My top 10 images of 2018

It's become a tradition that at the end of every calendar year I look back and choose the top 10 photographs I have taken over the past twelve months. While it certainly hasn't been one of my more active years I did create some of my best work. To find my top shots I create a smart gallery in Lightroom of anything with over three stars in 2018, then start narrowing down to a final set of ten. So lets take a look at my top ten photographs of 2018, presented in chronological order.

The first three images were all taken on the same day in February during one of the few heavy snow storms we got this past winter. In December of 2016 I captured a small number of shots of a copse of trees in a local park during another storm which I absolutely loved the look of. Since that time I was anxiously waiting for the same snowy conditions to no avail. When I saw that we were about to get a foot of snow I got my camera gear ready and headed out west.

To the east of my house is the dense Chicago suburbs and the city proper, but to the west is almost completely open farmland. This presents some wonderful opportunities for minimalist landscape photography. During the summertime I would drive down various random farm roads looking for interesting trees and possible shots for wintertime. Marking them in Google Maps lets me find them again with no guesswork. I plotted a route that would take me past about six interesting spots I had flagged, then jumped in the car and headed out.

I easily found my first location and was delighted to see that it looked exactly how I thought it would in this situation. The snow was absolutely blinding and very difficult to work with. While the 5DMkIII is weather sealed and fairly water resistant I don't like taking my chances so I had a rain cover wrapped around it, and kept it under my coat as I jumped out of the car. From the side of the road a large copse of trees was maybe a hundred yards away or so, completely on its own, buried in the increasing snow. A small line of trees in the background was just visible on the horizon leading the eye into frame and grounding the main subject, ensuring it didn't feel like it was floating in the ether.

Burlington Township, Illinois

This next location was one I found while scouring Google Maps when I was bored one day. Looking for single trees in the middle of fields I marked this as something to look into. As I pulled up I found a chain blocking the side road saying no vehicle traffic. It didn't say anything about foot traffic, and while there wasn't any 'No Trespassing' signs, I was a bit curious if I was technically allowed to be there. Knowing I was just taking photos and not causing any harm I headed up the road. There were five crooked trees all in a row, with a generous amount of space between them giving me different composition options. I took some shots of all five, some singles and different groupings, but my favorite was a frame with two trees and one in the distance being cut off by the horizon. Just a simple centered composition, like the last shot, almost overexposed to avoid picking up details in the foreground.

Burlington Township, Illinois

My final shot from that day was quite possibly one of my all time favorite photos. As luck would have it I came across this location randomly. After hitting a few locations I had flagged I decided to try and loop my way around back heading east and get home. Driving north I came to an intersection where I glanced at my GPS, noting that I could find major roads in either direction. I flipped a coin in my head and turned left. A minute or two later I found a single tree on a hill with a short fence tracing along the spine of the hill, just poking out of the deep snow. I was the only one crazy enough to be out in that weather so I just threw the car in park not knowing if there was a shoulder. I thank my lucky stars I did because as I got out and walked over to get a closer look I sunk down into a ditch and was up to my thighs in snow. I worked my way out and took this photo, keeping the tree on the right third line as the fence dipped off to the left. This was probably the first time I wish I had a 24-70mm. I initially got out my 16-35 but it was just too wide. My 50mm didn't give me what I was looking for, so I nervously grabbed my 70-200mm thinking it would be too tight. At 70mm I was able to get enough of the scene while keeping details.

Tree on the hill, Burlington Township, Illinois

I'm always looking to improve my astrophotography, and this next shot is a good example of why you should always keep pushing yourself. In May the weather was starting to get nicer out, so on a crystal clear evening I setup the telescope because I wanted to try stacking multiple frames of the moon to get as sharp of an image as possible. I spent a while dialing in the focus and then took about 50 frames. After some wonderful visual observation I packed everything up and went in to see what I got. I sorted through and picked out the best 24 shots and then combined them in Photoshop. The result speaks for itself. Every crater and detail on the surface is tack sharp. I feel like I could reach out and run my hand across this image. I'd love to see it in a glass print from Fracture.

Waxing Gibbous Moon (24 frames)

I didn't get out too much this year, so a large portion of my favorite photographs were from my New England Scramble so I won't go into too much detail again. First up was an abstract shot I took deliberately using a slow shutter speed while panning the camera. I love the color of the fall leaves with the white streak of the birch trunk in the middle. Stepping outside your comfort zone and shooting different subjects can yield unexpected results.

Colors of fall
Colors of fall

Another shot I like is from the drive up to Mt Washington, of a small cabin cozily nested among the changing trees. I suspect I missed peak foliage by about a week or two, but beggars can't be choosers.

Fall colors on Mt Washington
A solitary house among the fall colors

This next photo was taken at the top of Mt Washington, one of dozens of small rock piles called cairns that I believe guide hikers along the summit. I especially love the different layers of mountains fading off into the distance. I'd like to see this in an oversized canvas wrap some day.

Carins atop Mt Washington
Cairns atop Mt Washington

The next two photos were taken at the Portland Head Light in Portland ME. This was a bucket list location for me, so I couldn't decide which one I liked better. I took the first photo from the overlook on the south side of the lighthouse just as the sun crept over the horizon. It's a panorama of five individual shots stitched together, so the detail in the final result is impressive.

Portland Head Light, Portland Maine

Immediately after the sun was over the horizon I scrambled across to the north side of the park to shoot from another angle. I was able to get down onto a large field of rocks and capture the waves crashing over them as the sun came up catching the spray and bathing the entire scene in a warm glow.

Portland Head Light, Portland Maine

My final shot from 2018 was one I had wanted for years, and for more details you can read my blog post about it. The morning after Christmas I was able to catch the ISS, illuminated, just before transiting the moon. It was my third try and second success, but by far the best capture I've made. The moon could be sharper due to it being so hazy on the ground, but overall I really love this one.

The ISS just before lunar transit

While this has been my slowest year for photography in quite a while I am still happy with the results. I can't wait to get out for some shoots in 2019 and see where the year takes me.