Two-thousand-seventeen was anything but low-key, but it was a bit less hectic on the travel front compared to last year. I ended up canceling my first couple tours this year due to big changes at home (see below!), but did eventually manage to hit the road. Photography kept me busy with shoots scattered from January to November. Though my first big tour wasn’t until May, I enjoyed the company of some wonderful clients in places like Yellowstone, Chile and British Columbia. Big thanks to the clients that joined me on both the longer tours and the shorter day-long outings this year. I’d also like to thank everyone who purchased prints and gifts from my store this year. Thanks to you, I donated over $1000 to the Husky Marching Band and Yellowstone Forever, the two causes I support via my store sales.
Best Photos and Standout Moments of 2017
As always, this list is not limited to the highest quality images. It includes several photos depicting the most memorable moments from the past twelve months. They’re listed in chronological order, for the most part, with the Photo(s) of the Year at the end.
January 12: Short-Eared Owl
My long-time client Pat joined me on a local photo tour for the second winter in a row. He came in early 2016, when we didn’t have the best luck with owls or weather… but this year was different. Cold, sunny days and some fantastic Short-eared owl action made for a fun three days in western Washington and B.C. The “Shorties” were flying all over the place when we visited a favorite hot spot in Stanwood, WA, and this individual in particular provided many of the best photo ops for us on two separate days. Short-eared owls are great photo subjects—I’ve featured them in my “Best Of” lists a couple times before—but this was still my best shoot with them in five or six years. I particularly liked the head turn and pose of the owl in the afternoon sunlight in this photo.
May 3: Pumas in the Snow
What a magical moment! This was probably my favorite wildlife image taken in 2017. I’ve had a number of incredible puma encounters just in the last two years, and this year’s trip to southern Chile was exciting simply for the reason that I got to share the experience with tour clients for the first time. We had a variety of cat encounters during the week, but this was my favorite. We were returning to our hotel in Torres del Paine National Park at the end of the day when it began to snow. I’m sure everyone was hoping for a puma in the snow, but nobody thought it would happen… until our driver spotted a head peeking out of a bush not far from the road. The background—a stand of trees burned in a wildfire a few years earlier—was perfect. The falling snow was magical. And then two little heads peeked out behind mom… cubs! Oh, and add that colorful red and green bush… we felt like we just celebrated Christmas in May!
May 7: Austral Pygmy Owl
During the Patagonia tour, we saw a few Austral pygmy owls, some at close range. So the group already had an opportunity to photograph them up close. It was time to aim high. I wished for a chance to photograph an owl in front of some of the gorgeous autumn scenery that was prevalent in and around the park at that time of year… and then it actually happened! This was actually a very difficult photo to compose. The stand of trees behind the owl was a mix of yellow, orange and red foliage, but to position the subject in front of the red I had to stand on the side of our van and shoot over the roof… hand-holding my massive 600mm lens. In truth, none of the shots from this sequence (taken quickly before the owl flew to a new perch moments later) turned out perfect. I didn’t do enough to counter the camera shake that occurred when holding my lens in such an awkward position. PhotoShop to the rescue! A few months after taking and processing this photo, a client mentioned the new “camera shake” filter in the latest version of PS, which I had just downloaded. So I gave it a try and it did help salvage the photo to the point where I was happy enough to display it.
May 27: Red-Winged Blackbird
This is a common bird here in the Pacific Northwest. And I’ve had a few opportunities to photograph the male’s territorial display and call. But not like this. At the beginning of my annual spring pilgrimage to Yellowstone, I drove through eastern Idaho to visit a couple of the wildlife refuges that had been so good to me last year. At Camas National Wildlife Refuge, Red-winged blackbirds were lined up along one of the canals, staking out their territory as they called to females. I was able to stop the car and shoot straight out the window as this fellow emitted his trilling call and puffed up his red shoulder badges. I’m not sure how any lady blackbird could resist such a dynamic display.
May 29: Chipmunk
A couple days after taking the blackbird shot I was in the early stages of exploring Yellowstone. Though the park boasts plenty of big game that draws attention (bears, wolves, bison, moose, etc.), sometimes it’s the smallest critters that can put on the best show. I barely had time to capture this moment, as I had just pulled into a parking lot when I spied movement in a nearby bush. I was able to snap a quick photo of this chipmunk stretching for some hard-to-reach food. The subtle rim lighting helps make this, at the very least, my favorite chipmunk photo I’ve ever taken!
