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Jan 05, 2022
"Hoodoo Sunset," taken at Bryce Canyon National Park, was a no-brainer for my Top 21 Favorite Photos list for 2021.
I've been looking back at my work from 2021, and it's amazing just how many places I've visited. All of those stops have added dozens of new prints to my online gallery — but I decided to boil down the prints to my 21 favorites.
So what made that list? Here are my 21 favorite photos from 2021, in no particular order.
Well, the photo above of the sunset over Bryce Canyon National Park was a slam dunk for inclusion on this list.
I've dreamed of visiting that amazing national park for years, so I was thrilled when my buddies James Eastham and Tim Stanley made a quick drive there while we were in Fredonia in November 2021.
We only had about 4 hours to poke around, but it ended with this stunningly beautiful sunset over the crazy hoodoos of Bryce Amphitheater.
And it wetted my appetite for a return.
Boulder Beach is an iconic Acadia National Park location, and I was stoked to finally shoot sunrise there. The famous Otter Cliffs in the background are lighted by the first light of day.
Acadia National Park has been at the top of my bucket list (along with the Grand Tetons) for the past 20 years, and I finally had the opportunity to spend a few days there with my wife Yvette in the summer of 2021.
One location I knew I wanted to shoot was the famed Boulder Beach. My buddy Rick Berk suggested sunrise at the beach to include Otter Cliffs being lighted by the first light of day, and it turned out to be spot on.
After I slipped and fell on the way to this location (because I forgot to put on my boot spikes), I set up right on the edge of the surf. My goal was to create a ghostly wash of the pounding tide, so I used a Lee Filters Little Stopper neutral density filter to slow my shutter speed way down. A .9 soft grad neutral density filter and polarizer rounded out my stack.
And then I waited for the sunrise to light up Otter Cliffs and give me a little glow on above the water.
The final photo turned out perfectly!
I created this beautiful print of Route 66's famed Blue Swallow Motel on my way to Arizona in November 2021. I love all the neon, along with that vintage car parked in front of the office.
I love Route 66, so when buddies Tim Stanley and James Eastham stopped in Tucumcari, New Mexico, on our way to Arizona back in November, I told them I wanted to check out the vintage motels found along that strip of the Mother Road.
The grand dame of the town was the Blue Swallow Motel, which has an amazing neon sign and an antique car parked in front of the office.
So after enjoying a nice dinner down the road, we set up to create images of the famous motel.
Hard to beat this view!
Glade Creek Grist Mill is one of the most beautiful scenes I've run across. Tucked into the mountains of West Virginia, it's impossible to pass without stopping.
West Virginia is one of my favorite states east of the Mississippi. The beauty is unmatched, with rugged mountains, amazing waterfalls, scenic drives and panoramic views wherever you go.
So when I had a few days to kill after finishing up a Bassmaster tournament in Richmond, Virginia, I drove across the Smoky Mountains to work the area around Beckley, W.V.
I had been to the gorgeous Babcock State Park and photographed Glade Creek Grist Mill, but honestly I wasn't fully satisfied with the results. The angle just wasn't right.
So I headed back to the park one cloudy morning hoping to rectify the situation. I parked and walked around, but still didn't like what I saw. So I hopped back in the truck and crossed the creek — and found the perfect location looking back at the old grist mill.
I quickly set up and framed the shot to include the lush greenery along the creek, along with the spectacular waterfall. I left knowing I had a winner.
Now I just need to be there during autumn when the leaves turn.
While in West Virginia, I headed to the nation's newest national park. New River Gorge National Park is so beautiful, and I focused in on Sandstone Falls because I had never seen it. Wow!
My wife and I had passed over the New River Gorge Bridge a few years ago, but when the federal government created the New River Gorge National park I knew I had to return.
So while in the Beckly, W.V., area I looked for something to shoot at the nation's newest national park and found Sandstone Falls. I was blown away by the sheer size of the waterfall.
No, it's not extremely tall, but Sandstone Falls crosses the entire width of the New River. In fact, that presented real difficulties in how to create a compelling photo of the cascade.
I settled on a plan that called for picking my way onto an island and focusing on about half of the waterfall.
The rush of water as it tumbled over Sandstone Falls was deafening, and I couldn't have been happier with the results of my time there.
