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Best of 2019: Favorite Photos and Moments of the Year

I’m grateful that I continue to have the opportunity to travel for my photography work, sharing so many fun experiences in amazing wild places with my clients, while also maintaining some semblance of balance with home and family life.

There’s no question my photography highlight of the year was receiving the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Black and White honor in London. I’m still coming down from that high! But when it came to actually taking new pictures in 2019, there were several memorable and fun experiences.

Though there were only ten photos that made my “Best Of” cut, it was actually quite difficult choosing a top photo this year. Probably half of the following choices temporarily qualified as my favorite image or moment at some point, for various reasons. I hope you enjoy seeing and reading about the selections.

Big thanks to everyone who followed and provided feedback on my work this year, as well as those customers and clients who helped support my business!


Best Photos and Standout Moments of 2019

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: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.


February 14: Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Serengeti

Plains Zebras

My one regret following my first visit to Tanzania was forgoing the opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. Though the savanna we flew over wasn’t overflowing with wildlife (the Migration had moved south to Ndutu by then), we still saw everything from hippos to bat-eared foxes to these plains zebras. It was my first-ever hot air balloon experience, and it was absolutely glorious.

I wrote about the Serengeti Hot Air Balloon experience earlier this year.


February 16: Lion Fight

African Lion Fight

When I saw members of the lion pride we encountered in Ndutu march around the lake shore, one by one, to investigate a lone female lioness, I knew trouble could be brewing. They were eyeing her warily… it was apparent she was not welcome. I urged our driver to reposition the vehicle in order to give us a close, clear view of any potential action that might unfold. The pride took their time. They walked by and checked the stranger out. Some even stopped to get a drink, patiently waiting for reinforcements. And that’s when they ganged up on her and attacked. This was my favorite shot from the battle, as the interloper fled the mob and splashed down the shoreline. It was the most exciting moment of my Tanzania tour.

See the full series of images from this conflict in the photo archive.


February 18: Wildebeest Sunrise

Blue Wildebeest

Though I’ve visited Africa many times, I seem to have bad luck finding opportunities to photograph those classic African sunrises and sunsets. You know, the ones with lots of golden and reddish hues accentuated by all the dust in the air, with a nice animal perfectly silhouetted in the foreground. Well, I think I finally got a good one in Tanzania. We knew the sunrise was going to be good during our morning drive in Ndutu, so we were desperately seeking a good foreground subject. Other vehicles were staking out picturesque acacia trees to photograph, and we eventually located a vulture, which I suppose is better than nothing. That’s when I looked behind us and noticed a layer of fog blanketing the ground… and a big herd of wildebeest and zebras walking through it. So we quickly drove around to the other side of the herd. It all came together.

See more photos of this glorious morning and other wildlife photos from the Tanzania trip.


March 21: Tayra


Over the years I’ve seen fewer tayras in the Costa Rican jungle than I have cats, and until now all of the encounters were fleeting. So when we found this one at the very top of a rubber tree in Corcovado National Park, I was pretty excited. Tayras are members of the weasel family, and are omnivorous. This one spent several minutes eating fruit before descending.

This photo was later awarded in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition!

See more photos from the 2019 Costa Rica trip.


May 8: Puma Cubs

Puma Cubs

During my Patagonia tour, we encountered a foursome of tiny puma cubs a few different times (their mom made my Not Quite Best list). A couple of the encounters occurred right near the road, but in one case we had to slog at least a kilometer uphill in hopes of seeing them. It was simply a question of whether the cubs would emerge before the light faded. A couple minutes before the sun disappeared completely, two of the four popped up on the far hill to check us out.

See more puma photos from the 2019 Patagonia trip.


May 28: Grizzly Bear Cubs

Grizzly Bear Cubs

There are some photographers who will spend all their time in Yellowstone waiting on bears, especially sows with cubs. I’m not quite that dedicated, even when a grizzly bear emerges with a couple of very cute cubs of the year.

In this case, the bear family was hanging out on the west side of the park, an area I rarely visit since it’s so far removed from my usual haunts. But I decided to make a trip over one morning… and they just happened to come over and explore right beneath my car window. Worth the effort after all!


