The 12 Most Significant Images of 2020

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Welcome back!  This is a little different type of entry than you will normally see here.  I’ve been doing these top image posts around the end of the year each year for some time now though.  Typically, they have been my favorite images of the year, or maybe the ones that got the best reception along the way.  I realized last year that when I try to pick images out for that purpose it becomes very convoluted as opinions change greatly not only among the audience, but also from my end.  One of the things that I would run into when picking my favorite images of the year was that the definition would change over time and while one day an image would be at the top of the list, I would question it the next day.  At one time or another all of my images have been one of my favorites in one regard or another so it seems silly to pick out “favorites” here at the end of the year.

It was also pointed out a couple of years ago by another photographer that my list of images happened to be mostly comprised of my newer pieces.  He was right, and my first thought was that it should be that way since I was improving through the year.  Why wouldn’t my best or favorite images be those shot later in the year?  The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that it wasn’t so much that they were better as much as it was just a new image and it hadn’t had time to live amongst the existing images in my collection.  It was that new image smell that I was drawn to more than anything else.

With that in mind, I decided to try a different approach last year and go with my 12 most “significant” images from the year.  That slight change in wording carried a completely different theme with the collection.  No longer was I trying to pick my best images, or even my favorites.  I was looking at those images that represented something a little more concrete to my overall work and style.  It made it a little easier to pick the images, but honestly it was still hard to do.  I do think that it is a more appropriate consideration for the previous year since even Ansel Adams used the terminology when he said that “Twelve significant images in any one year is a good crop.”  I really think what he meant by that was the images that go beyond the aesthetic and have a bit more substance than the others are the ones that stand out.  Those that stand the test of time, and possibly help define you as a photographer are those which would be considered “significant” and not just “best,” if that makes sense.

It really changed my mindset as to how I looked at my images when I made that shift in terminology.  No longer was I looking at them as if I was choosing for a contest which is a very difficult task.  I was looking at the images for what they meant to me, and represented about me.  I was also much less likely to go back months later and disagree with my choices.  That being said, I wanted this process to take some time to determine so I could see how the images lived amongst the others on the list to see if they stood the test of time or if they were just filled with that “new image smell.”

I started making this list a couple of weeks ago after going through all of my blog entries for the year.  I compiled images that I thought were significant, and then I started to place them in order.  I went through and adjusted the order several times, and even pulled a few images out and replaced them with others.  In the end, I felt like I had a pretty decent list of “significant images” from 2020.  They weren’t all popular when they were published, and some of them never even garnered any response at all.  That doesn’t change the fact that they were quite significant for my own journey through photography and have helped define who I am as a photographer as well as point me in new directions along the way.

Without further ado, I would like to get started in reverse order, building up to the most significant image of 2020, which was a significant year all by itself.

 

NUMBER 12

In Quiet Solitude“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters, 17 image panorama stitched in Lightroom

October 9, 2020

Starting this list out is probably the most impressive image that I have shot during 2020 if only for its size.  That is part of the significance of this image because it represents a total of 17 individual frames which were captured and then stitched together to form this huge panoramic image.  That could have been done with any scene as it was just a technical skill that was put to use.  What makes this particular image so significant for 2020 was what was captured.  Sure, you look and you see a fence and a grove of trees with a meadow and it seems simple enough, and I guess that it is.  However, this is the scene that I have driven by and photographed many times without being able to capture the true scope of the area.

The significance of this image is due to its ability to capture all of the little portions that I have photographed over the years and put them all together to tell a complete story of the scene.  I kind of think about this as a trilogy series of movies, which are all director’s cuts.  It becomes an epic image capturing all of the bits and pieces that have attracted me to this area for years now.  I have finally captured an image that conveys what I feel about this rather nondescript scene at the entrance to Doughton Park’s picnic area.  Through the inclusion of both near and far elements there is amazing depth represented here and the sky, while interesting is just a textured backdrop for the landscape which takes center stage.  The fence is one of those iconic features of the Blue Ridge Parkway for me, as is the red gate.  The tall bare trees that are tucked into the line of boulders showcases the mountain spirit  while it all just frames the gentle rolling hills with subtle Autumnal colors thrown in for good measure.  The mountains in the distance are blue which shows just why the Blue Ridge Mountains were named as such.

At first sight, this is a very simple scene and almost a minimal scene, but when you start to look at it, there are all kinds of different stories being told, yet they all support the overall story.  This is very difficult to do in photography where simplicity is usually king.  The fact that I was able to get so many elements into an image and have them all work together so pleasingly well, makes this one of my most significant images of 2020.

