One of my favorite parts of the Year in Review series is when I get a chance to share the work of my peers with my audience. These are folks whose work I admire and respect, and in some cases with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing time in the field. As always, the purpose of this article is to expose my own audience to new artists and perspectives.
Some of these folks are pros, while others are semi-professionals or hobbyists, but they all have produced some fantastic images over the years. I hope you’ll take time to see their highlighted images below and visit their websites/social media accounts to see their full “Best of 2021” galleries or their general photo collections.
All photos below are posted with permission and remain the intellectual property of their original owners. Please respect their copyrights!
Ken and I have crossed paths several times shooting wildlife and birds in the Pacific Northwest and in Yellowstone. Having worked for decades in journalism, Ken now leads photo tours in North and Latin America.
About the photo: “This photo was made in mid-April during our annual grouse workshop in Colorado. We excitingly awoke this particular morning to fresh spring snow a couple inches deep. As we prepared in the dark, an hour before sunrise on the lek, we noticed a slight opening in the sky just above the horizon, otherwise the entire sky was cloaked in clouds. Knowing that the intensity of the light could be amazing when the sun broke through the opening, we positioned ourselves and set up our gear for the unique possibility, and hoped for cooperative grouse. As the sun rays broke through the slight break in the clouds the lek was bathed in a beautiful pinkish glow. Fortunately, a few dancing males were performing their courtship routines in just the right area of the lek for us to take advantage of the rare sweet light. In a few moments the sunlight quickly faded and was gone for the rest of the day.”
Ripan is a photographer based in India who specialized in macro photography. He was a fellow award-winner in both the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 55 and 56 competitions with me (including the prestigious Wildlife Portfolio win in 2020).
About the photo: “Not only a tiger… even a damselfly is important to maintain the balance of a forest. Some damselflies act as an indicator of a healthy stream flowing through a forest. I found this species of damselfly living on a stream near Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal. This is the Stream Ruby Damselfly.
I observed them and found a unique behavior exhibited by these damselflies. Males of this species are territorial. When a male enters in the territory of another male, the former challenges the newcomer. Both males start fighting with each other, but this is not a bodily fight. No one touches the other. Instead of using jaws and arms, they use their wings as weapons. They fly in a rhythm, hovering in the air while trying to push each other using their heads, until one is defeated. I do not know how the winner is decided, but have seen after several minutes of fighting, one simply gave up and left.
Photographing this duel is the hardest part. They are tiny and fast. Even the best camera system is not able to auto focus on these fast-moving damselflies. After several failed tries I eventually moved back to manual focus. By observing them, I had to choose a particular place where they might come and pre focus to that point. I sometimes had to move closer and farther away while adjusting manual focus. This is even more difficult in knee-deep, fast-flowing streams with an uneven rocky bed. It took about one-and-half months, 3-4 hours a day, to get this shot! It was a trial and error method and more than 99% of my shots are out of focus. Eventually, when I got this shot against the beautiful bokeh formed by the shimmer of the flowing river, I thought my hard work had paid off.”
See more of Ripan’s work:
Mike is a photographer and writer based in Jackson. Some of his recent projects focused on the night sky and the Arizona Trail, resulting in the published book, Wanderlove.
About the photo: “On one of my final hikes over the break, I was heading toward Double O Arch in the Devils Garden of Arches National Park around sunrise. In nearly any other situation, I wouldn’t think twice about this particular location for a photo. Scrambling over the sandstone fins, it’s simply another vantage point beyond the junipers, not terribly different from a few yards forward or backward. However on this morning, sunrise was blocked behind clouds and good light was minimal. For a few brief seconds though, a soft, slightly diffused golden light began to break through the clouds, not only lighting up the fins below me, but also the storm clouds rolling through above. After another couple of seconds, it was gone, completely changing the scene back to its (relative) ordinariness.
