2018: A Nature Photographer’s Annual Review of Images

It’s that time of year when I set about to candidly reflect upon my progress as a photographer. I sift through all of my nature photographs made the previous year, looking for the best of the best. The process can be brutal, striking images from the list for being “too pedantic” or “uninteresting” — or the most wounding, “unoriginal.” It is no time to be nice. Just honest.

Making the cut

Throughout the year, I had already picked through the nearly 20,000 images, so it was not as big as a job as it might seem. Only 300 of 20,000 received “three stars,” meaning the image was deemed good enough to warrant processing, so I focused my attention on those. Another pass whittled those down to 100, and then finally, just the top 20 or so that I felt were pretty good. As I went through the process, I left my ego at the door, and looked at the work as if I were someone else, seeing it for the first time.

I did not measure the year’s success by number of images created, awards received, “likes” on social media, or amount of print sales. Rather, I passed judgement on the quality of the work. Was there any improvement since the previous year? What did I do differently? And, very importantly, what should I do differently in the next 12 months?

What stood out?

Last year, I tried to find ways to push the limits of the medium. I was more experimental than usual, trying new in-camera techniques as well as unusual approaches to post-processing. My experimentation resulted in some spectacular fails, but also some triumphs. For example, I was very pleased with my “Dance of the Dogwood” image, which contains over 20 photographs of the same tree compiled in Photoshop.

I continued to be drawn to intimate scenes, such as “Happy Aspens,” but wasn’t shy about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other photographers when conditions were spectacular at popular scenic spots, as in “When It Snows In Yosemite” and “Black Yosemite.”

I discovered that while I really enjoy night sky photography, I’m a complete coward when it comes to being out in the middle of the night, even when my husband, Gary, was with me. Such was the case in “The Grizzly Giant Under The Milky Way” and “Super Blue Blood Moon Over The Lafayette Reservoir” (not included in final list).

I rediscovered my love for black and white photography, having come across some old negatives from my darkroom days. I also dug out my old Pentax ME, bought a roll of Illford b/w film, and had a ball messing around with that old camera again.

And, although I’ve photographed Yosemite Valley thousands of times, I found that if one maintains a curious and creative mind, there are infinite compositions still waiting to be discovered.

Have camera, will travel.

In addition to taking my camera to Yosemite eight times last year, I also visited some of my other favorite places in California. I photographed migrating birds in California’s Pacific Flyway, the North Coast Redwoods and coastline, my old stomping ground around Mt. Shasta, the Eastern Sierra, the ghost town of Bodie, and my home town of Lafayette. Travels outside of my native state took me to Southwestern Colorado, Utah, and the Cascades in Washington state.

Along the way, I met some amazing people, and made memories that will last a lifetime.

In no particular order, here are my favorites of 2018. (Just click on each image to enlarge.)

“Jewels of the Merced River,” Yosemite National Park
“Living Cathedral”, Yosemite National Park
“Colors of Colorado,” Southwest Colorado
“Aspen Happy,” Colorado
“When It Snows In Yosemite,” Yosemite National Park,
“Dance of the Dogwood,” Yosemite National Park
“Half Dome Morning Light,” Yosemite National Park
“Spirit of Pohono,” Yosemite National Park
“The Heart of Yosemite,” Yosemite National Park
“Avalon,” Yosemite National Park
“Coastal Pools,” Northern California Coast
“Ahwahnee Meadow Cottonwoods,” Yosemite National Park
“Springtime Along The Merced,” Yosemite National Park
“Tuolumne Headwaters,” Yosemite National Park
“The Grizzly Giant Under The Milky Way,” Yosemite National Park
“Black Oaks And Granite In Snowstorm,” Yosemite National Park
“Still Standing,” Eastern Sierra, California
“Summer Storm,” Mono Lake, California
“Spinning Flotillas,” Yosemite National Park
“Black Yosemite,” Yosemite National Park
“Canyonlands Storm,” Canyonlands National Park, Utah
“Fallen,” Eastern Sierra, California
“A Walk In The Snow,” Yosemite National Park
“Magic At Mono Lake,” Mono Lake, California

64 Replies to “2018: A Nature Photographer’s Annual Review of Images”

  1. Wow! Incredible collection here. Dance of the Dogwoods would have to be my top choice but everything is exquisite. I had my first visit to Bodie this year and enjoyed it more than expected. You obviously had a great 2018, here’s wishing you another in 2019.