 

NUMBER 11

You’ll Go Far“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No Filters

March 5, 2020

Coming in at the next spot on the list is one from Hanging Rock which was shot just as the world as I new it was about to change dramatically.  Most of you will see the date and realize that this was just days before COVID-19 hit the US on a large scale which would change our ability to go out amongst others for the remainder of the year and beyond.  On a personal note, this was less than a week away from when I would lose my Grandfather, and it was my last outing while he was still with us.  I had been with him at the hospital and then at his home for much of the previous weeks as he had recovered from pneumonia.  With him getting stronger, I had decided it was time to go out and center my mind a little bit.  I picked Hanging Rock that particular day and ended up capturing a great many images which all benefited from my current mindset I believe.

This is why this image has made the list for 2020.  It was a new way of seeing the landscape for me, and a new way of representing it to others.  In the beginning of March, the Spring colors had not yet come out and the landscape was still very barren and drab from the Winter.  My approach to landscapes has always been one where I celebrate the colors that are there and look for very punchy scenes.  With my current mindset, I was less interested in color and more interested in a calm mood, and a view that helped put things in perspective.  What I ended up with was this image from the summit which I have photographed many times before, but never like this.  I started out using my Rokinon 14mm lens which was one that I really didn’t use that much for broad landscapes.  It was great at emphasizing a foreground and that was what I typically used it for.  It was also my go to lens for black and white landscapes for some reason and I hadn’t really used it much for color landscapes.  I had initially thought that I was going to do this scene in black and white which was why I even thought about this lens in the first place.  I found the right place to set it up and didn’t really have the prominent foreground that I would usually use with this lens.  Instead, it was a very much all encompassing scene which was being captured with the primary interest being the trail towards the distant mountains.  it was a slightly new way of seeing this scene for me.

When I got home, the second change for this image came to light.  I decided that I wasn’t going to process this one as a black and white image after all.  Instead, I was going to go for color, but when I started moving through the process as I would normally, the colors became too rich and fought with the mood that I was after.  This was one of the first grand landscapes that I have shot where I made the decision to really dial back the colors and keep it muted and even cool in color tone.  It was a departure from my norm, and it really fit the mood that I was feeling that day.  What makes this so significant is that I can still feel that mood just exactly as I felt it that day when I look at this image.  It still speaks to me, and knowing now that five days later my Grandfather passed away I see that as his trail.  I know that that symbolism is lost on the viewers of this image, so the significance goes further than that for the purposes of this list.

For me, color is very important in landscapes and I shoot the vast majority of them with color in mind.  When I don’t like the colors for the image I will go monochrome, but this one was different.  Instead of choosing between the two, I decided to dial back the colors and make it quite a bit more muted than I would typically.  It opened up a whole different way of seeing the landscape in color for me.  There were just some times and some seasons that didn’t need bold colors with a lot of visual contrasts.  This added a great tool to my belt when it came to capturing scenes and telling stories and that is why this has made it onto my list for the 12 most significant images of 2020.

 

NUMBER 10

Overflow“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

August 22, 2020

As we climb higher on this list of significant images of 2020, we have one that is a little different from my normal capture of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This image comes from the Doughton Park area which we have already seen in the opening image of this list.  You might be starting to realize why I love this area of the Parkway so much, and we aren’t even done with this park just yet.  I had been out here going for a sunrise image at the picnic area when I passed by here in the dark.  I have often seen the rocky wall covered in ice during the Winter months, but I had not been out here after heavy rains when the water was flowing like this.  I had made a mental note to myself to return here after sunrise to see if there was a photograph to be had.

After my sunrise series was over, I made my way back down the Parkway just a couple of miles and stopped at this scene once again.  The fog was coming over the ridge which added so much atmosphere to the image and the water was flowing so nicely over the rocks.  There was a slight mist in the air as well which just seemed to complete the story for me.  I was staring at a scene that embodied so much of what I see along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Individually, these things don’t always make strong images, but when they all come together something special happens.  This was going to be that image that told the story of my love for the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as the North Carolina Mountains.

You can still see the influence from the last image that I spoke about with the slightly desaturated colors throughout the image.  It was almost going to be a monochrome presentation since there were only greens and the yellow stripe represented with the rest of the image being shades of blues and grays.  The color helped to set the mood here though, and I decided that I needed to keep that in place.  Had I gone with my normal processing of the scene though, the pops of color would have really distracted from the overall appearance and changed the mood to something completely unintended.  By desaturating these colors though, I was able to really drive home the atmosphere that I wanted to capture.  It was an early favorite from the day and one that I’ve lived with for some time still being quite happy with.

