It’s a chill January afternoon in northern Arizona, just perfect for reflecting on the previous year and sharing my favorite photos from 2014 with you. The photos, while representative of my best work, have meaning to me, which is why they made the cut.
WHITE HOUSE – I made this photo during a February 17 trip to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. More than a millennium ago, Ancestral Puebloans lived in this canyon complex in eastern Arizona. Among the structures that remain, is one known simply as, “White House.” It was built in a natural, water-carved opening in the Navajo sandstone cliff face. I include this photo i tribute to Ansel Adams, who made a famous black and white portrait of this ruin. I also like the organic blending of the ancient human structure within the softly curving stone wall of the canyon, the vertical streaks painted by rain and snow melt, and the balance of the ruin site in the lower left corner with the deep Arizona blue sky in the upper right.
It is these qualities that make this one of my favorite photographs of 2014.
BLUE CURVE – In March of last year, I made a week-long driving tour to do photography in the Four Corners region. I visited sites in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico during a whirlwind tour. On the second day, I drove from the South Rim of Grand Canyon to Page Arizona and took the photographers tour of Upper Antelope Canyon. There are thousands – if not millions – of photographs of this iconic slot canyon so, I don’t pretend that the above image is anything unique. It is, however, meaningful to me.
If you’ve taken a tour of Antelope Canyon, then you know you are jostling for position with at least a hundred other tourists within the close quarters of this narrow slot canyon. Every image I made on that afternoon was shot handheld. I wanted good depth of field but I also didn’t want to shoot with too high an ISO. This image was shot with the excellent Tamron 24-70mm, f/2.8 Di VC USD zoom at 55mm, f/4.5, ISO 1600, 1/100-second.
I like the subtle raspberry blue hue of the light painting the gently curving stone wall, the warm caramel hues of the midsection and the chocolate tones of the stone in the upper-right. The f/4.5 aperture delivers just enough depth of field to capture the tight grooves of the lines in the stone. The contrast of those sharp grooves with the swooping curves is another quality that appeals, making this a top-ten photo from 2014.
SEVENTYFIVE MILE SUNSET – The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I made an impromptu trip to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a 70-minute drive and I love the views from every rim overlook. I also enjoy the challenge of finding original and fresh perspectives to photograph in capturing the mood of the canyon from these popular tourist spots. On this trip, I decided to take a different approach.
Rather than photographing sunset from an established overlook, I decided to do a short day hike, blazing a trail through the Ponderosa Pine forest to the rim at Papago Point. There are no roads, no trails to this spot on the rim. As a result, I’m sure very few photographs of Grand Canyon have been taken from this vantage point. Papago Point offers a clear view up Seventyfive Mile Canyon to the South Rim. Off in the distance, you can see the winding Colorado River and the spectacular Palisades of the Desert.
What I really like about this image is the tiniest of elements – Desert View Watchtower. It is visible as a small projection reaching skyward from the South Rim a bit right of center. The tower is three stories tall and is simply dwarfed by the surrounding landscape. It is this element of scale that conveys the sheer vastness of Grand Canyon and earns this photograph a place among my ten favorite images from last year.
MOUNT HAYDEN PASTEL – The first week of July is historically when the summer monsoon kicks off in the Desert Southwest, bringing ten weeks of rain and thunderstorms to the region. The clouds, lightning and rain can add a dramatic element to landscape photos so, I drove up to the North Rim of Grand Canyon for the July 4th holiday weekend hoping to capture the drama with my Nikon D600. Well, I got more than I bargained for.
A typical monsoon day dawns clear and bright, clouds build during the morning, afternoon thunderstorms wash the landscape with rain, rumbles and lightning. By late afternoon, the clouds start breaking up, ushering in a spectacular sunset and clear night skies. On this trip, the clouds and rain were persistent. There was one morning, however, when conditions delivered fine conditions.
I had driven to Point Imperial for a sunrise photo shoot. With rain rhythmically tapping the windshield, I stayed in the comfort of the car longer than usual. Eventually, the rain eased enough to entice me from the vehicle and I walked down to my favorite perch just below the overlook. About an hour after sunrise, the clouds broke enough to allow a clean early morning light to spill into the canyon. This image is a portrait of Mt. Hayden bathed by that wondrous pastel light and is among my ten favorite photos of 2014.
