that are worth the cost:
1. Membership in PPA, the Professional Photographers Association - a great way to receive guidance from others who have been down this path already.
2. Insurance - if you've got upwards of ten thousand dollars wrapped up in photo gear, you don't want to take a chance on breaking a lens (which I have done, before I had insurance) Also if you are shooting an event and someone gets hurt, you want to be sure you can cover their injuries. Better to spend $350ish/year than to take a chance on losing much more as a result of an accident.
3. Professional Gear - These days everyone has a camera and they carry it in their pocket. If your gear isn't significantly better, (and your vision, see below) why would they want to hire you? This includes your camera and lenses, of course, but also lighting equipment and modifiers, computer, monitor calibrator, printer, etc.
4. Education - Build your skills so that you are truly outstanding, creative, and artistic. First, you want to know your camera and accessories so well you could operate them in your sleep. Learn how to compose a shot. Learn how subjects look in all different types of light. Learn how to use the light and image elements to guide the viewer's eye within your images. Then you need to become very adept at post-processing. Right now that means using Lightroom and Photoshop to make things look the way you want them to, whether you are recreating what you saw in the scene or making surreal images.
5. Invest in some sample products. Customers will want to see what your photo albums, print products, metal prints, acryllics, etc. look like before they invest their hard-earned money in your work.
I answered way more than the question you asked. Sorry. Old teacher habit. Starting a photography business is not a cheap endeavor, despite what everyone thinks. I hear people say it doesn't cost anything with digital. (It is certainly cheaper than film!) But to do it right requires a significant investment. I know you don't want to sell your customers short.
It is certainly a challenging task choosing my best landscape photographs of the year! But I think it is worthwhile to be selective and to have markers that help me to assess whether or not I'm continuing to progress as an artist. I hope you will enjoy this collection. I had a wonderful time shooting them!
This is Duggers Creek Falls, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. This is the second time I've shot this with my photo buddies, Frank Green and Jim Dunaway. Both times were great fun but I think we all felt more successful this time! These seagulls hang out near Apalachicola, Florida. This beautiful live oak, known as the Lichgate Tree, is estimated to be five centuries old. It's enormous branches are so long and heavy that they drape on the ground. Tallahassee FL. Nelson, Nevada is the site of an old ghost town where this scene was found. St. Monans in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland is the location of these lobster traps and stormy December sea. Sibling Rivalry - These two young bucks seemed to be playing as much as they were fighting in this bed of daffodils in early Spring. Cades Cove, Townsend Tennessee. Hoarfrost covers the trees in Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains. At an elevation of nearly a mile, the area tends to get a bit more moisture than the lower elevations. Thurmond, West Virginia is an abandoned coal town. Amtrak will still let you off here if you request it. In the Monongahela National Forest, Hills Creek has three waterfalls that are well worth the long hike to see. This is the middle waterfall.
Gibbs Gardens in Ballground, Georgia is one of the most beautiful locations anywhere. It is the site of this winding creek lined with cypress knees and red maples that combine for my favorite image of 2015.
Thanks for visiting. Your comments are appreciated!