What has cemented this image on the list this year was the fact that after some 15 years of capturing images along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have finally captured one that I think sums up the beauty of the area during “bad weather.”  This is my favorite time to be out here with a camera, but to be able to capture so much in a single frame to tell that story has been rather elusive.  It is this concept that is becoming a theme of this year’s list it seems.  The first three images on the list are here because they have captured the mood so well for what I have been looking for with very familiar scenes.  All three of these scenes have been areas that I have loved for years and have photographed many times over.  These images just seem to convey what I see in them so much better than other attempts have in the past.  That is their significance and there are more to add to the list that fall into that category as well.

 

NUMBER 9

The Lower Shoals“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 8 images stitched together

February 18, 2020

Coming in at number nine we have my second panoramic capture in this list.  This is from South Mountains State Park which I will usually visit a time or two during the year if for no other reason working this section of the High Shoals Waterfall.  Spoiler alert, this is the more interesting section of the waterfall as the main section is just a boring waterslide for the most part.  This section has a lot of character to it and I’ve worked the different areas of it individually for years.  One of the more unique sections is on the right side and actually made my list of favorite images in 2017.  Very much like the opening image in this list, this scene was one that had vexed me for years because I couldn’t figure out just how to capture the scope of the scene successfully to show how all the different elements came together.

When the mood hit to return to South Mountains State Park, I found myself right back on the boardwalk at this part of the waterfall.  I found myself looking for compositions as I normally did.  I shimmied down onto the rocks below as I normally do and I commenced to shooting the sections as I normally would.  The waterflow had been excellent that day and I was fighting to keep the lens clear of spray which made things much more complicated than normal, but for some reason I had the odd thought to try something that would make things even more difficult with the conditions.  I could try a panorama here which for some reason had never entered my mind, at least not while I was here at the scene.  This was always something that had popped into my head after the fact when I got home, or while editing images.  It wasn’t going to be easy with the way the boardwalk was positioned though.

I was already down in the rocks which offered the best overall view of the waterfalls here from ground level.  I was much closer than I really wanted to be for a panorama, but my other option just wouldn’t work at all with the railing in the way.  I decided to stick to a wide angle for a pano shot and worked out a basic composition with my 24-70mm lens rather than my more often used 70-200mm.  I figured out where the top and bottom of the frame would be and realized that this might just work.  I was going to have an odd perspective possibly with my proximity to the larger of the two waterfall features.  I needed to be on this side though as it was the only way to keep the leaning tree from blocking too much of the smaller waterfall to the right.  I did my series of eight images which were later stitched together to form this rather impressive image.

So, why is this one a such a significant image for the year.  As with some of the others in this list, it is a very complex scene that has been captured in a simple way to include so many different elements.  It looks like a much simpler image than it actually is, but begs you to look further into it to find all of the little details.  It was a successful joining of several different compositions that I had shot over the years which had always failed to tell the full story of the location.  It was this panorama which captured the entirety of the scene and really showcased why I love this section of the waterfall so much.  In short, it was an image that I never realized that I had been trying so hard to capture for so long.

 

NUMBER 8

Union of Dreams“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray I-Ray 830, Converted in Lightroom

July 29, 2020

Snow in July?  Of course, that would be significant!  But that isn’t the case here.  Number eight on the list is here for a different reason because what you are seeing is not snow. In fact, it was very hot that day if memory serves.  Is this a significant image because of the subject matter?  Nope, not at all.  In fact, these are the famous trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway often called Fred and Ethel.  They have been photographed time and time again by just about anyone with a camera that passes them by.  They have been photographed in the Summer, Spring, Fall, and even covered in snow during the Winter.  So why is this image significant for the year in my collection?  This image is about seeing things differently than we are used to.

I have photographed this scene several times over the years and even I am getting a little bored of the two trees.  But there are still those times when I think I can do something special with them that hasn’t been done before.  I am usually wrong and just recreate something that somebody else has done before.  My images, while good, have never really been special from this location.  While I was in the area on this hot July day attempting to social distance, I had thought about making images of these trees.  I thought better of it because of the reasons that I just shared, but the more I thought about it and saw the crowds of people everywhere else I wanted to be, I decided to come back to the twin trees and take advantage of there being no other people.  My idea for these trees was going to be a little different this time as I was going to use my Infrared filter which I had only used one other time before with mixed results.

