I feel fortunate to have squeezed in as much travel and photography as I did this year (big thanks to Grandmas and Grandpas for babysitting, and to Jenn for continuing to hold down the fort during my absences!). My usual complement of tour-centric trips—Yellowstone x 3, Costa Rica, Brazil—in 2018 were a lot of fun, and I was able to squeeze in some extra scouting (Alaska) and my first trip back to Europe in several years. Not to mention my occasional local outings here in the Pacific Northwest.
Overall, though the volume was there, I feel like the quality of this year’s images didn’t quite match the last couple years. So this year’s “Not Quite Best” list and the collection of favorites below aren’t as big as before. Nonetheless, there were memorable moments and some photos to be proud of.
Big thanks to my clients and customers this year, and to all of you for continuing to follow the adventure.
Best Photos and Standout Moments of 2018
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. If you missed my previous year-end favorites that I’ve featured since I started the blog, check ’em out here: 2017, 2016, 2015.
January 26: Black-billed magpie
You’d think that after dozens of trips to Yellowstone over the years, I’d have properly photographed all of the common subjects. But that’s simply not the case. One of the most challenging subjects for me is the ubiquitous Black-billed magpie. It’s seen all over, frequently perched close to the road… until you pull up, at least. For a bird that’s brave enough to nip at eagle feathers in an attempt to steal bits of a carcass, this is one shy critter! I really didn’t have any close magpie shots I was pleased with until we encountered a few cooperative individuals during one of my winter Yellowstone tours in January. A few magpies were hopping and flying along the frozen banks of the Lamar River, searching for bugs at the water’s edge. For once, they paid the photographers above no heed. The resulting flight shots—against a clean snow-covered background—were better than I could have hoped, especially with the blues and greens in the dark plumage showing nicely.
May 4: Exploring Trim
Last year I picked photos from my son’s first twelve months as my Photos of the Year. It was very tempting to go that route again with this image. It was one of many winning shots from our family trip to Ireland in the spring. We lucked out with nice weather most of the trip, which allowed for a lot of exploration outdoors and on foot. The mix of lovely green scenery and ancient ruins (in this case St. Mary’s Abbey in the town of Trim) made for a perfect setting for family photos.
June 4: Grizzly at Sunrise
During my action-packed spring Yellowstone tour, we headed down to Yellowstone Lake early one morning to find grizzly bears. Given that we nailed every major goal we set for ourselves on this trip, it was only a matter of when, not if we’d find them. And on our second pass through we did spy a sow and her large cub near the road. My group settled in for a fruitful shoot with the pair, which was accustomed to and relaxed around people. Eventually the grizzlies worked their way up the hillside above the road just as the sun was cresting the backside of the same hill. I saw a chance for a unique opportunity. Thinking back to some of the extreme rim-lit photos I’ve seen of polar bears in the arctic, I thought we might have a chance to get a nice sharp silhouette of a Yellowstone grizzly… and it actually paid off. The glare was pretty harsh, but by adjusting my angle just slightly, I could obscure the rising sun and get a stark outline of the bear against the surrounding grass and trees.
June 28: Red Fox Kits at Play
No, it’s not what you think. These are simply a couple of growing fox kits playing with each other. This might be practice for dominance behavior (the black one was doing a lot of tackling and biting, while the silver kit exhibited a lot of patience and simply put up with it). This interaction was one of many photographed on the morning of the local tour I led on nearby San Juan Island. It was a real treat to finally see these beautiful foxes in person. They’re all the same species (Vulpes vulpes) as red foxes found elsewhere in the world, but this population has a high percentage of kits born with varied fur colors: black, silver and even brown. They’re gorgeous, and it was a real treat to unlock another local wildlife highlight of the Pacific Northwest.