    1. Thanks, Joseph, I really appreciate your comments. I also like Dance of the Dogwoods. It was fun making that image. Bodie is a really cool place to visit, but it always feels a bit creepy to me. I have a slew of night images I made there that I’ve yet to process!

    2. “Avalon” is probably my favorite, but I love them all! With the abstract leaves and branches against the sun rays in the background, you have a keen eye for finding excellent images!

      Randy Pollard

      1. Thanks, Randy! I’m so pleased that you like “Avalon.” I love that image, but it is very subtle and not everyone get’s it.

  2. How have I never seen “Spirit of Pohono” before now? Exceptional composition, it gave me the shivers. All of these are superb, Char. I am especially taken by the range of inspiration and approach in this collection.

    1. I’m glad you like it, Susan. It is one of my favorites too. I made that image on the last day of my Spring visit to Yosemite last year. I had the car packed up and was leaving the Valley, and as I drove past Bridalveil, I saw this magical light. I stomped on the brakes and pulled over. I think I set up my camera in record time. The light didn’t last long. Just minutes.

  3. The image “A Walk In The Snow” is my choice out of this outstanding series of images. I’ve lived in SoCal for over 35 years and have yet to visit this wonderland. My disdain for crowds has had me fearing the worst with having a peaceful visit. Maybe I need to also Walk in the Snow! Thanks for this series…

    1. I know just what you mean about the crowds, Mark. I don’t usually visit Yosemite during the most popular times because of crowds. Off-season is just as lovely as Summer, if not more. And if you just stray a bit off the beaten path, it is not difficult to find solitude in Yosemite. Glad you liked “A Walk In The Snow.”

  4. I’m fascinated by “Jewels of the Merced River” and keep going back to it. But the one photo I would most like to see every day is “A Walk in the Snow” ; I find it so calming and reminiscent of Karen and my honeymoon there in 1998. I’ll have to show it to her. We purchased an Adams print then that has been hanging in our bedroom since then, but I like your photo better.

    1. Thanks, Michael. I think “A Walk In The Snow” resonated with a lot of people. I debated about including it in the list because it is a common view. But the conditions that day were entirely uncommon, so that why it made the cut. “Jewels of the Merced River” gives me special pride. I had been trying all morning to find something interesting to photograph, had kind of given up, and was strolling back from the bathroom when I noticed the tiny rainbows in the bottom of the river. I must have stood there photographing them for an hour.

  5. Elaine Calvert says: Reply

    An amazing year in photos! It would be hard to pick a favorite. I took a shot very similar to a walk in the snow several years ago in a snowstorm. I didn’t have the people in my image however, and they really make the image. It’s a nice reminder that we don’t always need to wait for the people to leave.

    1. So true, Elaine. I rarely include people in my images, but sometimes they are useful to show scale. In this case, I thought it worked better than the frames that didn’t include them. Thanks for taking the time to look through my work!

  6. Love the Black n whites of Yosemite ,I’m big A Adams fan ,one of our fav things is save up $$$ and rent the Penthouse at Awhanee ,it has an un heated screened porch facing El Cap , get blanket cup coffee and watch it snow all day . Often your eyes only see beautiful real time photos in black n white … New Zealand is not too bad this time year being Summer / in the winter , but your photos brought me back to one my fav places , watching it snow in black n white.

    1. Hi Michael, I know exactly which room of which you speak at the Ahwahnee! I stayed there for my birthday one year. I stay at the Ahwahnee whenever I can, and the manager heard it was my birthday, so they upgraded me to the Presidential Suite. It was divine. However, if you don’t mind a minor correction in your comment, the view from that suite faces Glacier Point, not El Cap, which is further down the Valley and can’t be seen from the Ahwahnee. Still, it’s an impressive view. My husband and I are planning a trip to New Zealand within the next year. I can’t wait to visit your beautiful country!

  7. Outstanding image collection. I am hard pressed to pick a favorite as they are all “best in show”, however “Colors of Colorado” has special meaning for me as I have been to that exact spot almost every year.

    1. This was my first time photographing the Fall colors in Colorado, Chuck. I was assisting for Michael Frye’s workshop there. We rented three SUVs and drove the students all over those mountains. It was an amazing trip and everyone had a blast. This image brings back very fond memories of that spot. Every student had a big smile on their face!