I started out finding a composition that I liked and wound up shooting a good bit with my 14mm lens, but since that wouldn’t accept the IR filter, I had to move to another lens.  Knowing that my 24-70mm had the best chance of making a good image with this filter, that was the one that I chose.  It was a lot tighter of a lens than I wanted to use, but I managed to find a composition that I liked.  I got the filter on and started making exposures capturing only the infrared spectrum of light which was really hard to previsualize, but the magenta tones images on the LCD were looking promising.

The image here is not technically wonderful by any stretch.  It suffers from a lot of grain due to the process by which I have to capture the image using a non-converted camera.  The sharpness is also not exactly what I would have wanted, but there is something about this image that earns it a place on this list though.  The significance here is that it opened up a new possibility for my photography in the future.  I had worked on overcoming one of the issues that had been present with this filter/camera combination and ha finally made an image that I was reasonably happy with.  I could see a lot of potential with IR photography after this one, and even after four months I am still pleased with the idea behind this image.  It does capture these famous trees in a different way than I am used to seeing which was very important to me.  It also shows a little better what the filter is capable of doing.

It is the possibilities for the future of my photography which make this image so significant.  The more I have looked at this and considered it, the more I have gotten excited for Summer photography in 2021 when the leaves are green once again.  I will have a new camera which I am hoping will not have the same issues as my old one did with the overexposed area in the middle of the frame.  With high hopes, I have even opened up a new gallery room for Infrared Images which I hope to add to with some more unique imagery over the coming years.

 

NUMBER 7

I Got the Mail“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

October 24, 2020

For this next slot in the list of most significant images from 2020 we have my first rural scene of the collection.  Hey, that’s significant all by itself isn’t it?  This image is still just over a month old at this point so it still has the “new image smell” to it, but there is something about this one that has impressed me since the beginning.  When I captured this scene I had just come off of a very dismal outing where I had spent the whole day looking for something to photograph with no luck at all.  I was questioning my abilities and feeling that I had lost my eye.  Of course, those weren’t the case at all and it was just a short lived creative slump.  I had gone out on this particular trek with a couple of things in mind, but hadn’t really considered this particular scene.  It wasn’t until I was driving by that it caught my eye.  It was the first scene in two days that had grabbed my attention so I was excited to find it.  I had no idea how to capture an image of this scene though, but the lighting appeared to be half decent at least with a nice overcast day.

There was a lot here to organize in the scene and there was just no way to separate the elements the way that I would have liked.  It took me a good while to figure out a working composition of the scene but I really didn’t know if it would work or not.  I was blocking a very interesting house with an old Ford truck which was pointed away from the camera showing off just the wooden bed.  There was a nice tree, but I couldn’t get much of it before I had to include the sky which was not all that interesting.  It was too close to be able to avoid capturing in the frame though so I had to figure out how to make it work.  What I ended up figuring out was this composition where I put the three elements together in close proximity with a connection implied between them all.  The tree framed the house and truck more than anything else, and the focal point of the truck became the mailbox that was laying on the back.  It felt like a sloppy image to me at the time and full of too many compromises, but I had dedicated too much time to this image to just pick the camera up and go somewhere else.  There was also a good chance that my reluctance for the composition was based on self doubt after the previous day’s failure in finding an image.

I did shoot the scene, but didn’t make that many exposures of it because I just really thought that it wasn’t going to work at all.  It wasn’t until I got it home and brought it into Lightroom that I realized that my gut had been right.  It wasn’t a good image.  The lighting was not great, and the positioning of the truck wasn’t flattering…but yet, there was something about the scene that kept pulling me in.  I was getting an emotional reaction to the scene and I wanted to see if I could bring more of that out.  I started the processing and the more I worked the image the more I started to like it.  Please don’t misunderstand me and think that I was “fixing” a bad image in post processing.  That is completely not the case.  What I was doing was evening out the tones and making this a more painterly image than just a photograph.  The way in which I processed it had a timeless quality not unlike a good black and white image.  The colors were there, but they were subdued compared to my regular processing style.  When combined with the subject matter, it really told the story of this rural scene like I had not even dreamed to hope.

I was building on the lessons learned from my number 11 image with this one and the more I have looked at it the more that I have come to love it.  This image breaks so many of my own rules for composition, but yet is so successful as an image.  It is significant because it reminds me to be true to that inner voice of mine which will often tell me to do things with my photographs that I might not normally do, or fully understand.  The entire time that I was composing this image I was saying to myself that it just wouldn’t work.  Even when I got it home, I didn’t think it was going to work.  It wasn’t until I just tried a few things in Lightroom that I started to fully understand the scene that I had seen without seeing it.  This is a great slice of life image from Surry County and I think it captures the mood and feeling of the area so well.

