Photography, Yearbooks

2021 — A Year of Photography

It’s time again for my annual review of photographs, a year-end tradition now in its tenth year. This scrutiny is an important exercise for any artist — to reflect, examine, and refine one’s vision. Looking back helps us look forward. So, which unique quality stands out in my 2021 portfolio?

First of all, I will just come out and say it — twenty twenty-one was a really tough year. Gary and I said our final farewells to five people who were very important to us, including his dear father, whom we lost right before Christmas. I have often talked about how our emotions are echoed in the creative work that we produce. So, when reviewing the photographs I created this year, I notice an underlying seriousness. I had turned inward, and my photographs were moody, reflecting my feelings about life, death, love, family, friendship, and loss.

I also noticed a huge uptick of the number of wildlife photos in this year’s collection. I’ve always been interested in wildlife, and especially birds. But, this portfolio is bursting with animal photographs, thanks to a new camera and lens with exceptionally good autofocus, plus a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. During that trip, we saw countless animals, including elk, bison, antelope, and grizzlies (from a very long distance). But, I was determined to see a wolf and a moose. I saw both, and pretty close up, too.

Adventures in our Arctic Fox truck camper

We had other adventures in our camper too. We traveled three days last Spring to visit a dying friend in Southern Arizona. We took a trip along the Northern California coast to camp with my old college friend, and we camped on our property in Wawona, where we are planning to build a small cabin. We spent a week at an Oregon mountain resort with my brothers and sisters, where we finally memorialized our sister, Nancy, whom we lost to cancer just before the Covid-19 pandemic.  And, we camped at Lake Tahoe with Gary’s family (well, we camped, they stayed in houses). Photography took a back seat on these trips. The focus was on spending time with loved ones. Still, I always had my camera with me, ready for a photographic opportunity.

Each of my photographs has a bit of a story that goes along with it, which I’ve written in the captions. Many of these photographs have not been published previously.

So, in no particular order, here is a taste of 2021 through my lens. Click on the image to enlarge. And, let me know which images resonate most with you.

