Last year I started doing a yearly collection of my favorite images from the year. I found that it was a lot harder than it seemed to pick this list out. My favorites change from day to day most times depending on my mood and recent experiences. It was pointed out by another photographer that my list was mostly my recent images which were still fresh in my mind. I set out this year to do it a little different and avoid the new image trumps older image pitfall. I tried to take emotion and memory out of this and go completely by my own personal “Wow” factor over time. Certain images I can recall without thinking about them specifically. I feel those are my best images and the ones that I want to present here. So without further delay, lets start the countdown!
This shot of Elk River Falls was done in the Late Summer during a long weekend trip to the mountains. I’ve never really found this to be a particularly beautiful waterfall, but something was making me want to shoot it once again. The weather was a little odd for waterfall photography and I questioned myself many times as to why I wanted to drive a little over an hour to shoot a lackluster waterfall. When I got there, I was having a hard time making a composition really work. When I finally settled on one that struck me as fitting for the waterfall I was left a little disappointed in the image I was seeing in the LCD. From the distance, the waterfall itself looked ok, but the rest of the scene just didn’t fit my vision. I ended up changing things up and I added a 10-Stop ND filter which I had not done before with a waterfall. I dialed in an exposure that was three minutes in length with the goal of making the pool as smooth as possible and with the hopes of blurring the clouds in the sky. I wanted a bit of brush stroke artistry for this image and when I saw the image in the LCD, I knew I had a winner. When I processed later on, it only got better. This is still not my favorite waterfall, but it was the subject for one of the best shots of the year for me!
I can’t have a top images list without including some of my old iron in it. Honestly, this was one of the pictures that I struggled with. I spent a lot of time looking through my rusty shots and determined something that I had not noticed before. I am very consistent with this genre of photography. The vast majority of my images here really capture my eye, so when I started looking for one that stood out I was left scratching my head. What I finally decided on was this image shot in early Autumn at Outlawed Restorations in East Bend, NC. It is the second time I have shot this composition this year but it all just seemed to flow together so well this time. The lighting was right, there were the subtle hues of Fall surrounding the truck and that one blue fender to pull it all together. The fallen branch to the right makes for a wonderful dynamic frame that ties into the hubcap on the front wheel and gives a sense of motion to the truck as it emerges from the woodland grave. When I think about finding old vehicles in a natural setting this is what comes to mind. For me, this is the quintessential image in this class, and captures everything that I was trying to get with this one exposure.
Coming in at number 10 is a shot I did in Virginia back in the Summer. It was an accidental shot as I was just driving around in the country so this was not planned at all. In fact, I shot this very close to mid day which is usually a photographic no-no. When I saw the barn off in the distance, I really liked the setting of it, but wasn’t sure how I would capture it. It was quite far away, and I didn’t have time to track down the owner of the property to ask permission to get on the property. Instead, I decided to go to my landscape roots and shoot this barn as a part of a larger landscape. With the help of my long lens, I was able to frame up a flowing mountain scene with beautiful, puffy clouds above in the blue sky. The rolling hills in the background accentuated the slight curve of the foreground which framed the old barn just so. I was working so fast I really didn’t know if I had a good shot or not as I was trying different compositions almost every minute before the sky cleared above. When I came home there were probably 20 frames from just this barn alone and one of them ended up being my tenth favorite image of the year. In fact, this one was in the running for the Dixie Classic Fair competition back in October.
This image grabbed my attention before the camera even came out of the bag on this Summer morning. In fact, I was headed to a different destination all together and saw this Edsel sitting beside the road and almost locked the brakes up trying to stop in time. I have always been a fan of the uniquely shaped grille of these cars, from an artistic point of view that is. I don’t think I could ever drive one. I had this image in my mind for a long time just waiting for that perfect opportunity to shoot it. Here I was faced with the opportunity with some clouds overhead. The color of the car was perfect as I wasn’t looking for anything too flashy, just a nice cool image with the warmth coming from the gold “EDSEL” emblem in the center. The symmetry of the shot was exactly what I was looking for, and it just jumped off the back of the camera when I saw the review image. My opinion rose to another level when I started to process it in Lightroom. It was an early favorite of mine for the year. I’ve been asked a few times why I didn’t remove the leaf and pine needle from the grill before I made the shot. I really do like shooting things as I find them, and I think that this helps to tell the story of this being a derelict car. The paint is in pretty good shape as is the chrome, but there are just little subtle hints that enrich the history of this car and I wanted to leave them all in place for this image.
This one was a natural for this list, it was just a matter of deciding where it fit in. When I drove past this view in the Late Summer near Blowing Rock I knew I had to get out to capture the scene. The wind was absolutely calm and the rocks were unlike anything I had ever seen before. The angles created by the reflection were astounding to me. I tried several different compositions here but decided that I absolutely loved the version here with the grove of trees highlighted by the sun on the right that played off of the rocks to the left. It was just one of those artistic landscapes that I’m always hunting but rarely find. This one has been a standout in my memory since that Trek and because of that, I figured that it deserved a place in this collection.