Compositionally, the brief burst of light completely turned the average scene into a dramatic flow from foreground to background, circling from the light on the fins from left to right, and leading up into the clouds in the top-right, the clouds themselves pointing back to the left. From a strictly photography perspective, it was a subtle and quick moment that I was fortunate enough to witness and capture. From a personal perspective, it left me with great hope for the new year.”
Zack continues to explore the western Rockies and produce wonderful landscape and wildlife images from his travels in the backcountry. He has received honors in back-to-back years in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (including a category win for 2021), and has been honored in the Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards. Zack’s images have been displayed in the Smithsonian and London’s Museum of Natural History. He will soon publish an extensive guide to wildlife camera trap photography.
About the photo: “In 2021, I dedicated a lot of time attempting to camera trap mountain lions in a very specific location that I found during the spring. Over the course of seven months, I came extremely close several times, and even had them walk directly past the camera on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, both times the batteries in my setup had already died! I thought of pulling the set multiple times, because it literally had not produced a single image (of anything!) since April. Then, on the day I would go hike up there to pull it, I would end up finding some promising sign and decide to leave it just a little bit longer in hopes that a cat would pass through. Well, it turned out that my instincts were on point, and because of this I was finally rewarded with a couple of awesome images of these elusive big cats. Not only did my persistence and patience finally pay off, but the cat passed by right before sunset. The orange glow in the sky was an added bonus for sure.
In camera trapping it’s not very often that all of the elements line up perfectly like this. Half of the battle is finding compelling compositions in areas where the animals are also present and active. This area was not only perfect for that, but at the same time the topography created a natural pinch point. The small group of gnarled junipers, with their snake-like branches and root systems, provided me with the opportunity to get creative with the composition here.”
Jill Cooper and Simon Jackson
Jill and Simon are conservation-minded photographers based in Canada, who have been spending a lot of time photographing western North American wildlife, including in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They are the founders of the Ghost Bear Institute, which emphasizes youth-oriented education and conservation, and Nature Labs, a virtual textbook being used to advance nature literacy. This year they each submitted a photo to the collection!
About the photo: “We were lucky enough to spend a few moments, across two days, with this great grey owl family—getting to watch feedings and the owlets fledge. The footage is unreal, but we’re pretty happy with the handful of images we got too. We had been getting panicky about the lack of Great Grey footage we had in the hopper and our approaching, self-imposed deadline to produce our Nature Labs Great Grey Owl video. Thankfully, a good friend had our back and found this nest for us, helping us get the last clips of B-roll we so desperately needed. We’re forever grateful, Jamie!”
Jess is one of Canada’s leading nature photographers, and has made a name for himself in recent major international competitions. He’s a past winner of the Windland Smith Rice Youth Photographer of the Year Award, and has multiple honors in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s senior competition. Much of his work highlights the amazing wildlife of British Columbia, as well as tropical birds and other species in Central and South America.
About the photo: “Early this spring, I spent the better part of six days dedicated to hopefully locating and spending time with one of the most elusive and seldom-seen birds in Canada. Though quite a widespread species whose range occupies vast expanses of comparatively flat Boreal Forest across Canada, parts of the lower 48 states, and the Taiga of Europe and Asia, here in the mountains of the west, their ecology is quite different. Lacking true Boreal at these southerly latitudes, these small but hardy owls inhabit the uppermost reaches of montane forest; just before subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce give way to the open slopes of the alpine. I’ve been enchanted by this since I can remember. With a love of being in the mountains that’s deepened in the last few years, maybe some perception of kinship is what makes me want to spend time near these birds. Or maybe it’s the allure of encountering a species who thrives in an environment that we as humans can only visit. When frigid temperatures, biting wind, or high risk of avalanche would send any person down to the relative refuge of the valley bottom, there they are, persisting through 8 months of winter. So for many nights I snowshoed alone where I suspected they could be found. Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before my efforts were rewarded with the distant songs of males ringing out through the cold air – sometimes from across valleys, two kilometres away – as they proclaimed ownership over the steep, sparsely-forested slopes they call home. This would’ve been enough of a reward for me, but spending time with a nesting pair this spring was my ultimate goal, albeit a fairly lofty one. Slowly though, over the course of several days stretching into long nights, I explored an area where I hoped a breeding pair was establishing a nest. Mostly, I spent hours listening in the dark; trying to make sense of the quiet clues that began at the onset of night.