I still need to return to New River Gorge National Park, but in the meantime I'll look back on this photo with wonderful memories.
Standing at John Wayne Point to watch sunrise at Monument Valley was a seminal moment in my photographic career.
What screams "American Southwest" more than Monument Valley? Not much. So I was pumped when my buddy James Eastham said he had never been while we were planning a trip to Arizona with Tim Stanley.
We arrived one afternoon and poked around a bit before hitting the rack. The forecast actually called for a blue-bird day the next morning, so our plan was to just drive across the Utah border to shoot from Forrest Gump Point as the rising sun lighted the formations.
On the way there before dawn the next morning, I happened to glance into the sky and see a few clouds. That piqued my interest, so I kept one eye on the road and one on the sky. More clouds popped up the farther we drove.
I finally did a U-turn and blazed back to the park's entrance so we could set up at the hotel, just in case my suspicions were correct.
James, Tim and I ranged out along John Wayne Point, and I was thrilled to see a little color to the clouds as we were setting up for the perfect photo.
Soon the sky over the iconic Monument Valley view exploded in amazing light.
Love when a plan works out!
I shot this beautiful photo of Ohio's Lanterman's Mill from the bridge overlooking the river while driving to Upstate New York.
On my second 2021 trip to Upstate New York I wanted to add a couple of states to my list of those in which I've created sellable prints. I dipped into western Pennsylvania and captured a gorgeous sunrise over McConnell's Mill, and then happened upon Lanterman's Mill in nearby Youngstown, Ohio.
When I arrived I was happy to see the bridge over the little river provided a perfect vantage point. Overcast skies gave me wonderful, consistent lighting, so I parked and walked onto the bridge to set up.
I love to slow down the shutter speed to created nice, creamy water whenever I'm shooting waterfalls, so I put a Lee Filters Little Stopper ND filter on behind my polarizer. Then all I had to do was wait for a break in the traffic (which was shaking the bridge).
The final photo is really one of my favorite grist mill prints in my online gallery!
My buddy Matt Vincent and I weren't expecting much of a sunrise on this cloudy morning, so we had to scramble to find a good composition when the clouds turned neon.
I finally made a trip to the Colorado Plains in October 2021, when my wife and I drove out to spend a week with buddy Matt Vincent and his lovely wife Robin. I honestly didn't know what to expect from the area, but I was blown away by the stark beauty.
We woke up one morning to find thick clouds overhead, so Matt and I sipped coffee and just lazed around before finally jumping in his truck with the idea of finding some mule deer to photograph.
We were driving along one of those dirt back roads when I saw the horizon turn deep red. And then that color began spreading, and I suggested we find somewhere to set up — quickly.
Matt saw this lone tree, and stomped the brakes. I bailed out, grabbed my gear and worked my way through the fence to set up what I think is the perfect photo to encapsulate the isolation and expanse of the American prairies.
The color didn't last long, but we headed out knowing it was well worth the stop.
I hiked to North Alabama's Caney Creek Falls not knowing what to expect. It was worth the effort tracking down this hidden jewel.
Everyone knows I'm in love with waterfalls. I'm always on the lookout for new opportunities. So when I wrapped up a Bassmaster event in North Alabama's Lake Pickwick, I searched the web for waterfalls to shoot on the way home.
I found mention of Caney Creek Falls, which was just off my route, so I headed there early the next morning. Man, it was NOT easy to find the trailhead. There was just a tiny parking area with notice warning against blocking the gate.
So I pulled to the side, threw my gear on my back and started hiking down the forest service road.
It wasn't a difficult hike, and it was beautiful. I just hoped it was worth my time.
I shouldn't have been concerned. A couple of miles in I heard the roar of water, and I was soon dropping into a gully of the creek.
And there to my left was the gorgeous Caney Creek Falls.
The trick was finding the right composition, so I really just stood and looked for a while. I tried a shot showing the creek running out of the pool, but it just didn't work.
So I crossed the creek and found this large boulder that served as the perfect foreground framing element.
I slowed down my shutter speed with a neutral density filter, and the result was this wonderful photo of a beautiful waterfall that is tucked in a part of North Alabama many don't explore.
My first visit to Colorado's Crested Butte wasn't wasted. I stood on my truck bed cover to get this amazing photo of the scene just north of Crested Butte.
