It’s that time of year again when I look back on the year that was for me photographically, my best photos of 2020. This is my sixth year of posting my personal favorites and I thought I would switch up the format from previous years. This year I am going to share a little story or anecdote about the importance of the image to me and how it shaped or was shaped by events in 2020. As for the year in general it’s easy to state the obvious, 2020 was a year we would all much rather forget. So I thought I would highlight the points of light that I found in the midst of this dark year.
If you want to just see the photos click here to see the gallery version, or click on any of the following images.
I’m starting my list at the end. The end of the year, that is. The image taken latest in 2020 of all my favorites. Shot in November to be exact. It’s also the one I have spent the most time thinking through and working on. This was due in large part because it was so close to home. All the closures and cancellations due to pandemic gave me ample opportunities to explore this beautiful grove of oaks 15 minutes from my house.
It’s not that I avoid shooting locally, just that it requires more work to find natural landscapes I find interesting enough to shoot near my home in the heart of suburban Southern California. I found the proximity of this location gave me plenty of chances to scout it, revisit the scene, and really sit with the place for a long while.
Discovering these trees reaching for the light made me feel like I was in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Specifically, when the trees of Fangorn Forest moved to Helms Deep to exact their revenge on the Uruk-hai who had felled their fellow trees. The sense of reaching and motion also reminded me of something reminiscent of a scene from many a classical or romantic painting.
In the Kitchen
You could call this my “shelter-in-place” image. Taken shortly after all the lockdowns went into effect last spring. Like many people I found myself in the kitchen a lot more than usual. Inspired by all my additional time in the kitchen I pulled out my macro lens and explored some of the details and textures.
The macro photography was also a happy diversion in a chaotic time. This past year was a really tough year personally. My girls and I moved to a new house three weeks before the shutdowns. I also had my worst and longest bout with seasonal allergies and asthma of my adult life which mirrored a lot of the COVID-19 symptoms. And in the midst of that I was juggling work, keeping my kids on task with their distance learning, and unpacking from the move. On top of that the loneliness of isolation from the locked downs was (and continues to be) tough. Yet at the same time, as a parent, I have been grappling with a dissonant longing for quality alone time all introverts long for.
Needless to say last year was stressful.
A Hazy (or Smoky) Autumn Sunset—San Bernardino Mountains
After things started to open up again in the summer we had another challenge to contend with in California, wildfires. We had one of our worst fire seasons on record this past summer and fall. Did I mention I had my worst year of allergies and asthma? This was the first year I ever recall having to check the air quality index to see if I should go outside for any length of time.
All that being said it did create some surreal settings and atmospheres. There were even times I felt like I was on Mars. The image above was taken after a day trip to nearby Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains. All the major fires at that time were under control, but the smoke from them lingered for quite a while. Once we descended down the mountain the haze was so thick it looked like fog in San Bernardino.
Last Light on Fire Canyon—Valley of Fire State Park
I was able to squeeze in one trip this year, though not the trip I had planned. My brothers and I had a wilderness permit to hike the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park. Throughout all the lockdowns and fires I was constantly checking Sequoia’s web site hoping our trip would not get cancelled. Everything looked good until two days before our trip. I got a call from the Sequoia wilderness office recommending that we not to come to the park due to the fires.
At that point all the state and national forests/parks in California were closed because of the fires engulfing most of the state. So we made a quick change of plans and drove out to southern Nevada and Utah. So, we were almost blown away by intense winds our first night on the trip. Taking the above shot I had to firmly hold down my tripod to keep my camera gear from flying off while taking this shot. It was all worth it to be able to take in this scene.
Fairyland Trail Illuminated—Bryce Canyon
While the first image on this list was the product of planning and spending a lot of time in a scene this photo was pure serendipity and required working quickly while the light was good.
I had only been to Bryce once before in the middle of winter, during a snow storm. I think we might have seen the sun for about 30 minutes the whole time we were there. So I had no idea what to expect when we arrived. The first morning we were there I went to all the usual sunrise spots in the canyon and quickly left, they were all too crowded for my liking. The second morning I did more exploring on the edges of the canyon and enjoyed my views. But as I was packing up, I decided to wander a bit more and stumbled onto this scene. I was so grateful I stayed long enough to experience this inspiring moment. Some of you may have seen an alternate vertical composition of the scene which I shared on Instagram, you can see that version here.
One unexpected challenge I discovered in my early morning explorations. Wearing a mask while shooting in freezing temperatures will make the ground glass on your SLR camera fog up. I ended up doing a lot of chimping when I was setting up my compositions those mornings.
Morning Light in the Canyon—Valley of Fire State Park
This was another great find on my only trip of 2020. As you can see there there’s a wide range of striking colors in the strata that makes up the uniqueness of this park. Witnessing the morning light work its way through the canyons was one of the highlights of my time in Valley of Fire. This was my first visit of the park, but it’s definitely not my last. I have passed it countless times en route to other locales. I am definitely grateful I took the time to stop during this trip. I’m eager to come back and spend more time there hopefully in the near future.
Looking Through the Oak Grove
Another photo I captured in that oak grove I discovered near my home. I shot this at the beginning of fall as all the underbrush was starting to change color and lose their foliage. I always enjoy seeing how much a newly discovered locale can change its appearance through the seasonal transitions. Even in Southern California you can see some distinct seasonal transitions in spite of the region’s lack of drastic weather shifts. I’m eager to see how moving from winter to spring will affect this place. Stay tuned to see more.
Morning Light on the Hoodoos—Bryce Canyon
Similar to my previous Bryce Canyon photo I really enjoyed spending more time on this trip focusing in on smaller sections of the canyon rather than the grand vistas on the rim of the canyon. Seeing the light first hit the hoodoos made for far more interesting images in my opinion.
Light Through the Slot Canyon—Valley of Fire State Park
Anyone who is familiar with my work knows that I do love to photograph texture and color, and the red sandstone of southwest provides ample opportunities to capture both. Especially when said rock starts to get reflected light in the canyons of the region. I didn’t have any plans to explore any slot canyons on my trip through Nevada and Utah, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when I found this composition.
I hope you have enjoyed this recap of my best photos of 2020. What are your favorites are? I would love to hear! I also posted my favorite photos I rediscovered in 2020 from my back catalog of work. If you would like to see my past yearly recaps use these links: 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015