Monday, January 25, 2010

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2009

I've posted my top ten most viewed images of 2009 and the top ten best selling images of 2009, but this post will be much more difficult: my top ten favorite photos that I took in 2009.

2009 was a year when, due to the poor economy, I decided to branch out a bit more in my photographic work. I put together a small (microscopic, actually) studio in a corner of my office with a few speedlights, reflectors and umbrellas and began exploring food and product photography - more as a learning experience than anything else.

As result, my work is more diverse now, and picking ten photos of all the images I took last year is a difficult task. Instead, I decided to pick two images from each of the main areas I did work in: landscape, architecture, agriculture, food, and "other". Dividing the photos into categories actually made the choice even more difficult, but eventually I was able to narrow it down to ten images. Ask me tomorrow and I might pick ten completely different photos, but as of today, here are my favorites of 2009:


Mt. Lassen from Manzanita Lake
Mt. Lassen from Manzanita Lake

It's fitting to start off with one of the first images I took in 2009. I was nearing the of work on my book on the Sacramento Valley (Under the Endless Sky), and about the only image I was missing was a good photo of Mt. Lassen. I had been thinking about a winter shot from Manzanita Lake, but had just never gotten around to making the trip. When I finally did, it turned out to be a beautiful, if cold, day. The lake was frozen solid - a good thing since the brush around the lake made it difficult to get pictures of the peak from the shore. This photo was taken about 30 feet out on the ice. Canon 5D, Canon EF70-200mm f/4L USM , 1/80th @ f/8, ISO 160.

Big Chico Creek in Bidwell Park
Reflections in Big Chico Creek, Bidwell Park

Though I've lived and worked in the Chico area for a decade, I never really focused any of my work on Chico itself. I'm not even sure why. This year I decided to begin rectifying that issue, and I started at a fortuitous time: right as the colors began to turn at Chico's Bidwell Park. This photo was taken on an afternoon walk through the park. Even though it was right by the trail, you really couldn't see this view due to surrounding brush. I had to climb through the brush and brace my tripod and myself on a very steep and crumbly embankment above the creek. Though I had visions of me and my camera ending up in the drink, I was able to get the shot. I'll be back in the spring to see what it looks like then. Canon 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/4L USM, 1/10th @ f/8, ISO 100.


Gateway Science Museum, Chico, CA
Gateway Science Museum, Chico

I had the pleasure do do some work for the New Gateway Science Museum in Chico. They just finished their new building, and though it is completely empty, they asked me to take some photos of it for promotional and advertising materials. I've been a big supporter of the museum since it's inception years ago, so I was a was happy to provide my services for free. I only had two time slots for the shoot, so I decided to do an evening shoot in order to capitalize on the dusk lighting. Though I got a number of great shots during that shoot, this is perhaps my favorite. Canon 5D Mark II, EF17-40mm f/4L USM, 0.8 sec @ f/8, ISO 320.

Sundial Bridge, Redding, CA
Sundial Bridge, Redding

Until the recent state budget cuts, I taught photography classes at our local community college. I also taught a few photography classes for the local recreation district. My favorite class to teach was on photographic composition, and my favorite place to take my students in this class is to the Sundial Bridge in Redding. Though it's a full 90 minute drive from Chico,the Sundial Bridge is the purest abstract sculpture in the north state and the single best subject for abstract compositional photography. I've found that there is no other subject in our area that gives students access to line, shape and form in such a simple and powerful way. This photo was taken during a field trip in one of my classes to the Sundial Bridge. Canon 5D Mark II, EF17-40mm f/4L USM, 1/60th @ f/13, ISO 200.


Walnut Orchards in Fall - Sacramento Valley
Walnut Orchards in Fall - Sacramento Valley

Though I've lived in the Sacramento Valley for ten years, and have been photographing it for eight, one thing I never managed to capture was autumn in the walnut orchards. This year, I vowed that I would not miss it, and was rewarded by one of the best years in recent memory for color among the orchards. This photo was taken on a partly cloudy day just south of Chico. I actually got a number of excellent images of the walnut trees last fall; this one just has an extra appeal to it for me. Canon 5D Mark II, EF28-70mm f/2.8L USM, 1/125th @ f/8, ISO 200.

Winter Wheat Fields
Winter Wheat Fields

I little known fact is that the Sacramento Valley used to be the bread basket of a fair chunk of the country. Glenn and Colusa counties grew tens of thousands of acres of winter wheat during the 19th century. Little of that wheat production remains today, as the dry farmed hills have been mostly turned over to grazing. However, there are a few small corners along the western edge of the valley that still produce winter wheat. This photo was one of the first I took with my then new Canon 5D Mark II, on March 22nd, 2009. Even at this seemingly early date, many of the fields have already been harvested. Canon 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/4L USM, 1/1250th @ f/8, ISO 800.


Last summer, my wife and I decided to start a food photography blog - her for the food, me for the photography, of course. Though changes in her work hours have made it almost impossible to keep it up, it is a project that we both enjoy. Food photography was something completely new to me and a real challenge - both technically as far as lighting, styling and set up, as well as conceptually and compositionally. As a primarily outdoor photographer used to dealing with natural light, having complete control over my lighting was a new a mysterious experience. And obviously, composition and conceptualization in food photography are totally different from landscape or architectural photography. Nonetheless, it has been a wonderful and enlightening experience.

Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza
Zucchini Walnut Goat Cheese Pizza

This is easily my favorite of all of my food photographs. The colors of the pizza are beautiful, and somehow I managed to catch the lighting on the basil leaves perfectly. It's simple, intensive, beautiful and appealing. Overall, I've had a lot more luck with shooting food on dark plates on dark backgrounds than the other way around. You can view the full set of images (and read about the dish) at the blog postCanon 5D Mark II, EF17-40mm f/4L USM, 1/100th @ f/8, ISO 250.

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli
Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

I love this image for the perfection and simplicity of the composition and the simple, clean lighting. As beautiful as it was, the saffron aioli wasn't a delicious as it sounds - or looks. Oh well; not every dish we've made for the blog has been both beautiful and delicious. You can view the full set of images from this shoot in the blog postCanon 5D Mark II, EF17-40mm f/4L USM, 1/100th @ f/6.3, ISO 250.


Motorola Droid - Detail
Motorola Droid - Detail

Last fall I finally joined the smartphone generation by purchasing a Motorola Droid phone. I was intrigued by its rather severe industrial lines, and decided to explore the camera photographically. You can see my full set of images in this post on the Motorola Droid. Although I really liked a lot of images from that shoot, I particularly liked this one for its simplicity and the subdued tonal qualities of the image. Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma Macro 105mm F2.8 EX DG, 1/100th @ f/8, ISO 200.

Pintail Duck
Pintail Duck - Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

I don't consider myself a wildlife photographer - they are a breed apart from all other classes of photographers - but I do enjoy wildlife photography, as long as it doesn't involve wading through freezing water at 5:00 AM to wait in frozen stillness for hours for a bird to land within range of your $6,000 lens. I took this shot of a pintail duck from the viewing platform at the Llano Seco Wildlife Refuge.  It was only moments before sunset and the wind (which had been blowing at a steady 20 MPH clip) let up briefly for me to get this relatively still water shot. Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, 1/100th @ f/8, ISO 400.

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