“Wild Born” — Yellowstone National Park. I had never seen a wild wolf, and on this trip to Yellowstone, I hoped to see one. This handsome lone wolf was scavenging a piece of road kill in the early, predawn hour when we came upon him (or her) in our truck. I was in the passenger seat, and just happened to have my camera with my long lens in my lap. It was pitch-black. I pushed up the ISO to 5000, aperture at ƒ/5, 1/80 sec. shutter speed. I asked Gary to roll down his window and pull the truck to the right. I leaned over him, pointing the camera through his window as a car approached from behind, lighting up the scene with its headlights. Click. A lucky shot. For my photography friends interested in my gear, you can see the complete list here. 
“King of the Mountain” — Yellowstone National Park. We learned from another park visitor that a moose with her calf had been spotted at Trout Lake. It was late in the day, but we figured there was still time to drive to the trailhead and hike the short distance up to the lake. The trail forks once you reach the lake and you have a choice. You can either go clockwise or counter-clockwise around the lake. Gary and I got there first, with our friends, Michael Frye and his wife, Claudia Welsh, trailing behind us. Gary and I  decided to go right. Michael and Claudia approached the lake a few minutes later and decided to go left. When we each reached opposite sides of the lake, Michael shouted “MOOOOOSE!!!!” I remarked to Gary that we had chosen poorly and that Michael was rewarded with getting the moose shot. But looking across the lake, I couldn’t spot a moose. “WHERE?” I shouted. “RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!” I turned around and saw this big fella standing just up the hill from where I stood on the trail. He was so close I practically needed a wide angle lens.
“Pronghorn Antelope Mother” — Yellowstone National Park. Pronghorn Antelope mothers usually give birth to one or two babies, and rarely triplets. This is more likely a nursery group. Pronghorns nurse their young until they are 4-5 months old. These youngsters look to be about the upper end of that age. Fun fact: the pronghorn is the second fastest land mammal in the world, after the cheetah. They can run at speeds of about 60 miles per hour.
“The Crossing” — Yellowstone National Park. These Bison mothers lead their calves across the Firehole River in early September. Bison calves are born in the Spring, so these calves are probably about four or five months old. Within minutes of being born, calves are standing on their own. They can keep up with the herd 2 to 3 hours after birth and they are well protected by their mothers and other members of the herd.
“The Miracle of Life” — Yosemite National Park. I had set out to photograph blooming Dogwoods in Yosemite Valley where they grow along the Merced River. But, instead, the juxtaposition between the sun-kissed tree and the snag captivated me. The waterfall in the background becomes a tertiary element — less important than the relationship between the living and the dead.
‘Breaking Through” — Yosemite National Park. The first strong storm system of the season moved through the Sierra and Yosemite National Park in mid-October. It had been a long, dry Summer and the falls in the Valley were mostly dry. The Merced River was as low as I had ever seen it, so we were all excited to finally get some significant rain. We decided to ride out the storm in our camper in the Upper Pines Campground. After a few days of intense rain — 12 inches in 24 hours — the storm cleared and Bridalveil Fall peeked through, revealing robust flow.
“Three Graces” — The Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park suffered mightily last January when a Mono Wind Event toppled 15 giants and countless other large trees. We hiked up to the grove this Fall for the first time since the destruction occurred. It was pretty shocking and distressing to see. But the large, named trees were living and still beautiful. For my photography friends, I shot this handheld with my Canon R5 and my walk-around lens, a Canon RF 24-240mm. What was amazing is that I pushed the ISO up to 2000 so I could expose at ƒ16 with 1/160 shutter speed. (Generally, shutter speed should be about twice the focal length if handheld, so at 80mm, a shutter speed of 1/160th would help to ensure a sharp image.) Anyway, what surprised me about this camera is that I was able to get a perfectly sharp image with virtually no visible grain, even at ISO 2000. The image stabilization in this camera is really impressive. No tripod. No heavy, bulky camera bag. It was very liberating.
“The Rain Returns” — Yosemite National Park. After a long, dry Summer, it was a delight to see water flowing in Yosemite Falls again.
“Ancient Ones” — Redwoods National Park. Redwoods grow in only few places in the world. They are some of the oldest living beings on our planet. We are blessed in California to have several groves that thrive along the coastal region of the state, where they can benefit from regular fog rolling in from the Pacific ocean.
“Steamy Landscape” — Yellowstone National Park. The very ground around the Lower Geysers area seems to exhale steamy breath in the early morning light.
“Dance” — Sacramento Delta. Sandhill Cranes dance to establish social relationships, announce territorial claims, cement decades-long pair bonding, and hasten the education of the young. In any case, they seem to be having fun, and I love to watch them.
“Moving On” — San Jaoquin Valley. The Sandhill Cranes’ beauty is only matched by the sound of their calls.
