2019 Highlights: Social Distancing Edition

What have you been doing with your spring “vacation.” Sequestered here in the Gary Hart Photography World Headquarters, I’ve been spending a lot of time going through my 2019 images and have already uncovered a half dozen or so that qualify for my 2019 Highlights post. It’s a welcome relief from coronavirus news and the stress of rescheduling workshops. As I work, I’m starting to realize that the coolest thing about going through past images isn’t finding new images to process and share, it’s reviving the faded memories of wonderful moments in nature.

Here’s the “new” stuff I’ve found so far

Gary Hart Photography: Sand Like Glass, Bandon Beach Sunset, Oregon

Sand Like Glass, Bandon Beach Sunset, Oregon
I blogged about this image last week, but I like it so much that I’m sharing it again. One of my favorite thing about photographing a beach sunset is the sand reflections that appear as a wave recedes. I was so taken by the reflections this evening that I wasn’t even aware that two Bandon Beach icons were in my frame: Howling Dog (the pointy rock in the distant left) and Face Rock (the large, most distant rock near the center).

 

Gary Hart Photography: Island in the Sand, Bandon Beach, Oregon

Island in the Sand, Bandon Beach, Oregon
Farther down the beach later that evening, the light had started to warm when I found a couple of rocks that formed virtual islands in a reflective pool. These pools only last for a few seconds, so you have to be fast (or just wait for the next wave).

 

Gary Hart Photography: Howling Dog at Sunset, Bandon Beach, Oregon

Howling Dog at Sunset, Bandon Beach, Oregon
This is also Bandon Beach, but it’s three months later. Unlike my earlier image that reduced Howling Dog (no, this is not Wizard’s Hat) to a bit part, this composition features Howling Dog front and center (I must admit, from this angle, it does look more like a wizard’s hat than a howling dog). I like the way the little stream picks up the sunset light and guides my eye into the frame.

 

Gary Hart Photography: Lightning Strike, Grand Canyon

Lightning Strike, Grand Canyon
This was the first shoot of last year’s first Grand Canyon Monsoon workshop. The forecast said mostly sunny and no rain. The forecast was wrong.

 

Gary Hart Photography: Winter Reflection, El Capitan and Three Brothers, Yosemite

Winter Reflection, El Capitan and Three Brothers, Yosemite
Heavy snow had closed Yosemite Valley to incoming visitors, but my brother and I had arrived the day before (as most of the current visitors were heading for the exits), so it felt like we had the park to ourselves. We trudged about 100 yards through four foot drifts to get out to this spot.

 

Gary Hart Photography: Winter Reflection, El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite

Gary Hart Photography: Winter Reflection, El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite
This is looking west from the same location as the previous image. Maybe there’s something on Earth more beautiful than watching a Yosemite snowstorm clear, but I haven’t seen it.

 

Gary Hart Photography: Winter Storm, El Capitan in the Snow, Yosemite

Winter Storm, El Capitan in the Snow, Yosemite
This was one of our first stops that morning. The snow was still falling when we stopped at El Capitan Bridge (you can see it streaking in the lower left), but the blue sky told us we needed to work fast.



Here’s my original 2019 Highlights post

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We’ve reached that time of year where everyone is compiling their Top 10 lists. I like retrospectives as much as the next person, but I’ve always resisted assembling these “top-whatever” end-of-year countdowns of my own images. Then last week Sony asked me to provide my favorite image of 2019 and I struggled mightily because it felt like they were asking me to pick a favorite child—which, as we all know, can vary on a daily basis. (Just kidding—I love you girls!) But seriously, I did hesitate because I wasn’t sure Sony and I aren’t defining “favorite” the same, and in fact favorite for me can mean many things that are easily skewed by mood and memory.

So instead of attempting to rate and rank my images at year’s end, I prefer using them as a catalyst for reflection. Each December I go through the images I’ve processed from the waning year and reflect on the circumstances of their capture. Rather than focus on individual images, I’ll start by reflecting more on the experience surrounding three memorable shoots that stand out from in a year filled with too many individual highlights to detail here (but feel free to go through my 2019 blog posts). And if you’re just here for the pictures, jump to the bottom to see a gallery of 2019 images that make me happy (including some new images that I’ve never shared).

Iceland northern lights

I can think of no better way to start a year than the opportunity to photograph something I’ve fantasized about seeing for my entire life. When Don Smith and I traveled to Iceland last January, I had two goals in mind: scout for our upcoming photo workshop, and see the northern lights. The scouting trip was a great success, but with just a couple of days to go, and not for lack of trying, we still hadn’t seen the northern lights.