MESA ARCH GLOW – In late July 2014, my wife, son and I connected in Denver, Colorado to spend a week exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. Alice and Matthew flew in from Niagara Falls, where they’d been enjoying some quality mother-son time. I had driven north from Flagstaff to Denver to check in at the hotel and pick them up at the airport. Since I would be travelling solo, I decided to extend the road trip over four days, to stop at some favorite landscape sites along the way and do some landscape photography.
On the morning of the fourth day, I had planned to shoot sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. The intense monsoonal weather followed me from northern Arizona into southern Utah. A sunset photo shoot in Arches National Park the day before had not gone as planned. The hoped for golden late day light never materialized on iconic Delicate Arch. While driving out of the park toward the highway, I started having second thoughts about heading north to Canyonlands. The weather to the north looked seriously threatening and, after three days of early mornings and late nights, the idea of a soft bed at a Moab hotel was quite appealing.
However, I resisted temptation and stayed on course. Arriving at the campground just outside Canyonlands, I set up the tent and climbed into my sleeping bag just as rain started to fall. I never did settle into sleep as sporadic showers, thunder and lightning flashes filled the night. The watch alarm went off at 3:30 AM with a light rain pattering the nylon fabric of the tent. It was all I could do to extrude myself from the sleeping bag. Driving through the darkness into Canyonlands, the clouds seemed to be breaking up a bit. I was actually feeling a bit optimistic as I pulled into Mesa Arch parking area.
With my headlamp illuminating the trail, I made the half-mile trek to Mesa Arch and, as expected, was the first person to arrive. On a normal summer morning, as many as two dozen photographers are jostling for position to capture sunrise at Mesa Arch. On this morning, there were maybe five of us who’d braved the weather. We were rewarded for our tenacity. As the sun rose, the clouds parted just enough to allow some of that magical dawn light to paint the underside of the arch. Even better, mists and high humidity filled the inner canyon and the morning light cut through it like a lighthouse beacon.
While I really like the quality of the captured scene, I chose this image as a tribute to the rewards of dedication. The art and craft of landscape photography demand persistence. You can’t make the picture, if you’re not there when the light emerges to paint the scene.
FAMILY PORTRAIT – One of my goals for 2014, was to get out of my photographic comfort zone. I wanted to shoot more sports, and to do more client work. This photograph is included as an example of the rewards that come from taking risks and pushing your skill set to new levels.
A good friend at work had approached me about doing a family portrait shoot with her, her husband and their boys. I eagerly agreed. It was as much a favor to me as to her. She wanted to do the shoot outdoors and to feature fall color as a strong element. That’s what I had in mind, as well. On October 11, we met at the agreed time and location, and then spent the next hour taking group and individual portraits in and amongst aspens.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am very pleased with the outcome. This photography captures the true personality of this family, their enjoyment of each other and the outdoors. Of greatest satisfaction to me, is the obvious smile on the young boy’s face. He had fun during the shoot. On what could have been a frustrating day for a little boy who would rather be at home playing with his friends, we all had a great time making this family portrait.
Just looking at it brings back those memories and makes this one of my favorite photographs taken in 2014.
TOUCHDOWN! – This photograph was made on October 25, 2014. I have been a football fan since I played in a Pop Warner league as a young boy. Shooting a football game has been a goal of mine for a couple of years. However, at Northern Arizona University where I work, I am part of the television production team on football game days. Well, another production company was going to be in town to televise NAU’s Homecoming game so, I had the day off. What did I do with that free time? I grabbed my camera and went to the game to try my hand at photographing football.
My knowledge of the game paid huge dividends on this shoot. A strong sense of what was going to happen, next, allowed me to pick and choose locations that were perfectly positioned to capture the action. It was early in the fourth quarter when I identified this spot as where I wanted to be if NAU would have the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win on a last-second score. As good fortune would have it that is exactly how the game played out.