Colorado's San Juan Mountains hold some of the most amazing scenery in the United States. And that's where my wife and I landed on the tail end of our trip to that state back in October.
On our last full day, we decided to drive farther north than we'd been before and that led us to the beautiful town of Crested Butte.
I've heard of Crested Butte, and I'm sure I've seen photos, but I was gobsmacked by the beauty of the area. It made me regret my promise to Yvette that I would shoot very sparingly that day (she had grown weary of my photography).
After grabbing some coffee in the downtown area, we were driving around and I saw this scene on the northern side of town.
I pulled over, hopped onto the bed cover of my truck and hand held my camera to capture the beauty looking into the snow-covered mountains.
Those bushes in the foreground were perfect, with the purple coloration contrasting nicely with the white mountains.
The final photo will remind me I need to go back and spend a couple of days in that area!
I was happy I finally stopped at Cadillac Ranch, a Route 66 icon in the Texas Panhandle I've passed up several times over the past few years.
I've driven Route 66 in Oklahoma, Kansas and a bit in Texas, and I've found some really cool stuff to shoot. But I've skipped the iconic Cadillac Ranch several times because 1) it's always been crowded and 2) I had the perception that it was just a field with half-buried old cars.
Well, that second one is true, but I'm so happy I finally pulled off the road and hiked into the field with buddies James Eastham and Tim Stanley back in November 2021.
We were passing through Amarillo on a Monday morning, and saw there weren't many cars at the entrance. And when we reached the line of old cars there were just a few people walking around spraying new graffiti on the Cadillacs.
We didn't have a lot of time when the people were hidden between the cars, but we made the most of the opportunity.
I walked back to the truck with a couple of cool photos, but this one is my favorite.
The clouds were really nice, and I wanted to highlight the layers of pain on the Cadillacs - and I loved the fins on the car in the foreground. So I pulled out my Sigma 14mm Art lens, and got really close to the car.
A polarizer deepened the blue in the sky while also popping the colors of the cars.
And the bit of distortion inherent in this super wide-angle lens made the closest Cadillac really stand out.
"Cadillac Ranch Grafitti" was the perfect way to end 10 days in the Southwest!
Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon was a dream come true, and this beautiful sunset over Thor Temple only amplified the experience.
The Grand Canyon has been a dream destination for me since my childhood, and over the years I've focused in on the North Rim. Yes, the South Rim is undoubtedly more famous, but it's also the most visited so the crowds are bigger.
I guess that's one reason the North Rim has grabbed my attention.
In November 2021 I finally walked to the edge of the Grand Canyon's North Rim, and it was everything I had hoped. The views were simply incredible, with crazy canyon formations creating beautiful layers to the horizon.
My buddies Tim Stanley, James Eastham and I spent a day banging around the North Rim to find the perfect sunset location. We finally settled on Cape Royal, overlooking Wotans Throne and Thor Temple.
An hour before sunset, I walked onto a small peninsula of rock and set up my Benro tripod. My goal was to capture the sweeping arch of Wotan's Temple as the sun touched the horizon. And I do really like that resulting image.
But as I was getting ready to pack up my equipment after color faded from the skies, another burst of painted light blazed across the horizon and I zoomed in on Thor Temple for what is my favorite sunset shot from the Grand Canyon.
I simply love the blue, layered shadows inside the chasm contrasted with the garish colors above. It really encapsulates what makes the North Rim so special.
Hopefully I'll be able to make a return trip in the next few years. There is so much more to shoot there!
My first morning on the Colorado Plains was amazing, with my buddy Matt Vincent taking me to this abandoned old schoolhouse for sunrise.
Abandoned buildings intrigue me. I often wonder about the history of these structures, which once were important to families and communities. So when my buddy Matt Vincent proposed we head to an old one-room schoolhouse for my first sunrise on the Colorado Plains, I didn't argue.
The building is just amazing, situated in a field off one of the many dirt roads surrounding tiny Yuma, Colorado. We just eased through the fence and walked around a bit to determine good angles.
I shot photos from both sides of the schoolhouse, but this print shows off the building and the glow of sunrise best. And the clouds were perfect!
