Year Books

My best photographs of 2020

It’s that time of year again — time to take a hard look at the best photographs I created over the last 12 months, and boy, what a year it was! A pandemic claimed nearly two million lives and created global economic hardship. Climate change hit home with historic, record-breaking wildfires. The fight for social justice took to the streets. And finally, we had to endure a presidential election like this country has never witnessed. When I reflect on everything that happened in 2020, it is a wonder I was able to make art at all.

The year started out nicely enough. I assisted Michael Frye for his his Yosemite Winter workshop at the beginning of the year. In February, I was a keynote speaker and instructor for the Out Of Yosemite photography conference. And, I skied at Mammoth Lakes for the first time that month. After that, all hell broke loose.

Despite the challenges and stress, Gary and I counted our many blessings. First of all, we were healthy and able to stay safe in our home. I continued to teach photography, but virtually via Zoom. I practiced my photography skills on the backyard birds that visited our feeders. And, I found other ways to feed my creative soul, mostly by cooking, but also through writing.

In June, Gary and I made our first, big Covid-19-inspired decision — we purchased a pickup truck and camper, which would become our means of escape and a place of refuge. Once the shelter-in-place restrictions were relaxed, we were able to travel a bit. We went to Yosemite and California’s North Coast initially, and then made a longer, six-week road-trip through Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Most of my images this year were from this period — June through October.

One year ago, I collected my photos from the previous year, 2019, and posted my annual “best of” blog. In that January 1, 2020 post, I wrote about the upcoming new year, full of hope and promise. “There will be some changes in 2020. More laughter. More creating. More learning. More doing the things I love with the people I love.” I can honestly say that in 2020, I have been able to laugh, create, and learn. And remarkably, I have been able to do things I love with the one I love. Like you, I’m missing many special friends and family whom I love, but 2021 holds promise, yes?

Below is a curated collection of my photographs from 2020. Some of these images may be familiar to you, but many are unpublished until now. Which images resonate most with you? What did you do in 2020 to feed your soul?