  8. Hi Charlotte. I just love your work-particularly how etherial some of your work is. Love the composition of ‘Tuolumne Headwaters’-especial the angle that you shot at and what you included. ‘Spinning Flotillas’ looks like it may have been a technical challenge to capture the depth (as opposed to extent :0)) of the movement and the reflections. Lovely work.

    1. I’m glad you like those two, Lance. You’re right about “Spinning Flotillas.” It took several attempts over two days to get one I liked. I still feel like I could have done better. Maybe next year, but that spot is not likely to have those exact conditions again. Such is life!

  9. Harvey Steeves says: Reply

    A truly stunning set of images and one many photographers would be happy to have captured over several years not just one. I have no one favourite, I love so many of them.

    1. Thanks so much, Harvey. It was quite a process getting through my images, and I still have so many that have gone unprocessed just because I haven’t had time. They will have to wait until some future date when I want to spend time in front of the computer rather than be out in the field.

  10. Paddy Adishian says: Reply

    Ahhhh, Charlotte, the beauty, the powerful diversity of mood and emotion that this collection evokes is truly special. I’m drawn to ‘A Walk In The Snow’ because of the precision in balance and scale. It’s so dramatic in such a quiet way. Love them all. Best of luck enriching this collection in 2019!

    1. Thanks Paddy, I’m glad you enjoyed the collection. “A Walk In The Snow” get’s the most votes for the favorite. I guess I’m sort of surprised by that because it almost didn’t make the cut. (See my response above to Michael McCloskey’s comment.)

  11. Congrats on “2108 Nature Photographer of the Year”. VERY well deserved. Your B&W of “Ahwahnee Meadow Cottonwoods” still blows me away. My other favorites are “Canyonlands” and “Walk in the Snow” but all are excellent. I love the West and have been to many places but my photos aren’t even half as good. Any goals for 2019?

    1. Hi Garry, I really appreciate your taking the time to comment and congratulate me on my award. I was pretty surprised to win, actually, since I’m not primarily a black and white photographer anymore. But, I’ve been having fun rediscovering the beauty and subtle approach to black and white photography. I expect in 2019, I will be doing more of this type of work, and also continue experimenting with both my camera and processing techniques. Travel plans are still shaping up for the year, but I’m hoping to spend a good amount of time in SW Colorado again this year. How about you? Any artistic goals for 2019?

  12. Love the Black n whites of Yosemite ,I’m big A Adams fan ,one of our fav things is save up $$$ and rent the Penthouse at Awhanee ,it has an un heated screened porch facing El Cap , get blanket cup coffee and watch it snow all day . Often your eyes only see beautiful real time photos in black n white … New Zealand is not too bad this time year being Summer / in the winter , but your photos brought me back to one my fav places , watching it snow in black n white.

    1. Hi Michael, I know exactly which room of which you speak at the Ahwahnee! I stayed there for my birthday one year. I stay at the Ahwahnee whenever I can, and the manager heard it was my birthday, so they upgraded me to the Presidential Suite. It was divine. However, if you don’t mind a minor correction in your comment, the view from that suite faces Glacier Point, not El Cap, which is further down the Valley and can’t be seen from the Ahwahnee. Still, it’s an impressive view. My husband and I are planning a trip to New Zealand within the next year. I can’t wait to visit your beautiful country!

  13. Congratulations to you, Charlotte, for a very well deserved award and a absolutely stunning body of work produced in 2018. . As more of an “enthusiastic amateur” , I can appreciate your lovely images and certainly honored to follow your work!

    1. Thanks so much, Wade! It’s always so nice to hear that my work touches someone and inspires them in their own photographic journey. Good luck to you in 2019!

  14. Charlotte, what a fantastic record/interpretation of this earth you are making! I appreciate your abilities with compositions of scenes great and small. I think my favorite is Dance of the Dogwood. To me it captures your ability to evoke a spiritual connection with your beloved trees. Well done. Hope to see you out there!

    1. It’s an absolute honor, Shirley, and one that I find complete joy in doing. I really appreciate it when someone actually connects with my work. It’s not for everyone, so it gives me a a little thrill when I connect with a like-minded person. I hope to see you out there too!

  15. Jean Drummond says: Reply

    You are the best Yosemite and Eastern Sierra photographer I have seen! Your images are stunning and soul-stirring! Your awards are well-deserved.

  16. The Yosemite picture was such a sight to see. The angles that you used to capture has been one of the best captures ive seen in a long time.