This is another example of a waterfall that might not be my favorite yielding an image that I’m really proud of. Mouse Creek Falls is one of those waterfalls that most of the time I’ve seen it I’ve been less than impressed. However, with the proper flow it is really pretty. The flip side to this is that it is very hard to get a good composition of. The waterfall actually flows into Big Creek at a 90 degree angle which makes for a very messy composition. I’ve learned a few tricks for dealing with this which has made my last few trips here much better. At the end of 2017, I shot a picture here that I wanted in my yearly collection, but I had already made the rankings and posted them. As luck would have it, I actually like this version even better than what I shot last time, and I did it plenty early enough to make the cut. The composition here is what elevates this image into the rankings. Like I said, this is a difficult one to shoot, but I really like how the trees on the left balance out the waterfall, and the water flow gives it more of a linear flow rather than a split flow. I managed to minimize the visual weight of the water to the right so it is almost forgotten in the grand scheme of the composition. The massive rocks at the junction help draw the eye up to the waterfall, while the creek to the left frames the lower portion of the frame along with the really large rock right at the bottom right. It is one of those images with a lot going on, but each part compliments the other parts, which is what I strive to always do as a landscape photographer.
We are at the mid-point in the list and we have a more recent image which was just shot a couple of weeks ago. I thought long and hard about including this image because it was still so fresh in my mind, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it had to be included for one specific reason…the tonal coverage in the B&W conversion. While I do really like the subject here, this was a lackluster day out with the camera. I stopped here out of desperation because I was running out of time and light and had yet to shoot anything after driving through two states worth of back roads. Sometimes it just works like that. I found this old red tractor sitting under a shelter of a barn and decided to give it a try. I never thought about doing it as a black and white, and really liked how the red presented with the surrounding colors. When I got home I did the normal culling of images and came down to four shots that I liked. I processed my two favorites as color which was the original intention and was about to leave it at that. This one image still caught my eye, but I didn’t like the amount of red in the image. I tried to play with the processing a bit but just didn’t like it at all. I thought about trying it as a black and white just to see what would happen. The original conversion was flat and didn’t have much life, but I did see a lot of potential here and stated to work the tones. After about 25 minutes or so I had arrived at this image which has an amazing range of tones and gobs of detail. The whole presentation fits the theme I shot and just really excited me to see. Every time I look at it, I find more to like about it. That is why I feel it is worthy of this list. If I’m being totally honest, this one may very well be my entry in the 2019 Dixie Classic for the black and white category, but it is still too early to say for sure. It is definitely at home here on this list at the end of 2018!
Coming in at number five for the list, is my first sunrise/sunset type of shot. I know, these are cliché and are a dime a dozen, but this one is quite special in how it turned out. As you all know, I am a huge fan of fences along the Blue Ridge Parkway, so the first checked box is the split rail fence. I’m also a fan of decay in all forms, so that broken section really catches my attention. The lush greens which were kind of hard to expose in this light set the stage for a nice late summer evening which is quite restful. Clouds are another one of my favorite subjects to photograph so the drama in the sky with the clouds checks yet another box for me. I also really like quirky sunrise/sunsets that have lots of different variations of colors in the sky. The reds are very muted as the sunset wasn’t all that spectacular, but it really seems to fit the mood here. The composition checks off several boxes for me as well with the fence and the tree lines as leading lines to the distant mountains showing exactly where I was shooting, The color also happens to be right over the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, so everything in the image culminates exactly where I wanted the eyes to land, but yet there is enough visual interest in the rest of the frame to keep you coming back for more. I have been wanting to shoot some special images here at the Lump Overlook most of the year, and on this evening I got two of the images I had been searching for. This one just happens to be one of my favorites from the entire year.
Who would have thought that my fourth favorite image of the year would have happened in early January while on our anniversary trip. What makes this even more miraculous, is the fact that this was a desperation shot in the rain after just about giving up on the day. Toni and I had been driving for quite some time on our first day in the mountains looking for something to shoot. The weather was atrocious and while that usually yields great mountain images it just wasn’t working out that particular day. I had all but decided to give up and go back to the cabin when I passed by this tree that stood towering among the other trees in the fog. The rain was coming down really heavy at this point, but Dang It! I wanted the shot. Toni was lucky to have a small umbrella in her car which I made use of (now a fixture in my backpack) to keep the rain off of the camera. I looked funny standing there leaned over my camera in the rain holding an umbrella over my head, but I was able to get the shot I was after. It turned out to be the one and only shot that I really liked from the entire time in the mountains. When I was processing it, I found that it worked well as a color and a black and white image, but this monochrome rendition really spoke to me and capitalized on the mood that was present. This was an early favorite for the year, and 12 months later, it still is. It was almost entered into the Dixie Classic Fair, but I decided to go a different route instead. Regardless, this is still one of my all time favorite images from any year.
