It’s time to start looking back at my year in photography. Over the next week or so, I’ll unveil my favorite images from the past twelve months, my runners-up (below) and the top photos from my peers. If you want to get a sneak peek at my Best of 2017 selections and see much more from my year in photography, you can purchase my photo yearbook in digital or print.
I’ll start by sharing my “not quite the best” images of 2017. I typically narrow my favorites down to 10-15 photos, but there are a few extra standout images and moments I like to share. Though this past year was not nearly as fruitful as 2016, I still had a few leftover photos that almost made the final cut. As with my Best Of selections, many of these choices represent my favorite moments from the year, not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing or dynamic photos.
May 1: The Sister
If you recognize this cat, it’s because she featured prominently during my 2016 adventures. Depicted in my favorite image of 2016 (which graced the cover of my 2016 yearbook and is now hanging in the Smithsonian), she is known locally as “The Sister.” She’s less famous than her sibling, a puma that was born without a tail and was photographed and filmed frequently in Chilean Patagonia. “Tailless” has since disappeared, but the Sister remains in their traditional home turf and is quite tolerant of people.
I was fortunate to see her again during my 2017 Patagonia photo tour, which she kicked off with a bang. My group had just arrived in Torres del Paine National Park when a call came in from our advanced scouts. They had heard guanaco alarm calls, generally a pretty reliable sign that a puma was in the area. We didn’t have to drive more than a mile inside the park boundary before we were piling out of the car and gearing up. Because we were on park land, we were required to stay on designated trails, but as it turned out, this wouldn’t be a problem: the puma walked right up the path at us. It was the Sister. This was one of the first photos I took, and though it wasn’t quite as perfect as last year’s head-on shot, the moment was just as dramatic, and perhaps even a little emotional, given that I was able to share it with my clients. At least one of them was in tears following this amazing encounter.
May 5: Culpeo
The main goal on those Patagonia trips is to find pumas, but the region offers so much more. There’s lot of other wildlife and plenty of landscape photo opportunities. I time my trips to southern Chile to coincide with the end of the tourist season, when it’s less crowded, but this is also around the peak time for fall colors in and around Torres del Paine.
During this year’s tour, we had at least one moment that presented the best of both wildlife and landscapes. This culpeo was wandering around a park campsite, presumably looking for scraps of food. The campsite happened to be a situated in a grove of beech trees that were sporting a mix of blazing colors. There were a few opportunities to photograph the canid with a colorful backdrop, but things didn’t really come together until it climbed on top of this rock and posed momentarily for us.
May 7: Oscuro
In case you haven’t noticed, the Patagonia trip was pretty productive (and there will be one or two images from Chile in my Best Of list next week). It’s easy to pick a dozen different puma moments and list them as my favorite wildlife encounters, but I tried to narrow things down a bit. This one does deserve special mention because of the unique traits of this particular cat.
We first saw this big male when he and a rival were in pursuit of the Sister, the same female puma in the first photo above. By the end of our week in Patagonia, she had gone into heat, and was calling out to let the boys know she was interested in a mate. This male, unknown to our guides, was one of the first to respond. First, he’s huge. But he’s also dark. Our guides took to calling him “Oscuro” (which literally means “dark” in Spanish), and we’d see him a couple times over the course of our final days in Chile. Of the 30+ different wild pumas and mountain lions I’ve encountered, he was by far the darkest and most unique-looking individual I’ve ever seen.
May 29: Otters, At Long Last
My favorite animal to photograph in Yellowstone is the North American river otter. The only problem is that it’s not always easy to find them. Trout Lake, tucked away in the park’s northeast corner, used to be a reliable spot during the summer, but in recent years otter activity there has decreased. And my spring trips are often too early to find them there anyway. So it had been a while since my last Trout Lake otter sighting, but I keep hiking up there just in case… and that effort finally paid off again. I was fortunate to make it up in time to see the otters leave the lake, run up the hill and commute over to neighboring Buck Lake. Once there, they settled in and swam around the shore hunting salamanders. It was a treat to spend time with these active, adorable mustelids again.
June 4: Coyote Among the Geese
During my spring photo tour in Yellowstone, a client spied a coyote on the far bank of the Yellowstone River. It was a bit far for photos, so normally we may not have stopped. However, in this case the coyote was approaching a large flock of Canada geese that was floating in the river just offshore. We couldn’t be sure what would transpire, but the stage was potentially set for some sort of interesting interaction. As it turned out, the coyote did not attack the geese, but it did choose to cross the river at that moment. It slid into the water right next to the geese, which largely ignored it. So not only did we all get our first swimming coyote pictures, but we were able to capture it with a unique living backdrop. On this day, the coyote was just another member of the flock for a few moments.