The pair would rendezvous at dusk, moving between the various groves that surrounded me as the male sang softly, enticing his mate to visit tree cavities; one of which would hopefully be deemed a suitable home. Regardless of any ambitions of photographic success, these experiences are what I’ll remember and cherish most. Preferring not to potentially disturb the birds or burden myself with the precarious task of navigating this steep, snowy environment with camera gear perched on my shoulder, I tried to first make better sense of their habits. On what ended up being my final night in this beautiful place, after locating an active nest in a small tree chimney, I was able to come away with a few photos of the male as he guarded his territory.”
See more from Jess:
Amy is a fellow Yellowstone-area photographer who’s been documenting wildlife in the GYE’s eastern region for years, in addition to other locations such as Costa Rica and Africa. She recently retired from ___ years of teaching (congratulations!), so I expect I’ll be running into her in the field a bit more often now!
About the photo: “In early July I headed to the Badlands of South Dakota to photograph Burrowing Owls. Babies are just starting to emerge from their underground nests but are still too young to fly and, therefore, still depend on their parents for food. They seem to really love grasshoppers. On my first morning, I was glassing the burrows in a prairie dog town looking for owls. Suddenly, a little, bright white animal caught my attention. It was hopping along with several other tiny owlets, while momma owl caught insects. After several audible “no ways” and “holy craps,” I realized I was looking at an albino owlet.
Albino animals are extremely rare and owls are no exception. So, I covered myself with camouflage, crawled out into the prairie, and positioned myself to get some shots. I would’ve loved to have gotten closer but wasn’t going to risk stressing the nest. So I stayed a safe distance, watched, and photographed the best I could. Fortunately, I didn’t contract bubonic plague although I did acquire a few flea bites. It was truly a special encounter that I will never forget.”
See more of Amy’s work:
Liron is a standout photographer from British Columbia. He has been awarded in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year and other competitions, and has had his work displayed at the Natural History Museum in London and the Smithsonian.
About the photo: “Pictured here are the North America and Pelican Nebulae in the Cygnus region of the night sky, shining above the Two Sisters (Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn, in the Squamish language), a pair of iconic mountain peaks just north of my home city of Vancouver, Canada (‘The Lions’). This is one of the most ambitious photographs I’ve attempted. This is a real alignment, captured with the help of a lot of planning, long exposure stacking techniques, and a camera modified to see further into the red light spectrum.
This image involved lots of planning, which began by running virtual simulations on my computer. While doing so, I was astonished to see that the North America Nebula, a huge cloud of gas over 2200 light years from Earth, would align perfectly with the peaks, if I was in the right place at the right time. However, I would have to photograph from a heavily light polluted area (Bortle 7). So, I wasn’t convinced the image I was seeking would even be possible. Being located in Vancouver presented another issue: this is a rainforest, and clear skies can be very rare in winter. After a few months of waiting for optimal conditions, a fully clear sky was finally forecasted. I would be battling a 62% illuminated moon, but given the rarity of the clear night, I decided to attempt the image.
I waited in the cold for 3.5 hours, gathering long exposure data on the nebula as it moved across the sky, until it was sitting directly above ‘The Lions.’ This final image includes ~2 hours of exposure time, taken from the same spot without movement of my tripod. I used a modified Canon 6D and a Canon 100-400mm lens at 200mm, mounted on a SkyWatcher star tracker, and a few different optical filters to target different wavelengths of light and cut through the light pollution and moonlight. These images were combined, stacked, and stretched in post-processing to create this final image.”