There is just something special about the Blue Ridge Mountains to me. I love them because their mood changes almost by the hour. No matter how many times I’ve been out there, I keep finding new personalities to capture. The location for my number three favorite for 2018 is a fence and gate I’ve been shooting since 2006. In fact, it was the first time I considered shooting somewhere other than an overlook. Since then, I have been back countless times as I just love the view from here, which happens to be close to the Mt Jefferson Overlook. This was shot right after I got to the mountains for a September weekend. It was the place that I decided to try for a sunset and I shot here for about two hours waiting for the light to change. The clouds kept changing overhead and I knew I was onto something special as things were developing. I tried so many different compositions that included my favorite red gate, and I finally landed on this one which kept everything at the perfect scale. As with another one that made the list here, I love how all of the lines take your eyes to the distant mountains that I find so fascinating and beautiful. Yes these types of pictures are cliché, but there is no denying the beauty of a sky that is on fire above the mountains. Since I shot this image it has been one of my favorites from the trip and from the whole year.
Coming in at number 2 for the year, and was set to be my favorite up until the last edit of this list when I dropped it one slot. This came from a Summer trip to Virginia for the day and I had some of the best conditions for rural photography. It was about noon, which is a terrible time for photography, but when I passed by this barn on the way back home, I had to stop in my tracks. It was the best barn of the day and one that looked spectacular below the sky. I immediately envisioned this one as a black and white image to take full advantage of the sky with the clouds. I composed the shot so that the arch of the clouds actually complimented the barn and brought your eyes right to it. The trees framed the barn and kept the eyes right where I wanted them. The textures of the wood, tin, grass, and clouds kept visual interest throughout the frame as well. The processing, much like the tractor earlier in this list much exceeded my expectations and elevated it to an early all time favorite of the year and up until a few days ago, edged out the number one image for 2018. As a side note, I entered this one in the Dixie Classic Fair back in the Fall in the black and white category, but it failed to make the cut for any of the prizes. I can’t explain what happened, but I still feel very strongly about this image and it will be one of my all time favorites for years to come I’m sure. This has been the year for monochrome images for me. I have gotten better at processing them through Lightroom, and I’m much happier with the results than I have been in the past. There is just a certain quality that can only be achieved with the lack of color in an image.
My Favorite Image of 2018!!
A little bit of a lead up to this one is in order. I struggled with this list as you have come to realize. The image that came in as my favorite shot of the year came from the Summer and is a subject that I don’t usually shoot. However, when I am in the position to shoot this particular subject, I have a certain vision in mind of what I want to achieve. When I was setting this shot up, I had no idea that it would actually achieve that goal. I figured that it would be another in a long line of attempts at this very specific grouping of elements. Honestly, I was thinking that it was probably going to be a failure of an image because there are not too many sunsets that are shot on the Atlantic Coast that really capture a beach theme since the ocean is normally to your back. What I was looking for was brilliant color in the sky, dunes and sea oats in the foreground with a composition that was unmistakably beach. I think that the image I selected as my favorite from the entire year of 2018 captures all of these elements and so many more.
Here it is, my favorite image of the year!!! When I shoot sunrises and sunsets, I always try to include the natural blue hues of the sky in conjunction with the colorful parts to add a bit of legitimacy to the colors that are being seen. The lone dune in the foreground catapults your eyes into the image with the grass pointing to the sky. The ridges in the sand keep your eyes moving into the frame giving tremendous depth until you get to the distant dunes. You might not be able to see the ocean in this view, but there is no mistaking that this is the beach, and that was what I was after. I had sat here in a driving wind for about an hour waiting for the sky to develop into what I was hoping it would. I timed this shot between gusts of wind so that I could get the grass to stay still and render sharp. This image checks so many boxes for what I look for in a picture that it had to be included in this list. It just narrowly edged out the second place image and it was more for the reason that I have been envisioning an image just like this for so many years, and I finally got the exact image that I had been after for so long. I still marvel at the colors in this image. There is just the perfect balance of warm and cool tones which is very hard to achieve in a shot like this. The composition was just what I had intended and it works just as I thought it would. I still get excited to see this image six months after shooting it. Because of that, it ranks as my favorite of the year!
Thank you for joining me for a short journey through my favorite images of the year. It was a hard task to pick just 12 images, but I do think that these represent some of my best work from the past year, and I know it represents better quality work than my list from last year. That is the goal for all photographers….to consistently improve. I’m hoping that the list next year will outshine this list in every way.
Merry Christmas from Greg Kiser Photography!