“An American Legacy” — Yellowstone National Park. The Bison represents so much for so many. It is certainly a powerful symbol for the First People, but also for those of us who hold dear America’s natural treasures.
“Grand Tetons — A Change In The Weather” — I had never photographed the Grand Tetons and we were camped there only for a few days. As luck would have it, we arrived in the middle of a big storm that raged all night long, which was promising for good light. The storm cleared slowly in the morning, creating ample opportunity to chase the light.
“Waiting for the Grizzly” — Tetons National Park. A crowd of photographers and tourists were milling about in the cold at Oxbow Bend, but few were actively photographing anything. I chatted with the photographer next to me, and she said they were all waiting for a Grizzly and her cub that had been seen regularly in this spot the last few days. Cool! In the meantime, I found the misty fog around the river a great subject with which to work. We never saw the Grizzly mama and her cub.
“Great Fountain Geyser” — Yellowstone National Park. The geysers and thermal features of Yellowstone left me breathless. I was keenly aware that I was standing on a gigantic volcano, which was both fascinating and terrifying. Gary and I purchased the book, “Death in Yellowstone,” which we read quickly. The virtues of carrying bear spray and staying on the paths were abundantly clear.
“From the Depths of the Earth” — Yellowstone National Park. They don’t call it “The Artist’s Paint Pot” for nothing.
“Bison Herd” — Yellowstone National Park. These beasts are huge and can move remarkably quickly, charging with sharp horns. I was on foot, and kept a respectful distance and a long lens.
“A River Runs Through It” — Yellowstone National Park.
“Autumn Lights” — Olympic National Park. I missed photographing Aspen trees in Colorado and the Eastern Sierra. We were too far North, and besides, this was a part of the country I had really wanted to explore for a very long time. We didn’t see any Aspen, but Fall color could still be found in the tangled rainforest.
“Nautilus” — Olympic National Park. It’s a two mile hike only at low tide to reach this location. I named this photo “Nautilus” because of the composition, which uses the Golden Spiral as its foundation.
“Rainforest Sunshine” — Olympic National Park. Rainforests are beautiful, mysterious places. Along this hike, I expected a unicorn to pop out from behind a tree at any moment.
“The Captain” — Yosemite’s El Capitan is 3,000 vertical feet of solid granite, luring climbers from all over the world. I’ve climbed a few routes on El Capitan, but have never summited. I actually have no desire to stay overnight on its face, although, I could photograph this icon all day long and not tire of looking at it.
“Within The Realm” — Redwoods National Park. Gary and I ventured out in our truck camper in September to California’s North Coast Redwoods. It is calming to walk among these giants who have stood together these last thousands of years. Our troubles today are nothing to them — a blip in time.
“Aspen and Maple Forest” — Wasatch Mountains, Utah. Wasatch Mountains, Utah. Gary and I camped in a remote part of these beautiful mountains in mid-September. The Aspens hadn’t yet started to turn, but the Maples were in full Fall color.
“Dimensional River” — Yosemite National Park. I’m often drawn to these particular reflections in Yosemite Valley. In the Winter months, the combination of the bare cottonwoods and the shallow river make for interesting compositions as the mind tries to make sense of what the eye is seeing.
“The Mists of Vernal Fall” — Yosemite National Park. Vernal Fall presents uniquely throughout the four seasons. In the Winter months, the flow of water can be low, as it was this year of 2020. Usually, this perspective of the waterfall is unattainable as the Mist Trail leading to this view is covered with snow and ice, thus the trail is closed. But not this year. With little precipitation, the trail remained open. The soft light combined with the scant water flow created an opportunity to show yet another interpretation of Vernal Fall.
“Another Dry Winter” — Yosemite National Park. I love the way light moves through Yosemite Valley in the late afternoon, especially in the Winter. The light changes so quickly that you can actually see it move through the trees.
“Sisters” — I lost a sister to cancer in October, 2019. I miss her terribly, especially when visiting the mountains, a place for which we both shared a deep passion. These two trees reminded me of us — alike but separate, bending to the same breeze, growing strong with roots in the same soil.
“Winter Ice on the Merced” — Yosemite Valley. Ice patterns in the river are art themselves, vanishing once the sun rises only to form again in the night.
“Refresh” — Yosemite National Park. A beautiful cascade flows year round near our property in Wawona. I have photographed this particular cascade many times. It always look different each time.
“Good Morning, Yosemite!” — As Covid-19 raged on outside the park, Yosemite Valley remained tranquil and quiet, as if recovering from having hosted too many guests.
“Big Trees” — Mariposa Redwood Grove, Yosemite National Park. Walking among these giants is always a magical experience. It brings me such a feeling of peace to be among them.
“Gates of the Valley” — Who says I don’t make iconic photographs or slap on a wide angle lens from time to time? This was from my trip to Yosemite in early January. It was a lovely, cold evening. The moon had already risen quite high in the night sky. Our students were packing up their gear, ready for a warm car and a hot dinner. I had just a moment to make a composition of my own before packing up myself.
“Snowy Egret” — San Joaquin Valley. Snowy Egrets are social birds — feeding together, flocking together. I watched a group of 20 or more birds feeding at the end of the day as the last rays of Winter sunshine kissed their beautiful white wings. (These are my first test shots with my new Canon R5 and the 100-500 RF lens. So far, I’m very impressed.)
“Big Dipper Over Mt. Shasta” — The night we spent on Mt. Shasta promised no interesting weather nor phenomenal night sky events. Still, it was good just to sleep on her slopes. I woke up early and peered outside. There was the Big Dipper, so bright in the sky over the summit — just as I remembered as a kid. I have so many pictures from our six-week road trip in the Fall. I made this photograph at the very end of it all. It’s perhaps not the most interesting photograph I made, but it was a fitting finale from the place where I began life’s journey. Mt. Shasta will always feel sacred to me.
“Comet NEOWISE” — Although I had some technical issues, likely caused by user error, I managed to get a few acceptable photographs of Comet NEOWISE as it rose above Mono Lake just before sunrise.
“Dancing With The Wind” — “Winter light” is what landscape photographers call it — a luminosity that brightens even Yosemite Valley’s darkest corners.
“The Valley Awaits” — I made this photo in mid-February as I was leaving Yosemite Valley. A rain shower moved through the area briefly, creating this beautiful atmosphere. I call this one “The Valley Awaits,” because even as I was leaving, I was longing to go back, as if Yosemite was calling me home with its beautiful light.

