Here we are in 2012. Already. It doesn’t seem like a year ago that we ushered in 2011, but calendars don’t lie. 2011 was an interesting year for me. I spent more time in the office building my business and less time in the field doing what we all love to do – photography. As I culled through images made in the past year it quickly became evident that I didn’t get out enough. I live in Moab, for God’s sake. Arches and Canyonlands are in my backyard. There is no legitimate excuse to not be out exploring this beautiful landscape more often. So, in 2012, I resolve to do just that. I’ll spend more time making images and less time marketing them. Not too much less, because I do still need to pay the bills.
Every year I squeeze in a few big trips, consisting of a couple weeks each, to locations throughout the western United States. Looking back on all the photos from our 2011 adventures brought back some wonderful memories. We celebrated my son Jackson’s second birthday at a campground in Death Valley, ate dinner by a campfire on the beach in Cape Kiwanda, summited a 14′er in Colorado (Jackson’s first!) and spent Thanksgiving week exploring Valley of Fire in Nevada. No doubt, I am a lucky man.
The images I’ve chosen to share as my favorites aren’t necessarily my best. One photo was five years in the making, another has tremendous emotional appeal, a couple I just really like and some were made in a place I’m now obsessed with and can’t wait to visit again. If I were assembling a 2011 portfolio to present to an art buyer only a couple of these would make the cut. The important thing is that these images mean something to me. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed making them.
Slot Canyon & River Rock, Nevada
I found this slot canyon by chance while wandering around Valley of Fire State Park one morning following a sunrise shoot. I was struck by the contrast of warm, colorful sandstone walls and the cool blue river rock in the mud on the canyon floor as well as the three dimensional feeling created by the wide angle lens and striations in the rock. It’s a short canyon but easily one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen.
Wildflowers and Storm Clouds in American Basin, Colorado
American Basin may be over-photographed but it’s still one of my all-time favorite alpine locations. The summer wildflower display is obnoxious in a very good way. We camped not ten minutes from where this image was made, in a tent on the roof of my FJ Cruiser. The next morning we summited Handies Peak with my son, Jackson. He was 2. And he knocked off a 14′er. Okay, so I carried him but still, how cool is that?
Storm Clouds Over Rock Point, Colorado
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park plays second fiddle to the nearby San Juan Mountains, which means you’re less likely to find yourself in a crowd. We visited the park for the first time in 2011 and I became enamored with the sheer beauty and ruggedness of the canyon. On this afternoon a breaking storm created dynamic conditions for photography. I was in the right place at the right time when a sliver of light shone through clouds on to the foreground ridge, lasting only a minute or two. These ethereal moments in nature are what we photographers are privileged to witness while the rest of mankind seeks shelter from the storm.
Pothole and Sandstone Buttes at Sunset, Utah
Made semi-famous by Moab photographer Tom Till, this large pothole with an impressive view of a slickrock wonderland has been on my list of places to photograph since moving to the area almost six years ago. It took a while to find it and even longer to wait for the right conditions (great light, good clouds, pothole full of water). In 2011 everything came together and I was able to make the image that had nagged at me for years.
Haystack Rock from McPhillips Beach, Oregon
The charming little town of Pacific City is home to Cape Kiwanda State Park and McPhillips Beach, sort of a local’s beach not commonly visited by the throngs of summer tourists. We discovered it by accident on our trip along the coast last June. Nearly vacant, it’s a beautiful little beach with some interesting basalt (I think?) rock formations that nicely frame Haystack Rock in the distance. I spent a couple hours photographing here before retiring to hang out with my family, running away from incoming waves and finally, dinner on the sand next to a roaring bonfire. It couldn’t have been a more perfect end to a more perfect day.
Cottonwood Trunks and Evergreens, Wyoming
I made this image during a short break while leading a workshop in the Tetons last autumn. Cottonwood trees have such beautifully textured trunks and their autumn leaves rival those of the stately aspen with regard to color intensity. Here I loved how the darker evergreen trees contrasts with the autumn grasses & leaves, and the bold patterns of the cottonwood trunks.