August 2: Babybaras
During my summer visit to Brazil, I saw a number of new species and enjoyed fresh photo opportunities. There’s plenty of wildlife in the Pantanal besides jaguars (the big draw there), and I was particularly keen on photographing some other mammals that I’d only had brief encounters with on past trips to Latin America. Among those species is the world’s largest rodent, the capybara. No, it’s not a pretty animal, but it’s often seen out in the open, lounging near the banks of the rivers while keeping an eye out for predatory cats.
Early one morning we were speeding downriver in search of jaguars when I spied this family of capybaras on a steep bank. The light was gorgeous, and the adorable little “babybaras” (my guide’s term for the pups) were huddled together tightly while trying to maintain their footing above the water. They cautiously crept forward down the slope to join mom… forming a little line of cuteness.
August 4: Jaguar vs. Giant Otters
The final jaguar encounter of my Brazil trip was pretty special. First, this was a unique cat, with striking orange eyes that differed from the golden eyes of the other jaguars we’d seen. It was perched on the high river bank, seemingly resting until a flotilla of giant river otters emerged from the nearby brush. It turned out the otters were hiding a brood of pups in the thicket, and the jaguar was hoping to catch a snack! I had seen videos of giant otters taking on larger predators, but didn’t really expect to see this type of showdown myself.
As it turned out, it was slightly anticlimactic. The otters would swim out, bark and wail at the cat for a minute or two, and then they’re return to their den. A few minutes later the process repeated itself. The jaguar was rightfully cautious… giant otters grow over 6 feet in length and could gang up on a lone jaguar pretty easily in the water. The faceoff happened several times before the otters finally realized the cat wasn’t going to do anything, so they swam off to go fishing (leaving one adult looking after the hidden pups). It was a stalemate, but it was still pretty special to witness this type of interspecies interaction.
August 21: Wide Solar Eclipse Composite
I bit off more than I could realistically chew with this summer’s total solar eclipse. It was my first one, so trying to handle three different camera bodies at one time wasn’t the best idea. But things actually worked out for the most part. One image I wanted to create was a wide angle composite, which presented more challenges than the tighter shots with a big lens. First, I had to set up the camera and lens and leave them alone while firing remotely (at the same time I was handling the cameras with big lenses on my other tripods). I also had to compose with my best guess as to where the path of the eclipse would run.
I hoped to find a more interesting foreground for this composition, but the high desert of central Oregon was pretty flat, and the nearest stand of trees was pretty far away. Still, I at least judged the path correctly and landed most of the full eclipse sequence as the sun moved across the sky. I did find that the sun was a bit distorted in my wide partial eclipse shots, so I ended up substituting my images taken with one of the longer lens in their place. This gave me an accurate, but better-defined sequence. Yes, it’s a digital illustration, but considering it was my first attempt at ever trying something like this, I was pretty happy that the end result largely resembled what I had set out to do.
September 21: Grizzly in Repose
During my autumn Great Bear Rainforest tour, we visited some areas known for grizzly bear activity. Though these hot spots weren’t nearly as active as 2016 due to a diluted salmon run, we did still find a few grizzlies to photograph. The closest encounter actually occurred while our group was on foot. As we were motoring into an inlet in the Zodiac, our captain spied a medium-sized male grizzly bear on the other side of a berm. So we anchored and waded ashore, waiting for the bear to pop over the hill. Except he never made it over to us. We could barely see the grizz digging in the long grass, but he had obviously found a good foraging spot and sat there for some time.
After standing still for a half hour, we watched as the bear suddenly vanished. So we slowly walked around the berm… and couldn’t find it. Until one of my guests turned around and spotted the grizzly resting on the slope behind us. It was laying in a nice soft bed of grass, being warmed by the sun… and pretty much ignoring us. As far as grizzly encounters go, this wasn’t particularly dynamic (especially compared to last year), but the setting for this day bed was simply lovely in the morning light. I think it’s one of the prettier grizzly bear photos I’ve taken.
November 4: Vita Vea
Defensive lineman Vita Vea had a great season. It was a big year for the big man (all 6′ 5″ and 340lbs. of him), as he won both the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award and the Morris Trophy, awarded to the best defensive lineman in the conference by his peers. Vea was largely unblockable during much of the season, commanding double teams in most games. He still rag-dolled a lot of opposing linemen, and I liked this photo because it shows the sheer power on display when a man can toss aside another 300 pound human with one swipe of an arm. Vea is expected to be a first round selection in the 2018 NFL draft.
More from 2017 in Review
Check back next week for my Best of 2017 selections!
PHOTO/17: My Year in Photos
If you want to see more from my year in travel and photography, I’ve published a magazine featuring photos from all of my trips, as well as my Best of 2017 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.