May 30: Black Wolf

Gray Wolf

Close wolf encounters on foot aren’t too common in Yellowstone. Wolves are typically shy and avoid people. I entered the park late on this day after having to finish up some work back home. Working my way through the quiet, heavily-treed northeast corner, I spied a dark shape darting down into a drainage. It ended up being just me and a black wolf at 100 yards, the closest Yellowstone wolf encounter I’ve had in some time.


June 4: Pronghorn Fawn and Raven

Pronghorn fawn and raven

After wrapping up a fun tour day in Yellowstone, we were driving out of the park and I spied twin pronghorn fawns in the grass. They were likely only a few hours old, and were drawing the interest of some ravens. I’m a sucker for interspecies interactions, and had never seen these two species together. The wobbly little babies eventually managed to chase the birds away.

See more photos from my spring Yellowstone trip.


June 17: Red Fox Kits

Red Fox Kits

The red fox kits in the San Juan Islands put on a truly memorable show. I wrote about the energetic female fox kit (top) earlier this year. It was hard to choose a favorite moment or image from what was probably the funnest shoot I enjoyed this year, but this one sums up the experience pretty well.

See a lot more fox photos from this outing.


Photo of the Year, August 20: Humpback Whale Breach

Humpback Whale Breach

Tonga was the trip I was looking forward to most in 2019. I had expected our humpback swims might provide my favorite photography moment of the year… but things didn’t quite turn out the way I was anticipating.

I was looking forward to getting some “classic” underwater whale shots on this trip: curious calves swimming right up to the camera, a whale dance beneath the surface… Well, that either didn’t happen for us, or I simply blew the rare opportunities we had due to my lack of experience (our best “whale dance” actually occurred on our very first swim, which is not a good place to start for a rookie).

This photo should not have turned out. My equipment had been giving me trouble all week, and the dome was beginning to fog over again when we dropped in on two sleeping humpbacks. They had been resting on the ocean floor below for several minutes when one whale gave two flicks of its tail and launched toward the surface. Despite my lack of experience as an underwater photographer, I actually had envisioned this moment before the trip. Whale breaches are magical (they’ve provided some memorable moments during my Canada trips), so I was visualizing what I would do if a humpback breached during one of our swims.

I lunged upward as the whale zoomed off the floor. Thrusting the camera above the surface just in time, I fired the shutter while hoping the focus would lock on the subject through a foggy dome and the surface of the water itself. Somehow, it turned out.

See more whale photos from Tonga.

More Year in Review Content:

PHOTO/19 magazine cover

Purchase PHOTO/19, my annual photo yearbook. This year’s issue is 68 pages and contains dozens of images from my various adventures, including my Best of 2019 collection. $17.99 for the print magazine, $4 for a digital copy. Purchase a copy of PHOTO/19 here.

Also see:

My 2019 Favorites from Entertainment and Literature

My 2019 Clients’ Photos

My Not Quite Best of 2019

The Top Work from My Peers in 2019

Best of 2018

Best of 2017

Best of 2016

Best of 2015

1 Comment

  1. Sue Reigle January 7, 2020 Reply

    Max, they were absolutely the best!! Can’t imagine how difficult it must’ve been to narrow your choices down! My soft spot for “babies” forces me to love the pumas & grizzlies, but my heart belongs to that gorgeous black wolf; those eyes. Wouldn’t you just love to know what he’s thinking as he stares intently at you? Obviously you don’t suffer from acrophobia; no way would I be getting in that hot air ballon but enjoyed the zebra pic. Glanced at your literary likes for 2019……belong to a monthly book club @ our local library & two of our reads this past year were “Educated” & “Where the Crawdads Sing”. Enjoyed them both but felt as you did, reading “Educated” & knowing it was true was so hard to comprehend! The abuse that young girl suffered was incomprehensible and rising above all that and her lack of formal education to become a college graduate seemed unbelievable. I did read that the family has been “split” by her novel and there are lawsuits involved (sad!!) tho haven’t followed such in months. Thanks as always for sharing your gifts with us!! Sue😊

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