One of my favorite things to do at year’s end is to look back at the things that made the year memorable. And my favorite part of this exercise is the realization that, even though I can’t say how, I know I will indeed be similarly rewarded in the coming year.
I’ll remember 2017 for several significant personal milestones, the many unexpected gifts from nature that I call “the most beautiful thing happening on Earth at this moment” moments, and (somewhat more prosaically) a lot of great new equipment that has made photography even more enjoyable for me.
In August of 1995 I visited the South Island of New Zealand for the first time. This was in my previous life, back when I trained programmers how to use the programming language of the company I worked for. And though I didn’t make my living as a photographer, I was very much a photographer at heart. My lodging for that trip was in rural countryside outside Christchurch, and I was so taken by the beauty that I carried a camera (this was before cameras were tiny and ubiquitous) on my 7-mile run each morning.
In late June of this year I finally fulfilled my dream to return to New Zealand. For ten days my good friend and fellow photographer Don Smith and I explored the mountains, fjords, lakes, and rainforests near Queenstown, New Zealand. We were scouting locations for a possible workshop, and were not disappointed. Though my previous visit had set my expectations bar quite high, this trip exceeded that bar with ease—Don and I came away with enough locations within a 150 kilometer radius of Queenstown to fill a 10-day workshop. By the time we returned, I was ready to proclaim New Zealand the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
Total Solar Eclipse
What can I say? There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can prepare a person for the experience of a total solar eclipse. So. After hearing many words of advice to that effect, I prepared like crazy, then almost blew my chance to photograph it because…, wait for it…, I wasn’t prepared. Honestly, the photographer in me felt like a college freshman trying to chat up a supermodel: pretty cocky going in, and instantly aware I was hopelessly out of my league.
This isn’t something I’m embarrassed about because, if asked to choose between experiencing the moment and photographing it, I’d choose the experience any day. I had no idea that I ended up with a couple of pretty nice images until I reviewed them on my computer later. And I still have no memory of how I did it.
Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I love astronomy. It’s an interest that goes back to childhood, and is so much more than identifying constellations (which I’m not especially strong at). Put simply, I love having my mind boggled, and nothing boggles my mind more than the immensity of the universe.
So imagine my excitement when I got the opportunity to peer into a telescope for my first in-person view of the Andromeda Galaxy (at least the first view that wasn’t just a faint smudge in the dark sky). And what could be better than that? How about actually attaching my camera to the telescope and letting it accumulate and record far more light than my eyes saw.
Like pretty much every other serious photographer, I always do my best to photograph my subjects in the best conditions. But for landscape photographers, great conditions are never guaranteed. And when they do happen, expected or not, they’re often so spectacular that it feels like I’m witnessing the most beautiful thing happening on Earth at that moment. Here’s a slideshow of my 2017 TMBTHOEATM candidates (in no particular order):
When I started this post, I didn’t imagine I’d be writing about equipment. But I realized that probably more than any other year in my career as a photographer, in 2017 I added equipment that actually made a difference.
Here’s a list of my equipment difference makers, and why they made a difference:
Sony 12-24 f/4 G: I’ve never had a lens that allowed me to go this wide. From the first time I took it to Yosemite, I knew it would allow me to photograph things I couldn’t have photographed before.
Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM: I didn’t think this lens would make much of a difference in my photography, but its combination of speed and incredible sharpness made it my go-to night lens for most situations. I’m not throwing away my Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, but I’ll probably have to dust it off each time I use it.
Sony 100-400 f/2.8 GM: I’ve had lenses this sharp, and lenses this long, but I’ve never had a lens this long that’s this sharp. Not only that, whereas my other earlier long lenses were specialty lenses that I only packed when I planned to use them, this one is compact enough to have become a permanent resident in my camera bag.
Sony a7R III: Despite my love for my Sony a7RII, it had a few significant shortcomings (battery life and a single card slot to name two) that I longed to be fixed. Not only does the a7RIII fix these shortcomings, it actually gives me more dynamic range and better high ISO and I’m in photography heaven.
Here’s a random slideshow if images captured with my new toys:
I have no idea what’s in store for next year, but I’m ready. Bring it on!
Click an image for a closer look and slide show. Refresh the window to reorder the display.