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I usually post my favorite picture of the year. Sometimes (but not usually) I post more than one. This year I will post two and here’s why.
Let’s start with the obvious. It’s not been a usual year. In a USUAL year I make between 20 and 30 bird photography trips. This includes the very few private and group workshops I teach and speaking engagements that happen outside my home town. For instance, I usually spend between three and five weeks every year at Bosque del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico where I do some private photography, some assignment photography, a few workshops and a usual speaking engagement at the Festival of the Cranes.
I usually travel a circuit that starts in San Diego on the first of the year and ends at Bosque. This year, because of the pandemic, I made exactly five bird photography trips. The first was my only “typical” trip. It happened in January where I spent a week or so photographing birds in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I was scheduled to go to China in February but then the virus hit and that was that. I didn’t work again until late summer when I did two private workshops and two jobs for Olympus. The first was testing the new Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 IS Lens and the second was testing the new M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO Lens.
That leaves few bird images to choose from for my annual favorite but I do have one. I should start by mentioning I am not saying this is the most popular image I made this year, the most financially successful or even the best one I made this year. I am saying this is my PERSONAL favorite.
My favorite is an image I made of a Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae.) It’s my favorite for a reason. It’s a lifer for me. That’s reason enough but more reasons to follow. It’s a perfect pose and it lasted for a nanosecond. I was lucky to get it. This is what you hope for when you’re making a bird portrait. Full view of the colorful tail feathers and a look back over the shoulder at the camera. Another reason it’s a favorite is that I captured this image with the E-M1MarkIII and the M.150-400 f/4.5 with the built-in 1.25 teleconverter engaged ISO 250 – f/5.6 – 1/500 – 445mm (890 EFL). The new super zoom is a joy to work with and I was particularly proud of this result because I also made it during the worst forest fire we’ve had in our state in a long time. The conditions were horrible. Lots of smoke and haze and – well – fire. Birds are hard enough to photograph when conditions are good. When they are bad, and you still get the shot, it’s celebration worthy.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Since I did so few bird photo trips this year I needed to do SOMETHING to keep a camera in my hand. Muscle memory is a big deal in professional photography and if you don’t use your gear on a very regular basis, it’s very hard to react quickly, efficiently and appropriately when the time comes that you need to. So I built a product studio in my home. And I started photographing my personal guitar/bass collection.
Since I am almost as equally passionate about music and guitars as I am birds, this was a natural progression for me. So my SECOND favorite from 2020 is this picture I made of my Danelectro Longhorn, short-scale, bass.
I made this image with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK III and my M. Zuiko 12-100 f/4 Pro Lens. It’s proven to be a great combo for this sort of work and one of the reasons I really like this image is that it came out exactly as I had hoped. I had to spend some time pre-visualizing the shot and since I have far more experience as a bird photographer than I do a product photographer, it was harder (but rewarding) work. I proved to myself that I can master any type of photography if I am patient and focus (pun intended) on the story I want to tell.
This is a very unique instrument and I wanted to make a unique photo of it rather than just standing it against the wall and making a documentary snapshot.
So that’s it. Those are my personal favorites. I am okay with them not being anyone else’s favorites. The point of this exercise is to please myself and tell MY story. I use photography to express my point of view.
I highly encourage you to do the same. Try to pick one image that is YOUR personal favorite and don’t worry about whether or not anyone else will think it’s good. Just go with your heart.
Photography, practiced at its highest form, is about making images that are important. And if they are important to you, they won’t be to anyone else.
I am hoping 2021 offers me many more chances for both bird and guitar photography and that all of us can go back to pursuing making images instead of dodging the virus.
Happy holidays. (This is where I would normally wish you a Happy New Year as well, but I did that last year and look what happened!)
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