My favorites images from 2017


Photographically, 2017 was an interesting year. I managed to capture some new favorite images from some very familiar locations; places I’ve been to year after year after year. Olympic National Park and the Palouse were particularly good to me this last year.

The lesson, of course, is that if you’ve got a place you can get to often, go there often. Your images will just get that much better for it.

Sword Fern, Hoh Trail, Olympic National Park

Sword fern curl, Olympic National Park

Nikon D810, ISO 100. Nikon 105mm macro lens, 1/6 sec @ f/9

I’ve done a lot of close-up photography. Enough to know that it can be a lot of hard work. So much so that I’m now very picky about what I spend my time on.

These freshly unfurled ferns were definitely worth the trouble.

Looking almost straight down on the fern leaf, I at first set a magnification of about 1:1 on my macro lens and then, looking through the viewfinder, moved the camera up and down, just looking to see what I liked. The curls really attracted me and by setting an aperture of f/9 I’m able to give hints of the repeating curves. The trick is to find a composition you like and while the camera is attached firmly to the tripod, push the depth of field button and change the aperture setting until you get the effect you want.

For this, an aperture of, say, f/22 would have put too much detail in the background. f/2.8 would have completely blurred out the curls in the background. f/9 looked just right to me.

Madison Falls, Olympic National Park

Madison Falls, Olympic National Park

Nikon D810, ISO 1250. Nikon 16-35 f/4 lens @ 16mm, 1.3 seconds @ f/18, polarizer

I’ve photographed here numerous times, usually in July, and have never been supremely excited by this waterfall. Sure, it’s nice and all, just not all that exciting. At least in July.

In 2017 I visited in May. There was more water and more green. And while this isn’t the best waterfall picture I’ve ever made, it did make my favorite list simply because it helped me to appreciate this waterfall a lot more than I had before.

Starburst in the Hall of Mosses, Olympic National Park

Morning in the Hoh Rainforest

Nikon D810, ISO 400. Nikon 24mm f/2.8 lens, 1.3 seconds @ f/22

There are two reasons for starting really early in the Hoh rainforest. One is to beat the tourists. The other is to beat the sun. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to go there when it’s lightly raining or just overcast, then you only have to worry about beating the tourists. On this morning the skies were mostly clear.

We got there just past sunrise to avoid the contrast that the sun would be bringing. And on this May morning, the sun did just that. But while it was still low in the sky it brought warm light and the opportunity to photograph a sunburst.

So much for that rule about photographing forests on overcast days. As long as you’re there early enough, there’s still magic to capture.

Balsam root and sunset on Steptoe Butte, Palouse region of Washington

Balsam root and sunset from Steptoe Butte.

Nikon D810, ISO 320. Nikon 28-300 lens @ 28mm, f/18. Composite image of two consecutive exposures

2017 found me leading two trips to the Palouse. On a private tour and the other my regular workshop. I got some great images during both trips. The next three images are just a sampling.

This image was different than some I’ve made in the past. This time I wanted to really use some of the great wildflowers that grow here. There were a few good patches of Balsam root along the road that spirals up Steptoe Butte but this patch had the advantage of a sunset happening in just about the right place.

Since the colorful sky was much brighter than the shaded flowers, I needed to do something to balance that out. I tried two techniques: using a 3-stop graduated neutral density filter was one, the other was making two exposures: one for the foreground, and one for the background.

This image was made with two exposures and blended in Photoshop using On1’s masking tools. (I recently bought On1 Photo Raw 2018 and was testing things out—I could have done this with the tools available in Photoshop.)

I then finished it off in Lightroom.

I really prefer using two images and blending them by hand over using five or seven different exposures in an HDR program. I just think using the two exposures looks more natural.

Approaching rainstorm, Steptoe Butte

Rainstorm advancing on Steptoe Butte.

Nikon D810, ISO 400. Nikon 28-300mm lens at 300mm, 1/60 second @ f/8. Cropped to panorama.

This evening produced some amazing storm light. This wasn’t that light, that was coming soon. But the rain falling on the distant hills created this ethereal landscape in the distance that instantly became one of my favorites of the year.

Town of Steptoe in the glow of an advancing storm

Town of Steptoe in the glow of an advancing storm at sunset.

Nikon D810, ISO 320. Nikon 28-300mm lens at 112mm, 1/15 sec. @ f/7.1

This image was made about 10 minutes after the previous image. The background glow was so intense that I needed to expose for that and let the rest go where it would go. The light was changing so quickly that there really wasn’t time for graduated filters or making multiple exposures for later blending. It was just shoot, shoot, shoot in this amazing light.