 

NUMBER 6

Autumn Splendor“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

October 12, 2020

Half way to the top, and here we have the number six most significant image from 2020.  This is one of those images that has impressed me from the time of capture until well after the final edit.  In other words, the complete opposite from the last image on this list.  I really enjoy a painterly photograph that brings about thoughts of oil paintings or pastels.  This is not always as easy as it would seem to be able to capture though.  With those media, the artist has the ability to put everything in the exact place that they would want it and have the lighting perfect across the scene.  The color selection would be limited and all of the colors used would compliment each other.  In nature that is hard to find and photograph so when it happens, I tend to take note.

This is a tree that is located behind the historic cabin within EB Jeffress Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I had been working on a composition of the cabin in the fog which turned out really well, but while waiting for the conditions to materialize to really make the image sing, I had been watching this tree which was also included in the composition.  The fog was coming and going from around it and I saw my opportunity to make a really good woodland image with the warm tones of Fall as the backdrop for this mighty tree.  After fiddling with the composition for a while and then waiting for the fog to appear like I was wanting, I created this image which looked magical in the image review on the back of the camera.  I was very excited to get this one as well as others back to process.  As I was working on this one in Lightroom, I found that all of the qualities that I had been excited about with this scene were still very much a part of the composition.  It really didn’t take much editing at all to arrive at this final presentation.

I have loved this image from the start, but what makes it a significant image for the year was the fact that it captured the atmosphere just perfectly and with the colors and tones here, it looks just like an oil painting.  When I look at this image, I don’t see a picture of a tree in the Fall, I see an emotion, a mood, a state of mind.  I see all of those things that I am always trying to capture with my camera.  There are times that it works out better than others, and there are times like this when the mood of an image actually surpasses the individual parts of that image.  When I look at this one, I am instantly transported back to that cool and misty morning and I think that the image does a great job at bringing the viewer along with me.

 

NUMBER 5

Into the Looking Glass“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad, Mor-Slo 5-stop ND Filter

August 3, 2020

When I shot this image on this warm August afternoon I was pretty sure that I was going to have something special.  When I was done with the edit, I had one of my favorites of the year looking back at me.  Months later, my opinion hasn’t changed with this scene from Price Lake.  This image has been about thirteen years in the making which is why it is so significant for me.  I had originally found this spot at Price Lake in 2007.  I was still shooting with my old Sony F828 camera and thought I had it all figured out.  The image that I created was not good at all looking back on it now.  Even when I shot it, there were things that I didn’t like about it, but I didn’t know how to fix the problems with the composition back then.

Over the years I had returned to this little alcove on the lake and tried to recapture that same composition, or at least the intent behind it.  I had really liked the fact that I used the jagged shoreline as a foreground image that added depth to the scene and gave context to the reflection.  There was just so much missing in the visual tension and drama department.  I had tried this vertically and horizontally and just never seemed to be able to surpass the first attempt that I had made.

This image is the result of standing in the same spot for at least an hour and making about 25 different exposures during that time.  When I finally got the composition dialed in that I wanted, I started to add filters to the camera to really get the image that I had been after.  There were three filters that I used here which added to the reflection in the water, matched the exposure of the sky to the reflection, and slowed the exposure down to give that reflection a glass-like appearance.  I had just used the cumulative knowledge from the past thirteen years about how to make an image to finally see the fruits of my original compositional concept.

The significance of this image is the realization of a concept after so many years of trying.  It is still a favorite image and would likely be a part of a “Best of 2020” list as well, but I definitely think that it checks all of the boxes for one of the most significant images of the year as well.  When I look at this one I can’t help but see all of the failed attempts at capturing this image over the years to that final moment when everything fell together in order to make this one frame.

 

NUMBER 4

Welcome to the Machine“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

April 1, 2020

This is not an April Fool’s Joke, and by golly, I said that this one was more than likely going to make this list.  You are probably looking at this and wondering if it is really one of my images.  It is not landscape, it is not decay, and it is so very modern that it just can’t be one of mine.  Sometimes it is that breaking of the mold that creates those significant images.  This is most definitely one of mine and even though it has never been met with great response, I am very proud of the concept and execution of it.

Architectural photography is not one of those areas where I excel, or even get a lot of practice (there may be a relationship there).  I do appreciate it, and I love the geometry that is present in the images.  I have found over the years that my favorite architectural images are largely abstract in nature concentrating on the shapes rather than the full story of a building or skyline.  The concept for this shot had been born long before I went out on this Spring morning into downtown Greensboro.  I had a loose concept of a capture with very strong symmetrical lines with the shapes being defined by contrast while the entire image was monochrome, with a very industrial appearance.  It was a well thought out composition, but I no idea what subject would fit that design idea.