See more of Liron’s work:
Bill is a long-time friend with whom we’ve shared adventures in Yellowstone, Africa and Australia. It’s only taken him five years to contribute an image to this list, so even though he doesn’t have a website and only shares photos on his personal social media account, I’m happy to include this here.
About the photo: “While viewing this hunting jaguar as she slipped in and out of the vegetation on the Cuiaba River in the Northern Pantanal, she suddenly disappeared underwater. The water began to boil as the jaguar and caiman rolled violently, the caiman wanting no part of being dinner for the hungry cat. The fighting lasted for over 5 minutes as the jaguar clenched down on the caiman’s throat before the struggling stopped. She then hoisted the prize up on the bank and disappeared into the bushes to enjoy her catch.”
Karim is photographer and filmmaker who specializes in underwater work, but who boasts a portfolio that’s quite diverse, including aerial shoots, erupting volcanos, and more.
About the photo: “A raven flying past an active volcano in Iceland. Volcanoes, while active, are a place of death and destruction while simultaneously creating the land we stand on and the atmosphere we breathe. It is not a hospitable place filled with toxic gas, ash, and volatile conditions, so the last thing I expected was to see wildlife. The first time the raven passed while the volcano exploded, My camera wasn’t ready. The second time, I only managed to get one photo, but to me this is a scene I will not forget that stands out amongst the many days I’ve spent documenting this volcano.”
See more of Karim’s work:
David and his partner, Jennifer Renwick, are full time photographers who travel the country photographing landscapes and other natural subjects. They lead and teach workshops around the country. David is also owner of the Nature Photographers Network, a critique-based photography community in which I’ve participated for many years.
About the photo: “2021 was a challenging year with the pandemic still raging on, but we were able to travel safely in our RV. This image was created while in Death Valley over the winter. We met up with a couple of friends and made the trek out into the dunes despite the extremely windy conditions. I decided to climb one of the highest dunes to see this vantage point and wait patiently for the conditions to change. After an hour the sun snuck through a gap in the clouds and briefly lit up the sky and the dunes to create this magical moment. I lost a few layers of skin on my legs but it was worth it for one of the highlights of the year.”
Jenaya, John, and Josiah Launstein
It’s been a few years since the Launsteins found time to send me images for the Peers list, so I’m excited to have them back. This family is quite an accomplished bunch. John is a long-time photographer who has guided his children onto successful paths in the field. Jenaya and Josiah have won multiple international youth photography awards included honors in Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Nature’s Best. Collectively, they run their wildlife photo gallery in Alberta.
About the photo: Jenaya created this endearing image while a momma black bear cuddled and dozed with her twin cubs-of-the-year. Yes, there’s actually a second baby in that bundle of fur (although not clearly visible at this resolution)! Jenaya used an almost disastrous circumstance to her advantage as the front of her lens had become soaked by the rainy spring weather, but it helped soften the scene and provide a magical glow that fits the tenderness of the moment perfectly. This is a special and rare glimpse into the lives of some of her favorite animals.”
About the photo: “This image came to life in about the least amount of light I’ve ever (successfully) photographed wildlife in, as a mother moose and her ten month-old calf munched on some Red Osier Dogwood (also called Red Willow) along the banks of one of our local rivers. As twilight fell, a passing hiker with a dog caught and held their attention, and they went into full statue mode long enough for me to create my composition. Read more of the story here.“
About the photo: “Josiah had been quietly documenting the lives of this Great Horned Owl family near one of our wildlife art galleries in southwestern Alberta. Mom went from bringing meals to her young owlets to making them come to her when she would return with a meal. When she perched in this cottonwood, Josiah shifted his position to use a nearby branch as a vignette, and photographed her as she prepared the Columbia Ground Squirrel for her offspring. When the first owlet flew beside her, she struck this epic pose and Josiah crafted this unique image of an avian predator clutching her prey to share with her up-and-coming hunter.”