July 24: Channel-billed toucan and the moon
The first day of exploration on my Brazil tour had us in boats, cruising down the Cristalino River in the southern Amazon. Only a few minutes in and we were photographing butterflies and giant otters. We soon saw a tapir along the shore. But the highlight of that first outing was provided by this Channel-billed toucan. The toucan itself wasn’t doing anything spectacular, but it did find a nice bare perch… and the moon happened to be nearby. We started maneuvering our boats back and forth to line the two up. Not the easiest thing to do on a moving river and with multiple photographers vying for a good angle, but most folks were able to get the two overlapping a bit. The rest of the trip we kept an eye on the moon in case something else would pop up in front of it, but the opportunity never repeated itself.
Photo of the Year, July 27: Giant Armadillo
I wrote about this amazing encounter a few months ago. It will go down as one of the rarest wildlife encounters of my lifetime and for that reason alone, it’s my favorite photo moment of the year. The giant armadillo is big (weighing over 100 pounds sometimes!), but it’s extremely elusive. They have large territories, and in the wilds of South America their environment can make them extremely difficult to find. Oh, and they’re nocturnal. So a daytime sighting like this is super rare. And believe it or not, there were two (most of us only saw this male, but we retrieved another member of our party who was under the weather and he managed to see the female before she disappeared).
August 5: Great black hawk
As we neared the end of our time in Brazil’s Pantanal, we were sated with the numerous jaguar encounters we’d enjoyed, but there was still plenty of other wildlife around. The Pantanal is a great birding spot, and a couple times we witnessed fights between different species for food. In this case, this Great black hawk swooped in to steal a fish from a heron. It missed, and instead got tangled in vines. The hawk slid down the muddy bank into the shallows and stood like this for a while. It seemed a bit stunned by its failure, and while this wasn’t the most regal pose, I thought it was pretty unique and worked nicely with the surrounding vines.
September 16: Alaska Peninsula Brown Bear
Another trip that was probably overdue this year was my first foray to Alaska for bears. It’s a popular spot for bear enthusiasts, with a number of destinations offering great ursine photo ops. I only had a few days, so I chose to visit Lake Clark National Park. Though my timing wasn’t ideal, the bears still came through. The salmon run had started early this particular year, and had already ended when I arrived. This sow was making one last attempt to catch a fish in the ocean, and rose from the water seemingly in defeat. It was the only time I’d see a bear fishing on this trip, but it still produced the one of the more interesting standing bear photos I’ve ever taken.
September 25: Rutting Elk
The autumn elk rut was in full swing in Yellowstone during my fall tour, but we’d had few opportunities to see action during the first couple days (partially by design… the most accessible spot for rutting elk is the crowded Mammoth Hot Springs area, which isn’t conducive to photographing animals in a natural setting). On our final morning before heading south for Grand Teton National Park, we visited Swan Lake Flat. This area is good for sunrises and occasional wildlife action. We heard bugling on this chilly morning, and eventually saw a bull elk herding females in the distance. So we hiked out a ways and came across a magical scene just as sunlight burst forth over the horizon. There wasn’t just one bull, there were several. And they were taking turns bugling, strutting and chasing cows. The cold and intense sunlight made for a mass of steamy breath as this bull rounded up his harem, a dramatic backlit moment that produced a number of cool photos. Definitely the funnest elk shoot I’ve ever had in the park.
November 3: Greg Gaines Picks It Off
It was an up and down season for the Washington Husky Football team. They stumbled out of the gate with a loss to Auburn, and then suffered upset losses to Oregon and Cal. And yet, the Pac-12 championship was still a realistic goal. In order to win their division and even have a shot of playing for the Rose Bowl, the Huskies would have to close their season on a winning streak. The toughest opponent left on the home slate was Stanford, a team that had kept the Dawgs out of the conference title game the year before. Washington came out like gangbusters, taking it to the Cardinal and building a big lead (in what ended up being a very tight game). During the peak of the first half action, 300 pound lineman Greg Gaines dove for a batted ball and came up with his first career interception. Washington would go on to win this game and made it all the way to the Rose Bowl.
More Year in Review Content:
Purchase PHOTO/18, my annual photo yearbook. This year’s issue is 68 pages and contains dozens of images from my various adventures, including my Best of 2018 collection. $17.99 for the print magazine, $4 for a digital copy. Purchase a copy of PHOTO/18 here.