Sunrise Sky and Rock of Gibraltar II, Nevada
I’m having an affair. There, I said it. I’m in love with Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. I can’t get enough of the place. Luckily, my wife knows and even approves of this affair. On our last visit we hiked out to Fire Wave for sunset. While I was impressed with Fire Wave I was more taken by the Rock of Gibraltar and this massive expanse of wonderfully striated sandstone. I came back for sunrise the next morning. You can imagine my excitement when the sky exploded in color right at sunrise. Of all the images I made in 2011 this one may well be my absolute favorite.
The Sunflower Experiment, Utah
The Scott Matheson Wetlands Preserve just outside Moab is a quiet little sanctuary that seems to catch on fire all too often. The last wildfire that ripped through was the most devastating. Driving by one day I noticed thousands of colorful wildflowers mixed in among the charred trunks. The next day I returned with my camera and made several images of the sunflowers. This was my favorite as it is something entirely different from my typical photography. It was an experiment and I was thrilled that it worked out so well.
American Basin Hiker II, Colorado
I didn’t do much adventure photography in 2011. No idea why, but I’ve resolved to do a lot more of it in 2012. I made this image en route to the summit of Handies Peak in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. My son Jackson was in a backpack on my back as I photographed Melissa crossing a creek below a beautiful sky and craggy peaks. There’s nothing I enjoy more than exploring the outdoors with my family and this image brings back wonderful memories of seeing Jackson on the summit of his first 14′er!
Storm Light at the Fiery Furnace, Utah
One stormy afternoon I took a chance and headed out to a view I’d discovered that overlooks the fins of the Fiery Furnace, Castle Valley and the distant La Sal Mountains. One of three things would happen: I’d get struck by lightning and the whole afternoon would be screwed, the storm would rage on and sunset would be a bust, or it would be epic. Lucky for me, it was epic. It was cold and windy and every once in a while a passing cloud released a torrent of horizontal rain. But right at sunset, the clouds parted and the sweetest storm light I’ve seen fell on the landscape before me. It was an amazing day to be alive!
Three Sisters Sunset, Utah
Assignments are few and far between these days, at least for me. Early in 2011 I was hired by Utah State Parks to photograph Goblin Valley State Park and the surrounding area for a guidebook they were developing. GVSP is a alien landscape, a valley filled with thousands of little hoodoos that have, in fact, stood in for Mars in several movies. One of the most famous features, the Three Sisters, sprout from the surrounding landscape. I was incredibly fortunate to witness a glorious sunset behind the Three Sisters during my time in the park.
Last year I decided to create a new photo tour titled Undiscovered Moab. As the name implies, the tour will take us to locations that are rarely, if ever, photographed. I’ve been spending a lot of time four wheeling and hiking to remote locations while scouting for the upcoming Undiscovered Moab tour (April 21-22, 2012!). On this afternoon a storm was breaking over Kane Creek Canyon, flooding the valley with dramatic storm light below a sky filled with interesting clouds. It was awesome to stand on the canyon rim in complete silence while watching this scene unfold before me.
Virga Above the Bonneville Desert, Utah
En route to Death Valley last March, my son informed us that he had to poop. When a 2 year old has to poop you don’t have time to drive around looking for a bathroom. We pulled off to the side of the interstate and Jackson did his business. When he finished I asked Melissa if I could have a few minutes to make an image of the impending storm unleashing hell on the distant mountains. Thanks to Jackson and Melissa I was able to make this image, my favorite from the entire trip, with semi’s flying by just a few feet away.
And there you have it, my favorite thirteen images from 2011. If you want to see even more “Best of 2011″ images from some of my favorite photographers, check out “A Compilation of My Favorite “Best of 2011″ Image Collections“.
Read more about Bret and get info on his workshops here.