On our penultimate night we finally witnessed a nice aurora display that spread ebbing and flowing veils of green, coloring the sky above Glacier Lagoon from the horizon to about 45 degrees—I was thrilled and felt like my aurora dreams had been fulfilled. Then came our final night, when I learned what a real northern lights display is.

There really are no words to describe this experience, so I’ll just let my images speak for me. I will say that two-dimensional, still images don’t fully convey the experience of witnessing the aurora in person, but they do at least least give you an idea of the drama and magnitude: for one thing, the foreground was darker than what I captured (though it was bright enough that I walked around without a flashlight); the aurora moves, maybe at about the speed of the minute hand on a clock. And while the previous night’s display was only in the northwest and covered no more than a quarter of the sky, the display this night at times spread across the entire sky and needed to constantly spin around to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Read more about this night of a lifetime: Chasing the Northern Lights

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New Zealand winter night

Don and I did two winter photo workshops on New Zealand’s South Island in 2019. The first was our regularly scheduled New Zealand winter workshop, the second was a workshop we put together to guide a group from the Sony Alpha Imaging Collective. Though night photography was a priority for both groups, the moon and clouds hindered the first group’s efforts (until our final night, but that’s another story).

The second group fared better in the night photography department in general, one day in particular stood out. We started with a 3 a.m. starlight shoot at Lake Wanaka, then made the 3-hour drive to Aoraki National Park, where we spent a day photographing spectacular fog and hoarfrost along the way, and glaciers, lakes, and mountains once we arrived. Following our beautiful sunset on the shore of Tasman Lake, we bundled up to wait for dark and were rewarded with one of the most breathtaking Milky Way shoots in my life (which has been filled with many Milky Way shoots).

All I could think about on the foggy 3-hour drive back from Aoraki was curling up in my warm bed and getting some much needed sleep. But when we pulled into our hotel a little before midnight and I looked up and saw stars, it felt like someone had flipped the switch on my reserve generator and I just had to go back out and shoot some more. So while everyone else headed to their rooms to process images or sleep, I grabbed my camera gear and raced to the lake. For the entire 10-minute walk to Wanaka’s iconic willow tree, I kept an eye on a bank of fog massing on the far shore and willed it to hold off long to allow me a few frames.

Finding the view of the tree completely devoid of people (a personal first), I photographed for nearly an hour in glorious solitude. While waiting for each exposure to complete, and with nothing in my world but me, my camera, and a sky full of stars, I reflected on the last 21 hours realize this was the perfect cap to what was no doubt one of the most memorable photography days of my life.

Read more about this day seemed to last forever: The Longest Day

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Grand Canyon electrical storm

Each year starting in 2013, Don and I have guided two photo workshop groups around both rims of the Grand Canyon, chasing the lightning, towering clouds, and dramatic light of the Southwest’s summer monsoon. This year’s Grand Canyon monsoon trip was filled with lots of great memories and photography that included rainbows and more lightning strikes than I can count, but one experience in particular stands out above the rest.

The best vantage point for an electrical storm on the Grand Canyon North Rim is probably the twin view decks at Grand Canyon Lodge. Not only do these open-air decks provide a beautiful, sweeping view of the canyon, they’re shielded from lightning by a network of lightning rods, and anchored by an enclosed viewing area for retreat when the action gets too close.

We’d been watching a storm build in the distant west, but unlike most storms here, this one moved toward us and didn’t veer or fade as it approached. The storm arrived so quickly, and so mesmerized were we by its power, that it was almost on top of us before we could react. The rain was just starting to pelt us when Oza Butte, about a mile away, was stabbed with multiple strokes that made everyone jump and gasp. That was our signal to grab our gear and race for cover.

Safe inside as the storm raged around us, everyone in the group buzzed about “the big one.” I moved around the room and confirmed that nearly everyone had some version of this spectacular strike, then scrolled through my own frames holding my breath until I came across this one. Many in the group only had the bolt on the right because that’s the direction the lighting had been firing. I was silently patted myself on the back for having the foresight (good luck) to have widened and shifted my composition to the left shortly before this bolt hit. First, because it seemed like the storm was moving in that direction, and also because I wanted my composition to include more canyon.

Read more about this hair raising experience: I Just Have to Share This

Gary Hart Photography: Lightning Explosion, Oza Butte, Grand Canyon North Rim

Lightning Explosion, Oza Butte, Grand Canyon North Rim



2019 Highlights (Updated March 2020)

Click an image for a closer look and to view a slide show.

8 Comments on “2019 Highlights: Social Distancing Edition

  1. So nice to see beautiful images of our world especially now with everyone staying close to home. Your images are always gorgeous! Glad you had time to reflect on the past year. It reminds me to do the same. It’s interesting how an image can be rejected the first time but many months later it’s a top ten. Stay safe.

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