See the recent work from the Launstein Family (includes more of their best from 2021)
I was fortunate to meet Florian during my short trip to Sanmenxia, China, in November of 2019 (right before everything blew up). We were among a small group of photographers invited to exhibit our work at the Swan City’s nature photography exhibition. Florian specializes in photographing wildlife and natural areas in the earth’s polar regions. He has won multiple awards, including commendations in Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and is currently working on a big documentary film project.
About the photo: “A polar bear female resting on an iceberg in front of a large glacier front during the Autumn waiting for the sea ice to return during the winter.”
See more of Florian’s work:
Tin Man Lee
It’s been years since Tin Man has found time to send me an image for the Peers’ Year in Review feature, but I’m glad he’s back. We finally met in person in Yellowstone last winter, and had fun hanging out. Tin Man, of course, is an award-winning photographer (including a grand prize win in Nature’s Best and People’s Choice nominee in Wildlife Photographer of the Year) with a massive following. He has been featured as a judge in prestigious competitions, and is heavily involved in giving online talks and seminars for his clients.
About the photo: “We watched the mother serval cat and her kitten from a distance for 7 days straight in Masai Mara, Kenya. At times, we were tempted to go somewhere else for other animals after hearing of other sightings over the radio. But I understood that it takes patience. The servals were so tiny and most of the time they were behind tall grass with lots of distractions. On the last evening, we were blessed with a clear view of them as they came to the open. The sun had just dropped and the fur of the servals was illuminated by the afterglow from the horizon. The kitten showed so much affection toward mom, and when she leaned her head against the jaw of the kitten, the moment melted my heart.”
See more of Tin Man’s work:
John is a Canon ambassador and one of Canada’s top nature photographers. He’s also a voice for conservation, and his EXPOSED documentary series highlights many of the conservation issues tied to Canada’s wildlife and nature photography in general. He has published numerous books and is an associate fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers.
About the photo: “In January 2021 I embarked on a 31-day project to try to find cougars the old school way – no baiting, no dogs, no game farms, no artificial calls – just me and my skills trying to track down mountain lions in the wild to photograph them as part of a conservation initiative with the environmental nonprofit that I co-founded here in Canada in 2020, the EXPOSED Wildlife Conservancy. The goal of the project was simple in scope, but daunting: I intended to look for cougars from dawn to dusk next to my home on the edge of Banff National Park for a month straight, snowshoeing, hiking and fat biking in the hopes of actually finding a cougar to photograph and film. I got lucky on my 13th day, when I found a mother cat with her kitten on a deer carcass just a few hundred metres (yards) from a Banff hotel! The encounter was one of the most thrilling of my photography career, as I got to spend almost two full days with the two cougars photographing them from a distance while they ate, played, checked me out and slept.”
For more about this story, check out John’s current feature in the latest issue of Outdoor Photographer!
See more of John’s work:
Jérémy is a colleague who specializes in still and video photography. Though he is from France, we met in Yellowstone, where he leads tours each year. Currently based in British Columbia, he’s taking advantage of his time abroad to explore many of North America’s wild areas.
About the photo: “At the end of October, the peak season of the salmon run on Vancouver Island, I was waiting for some black bear to pop up along a small river. After a few hours of rain, a ray of light finally get through the canopy and enlightens one specific spot. This is where this black bear decided to show up. I felt very lucky cause this is exactly what I was praying for.”
See more of Jérémy’s work:
Judd is an excellent photographer who will be soon moving out west from his home base in Florida, so hopefully I’ll be seeing him in the field more often. Though he works for the National Park Service in a capacity outside of photography, Judd travels frequently (in non-pandemic years) with camera in hand in his free time, with a focus on avian subjects. I interviewed Judd and highlighted some of his excellent work a few years ago here in the blog.