My lens of choice was my Sigma 14mm Art, which allowed me to get close to the schoolhouse while still including the clouds above and highlight the expanse of the plains surround the building.
That was the photo that kicked off five amazing days in the Colorado Plains. I'm counting the days until I can return and work with Matt again. We had so much fun!
I pushed through a line of brush behind a small sign along New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway to find this amazing pond strewn with stones. I instantly knew the photo I wanted to create.
I was excited that 2021 included a drive through New Hampshire as I moved from Upstate New York to Maine. The question became what route would be best. After consulting my buddy Rick Berk, a wonderful Maine photographer, I settled on driving the scenic Kancamagus Highway.
My wife and I were stunned at the beauty surrounding the 56-mile-long route.
We made several stops, but hands down my favorite was at the little Lily Pond. It's actually easy to miss the stop, as there is just a small sign. And the pond isn't visible from the road.
I pulled off the road, grabbed my gear and pushed through the line of brush before Yvette was even out of the truck.
The pond is gorgeous, with stones scattered through the shallow pond. Not a lily to be found, so I have no clue why it's named Lily Pond — but I didn't care at that point.
I knew immediately what I wanted to do.
Out came my super wide-angle Sigma 14mm Art. I then spread the legs of my Benro carbon fiber tripod so I could get a really low angle to accentuate the rocks spreading toward the horizon. Including a bit of mountain on the horizon helped to frame the scene.
This photo is one of my Top 5 favorite photos of the year!
My first visit to Utah's Zion National Park was one of visual overload. The beauty was unparalleled, and this photo of blazing cottonwoods at The Grotto really encapsulates why this instantly became one of my favorite national parks.
Zion National Park is one of Utah's Big 5, and I was pumped when a drive there was added to the Southwest trip I took with James Eastham and Tim Stanley back in November. I had seen many photos of the park, but they just didn't prepare me for the visual overload.
Zion is, in a word, stunning. Towering cliffs, cottonwood-lined rivers and streams, beautiful washes — it's got everything you would expect from a national treasure.
Going through my photos from our time there, this one always grabs my attention. We took a shuttle up the canyon and stepped off at The Grotto to find cottonwoods in full autumn glory all over the floor of the chasm.
I walked into this field looking for a good composition that would not only highlight the cottonwoods but draw in the rocky bluffs.
The light streaming between the cleft separating the cliffs intrigued me, so I framed up a photo so the cottonwoods lead the eye to the back of the photo and right below light.
There's just not much about this photo I would change. The contrast of the fall colors and the red cliffs are perfect, and there is a real sense of scale provided by the towering rock walls.
Now I just need to go back and spend several days at Zion!
This photo of Bass Harbor Head Light I took on my visit to Maine's Acadia National Park, and it was a wonderful way to kick off the visit.
Lighthouses. Rugged coastline. Crazy beauty. Acadia National Park has all the ingredients to a wonderful photo trip. So when Yvette and I got settled into our cottage back in the summer of 2021, I decided I wanted to start by photographing Bass Harbor Head Light.
We walked down the path, and the lighthouse was just wonderful. I had seen photos of it, and every one was from the other side of this point. But I wanted something a bit different.
So I started searching for a way to get down to the water's edge on the opposite side of the rocky point. I finally spied a faint trail, and off I went.
After putting on boot spikes (which were needed on the ice-slick rocks), I eased onto the top of some boulders just above the water's surface and framed up the scene.
I used a Lee Filters Big Stopper neutral density filter to drag my shutter speed and smooth out the water, along with a 6 soft grad ND filter to balance the exposure of the sky and the foreground. Then it was just a matter of focusing and triggering the shutter.
I love everything about this photo. The lighthouse is included but not necessarily the star of the show. That honor is held by the rugged rocks and seaweed that leads the eye through the frame.
The final photo is the perfect example of what makes the Maine coast so amazing.
Virginia's Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway took me several hours off my route, but it was worth every extra mile.
I grew up going on vacations that always seemed to include driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I never pass up a drive down memory lane. Over the summer of 2021 I was in western Virginia, looking for something cool to shoot. So I pulled up an app and saw mention of Mabry Mill.
What I didn't take note of was that it was a couple of hours off my route down to Alabama. But, boy, am I glad I put in the extra time and miles.