I carried that concept around with me for some time until that April morning I found myself on top of a parking garage looking out over the cityscape.  I found the building that fit the bill for my concept.  I had started to photograph it as a part of a whole and just didn’t care for it at all in that fashion.  When I started to fit it into my predefined composition it just came to life.  The only struggle that I had with it was determining how to frame the building and how much to include.  Too much, and it would become overly complex with too much repeating pattern, and too little would be….well boring.  I settled on this composition and felt that it had just enough balance and symmetry to it, as well as including just enough context to make the image work.  I worked the white balance from the overall cool appearance that the “correct” white balance was capturing to the warmer tones of the “shade” setting.  I liked the cool tones, Toni had told me after seeing a picture of the back of the camera that she preferred the warmer tones.  It really didn’t matter since I was planning on making this a monochrome image anyway.

It was a sunny day by this point so I had just enough contrast in the different layers of the building to give the image depth and I just waited until the sun was in the right place to make this image.  It didn’t take long and I only had a few frames of this.  That was because I was sure that I had nailed the composition and there was no need in fine tuning it any more than I had.  I was excited about it in the field, and when I got it home to edit it, that excitement carried through until I had a finished product on my screen.  The only departure from my initial concept was in the color presentation of the image.  I had been thinking about it as a monochrome image, but that was before I had this industrial aluminum looking building as my subject.  It was monochrome without needing to try.  I had tried warm and cool white balances and determined that the industrial look I was after came through so well as a cool color cast.  That was then desaturated slightly which was the main part of the editing here.  It was one of the quicker edits that I have ever done and this is very close to straight from the camera.

Being able to have one of my fuzzy concepts take form in such a cool picture makes this one of my most significant images of the year.  It probably could go higher in the list, but there are more significant images to be talked about.  This might be one of my favorite significant images though which is still surprising after eight months of very little feedback on this one.  I love stepping out of my comfort zone with photographs and having the results turn out better than I expected.  I think that might be the best way to describe why this image deserves a place on this list!

 

NUMBER 3

Independent Oil Co“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

November 8, 2020

Changing gears a little from the last image, we have a much less modern view of life and a much different color palette as well.  This is a relatively new image, and the newest on this list having only been in my collection for a bit over a month.  In that month, this image has earned its right to be in the list of the 12 most significant images of the year.  I’ll start with the most obvious reason that this is a special image.  In that short month’s time, this image has become my best selling image surpassing Gnarled Centurion which was captured in 2017.  You can read more about it in my most recent Behind the Camera and how I love to hate that image.

Independent Oil Company is one of those images that became something special before I even figured out that I wanted to capture it with my camera.  I had seen it in my travels around Wilkes County shortly after moving into the area.  It was interesting, but I really didn’t know much about it and wasn’t wild about the surrounding clutter of the city.  After taking a tour of the area with my neighbor and friend, he shared some of the stories about this place which made it come alive for me.  It was the background of the old Ferguson Nuway gas station that really got me interested in capturing the building.  I went out there one morning when the conditions were favorable and I captured a bunch of images as the lighting changed.  This was my favorite of the bunch and it was before the sun had fully come up.  For me, the composition told the story of this building being left  empty while the city behind moved on.

The image seemed to speak to more than just me as it has been my most successful image to date on Facebook after the initial posting of the image.  It has become one of the most shared images of mine which have connected me with a whole new audience of folks here in Wilkes County.  Within a couple of days, I had sold a print locally to a resident who remembered when it was still functioning.  I also made contact later that day with the property owner who’s Grandfather had actually run the station many decades before.  This started another stream of prints which included a 24×36″ canvas print.  This seemed to be just the tip of the iceberg as the days passed it became very clear to me that the residents of Wilkes County were really proud of their heritage, and were very receptive to having it celebrated in photos.

The response to this image was beyond words wonderful, but that is not the real reason that this has made it on the list of significant images for 2020.  It is the direction that it has prompted me to take my photography in which earns it the number three position here.  After realizing how much the history of the county meant to those who lived here, I became even more interested in the place that I live and the history behind it.  I set out on a personal project to capture the stories of the county and its people.  This new project of mine has taken me down some very interesting roads over the last month and I don’t see an end in sight.  In fact, I have created a gallery room here for a collection point for these images and those related to the area.  I call this room Scenes From the Foothills.  It will fill the same purpose as my Piedmont Scenes room did when I lived in that section of the state since I learned that there are some subtle differences in the subject matter based on geography which I wanted to honor.