“The Peanut Gallery” — California’s Central Valley is part of the Pacific Flyway, a major wintering site for many species of migrating waterfowl. These birds are American White Pelicans. They look like a bunch of old men debating some important subject.
“Ross’s Geese Landing” — I love to watch them take off in a single rush with a cacophony that fills the air. But, watching them land is beautiful too, as they seem to float in the air, landing gently back to Earth.
“Northern Harrier in Fog” — San Jaoquin Valley, CA. The Northern Harrier hunts on long wings held in a shallow V in its low flight during which the bird closely hugs the contours of the land below it. Northern Harriers hunt primarily small mammals, as do most harriers. I photographed this one as it left its perch to sweep low on the landscape.
“Rock Garden” — Eastern Sierra, CA. Aspen thrive in harsh conditions. Rocky soil. Freezing winters. Even fire can’t kill an Aspen grove. They simply wait underground as the fire wipes out the competing trees, then sprout up again from their surviving roots.
“Night and Day Collide” — Eastern Sierra, CA. It was pre-dawn. Slight color was starting to show in some high clouds over Silver Lake, while a few stars still twinkled.
“Sunrise at Thumb Geyser” — Yellowstone National Park contains more than 10,000 thermal features, each with its own unique characteristics. I love the turquoise blue of this thermal pool at Thumb Geyser Basin.
“Wolf Pack” — The Wapiti Lake Wolf Pack makes its way across a meadow near Firehole Spring in Yellowstone National Park. There was a carcass at the far end of the meadow that they had been feeding on the last few days, and word had gotten out among the wolf watchers. As the wolves approached the carcass, the lead wolf got wind of the people near the carcass. One single bark, and the entire pack turned around and left without feeding. This is a compilation of two photographs stitched together.
“Human Nature Five” — I found an opportunity to add another image to my “Human Nature” series. Visitors lined up along the boardwalk at the Grand Prismatic Spring. At times, they disappeared in the mist, only to reappear moments later, revealing a selfie-making man. Click here to see the entire Human-Nature series. 
“Thermal Art” — Yellowstone National Park. Pastel hues and lines cover a vast area around a thermal feature. My camera records the great work of art that nature created.
“Artist’s Palette” — Yellowstone National Park. If I were a painter, these are the colors I would use — nature’s colors.
“Bird’s Wing” — Having spent the day photographing migrating birds, the sunset that evening over the wetlands seemed apropos — clouds that arranged themselves to resemble a bird’s wing.
“January’s Trees” — Yosemite National Park. Even in January, some color clings the Black Oaks in the Valley.
“Rocks” — Yosemite National Park. Gary and I watched the almost-full moon rise over my favorite place in the world before heading back to Wawona for the night. There was a nearly full lunar eclipse that night, but I didn’t photograph it because the moon was high overhead during the height of the eclipse. But I did wake up early to watch it in the early hours of the morning.
“Grow” — Yosemite National Park. Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park. I found this little pine growing impossibly in solid granite. Tioga Pass is closed for the season. I made this photograph on the last day it was open in 2021.
“Lake Tahoe Blues” — The breathtaking crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe is what makes this high Sierra lake famous.
“Yosemite Falls and Ponderosa Pines” — Yosemite National Park. I was preparing a lecture on composition, so I went out specifically to find examples of “framing.”
“Bison Crossing at Sunset” — Yellowstone National Park. I’m always amazed at how the calves manage to follow their mothers into the freezing cold river.
“Pacific Flyway” — San Joaquin Valley, Northern California. Migrating birds spend winter in our broad valleys and delta until the days grow longer, and then they turn North again to fly to their breeding grounds.
“Red Winged Blackbird” — Central Valley, CA. The most common and widely distributed blackbird North America, the male Red-winged Blackbird has glossy red epaulets that he displays aggressively, defending his territory.
“Beacon” — Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, Idaho.
“Early Morning Frost” — Foggy mornings in the September are pretty common in the Geysers area of Yellowstone National Park. The mist hung in the air all morning, allowing us to work this scene pretty thoroughly.
“Trumpeter Swan” — This lone swan could be seen daily swimming in the Firehole River. The river provides food but also safety from predators. It would only exit the river to walk around rapids, which were difficult for the huge bird to navigate.
“Mesa Falls and Tree Shadows” — I went to this location to photograph rainbows, and saw this instead — tree shadows circling the waterfall like an audience in bleachers.
“Sunrise Among the Geysers” — Yellowstone National Park. Backlit steam and warm reflections in the water plus a bonus “S” curve.
“Sawmill Geyser” — This little geyser erupts for long periods of time, allowing the photographer to patiently wait until the sun peaks through the clouds at just the right moment.
“Thermal Reflections” — There was no escape from the smoky skies in September, even as far North as Yellowstone. Although most of our days were clear, this particular morning was not, yet it provided for some interesting perspectives in this thermal feature.