The old mill was built just after the start of the 20th Century, and served the local communities for decades. It now is one of the great treasures maintained by the National Park Service.
I knew it would be a cool photo when I pulled into the driveway, but it took a while for me to find the right composition. I took a couple of photos from the walkway to the grist mill, and they were OK — but they didn't knock my socks off.
Finally, I walked to the edge of the Parkway and looked back over the mill pond. It was perfect, with just a bit of the shoreline to the left to help really frame out the scene.
The lushness of the trees and grass really capture the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, while Mabry Mill illustrates an age gone by.
Definitely worth the drive!
This beautiful photo shows how the evening light sculpts the dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is wild, with huge dunes stacked at the base of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It's crazy how those piles of sand are found only there and not all across the surrounding plateau.
I've shot photos here before, but when Yvette and I returned to the nearby San Juan Mountains I told her I wanted to get a photo of the evening light on the dunes. I knew the result would be wonderful texture.
I used a long lens to help frame things up, and as the sun touched the horizon the light and shadows created exactly the effect for which I was looking.
I was hoping the skies above the mountains would light up to help things out, but that didn't happen.
Still, the photo belongs in my list because, well, I just really like it.
Stopping at Arizona's famed Horseshoe Bend wasn't on the schedule, but our route took us within 10 minutes of the most famous bend on the Colorado River. What else could we do?
Horseshoe Bend is the most famous turn of the Colorado River, and I really wanted to make a stop on my trip to northern Arizona in November. However, it looked like it would take us a bit out of the way, so I just kept my mouth shut.
Fortunately, Tim Stanley was looking at Google maps as we approached Page, and he mentioned that Horseshoe Bend was just about 5 miles from our planned turn north.
We quickly agreed we had no choice but to add this to our itinerary. So 10 minutes later we were making the short hike to the overlook.
Wow! That's about all I could say when I saw the sweeping view of the Colorado River.
After walking around just a bit, I decided where to set up. The only way to capture the entire scene was by using my Sigma 14mm Art. I added a Lee Filters .9 soft grad ND filter and a polarizer, and started shooting.
That's when we noticed a boat rounding the bend.
Perfect! That boat provides the scale to really feel the immensity of this scene.
The photo truly is one of my all-time favorite prints. So glad my travel buds were willing to change the schedule!
I shot this Acadia National Park photo when my wife and noticed the beautiful scene on the way back to our cottage.
I told my wife I wanted to shoot a sunset at Bass Harbor Marsh during our stay at Acadia National Park, and so I set up overlooking this cool area. Problem was the mosquitoes were horrific. I was willing to stick it out, but Yvette headed back to the truck.
There were a few clouds above the marsh, but they just never lighted up. The last glow of light as the sun slipped behind the horizon was nice, though. So I wasn't disappointed when I packed up and hurried back to the truck to get away from the bloodthirsty insect.
I pulled out of the parking area and Yvette and I glance to the east, directly away from sunset, and we both let out a "ohhhh!"
The full moon was rising above the marsh, and the clouds on this side of the bridge were painted beautiful pastels.
I slammed on the brakes (which didn't make Yvette happy) before finding a little pull-off. I grabbed my gear and sprinted onto the bridge to set up before the light failed.
The flow of the creek and the reflections on the water lead the eye right into the frame, and that sky is just brilliant!
Just goes to prove that it never hurts to look away from the setting sun!
Another unplanned stop put me and two buddies on the Grand Canyon's South Rim, and the view from Navajo Point was mind blowing.
This was another unplanned stop. In fact, if we had headed home from northern Arizona by the most direct route, we wouldn't have been in position to drive to the Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim. But a decision to go home via Winslow, Arizona, put us within 30 minutes of this view.
Once again, we made an executive decision, turned right and soon found ourselves walking to the overlook at Navajo Point — and, man, was it amazing!
I don't shoot many truly panoramic photos any more, but this view demanded it. So I set up my camera on my Benro tripod, added a Lee Filters polarizer and .6 soft grad ND filter to my lens, and carefully took several vertical photos while rotating through the scene.
Photoshop stitched the images together to create this photo that gives a real sense of the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. And the Colorado River can even be seen in the bottom center of the frame, which is pretty cool.
We only spent about an hour on the South Rim, so I have to get back there for some more photos!
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