June 5: Beartooth Marmot
Another small Yellowstone critter provided one of my annual highlights. This yellow-bellied marmot was actually photographed outside of the park, when I took my spring tour group up the Beartooth Highway. The views on the Beartooth are spectacular, but there are occasional wildlife photography opportunities as well. In this case, we stopped at a pullout to photograph the scenery when a couple of marmots emerged from the rocks and approached us. They weren’t afraid of all the traffic (more likely than not, tourists have fed them over the years), so I was able to lie patiently on my belly with my wide angle lens until this individual approached and stood up. The Beartooth scenery sure made for a nice backdrop!
July 29: Turquoise-Fronted Parrot
Early in my scouting trip to Brazil we visited a canopy tower stationed on the edge of the rainforest. I’ve been in plenty of these towers over the years, and photography is a mixed bag. The goal is to see and get shots of various birds (and occasionally other arboreal species) that perch or fly by the viewing platform… but it’s often difficult to get close shots. This session was pretty fruitful, with a number of close flybys. Among the species that made an appearance was the beautiful Turquoise-fronted parrot. I was pretty happy to get any decent shots of birds flying past us, but the fact that it was this gorgeous specimen was a real bonus.
August 1: Jumping Jaguar
I had never photographed a wild jaguar before, but in Brazil I got plenty of photos. This was not unexpected. The Pantanal is the best place on earth to see these spotted giants, and sightings are virtually guaranteed. Where my Pantanal visit was a real success was in the variety of sightings we had. We witnessed jaguars interacting, climbing trees… and hunting. This moment, though not photographically perfect due to the harsh light, was certainly the most dynamic moment of the trip. Seeing an adult jaguar launch itself onto an unsuspecting caiman way below (while aimed straight at us) is pretty amazing. No, she didn’t catch a meal on this jump, but it was still breathtaking.
August 21: My First Solar Eclipse
I wrote a bit about shooting the eclipse in my Not Quite Best of 2017 post last week. I scrambled to learn the tricks of shooting a total solar eclipse, which among other things includes using and removing a solar filter (necessary so one doesn’t fry the camera sensor) during the sequence of photos. This is something of a standard eclipse illustration sequence. It shows the full progression from start to finish. Though it does depict the proper angle of the sun’s path across the Oregon sky where I photographed it, it’s not entirely accurate. In fact, only the shot at totality depicts the sun’s true colors. The orange tint in the partial images comes from the solar filter that was on the lens. Still, it’s a lovely depiction of the sun’s journey in and out of totality, and I was pleased to come away with something like this.
September 26: The Spirit Bear Finally Appears
We spent the better part of four days looking for spirit bears in different locations during my Great Bear Rainforest tour. Most tour groups visit the popular (and often overcrowded) viewing platforms to see this unique white phase black bear fishing, but we typically get in the boat and explore the coast instead. It’s hard work (especially when sitting in non-stop rain, as we did this year, or hot sunshine all day, which happened last year), but we can be rewarded with some special—and exclusive—sightings. This year, it wasn’t until the fourth morning of spirit bear exploration when the white bear appeared along the rocky shoreline. We ended up with three different sessions that morning, which ultimately meant this was one of the best and longest spirit bear photo encounters I’ve had.
November 4: Dante Pettis Sets the Record
I was fortunate to shoot quite a bit of the Husky Football home schedule this year (after missing several games last year due to my travels). That meant I got to see senior Dante Pettis return his seventh, eight and ninth career punt return touchdowns. That ninth and final return set the NCAA career record. More importantly, it came against the hated Oregon Ducks, and broke open what had been a close game until then. It’s been a long time since I heard Husky Stadium rocking like that!
Photos of the Year: The New Baby (Duh!)
As cool as all the adventures and wildlife encounters were this year, none of it really compares to parenthood (an adventure in itself!). Even though most of my photos of our (mostly) happy, adorable baby boy were taken with a cell phone, there’s no doubt that these are some of my favorite photo moments of 2017.
More from 2017 in Review
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.