Another year has come and gone which means again it's time to look back and choose my best shots from the 2017 calendar year. I've done this exercise for the past few years and find it to be a wonderful learning experience as well as extremely rewarding.
To find my best work I have a smart gallery in Lightroom to display any 3 star or higher images taken this calendar year. At the end of the year I start weeding out weaker shots, taking a few passes to get the collection down to the top 15 or so. This year I started with a set of 48 images, which seems about average for me.
As I get closer to the final 10 things start to get tricky. Editing photos, in the context of creating a body of work, not actually adjusting exposure, colors, etc.., means making some hard decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Time usually makes this easier - photos you were in love with right after they were taken don't seem as exciting, and sometimes others that might not have grabbed your attention stand out now.
After much deliberation I finally narrowed it down to my top 10 from the 2017 calendar year. They are presented in chronological order.
My day job is in the Chicago Loop, which gives me some great opportunities to do architecture photography. Whenever I am walking to and from the train station I keep my eyes open, some days taking detours and alternate routes for fun. During one of these walks a building I walk by daily finally caught my eye. At street level it's just another white office building completely over-shadowed by the Sears Tower across the street. However at the top there is an angled cutaway that allows for some interesting photographs when taken from Adams Street. I took this at 200mm when the sky was flat and slightly overcast. I love this particular perspective, the simplicity of the angles make it look almost like a pyramid, plus the weathering on the corner of the building breaks up the straight lines a bit.
Last year I started creating a series of photographs taken at 16mm straight up of the skyscrapers around the Loop. It is difficult not to have power lines, light poles, or other distractions in frame but the challenge is fun. I had primarily stayed close to Wacker Drive around Monroe but one afternoon I wandered down to Dearborn & Madison where I found a small alley across from the Chase building. Looking up I realized I had stumbled onto something with a lot of potential - another location that you might walk by hundreds of times without noticing.
For some reason I find it rather difficult getting these shots, because when I lean back and point the camera straight up I start losing my balance. I have to plant my legs wide open and make sure I'm not too close to traffic, I don't want to keel over into the street. Despite the difficulties I love the perspective a super-wide angle gets pointing straight up, watching the buildings almost disappear into the sky.
In late July we packed up and we headed out to Connecticut for a much needed break while visiting family. Spending a week in Mystic and the surrounding areas is a great way for me to recharge my batteries and try my hand photographing subjects I simply don't have the opportunity to capture in Illinois. One of my all time favorite photographers is Onne Van Der Wal who has an amazing gallery in Newport Rhode Island, and he shoots boats and other nautical subjects. I always think of him when I'm out on the water with my camera.
The first morning there I headed down to Mason's Island before sunrise only to find everything completely fogged over. Disappointed for about ten seconds, I headed down the dock to see various sail boats just peacefully tied up in the water, almost looking like ghost ships where my disappointment vanished.
I sat down and just listened to the fog horns while water lapped at the dock - almost a zen like experience for me. Bouncing between a 50mm prime and the 70-200mm I tried some different perspectives all while making sure I didn't go off the edge of the dock and in for a drink.
Still wanting a nice colorful sunrise I headed down the next morning when I saw the skies were crystal clear. What a difference 24 hours makes - this next frame is the exact same set of boats from almost the same spot just as the sun was breaking over the trees of Dodge's Island.
A small rowboat tied to the dock caught my eye, it's white paint and lines against the almost black water made for some wonderful contrast, and the wood was the perfect splash of color. I leaned way out over the water and shot this almost straight down, making sure my feet were planted and my camera strap was secure. Even after six months this stands out as one of my all time favorites.
On my last day I headed down again to see if I could pick up any more shots, and as I walked all the way down the dock I noticed that the horizon was fading perfectly into the sky. If I was more of a sailor I could tell you what kind of boat that is, but it's been years since I have been out on the water. Regardless I love the simplicity of the near silhouette of the boat, the seagulls flying by, and the cool colors just starting to warm up in the morning sun.
In August I headed over to Italian Fest in Lisle to shoot Everett Dean who always puts on a great show. While I was over on the side stage behind a huge stack of PAs I saw him rear into his Chucky Berry shuffle when I got this shot - really capturing the energy of his performance from a different perspective.
The September eclipse had been circled on my calendar for a few years, so to say I was excited was a bit of an understatement. I packed all my gear including the tracking mount for my telescope and headed down to Fulton, Missouri which was right on the path of totality. The day was intensely hot and clouds were threatening us all morning but everything stayed clear during the partial phases and most importantly during totality. This shot is a composite of 9 exposures to capture the detail of the corona radiating outwards.
It truly was an amazing experience that I still can't quite describe, but for a full look at the rest of the day, you can read my post about the Eclipse here.
November had me flying out to Los Angeles for the third year in a row, so I decided to take a break and head over to Venice Beach and watch the sunset over the pier. This was another situation that I was able to use The Photographer's Ephemeris to plot out exactly where I needed to be and when to catch the sun directly behind the pier. I recommend keeping those eclipse glasses handy because it makes shooting directly at the sun much more comfortable lining up the shot if you have to make small adjustments. Looking directly at the sun at anytime can damage your eyes, not just during the eclipse.
Running up and down the beach a bit trying different angles I took this shot as I was knee deep in the surf dodging waves again. Knowing I only had about twenty minutes of sun I went from 16mm wide open all the way through to 200mm covering a lot of perspectives, but I think this frame at 35mm was my favorite. I like the waves crashing in as the sun started peeking out from below the pier deck.
My final shot was taken towards the end of September when I woke up extra early to take the train into the city, catching the sun as it rose behind Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. All the other photographers there that early were shooting form the other side to catch the warm sun on the buildings, but I knew I had a good chance of a sunburst coming from underneath the sculpture on this side. I was flat on my stomach shooting inches off the ground at 16mm wide open to capture this frame. Hoping to get some motion in the clouds I had stopped down to f/16 and opened the shutter for a second or two, and while I didn't get the clouds moving, a runner stopped to stretch and look around a bit, adding a nice sense of scale.
It wasn't as active a year as I had hoped but I still got some exciting work done. Im looking forward to the new year and all the opportunities to come in the next 12 months. A new large format printer is on the way right now and I have my first exhibition coming up in March, so it's going to be a busy start to 2018. Happy New Year everyone!