About the photo: “After a sun-baked spring, the Florida wet season brings water and new life to the swamp. It’s a time when some truly extraordinary species emerge – like this ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), which is only known from a few locations in Florida and Cuba. These epiphytic orchids produce showy white flowers that hang several inches away from the roots (there are no leaves) and sway gently in the dense, muggy air. This particular bloom was caught in late evening light and is framed by nearby resurrection ferns. While taking these photos my brain oscillated between ‘just one more shot’ and ‘if I leave now I’ll be able to make it out of the swamp before sunset.'”
See more of Judd’s work:
Heidi is a Yellowstone friend/hot chocolate delivery person who is known for her northern light photography (which she photographs frequently near her home in northern Minnesota), and she also teaches and gives talks at the International Wolf Center. But as you’ll see from her collection, she photographs quite a variety of subjects!
About the photo: “They were three to four miles away, and the blowing snow added a little something to the mix. I had taken a couple of pictures of this wolf pack earlier in the day and went back to try to find them in the evening light. Evening light in Lamar Valley is some of the prettiest in the park. It often reminds me of the incredible light in a Tim Burton movie, almost surreal. This year, no other scene has topped watching the Junction Butte pack of wolves move across three ridge lines during the day’s last light.”
Kate and Adam Rice
Kate and Adam are award-winning photographers who roam the West in their Sprinter van, searching for all manner of wildlife. They lead tours and workshops in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
About the photo: “Heading out on this (Alaska) trip there were a few images in our mind we were hoping to get. This image was one of them, a brown bear swimming in the creek surrounded by red salmon. This required some things to work out in our favor: 1. We needed the right timing with the salmon run so the fish were present in large numbers. 2. We needed bears actively fishing. Luckily our timing was perfect for both. Still, we needed a bit more luck. There were only a few spots where this shot was possible. Lucky for us, one of them, naturally the last one we tried, worked out! We are thrilled with the results and love story this image tells. The bear, so determined as he swims through the water after the salmon that are grouped up in a slackwater eddy. It’s so amazing to see all these beautiful red fish in the creeks and streams and to see countless brown bears chasing after them.”
See more from Kate and Adam:
Sandy is a longtime Yellowstone acquaintance, but this was the first time I was able to convince her to participate in the Peers list. A former grand prize winner of the Yellowstone Forever photo competition, Sandy now focuses almost exclusively on documenting the wild horses close to her home.
About the photo: “I never see the wild horses in the colorful badlands section of the range. It makes sense that they don’t frequent the area since there isn’t any water and there’s very little forage. But the rocks are so colorful, that I often wish they’d pass through just for a second.
After more than ten years, I finally got my wish as the horses actually lingered on the rocks for almost 30 minutes. Most of the lingering consisted of sleeping, but leave it to the pinto stallion, Takula, to put on a show. When the horses were napping among the red rocks, Takula, strutted around, seemingly letting the other stallions know who was in charge. Handsome Takula is one of the most formidable stallions on the range and has become a force to be reckoned with.”
See more of Sandy’s work:
A biologist and photographer, Anton does a lot of work in the Americas, highlighted (in my opinion) by his fantastic macro photography featuring reptiles and amphibians.
About the photo: “In a clear stream in California, California newts (Taricha torosa) huddle together under the surface. This image is among my favorite images of the year as it represents one of my first successful attempts at photography underwater – something I’ve long dreamed of but only became a reality for me in the 2nd half of 2021. The newts made for great subjects, a species I’d photographed many times on the surface – I was thrilled to finally be able to document a different part of their lives. A great start to underwater photography!”
See more of Anton’s work:
I met Marcus during the Wildlife Photographer of the Year festivities in London in 2019. Since then, he has been named a category winner in the prestigious European Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Marcus is also a contributor to the Remembering Wildlife book series, and has created a series of travel photo essays for The New York Times. He covers everything from the wildlife of the Kalahari to the environmental issues back home in Sweden.
About the photo: “Always interested in turning our focus to the smaller things in life as well as our relationship with the natural world, here is a rainbow jewel bug for the Kalahari. Much of the fate of the natural world is in our hands – let’s hope we’re up for the challenge.”
More top work from my peers: