This was quite a year. As I wrote in my 2016 Yearbook, this was the best year I’ve ever had for photography. There were more adventures than ever before, including a lot of time spent exploring on my own in places like Yellowstone, Costa Rica and South Africa. But I led a number of tours, and once again was blessed with some lovely clients. Thanks to all of you who joined me on an adventure this year! Thanks also go out to the customers who purchased photo prints, calendars, shirts and other gift items. You are all helping support my business, and with your purchases I was able to make an above average donation to the causes I support via my store sales this year. Finally, I need to give my wife Jenn a share of the credit for the work below. For the second year in a row, she tolerated some lengthy absences and I could not have crammed this much travel in without her approval.
Best Photos and Standout Moments of 2016
It really was a great year for photos, but not just because I was traveling and photographing a lot. Heck, photos from two of my longest trips of the year (Costa Rica and Yellowstone in Spring) didn’t even make the cut here, proving 2016 was as much about quality as it was quantity. I was very fortunate to witness some interesting and exciting animal behavior, I came face to face with some new (for me) and rare species, and a number of memorable moments were provided by some of my favorite animals. As always, this collection isn’t made up entirely of the “best” images. Some are simply my favorite and most memorable moments of the year. Read on to learn more about the images and moments that stood out to me, listed below in chronological order:
February 16 & 21: Yellowstone Foxes
As I mentioned in my Not Quite Best of 2016 post, it was a banner winter for red fox photography in Yellowstone. There was so much fox action that I had to create a gallery dedicated solely to fox photos from my winter trip. There were several memorable encounters, and it was difficult picking a favorite. Ultimately, I settled on these two photos.
The first was taken in the Lamar Valley, as the fox hunted close to the road. Because it lingered at close range for some time, I had an opportunity to start experimenting with different photo techniques. Generally motion blurs don’t work well with relatively slow moving subjects. However, in this case the slow shutter speed made for an interesting silhouette of sorts against the blank, snowy background. The fox’s shape is instantly recognizable, and there’s an interesting mix of smooth and rough textures in the fur. Converting the image to black and white gave it sort of a ghostly, X-ray feel that I liked.
The second photo took place during my favorite moment from the trip. While I was leading my winter photo tour in Hayden Valley, our group was suddenly faced with an unexpected dilemma. We had yet another fox skirting the high ridge above the road… and behind us we had a pair of otters that had emerged from the Yellowstone River! Otters have proved elusive during my tours, so that was a very exciting find. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to photograph the fox in such dramatic lighting, with ice and snow blowing across the backlit hillside. It was a magical scene.
February 22: Coyote and Bison
You’ll notice I’ve included a number of monochrome images. I admit to experimenting much more with black and white conversions in recent years. Sometimes, monochrome really helps emphasize tones, lines and patterns. In this case, the winter scene depicting a howling coyote and bison is a bit messy, but I did like how the falling snow pattern stood out against the bison’s body in black and white. Overall, it’s a very “Yellowstone Winter” type of scene!
April 13: Echidna
The highlight of my first visit to Australia was an encounter with the fascinating short-beaked echidna. Echidnas are one of the only mammals (along with Australia’s platypus) that lay eggs. Beyond that, they only look like a a cross between a bird and a hedgehog, with a cute snout, long claws and misshapen back feet. Nobody does animals like Australia, and this was one of the top species on my wishlist. While visiting Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania, my friend Peggy discovered this fellow next to the parking lot as we were returning from a short walk. We proceeded to spend the next two to three hours with it.
Echidna photography isn’t easy. They’re relatively small creatures, but they also spend most of their time with their heads buried in the ground while digging for tasty insects. It’s pretty tough to get a clear view of an echidna face, so I spent a lot of time laying on my belly, hoping this spiny critter would look up and amble my way. Despite the dirt (and the leeches), it was worth the wait.
April 18: Quokka
I wrote about my decades-long quest to see the quokka earlier this year. It was a real treat spending an afternoon with “the world’s happiest animal” after reading about them as a child. They’re cute, curious and very photogenic, though getting a shot at a low enough angle to capture that famous smile is more difficult than you might imagine. I spent a lot of time rolling around in quokka poo in order to get some decent pictures.
Photos of the Year, May 6 – 10: Pumas
I didn’t really expect my May Patagonia trip to be this good. I’d visited this area of southern Chile before (it didn’t go so well) and I’d also photographed mountain lions and pumas in the wild on a few different occasions. So the idea of returning to Torres del Paine to photograph these big cats didn’t exactly strike me as something new or different. It was, in fact, a trip I scheduled mainly to scout for future photo tours. This time, paired with a proper guide, I was able to find and photograph the Andean subspecies of puma. But I never thought it would go so well.
It was impossible to choose a single photo as my favorite. It’s probably the stalking one. Or perhaps the shot of the lonely mother puma (who had just lost her cubs) by the lake. And I’ll look back fondly on our close encounter with another puma family and those adorable cubs. Regardless, it was the most thrilling and unexpected stretch of wildlife photography for me this year. With 18 pumas and over 25 encounters in a single week, it will also go down as one of the best wildlife trips I’ve ever taken.