  17. Awesome images Charlotte! Michael Frye alerted me to your work, and I feel blessed to have both of you (and others) as inspiration for my own attempts to capture nature’s majesty.

  18. Charlotte hello,
    I just discovered your work through another photography blog from Chris at caputurelandscapes.com and was so inspired to look at your entire portfolio on your site and read some of your blogs. Your work is so inspiring and emotive and there is so much to take away from each shot. I loved your honesty in how many shots you took and then how few you considered post processing. It gives the rest of us some hope in how hard it is to capture something really worthy. I wonder if at some point you might share how you post processed “Dance of the Dogwood ” which is so unique. I loved so many of your shots most especially “Ahwahnee Meadow Cottonwoods” just a beautiful B&W shot. ‘ I look forward to subscribing to your newsletter.

    Much continued success,
    lance saunders
    toronto ontario
    instagram- lance1098

  19. Wow! Incredible collection here. Dance of the Dogwoods would have to be my top choice but everything is exquisite. I had my first visit to Bodie this year and enjoyed it more than expected. You obviously had a great 2018, here’s wishing you another in 2019.

    1. “Avalon” is probably my favorite, but I love them all! With the abstract leaves and branches against the sun rays in the background, you have a keen eye for finding excellent images!

      Randy Pollard

      1. Thanks, Randy! I’m so pleased that you like “Avalon.” I love that image, but it is very subtle and not everyone get’s it.

    2. Thanks, Joseph, I really appreciate your comments. I also like Dance of the Dogwoods. It was fun making that image. Bodie is a really cool place to visit, but it always feels a bit creepy to me. I have a slew of night images I made there that I’ve yet to process!

  20. The image “A Walk In The Snow” is my choice out of this outstanding series of images. I’ve lived in SoCal for over 35 years and have yet to visit this wonderland. My disdain for crowds has had me fearing the worst with having a peaceful visit. Maybe I need to also Walk in the Snow! Thanks for this series…

    1. I know just what you mean about the crowds, Mark. I don’t usually visit Yosemite during the most popular times because of crowds. Off-season is just as lovely as Summer, if not more. And if you just stray a bit off the beaten path, it is not difficult to find solitude in Yosemite. Glad you liked “A Walk In The Snow.”

  21. Elaine Calvert says: Reply

    An amazing year in photos! It would be hard to pick a favorite. I took a shot very similar to a walk in the snow several years ago in a snowstorm. I didn’t have the people in my image however, and they really make the image. It’s a nice reminder that we don’t always need to wait for the people to leave.

    1. So true, Elaine. I rarely include people in my images, but sometimes they are useful to show scale. In this case, I thought it worked better than the frames that didn’t include them. Thanks for taking the time to look through my work!

  22. Hi Charlotte. I just love your work-particularly how etherial some of your work is. Love the composition of ‘Tuolumne Headwaters’-especial the angle that you shot at and what you included. ‘Spinning Flotillas’ looks like it may have been a technical challenge to capture the depth (as opposed to extent :0)) of the movement and the reflections. Lovely work.

    1. I’m glad you like those two, Lance. You’re right about “Spinning Flotillas.” It took several attempts over two days to get one I liked. I still feel like I could have done better. Maybe next year, but that spot is not likely to have those exact conditions again. Such is life!

  23. You are the best Yosemite and Eastern Sierra photographer I have seen! Your images are stunning and soul-stirring! Your awards are well-deserved.

  24. Harvey Steeves says: Reply

    A truly stunning set of images and one many photographers would be happy to have captured over several years not just one. I have no one favourite, I love so many of them.

    1. Thanks so much, Harvey. It was quite a process getting through my images, and I still have so many that have gone unprocessed just because I haven’t had time. They will have to wait until some future date when I want to spend time in front of the computer rather than be out in the field.

  25. Awesome images Charlotte! Michael Frye alerted me to your work, and I feel blessed to have both of you (and others) as inspiration for my own attempts to capture nature’s majesty.

  26. The Yosemite picture was such a sight to see. The angles that you used to capture has been one of the best captures ive seen in a long time.

  27. Congratulations to you, Charlotte, for a very well deserved award and a absolutely stunning body of work produced in 2018. . As more of an “enthusiastic amateur” , I can appreciate your lovely images and certainly honored to follow your work!

    1. Thanks so much, Wade! It’s always so nice to hear that my work touches someone and inspires them in their own photographic journey. Good luck to you in 2019!