I’m not sure where this project will take me over the next years, but wherever it does, I will owe it all to this one simple image that opened a door for me which no other image has ever done so handily.  I can see no reason why this image shouldn’t be included on this list, and I do believe that it belongs near the top as well.

 

NUMBER 2

In Before the Storm“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2 and 3-stop soft ND Grads

October 24, 2020

There are times when I have a great concept before I get to a location, and there are times when I get a great concept after I find a location.  Number two on this list of Twelve Most Significant Images of 2020 falls into neither category.  What makes this image significant in my mind is fact that this represents a reaction to a set of circumstances that yielded a flat out awesome image.  I had seen the clouds developing overhead and was doing my normal thing looking for something to put under them when I saw a barn in the distance.  I pulled off the road and got the camera out quickly.  I worked on getting a composition dialed in as well as adding filters for the exposure.  While I was working on this, I started to see the rain developing off in the distance which just added a spectacular element to the image.  I recomposed to bring that into the frame along with a supporting section of the farm just under the rain.  While I was waiting for the light to change, I was snapping a picture with my phone because I already knew that something epic was about to happen.  This picture was posted on Facebook as a teaser and it got a lot of positive response just from the cell phone shot.

I was working so quickly for this one that I had left my truck opened up on the side of the road with my gear strewn all around the back.  I had made multiple runs to the back to get filters and such which made me look like I had no idea what I was doing.  On the contrary, I was able to work this quickly because I had become very familiar with my gear and what was needed for the different needs of the scene and I had my workflow ironed out to a science.  I had looked into the scene and I knew what was possible with the camera.  I just had to work quickly while everything was lined up.  In the end, I had an image that required very little post processing and it captured every aspect that I had been interested in from the moment that I had seen the sky.

The chances of epic images like this happening without planning are slim.  Usually when I find myself in the situations of being in the right place at the right time, I end up getting most of the equation right but it seems that my compositions always fall short because of the quick actions and choices that have to be made.  This time, I had just enough time to get the composition put together before the final element of the rain squall entered into the frame.  I had all the tools needed and the skills required to pull it all together quickly.  The final image was one that has a feel of a well thought out concept and image.  You would never know that this was just a few minutes of running back and forth to get different things, all while trying to nail the lighting when it happened.

When I captured this image, I knew that it was going to make this list unless I did something really stupid along the way to mess it up.  When I was done editing it, I was completely sure that this would have a place on this list of significant images.  There are just times when an image falls into place so well that it impresses even the photographer.  That was the case here.  I still look at this one with amazement that all of the pieces fell together in a very short amount of time to create a very powerful image.

 

NUMBER 1

Not so quick!  We have been looking at some really good images from my last year as a photographer.  I’ve explained a lot of the reasons why each of these images has made this list.  One reason that I have neglected to mention is that every one of the images that I have captured during 2020 is significant in that they are part of the first full year that I have been a professional photographer.  There is a huge significance to that fact since I have been looking at my photography differently since the decision was made just a little over a year ago to pursue photography full time.  I have seen constant improvement in my skills and abilities so that my work has become much more consistent than ever before.  That makes it very difficult to pick twelve images above the rest as they are all much closer in quality.  Looking at them as being significant images has helped make this list easier to compile.  It is still very rewarding to look back over the year’s images and see just how much I have improved compared to previous years.

These images are also very significant as the majority of them (only two exceptions) were created during the most problematic pandemic that I have lived through.  There have been lockdowns, travel restrictions, and so many other difficulties brought about by different governmental entities that for anyone to get out and be creative is significant all by itself.  I just checked my count for 2020 and I have shot just under 3,900 images since January 1st.  I think I would count that as significant during this odd year.

In addition to the pandemic, Toni and I have moved into a new house, I have lost my Grandfather, and she has retired from work with the City of Greensboro.  There have been a lot of ups and a lot of downs through the year, and there are still a couple of weeks left before we move into 2021.  So, out of those 3,900 frames, which one will prove to be the most significant of the year?  There were roughly 300 of those frames that were deemed keepers which have all been shared in the blogs here.  Of those 300 or so images, you have seen eleven images that I think are truly significant for what they bring to my catalog of photographs.  Which one of those hundreds will be the top choice for 2020?

I bet you would like to know wouldn’t you?

Will it be one of your favorites?

Will you even like it?

 

Fine, I’ll let you know which image it is.