July 13: Eagle vs. Heron
I was fortunate to have a bit of extra time in July to fit in some scouting in South Africa prior to my photo tour there. I visited two game reserves for the first time, each of which provided one of the year’s best encounters. My first stop was Zimanga Game Reserve, famous for its innovative underground photography hides. Zimanga has a number of hides installed on their property, and on my very first afternoon of the trip, I was scheduled to visit the Lagoon Hide. Upon entering the hide via a buried tunnel, I set up and prepared to photograph whatever wildlife chose to visit the small pond in front of our one-way glass windows. On this afternoon there was “only” birdlife, but even birds are good for some memorable encounters! The two largest visitors, an African fish eagle and a Goliath heron, didn’t enjoy sharing the lagoon with each other, and it didn’t take long for drama to unfold as they battled for territory!
I wrote about this showdown at further length in my blog. Check out more photos and get the full story here.
July 17: Aardvark
It’s not often that you land a “holy grail species.” These are the animals that are so rare or elusive, they’re usually at or near the top of most photographers’ and wildlife watchers’ wish lists. In Yellowstone, I would put the lynx or wolverine in the upper echelon of the Desired Animal Sightings rankings. In Africa, there are also two animals near the top of most lists: the pangolin and the aardvark. Both of these odd-looking insectivores are primarily nocturnal, which is one big reason they not seen very frequently. Some photographers have gone decades without seeing either species.
So imagine how I felt when I not only saw my first aardvark, but I saw it during the day… and I was able to get photos… on foot… with my wide angle lens.
In fact, I spent four days at Samara Game Reserve, in large part because I hoped to land an aardvark photo op… and was rewarded with aardvark sightings every single day. The rangers at Samara had been tracking this female as she roamed about each winter afternoon. So she was used to a human presence and didn’t mind when we tracked her down and settled in to photograph her going about her business. I was able to get a few different sessions with her, and though aardvarks don’t do many exciting things (like the echidna, it spends most of its waking hours digging for insects), it was still a thrilling experience. As a bonus, I saw another aardvark during a night drive. Now to get that pangolin…
August 16: Short-Tailed Weasel
Perhaps it’s not the Grail of Yellowstone wildlife, but short-tailed weasel sightings there are uncommon. In fact, I had never seen one. I’ve seen my share of their long-tailed cousins, but these smaller mustelids seem to be more elusive. You can imagine my surprise when one literally showed up on my front doorstep.
Jenn and I were out near the park putting in some work on our new cabin in Silver Gate when I spied movement down below the deck. At first I thought it was one of the many red squirrels that bound through the property, and I ignored it. A half hour later, I was outside again and got a better look. Oddly enough, the weasel didn’t run away. It disappeared into the long grass for a short time, but soon was back, bouncing all over the place. It went under the deck, onto the steps and past our front door, taking time to explore the piles of cardboard that had accompanied our furniture and supply orders. Thankfully, I had my big lens along on this visit, so I was able to park myself on the ground and try to snap some shots. It wasn’t easy—these suckers are fast!—but I did land my first ever photos of a new species.
September 17: Sparring Grizzlies
As the second week of my Great Bear Rainforest adventures was wrapping up, we capped off my second photo tour with a visit to a scenic inlet on British Columbia’s rugged coastline. This area was popular with grizzly bears thanks to the presence of spawning salmon. And the bear action here was better than I’ve ever seen. We had to get a little wet (it is a rainforest), but were rewarded with a number of close bear encounters from our Zodiac. On our final morning in the inlet, we were able to park ourselves in the middle of the river to watch a pair of grizzly bears going at it. They were a mere 25 meters away, and went on like this for hours! We didn’t spend the entire time with them, but to see such action (which wasn’t a fight to the death, more of a practice battle) was a real privilege. It was difficult to pick a favorite photo, but these are probably my two favorite images from the encounter, the best photo moment I’ve ever experienced in the Great Bear.
September 29: Great Gray Owl
My final trip to Yellowstone in 2016 was another short visit scheduled around cabin work. But once again I brought my camera gear, and was able to fit in a full day’s worth of exploration. This limited time actually proved to be quite fruitful, and I wrote about the day’s adventures in a short trip report. The highlight? It had to be the extensive shoot with a Great gray owl. This is probably my favorite Yellowstone bird, but sometimes I go years without seeing one. The past year or so has been very good for Great grays, however, and even after a productive spring full of owls, I was delighted to have another opportunity to photograph one.
Because this bird was younger and somewhat inexperienced as a hunter, it had to hunt a lot. This meant lots of flying from perch to perch and from tree to ground in numerous failed attempts at catching rodents rustling around in the grass. More flying meant more flight photo opportunities for myself and the many photographers watching the show. Inevitably, I landed a few photos that I was happy with. Thanks to a clean background of light autumn grasses, I was able to convert this image to a high key monochrome, which helped emphasize the shape of the owl and those intricate feather and tail patterns.
More from 2016 in Review
Here are more articles and photos from my look back at 2016:
PHOTO/16: My Year in Photos
If you want to see more from my wild year in travel and photography, I’ve published a magazine featuring photos from all of my trips, as well as my Best of 2016 images. The magazine is 64 pages, and contains loads of photos, some of my favorite articles from the year and more. It’s available for sale in both print and digital versions.