A little bit of work in Lightroom brought out the foreground.

Poppy pods and lavender, Jardin du Soleil lavender farm, Sequim, WA

Poppy pods, Jardin du Soleil Lavender farm, Sequim, WA

Nikon D810, ISO 64. Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 lens at 200mm, 1/400 sec @ f/3.2

I’ve photographed at this lavender farm more times than I can remember. After awhile it all seems the same.

The poppies bloomed a little early this last year (it seems things are blooming earlier and earlier year after year) so there were very few red petals left. This group was all poppy pods. I framed this up to basically fill the frame with spheres and shot it just about wide open, focusing on just a few of the pods and letting the rest, and the background, fall away in a nice blur.

Sunset from Harbor Mountain, Sitka, AK

Sunset from Harbor Mountain, Sitka, AK

Nikon D810, ISO 250. Nikon 28-300mm lens at 78mm, 1/20 sec @ f/20. Cropped to panorama.

This was made the night before the Crossroads Sitka workshop was to begin. I was tired from a day of travel, but my friend Brenda Berry talked (shamed?) me into hiking with her up Harbor Mountain for sunset, saying it was going to be great. She was right. As usual.

For processing I lowered the Blacks to hide details in the foreground trees and used a little Clarity to separate the trees from the background a little bit more.

Inukshuk stone figure and aurora, Northwest Territories, Canada

Inukshuk stone figure and aurora, along the Ingraham Trail, Northwest Territories, Canada

Nikon D810, ISO 6400. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens, 13 seconds @ f/2.8. Slight cropped.

Previously at this location I'd photographed one of our younger and more athletic participants atop this same rock outcropping with an aurora behind him. This time there was just the bottom half of a stone figure. So during the day I climbed up and finished the job by adding arms and a head.

The night we came back to this location we had some pretty good auroras and I managed to capture a few good shots with my new pal in front of the aurora.

Back in the computer I did my usual aurora processing (setting black and white point, adding a little clarity, etc.) but I noticed that there was a bit of bush behind figure, enough to interfere with the silhouette. Opening the image in Photoshop I uses some pretty basic cloning techniques and got rid of that bush. Much better.

North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

Nikon D810, ISO 250. Nikon 28-300mm lens at 58mm, 1.6 seconds @ f/18. Polarizer

I’ve been to Silver Falls State Park in Oregon several times, mostly in the spring. For the autumn, I spent basically a half day there a couple of years ago. In 2017 I scheduled a three-day weekend workshop in late October to capture the fall color. And I managed to get some images that could turn into all-time favorites.

The first day was clear, which was great for some shots, and the next morning it was overcast and misty, simply magical.

Our first morning started at the North Falls overlook. We arrived early, just after sunrise, so that we would beat the sun. I really like the combination of the forest, fall color, and waterfall from this location. After this, we moved on and hiked down to North Falls, where there was an opportunity to photograph a sunburst through the trees, the first of several sunbursts I photographed during the trip.

Lower South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

Lower South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

Nikon D810, ISO 320. Nikon 16-35 f/4 lens at 16mm, .4 seconds at f/22

Probably the most exciting few minutes of the weekend. It took a bit to position the tripod just where I wanted it to include the leaves in the foreground and get that sunburst. Often, when photographing sunbursts through trees, you need to keep moving the camera to maintain a good sunburst. Here, it seemed to last and last, and I had time to refine the composition and to take multiple shots to hopefully get an image or two that didn’t have those foreground ferns blowing around.

I had to do a bit of cloning to remove some tourists, not a difficult thing to do.

Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

Nikon D810, ISO 320. Nikon 16-35mm f/4 at 19mm, 2 seconds @ f/16. Polarizer. Three shot combined panorama.

What a morning this was. Fog, waterfalls, fall color. Hard to beat. This is probably my favorite waterfall in the park; it has character from a couple of different viewpoints.

This three-shot panorama is just one of several new favorite images I made here that morning.

Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OR

Nikon D810, ISO 320. Nikon 28-300mm lens at 160mm, .4 seconds @ f/16. Polarizer

This view of North Middle Falls is just a short distance from the previous shot. There are actually a couple of good vantage points within a few feet at this spot. The problem this year is that a tree had fallen across the stream, leaving a mess in what used to be the foreground. But just a few feet down the trail was this view through branches and leaves. To be honest, I shot this just for something to do at the time. But the more I looked through my viewfinder, the more I liked it. I still do.

So there you have it, some of my favorite images from 2017 and some of the thought processes behind them.

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