I always love to read your comments, so feel free to share your thoughts below. Also, many of these photographs are available as limited edition fine art prints, which I make personally in my studio. You can browse and order on my Gallery website, www.charlottegibb.com.

Charlotte Gibb is a contemporary fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in landscapes of the Western United States. Her images are often taken in familiar places for the well-versed landscape photographer, but she prides herself on her keen eye toward the subtle and sometimes overlooked beauty of the natural world. Growing up among the beautiful mountains of Northern California, she considers herself a student of life, learning about people, nature, music, and photography along the way. But always, her life-long passion for the wilderness shines through it all. Charlotte earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has exhibited her work in several solo shows throughout California. Her darkroom, long gone now, has been replaced with digital darkroom tools, and her style has evolved from a somewhat journalistic approach, to one that pays tribute to the natural world. 

60 Comments

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks, Millicent! I’m glad you enjoyed the stories as well. Although I believe a photograph should be able to stand alone, I can’t resist telling a bit more about what is going on behind the scenes.

  • Karl Chiang

    Almost all were magical! Hard to pic a favorite but the last one is unique and something I haven’t seen before! May 2021 be be a much better year!

  • Rod Best

    Great shots! I think if I had to pick a few favorites, The Aspen and Maple shot; Waiting for Grizzly; and The Milky Way shot at the end. I really like how you included the tall pine juxtaposed next to the Milky Way.

    • charlottegibb

      I’m so delighted to hear that you like those particular photographs, Rod. They certainly are not the most dramatic images in the set, but are rather understated, which is what I like about them too. Thanks for taking the time to look through the collection and comment.

  • Nancy McCune

    I love the Bison Herd – the way you captured the one out of the mist; Vernal Fall – the composition is amazing; and the Snowy Egret – the beautiful light on the wings. They’re all beautiful!

  • Carolyn Collmer

    So wonderful to have you take me back across the country to a place I love. Yosemite will always show nature’s work at its finest and you are the best at showing it to others..

  • Joanne

    I didn’t like any specific photograph in this collection, I love them ALL!! Stunning art!! Congratulations on one artist’s year beautifully documented.

  • Donnette Largay

    Great collection of photos for a difficult year of travel.
    I was at Tetons in January, before virus became an issue.
    Looking forward to travel in 2021, here’s hoping!

  • Jo

    Your photographs always take my breath away. These are especially wonderful – thank you so much for sharing them with us and inspiring us as well.

  • Alan R Spitzer

    Another series of marvelous photos, Charlotte! I really enjoyed looking through them. In spite of the pandemic, it looks like you had a pretty fine year photographically. Many thanks for posting these images.

  • Richard mirvis

    I am in my 80,s have been in the house since this virus first started , your photos make it a lot easier. Your work is very inspiring.

    • charlottegibb

      I’m very pleased to hear that my photographs have brought you some joy, Richard! Thanks for reaching out to let me know. That was very kind of you and brightens my day too! Stay safe.

  • Mark Howenstein

    Absolutely stunning work, Charlotte. For us stuck 3000 miles away across the country, they are a nice reminder of the beauty out West. Hopefully this year will allow me to return to some of these beloved places.

    • charlottegibb

      Mark, these natural places out West will be waiting for you when we get through this blasted pandemic. Also, I highly recommend getting a camper as a means of escape. We would have gone nuts by now without it!

  • Bill Higgins

    Simply beautiful images Charlotte, my favorite was the Snake River Overlook. I enjoy seeing the images from many outstanding Landscape Photographers but your work is consistently my favorite!

    • charlottegibb

      Gosh, thanks, Bill! The Snake River Overlook was especially lovely the day I was there. Shockingly, I was the only photographer there that morning. I look forward to returning again on another day.

  • Deborah Balcanoff

    These are such beautiful images. I love them all but was drawn to the Big Dipper over Mt Shasta and the gorgeous shot of the white Egret. You have such a great eye. Thank you for sharing these images.