Introducing the most significant image of 2020 in my humble opinion.  It is an image that is significant because it represents a completely different way of seeing a scene that I have photographed more times than I can count.  It comes from an area that I have conducted a workshop at.  The same trek that brought this top spot image also yielded my Number 12 image.  In fact, both that Number 12 image and my Number 1 image were shot from roughly the same patch of ground and they both include the same element.  When I talk about different ways of seeing, you can see just what I am talking about between these two images.  The panorama that opened the list captured so many different elements in the scene and they were organized in a way that really simplified the entire story as I mentioned.  This next, most significant image, went the complete opposite direction and picked out one very interesting feature of the scene and showcased that in what is best described as an isolation image.

Boulders and Branches“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

October 9th, 2020

This image was an afterthought after a long morning of working different areas of Doughton Park.  I had hiked my way to the entrance of the picnic area where I had shot the panorama we have already talked about.  After working some other compositions including the section of trees over to the right of that scene I had decided I was done here and started to pack things up.  As I was getting ready to pack up the camera I looked back at the trees and saw that the part that I was most interested in was not the entire trees as I had been photographing, but the structure of the trees at the base.  More specifically, the tree to the right of the lead tree.  As I honed in on that tree, I found that the rocks seemed to follow the shape of the tree, or vise versa.  The sky behind it was a soft background with just a hint of texture.  I was really excited about this scene and got the camera set up to capture it.

I have had a very long list of images that are quite complex here, and that is not really like me.  I have spent a great deal of time learning to simplify images and and capture a limited number of elements to tell a story.  Most of the preceding photographs don’t really fall into that category at all, although they are very much simplified with as many elements as they have in them.  This image is just a very simple image of a tree between rocks, and the entire tree isn’t even represented.  It is an honest image with a simple story.  I had shot it to be a monochrome image, but the touch of green in the sea of blue grays seemed to really work to tell the story of this particular tree.  I used the lessons that I had learned earlier in the year about desaturating the colors to gain impact with those colors and it worked so well here.  The image became about the textures and the lines of the elements.

I don’t know why I had never thought to photograph this set of trees in this manor before, but it was such a stunning composition.  It tells a much more direct story of the scene and turned into one of my favorites from the year even before I finished the editing process.  As I have had time to live with it, my love for this image has grown stronger and I still think that it is one of my all time best images I have ever shot.  What makes me feel very comfortable in that statement is that it doesn’t even matter what my mood is at the time, this image has maintained that level of perfection in my mind since day one.  I can’t think of anything that I could have done to improve it, or anything that I would have wanted to change about it.

The idea that this image almost never was as I was packing up the camera, finishing for the day here, scares me.  I can’t help but think about how many other images I have left on the table over the years that I just missed.  I’m certainly happy that I had the last minute thought to capture this one before zipping the bag up, and I have learned from it to always take that one last look before you leave.  It also confirmed the lesson that I had taught myself of the power of desaturation in my images.  There is no way that this would have looked nearly as good with my typical pop in the colors.  It also would have been somehow less successful as a monochrome image, but situated in the middle of those this becomes a very successful image and quite possibly one of my all time favorites.

 

Well, that is it.  You have what I feel are the twelve most significant images from 2020.  Are these what Ansel Adams would have had in mind when he made that statement all those years ago.  I will never know as significance can be a fluid thing for different people.  I feel that each of these images stands apart from the crowd for what they represent for my photography, and my own personal journey.  Are there better images from the year?  I’m sure that there are.  Are there missing images that you feel need to be on this list?  I’m sure that there are.  In the course of the year, up to this point, I have shot nearly 4000 images and to come up with a list of twelve that are “significant” is a really daunting task.  There is a spread of images here as I have everything from landscapes, to rural, to isolations, to slice of life images with that oddball architectural image thrown in just to keep you guessing.  It is hard to compare my photographs against each other because I do shoot so many different types of images.

These are the twelve images that I feel have aged well and still hold the same significance that they did when I first shot them.  Some have actually improved in my mind over time which usually doesn’t happen and is a great indicator that they belong on this list.  Will I create another significant image in the remainder of the year?  I might, but honestly, I won’t have the time to really live with it long enough to determine if it belongs on this list or not.  I’m happy with this list, and I think it speaks volumes about my photography.  I only hope that you have found it to be a compelling collection and that some of your favorites have been included.  I hope also that you have taken the time to click the date links for the associated blog entries which tells more about the creation of the images.

Look for my upcoming Behind the Camera entry where I wrap up the entire year and share the events that have helped to form my photography since Jan 1, 2020.