  28. Lance Saunders says: Reply

    Charlotte hello,
    I just discovered your work through another photography blog from Chris at caputurelandscapes.com and was so inspired to look at your entire portfolio on your site and read some of your blogs. Your work is so inspiring and emotive and there is so much to take away from each shot. I loved your honesty in how many shots you took and then how few you considered post processing. It gives the rest of us some hope in how hard it is to capture something really worthy. I wonder if at some point you might share how you post processed “Dance of the Dogwood ” which is so unique. I loved so many of your shots most especially “Ahwahnee Meadow Cottonwoods” just a beautiful B&W shot. ‘ I look forward to subscribing to your newsletter.

    Much continued success,
    lance saunders
    toronto ontario
    instagram- lance1098

  29. Paddy Adishian says: Reply

    Ahhhh, Charlotte, the beauty, the powerful diversity of mood and emotion that this collection evokes is truly special. I’m drawn to ‘A Walk In The Snow’ because of the precision in balance and scale. It’s so dramatic in such a quiet way. Love them all. Best of luck enriching this collection in 2019!

    1. Thanks Paddy, I’m glad you enjoyed the collection. “A Walk In The Snow” get’s the most votes for the favorite. I guess I’m sort of surprised by that because it almost didn’t make the cut. (See my response above to Michael McCloskey’s comment.)

  30. How have I never seen “Spirit of Pohono” before now? Exceptional composition, it gave me the shivers. All of these are superb, Char. I am especially taken by the range of inspiration and approach in this collection.

    1. I’m glad you like it, Susan. It is one of my favorites too. I made that image on the last day of my Spring visit to Yosemite last year. I had the car packed up and was leaving the Valley, and as I drove past Bridalveil, I saw this magical light. I stomped on the brakes and pulled over. I think I set up my camera in record time. The light didn’t last long. Just minutes.

  31. Congrats on “2108 Nature Photographer of the Year”. VERY well deserved. Your B&W of “Ahwahnee Meadow Cottonwoods” still blows me away. My other favorites are “Canyonlands” and “Walk in the Snow” but all are excellent. I love the West and have been to many places but my photos aren’t even half as good. Any goals for 2019?

    1. Hi Garry, I really appreciate your taking the time to comment and congratulate me on my award. I was pretty surprised to win, actually, since I’m not primarily a black and white photographer anymore. But, I’ve been having fun rediscovering the beauty and subtle approach to black and white photography. I expect in 2019, I will be doing more of this type of work, and also continue experimenting with both my camera and processing techniques. Travel plans are still shaping up for the year, but I’m hoping to spend a good amount of time in SW Colorado again this year. How about you? Any artistic goals for 2019?

  32. Outstanding image collection. I am hard pressed to pick a favorite as they are all “best in show”, however “Colors of Colorado” has special meaning for me as I have been to that exact spot almost every year.

    1. This was my first time photographing the Fall colors in Colorado, Chuck. I was assisting for Michael Frye’s workshop there. We rented three SUVs and drove the students all over those mountains. It was an amazing trip and everyone had a blast. This image brings back very fond memories of that spot. Every student had a big smile on their face!

  33. Michael McCloskey says: Reply

    I’m fascinated by “Jewels of the Merced River” and keep going back to it. But the one photo I would most like to see every day is “A Walk in the Snow” ; I find it so calming and reminiscent of Karen and my honeymoon there in 1998. I’ll have to show it to her. We purchased an Adams print then that has been hanging in our bedroom since then, but I like your photo better.

    1. Thanks, Michael. I think “A Walk In The Snow” resonated with a lot of people. I debated about including it in the list because it is a common view. But the conditions that day were entirely uncommon, so that why it made the cut. “Jewels of the Merced River” gives me special pride. I had been trying all morning to find something interesting to photograph, had kind of given up, and was strolling back from the bathroom when I noticed the tiny rainbows in the bottom of the river. I must have stood there photographing them for an hour.

  34. Charlotte, what a fantastic record/interpretation of this earth you are making! I appreciate your abilities with compositions of scenes great and small. I think my favorite is Dance of the Dogwood. To me it captures your ability to evoke a spiritual connection with your beloved trees. Well done. Hope to see you out there!

    1. It’s an absolute honor, Shirley, and one that I find complete joy in doing. I really appreciate it when someone actually connects with my work. It’s not for everyone, so it gives me a a little thrill when I connect with a like-minded person. I hope to see you out there too!

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