Almost every photographer that uses social media has a “top 10” or now a “top 9” (Instagram-utilized) list of photographs made during the year. I strongly believe this is something every photographer should do, whether or not they show off those top photos online or not.
2018 was filled with an immense amount of progress for me as an artist and as a professional. I completed the images for my first photo book, I went on a nine-day road trip with four other photographers (two of which I live with), I made two major projects that I’m genuinely proud of (outside of the photo book; and you haven’t seen the second project yet, because it’s still in progress), and I learned a lot about being a photographer in today’s world, and how to prepare for the future of the visual art world.
Within my personal work, I really began to focus on composition, story, and intent. These three ideas were consistent in every project I worked on, even ones that I didn’t end up publishing.
After each image, I will briefly tell the story behind the making of it. The images are not in any “best-to-worst” kind of order, they’re just in the order they happened to be in on my computer.
January 21, 2017. The day that sparked my photo book. My friend Shanon Snapchatted me a video of her view from her dorm room. Nothing but dense fog. At this time of the year, I was only just getting back into landscape photography for the first time since 2016. I had been watching so much of Thomas Heaton’s videos that I had itchy feet to go take photos, but I never had good conditions, or knew where to photograph.
I remembered there was a lake about fifteen minutes north of Normal. Perfect. I drove up there in my old station wagon was amazed by the conditions in front of me. I made a few of my favorite photographs that day. I had no idea those photographs would become the introduction to my first photo book, Arbor, Neighbor.
All the way up to August, I was still working on photos for Arbor, Neighbor. After having an incredibly fruitful critique of the early stages of the book back in April, I was heavily inspired to keep working on the book. Periodically driving out to the nature parks around central Illinois, camera ready and always keeping an eye on the light, I stopped off near where I took the first image above.
I hiked down to the edge of the water. It was the peak of golden hour in the peak of the summer. The light was being diffused by high clouds and gently wrapping around the trees across the lake. The textures and the lushness of the greens captured me, and I made this image.
In march, I was working on Arbor, Neighbor in the background on top of my other projects for class. In fact, I don’t even remember what my project was at that time because I was more focused on the book photos.
This image was made on an incredibly beautiful spring day. This dead tree was catching the golden hour light so perfectly, and to top it all off, three birds were perched on the branches. I didn’t even have my tripod set up, and I wanted to catch the birds before they flew off.
This image was one of two photographs I had featured in the Student Annual Exhibition at University Galleries in April.
In the autumn of this year, I created the one project that I am most proud of. Moth.
The first few images were made with help of my close friend Izabela. She kind-of turned into my assistant during this project. Where I would set up, compose the image, get all of the settings right, and she would click the shutter and give me real-time critiques.
This particular image is titled Hood.
I can never make this image again. The rickety dock is gone.
This image was made in one of my busiest days of the fall semester. I don’t quite remember exactly what was going on that day, but I knew I had an assignment for my job an hour after class, and the light was just right for me to make this image. I drove out to the same lake I shot most of Arbor, Neighbor at and made this image. About five or six attempts with no assistant/Izabela to help me speed it along, it came ended up being my personal favorite image of the entire year, and likely the best photograph I’ve ever made.
Moth was a project that I presented for my narrative photography course this fall semester. I never treat the class deadline like it's the true deadline, but rather, as a “checkpoint critique.” The response to the project was even better than that of Arbor, Neighbor, so of course I was inspired to keep working on Moth.
In November, weeks after the project was presented, the late autumn rains were pouring. I looked out my window at my parking lot, as I often do when I’m bored and lonely, and I saw the colors and how the light was manipulated by the rain. I grabbed my camera, tripod, and a plastic bag and ran out to make this photograph. I aptly named this photograph Drench, not only for the sake of my camera getting drenched while making about twenty variations on this photo, and not only for the sake of myself getting soaked, but also for the sake of the context of the project.
This image is a testament to Canon’s incredible weather sealing.
This image (will be) featured on The Print Swap sometime soon.
On the third day of the fabled road trip, the clouds were still dense above the Tetons. They began to lift a few hours into the day, and showed the mountains in an ethereal shroud. Seeing the lofting clouds above Mt St John, I locked in. I took my time with this image, as the clouds didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
The golden hour light was in its peak. This side of the Tetons faces east, making them a deep blue tone for sunset, but allows for an incredibly sunset cloudscape. I made about three photos of this time, and about five minutes later, this beautiful light was gone forever.
My tripod was sprawled out in the brush. I waited on cars to pass through the frame to avoid distractions. And I made my third favorite photo from the road trip.
The best day of the road trip. Same day as the previous image. We picked up Sam from the airport and everything seemed to get better.
The blue hour light was fading as the hours passes after shooting the previous image. We were all ready for astro photography. The skies were clear, and the stars lit up the empty sky. The five of us set up our tripods in an equally spaced queue. I set my camera to bulb to do my first star-trail image.
Honestly, I should have done the interval timer to combine multiple images. I had a pretty hot sensor after shooting this.
But this image became the one I go to in order to “wow” people about my landscape photography. Is that egotistical? I don’t know, this image is spectacular, and I’ll own that.
The final morning in the Tetons. We left camp at around 5 a.m. and headed to Oxbow Bend, one of the most famous outlooks in the national park.
If you were to google Oxbow Bend, it will be very unlikely you will see this view. Almost every image of the bend is shot facing toward Mt Moran. I did shoot a few images facing Mt Moran (including this one) but the one that stuck with me was this panorama.
I pointed my camera the opposite direction as every other photographer at the outlook (there were more photographers other than our five-person crew). I was Facetiming my parents during the making of this panorama, and it was one of the best moments of the trip, and one of my favorite images I’ve ever made.
This year was truly incredible for me and my friends in photography. I saw my photographer friends grow along with me as we studied and critiqued each other’s work. As 2019 approaches, I won’t back down from this progress. I will only allow myself to go farther from here.