With less than one minute remaining, Northern Arizona took possession deep in their own end of the field. I went immediately to this spot and waited for the magic to happen. Three plays later, I captured this photograph of the game-winning touchdown catch. The Lumberjacks had just defeated the second-ranked team in the country. As excited as I was for the team and fans, I was even more excited for myself. I can’t recall having that much fun working on a personal project. For that reason and the significance of the moment, I’ve included this image among my top ten from 2014.
DISCOVERY – Four days after shooting the NAU Homecoming football game, I made this portrait of the Lowell Discovery Channel Telescope. I have been a fan of Lowell Observatory since my youth. After all, Pluto was discovered at Lowell. The observatory is also what brought me and my wife from Madison, Wisconsin to Flagstaff in the mid 1990’s. The move happened when she took a position as the fundraising director for Lowell.
On October 29 of last year, I drove out to the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) site to shoot a time lapse night sky video sequence for a work project. Shortly after arriving, I made some test exposures in the dome. After the sun had set, I went to work outside and promptly forgot about the early test shots.
In December, the longtime trustee of Lowell Observatory, William Lowell Putnam III, passed away. Mr. Putnam’s death was hard on the staff. Going through my photo archive in search of an appropriate image, I found this photograph from that October 29 shoot. With the dome shutter doors open, a pure white light fills the space and illuminates the massive telescope from behind. This cold piece of technology is brought to life by an angelic glow. It gives a real personality to DCT. I shared the photograph with the observatory and include it, here, in tribute to Mr. Putnam.
JUNIPER – On December 7, I made another of my impromptu drives from Flagstaff to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. I wanted to capture the sunset and chose Lipan Point as the location. Lipan Point is one of my favorite overlooks at Grand Canyon. It offers a clear view of the Colorado River. To the east, Desert View and the Watchtower can be seen. Directly across is the North Rim. To the west is Vishnu Temple, Angels Gate and the farther reaches of the canyon.
I was paying close attention to the quality of light while setting up my gear and could tell the sunset light would not be special. Certainly, there are many worse places to enjoy sunset on a December day than Grand Canyon when the light is dishwater grey. The view would still be gorgeous and the environment inspiring. However, there would be no golden light on this evening.
Still, I was there with my camera and determined to come away with something. Looking about, I took notice of this small Juniper tree. It was barely three-feet tall and growing in a shallow depression in the Kaibab limestone. Normally, I use a small aperture for landscape photography to ensure great depth of field where every detail is in focus. This subject seemed better suited to portraiture. So, I set the aperture to f/2.8 to ensure a shallow depth of field. I am very pleased with the result.
The Juniper is in good crisp focus on the left side of the frame. To the right and in the distance, the Colorado River and natural monuments of the inner canyon fill the frame. This scene provides a context clearly identifying where the photograph was made. The slightly opaque late afternoon light spilling into and filling the canyon adds just the right touch to make this one of my ten favorite photographs from last year.
AFRICAN SPOONBILL – This last photograph was made during another family vacation. Over the Christmas holiday, we went to Orlando to visit Disney World. While researching the trip, I planned to take advantage of the opportunity to do some bird photography. On our last day, we visited Animal Kingdom for the morning and early part of the afternoon. It was a grey day with a constant drizzle wetting the northcentral Florida landscape. As we were leaving the park, I stopped at a small enclosed pond where ibis and spoonbills were gathered. Most were just standing, backs to the rain. Others were bathing and a few were preening like this African spoonbill.
I like this photograph for the buttery smooth texture of the bird’s feathers. The bird looks so creamy that you just want to reach out and touch it. It is also in an interesting posture and entirely focused on the task at hand. For these reasons, I included among my top ten photographs of 2014.
For me, 2014 was a year of being open to stepping outside my photographic comfort zone and trying new things. These ten photographs are a product of that effort. So, before 2015 is too far gone, I would encourage you to take stock. Review your photographs from last year and select your favorites. While you’re doing that, think about the photography you want to do, this year. Make an intentional effort to try something new, to step outside your comfort zone. I think you’ll find that effort will be well rewarded.
Now, get out and shoot.
Bill Ferris | January 2015