  • Janine King

    Charlotte! The power of your images is palpable. They represent your focus, creativity and warmth. The Olympic National Forest images draw me in. I think it is because I photograph in the swamps here in Florida ALOT lately. It is so difficult to find good compositions among the chaos! Congratulations on a year well spent!

    • charlottegibb

      Thank you so much, Janine. Yes, photographing forests can be uniquely challenging precisely because as you noted — trying to create order out of all the chaos. One of these days I’d love to photograph the Florida swamps, but for now at least, we are going to have to stay pretty close to home. I’m glad you are able to get out and nature and practice your photography. Being in nature really helps with coping, doesn’t it?

    • charlottegibb

      Thank you, Dan! the Arctic Fox has been a godsend. It was one of those decisions that I feared we might regret since we had never owned any sort of camper or trailer before, but we are really having a wonderful time with it.

  • Ann Collins

    Wonderful group of photos, Charlotte. If “Rainforest Sunshine” is the Hoh Rainforest, then that is probably the best photo I’ve seen from there. If the “Another Dry Winter” image was shot on February 8, 2020, then I was nearby. I was in your group and took time out to sit on the fence and eat some nuts before getting back to work as the sun dropped. I still need to process my tree images from that afternoon.

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks, Ann. Yes, I remember that day very well. It was clear and cold and I took you and the group to photograph reflections and the changing light on the trees next to the Merced River. “Another Dry Winter” is from that same area, but taken on a separate trip there a couple weeks later. It’s one of my favorite places to wander around with my camera. I usually have the place to myself.

  • Steve

    Thanks for sharing Charlotte. In the upside down year we had last year it’s still healing to spend time in these great locations. It’s great to capture a special image but just being out there is just as important.

    • charlottegibb

      Thank you much, Steve. It has been a crazy year, and 2021 is not shaping up to be much better. My camera has provided a welcome distraction, and being in nature is one of the few activities that are Covid-safe!

  • Steve Hornstra

    Awesome photos Charlotte, My three favs are “Refresh”, “The Valley Awaits” but tops is “The Captain”. Looking forward to 2021 in so many ways.

  • John Day

    My three picks are Refresh, Dancing with the Wind, and Snowy Egret. There is something about Dancing with the Wind that grabs me and won’t let go. Great work!

    Your humble admirer,
    John

  • Jackson Frishman

    Wonderful work, Charlotte! Waiting for the Grizzly, Rainforest Sunshine and Dimensional River are the biggest standouts for me. It’s an interesting set – very fun to see you working with Yellowstone and Washington, though I must say your deep connection to Yosemite also really stands out in this collection. Happy new year!

  • Kent Green

    Wow Charlotte,
    My 1st Best of the Year by you and you did NOT disappoint! I have to say that Winter Ice is my favorite, but I have a soft spot for the abstract. Seems like the Artic Fox saved your year and will be a real asset in future years. I have to say that “social distancing” in the woods with my camera kept me sane in 2020 and I was able to get some of my best shots as a result. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from your composition e-book….Thanks!
    Happy 2021 !

    Kent Green

  • Donna Callais

    I do like “Bison Herd”. Tell your hubby that the butt leads your eyes to the head and that’s what makes a good photo. 🙂 “Refresh” is stunning. It kind of represents 2020. The rocks are the darkness of the year, the beautiful waterfall is the light of our future and the little green bush represents our earth’s survival. Anyway, that’s a nice thought. I think all of your photos bring a little bit of peace to your viewers. They certainly do that for me. Thank you.

  • Cathy

    What did you do in 2020 to feed your soul?
    I sat and let your photo’s in to my being with all their color, and incredible detail. My favorite this year would be “Refresh” and “The Captain” both of which meet that unique gift of yours, detail. What a gift you give us!

  • Kathy Barnhart

    Hi Charlotte,
    For some reason your blog goes into my spam, so I am just now looking through you best shots from 2020. What a glorious collection. You have such a gift for Yosemite Valley…I am drawn to all of them made in the Valley, especially those with water and rock. I love the Vernal Falls image, and would never guess that’s where it was because there was so little water in it. This year may be the same, sadly. I enjoy the photo I bought from you, Rm 504, every day. Again, water and rock! We are all itching to get to the mountains! Best to you and Gary…hope you are getting your vaccines soon or have already done so. Kathy

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