 

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. 

37 Comments

  • Randy Pollard

    What a great year it’s been, we were in Yellowstone back in September and I love the place. Being from Michigan I can’t come back everyday to these places but you can with your amazing images, your work is beautiful!

    • charlottegibb

      Thank you, Randy. I plan to go back to Yellowstone again in 2022. It would take me a lifetime to feel like I’ve expressed photographically the essence of that place. It never fails to enchant me.

    • charlottegibb

      Silver Lake is a real gem. We only got to spend one night there before having to make a dash over the pass before it closed for the season. I really want to go back and spend some significant time there.

  • Lancej

    Beautiful images and such an incredible range of them. I absolutely loved the b&w “Rocks” with the moon over Yosemite rocks.
    Much success in your 2022 adventures

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks so much. Yes, I like that one too. I almost didn’t take that picture, thinking it might be cliche. But, in the end I just couldn’t resist. It was so beautiful.

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks, Phil. At the time, it didn’t seem like I had a very productive year. I shot only about half the number of frames as a normal year for me. But in the end, I was please with this crop of images. Quality over quantity, I guess.

  • Bruce Heinemann

    Hi Charlotte: Thanks for sharing all of these wonderful new images! So very sorry for all of your losses. Their memories will be a blessing, indeed.

  • Sue Perse

    I don’t know where to start to choose my favorites that moved me. There were so many as always! Thanks again for the golden spiral! It was a good challenge, one that we hadn’t for before.

    Sue Perse

    • charlottegibb

      Ah, the Golden Sprial! Such a wonderful compostional tool. I’m glad to hear you saw the magic in it. My photograph “Pronghorn Antelope Mother” makes use of the Golden Spiral. Do you see it?

  • Michelle Foster

    Beautiful and moving as always, Charlotte! I could spend hours perusing your images…
    I hope there is less loss and more happiness for you all in 2022.

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks, Joanne. I’m glad you like “Grow.” I spent quite a lot of time sorting out that composition. Gary waited very patiently while I worked on it in the cold, cold Autumn morning.

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks, Melissa. The Redwood forests here in California are one of my favorite locations. It feels like you’re in an enchanted place before humans walked the Earth.

  • Lisa

    Hello Charlotte,

    When I saw your photograph “The Miracle of Life,” I felt my own grief well up inside of me. This photograph immediately and beautifully evokes loss and sadness.

    Your photograph “Beacon” also resonates with me, and feels like a deep meditation on grief.

    I lost my beloved friend and photography mentor a few weeks ago. If I could have shown him these two photographs, I know that he would have understood their meaning at a deep level, and would have appreciated the artistry and emotional depth you brought to these beautiful pieces.

    I offer you sincere compassion for the losses you have suffered this year. Please know that I am grateful to you for creating artwork that gives voice to the grief of others, like myself.

    • charlottegibb

      Thank you, Lisa, for your very kind and thoughtful comment. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor. I’m glad two of my pieces resonnated with you as you move through your own grief. It’s been a painful year, for sure, but I’m grateful for having a place to express myself and process my feelings of loss. Here’s to a happier 2022!

  • Richard Dworak

    A Good New Year to you and yours,

    Concerning your 2021 photos shown in this message – on the downside, it is difficult to do animals that don’t look like “more animal photos” and what takes yours out of that category is the one of the two Sandhills . .. . another one that I think is great, although it is part of a larger group are the two buffalomoms and their two offspring in the river framed by ghe haze.

    That takes me to about six that have a significant amony of “haze” – I am not sat5isfi3d by that word, but it comes close. Two that arw outside the “haze” group inc;ude your photo used in discussing shutter speeds – the waves.. In your 2021 group, not hazy but with the feeling I get with the “hazies” is three falls, especially catchingmeare the captured “mid flight” sprays.

    Besides the buffalos crossing with their young ‘uns, the trees with the haze, the sunshine diagonally into thr trees, the cloudy El Capitan and the one at Yellowstone.

    Thank you for ahariing these wonderful photos.

    Dick

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks for your comments, Dick. Atmostphere is very important to my photographs, and I get very excited when there’s a bit of fog or mist in the air adding to the dreamy feeling of the place.

  • Martin Cutrone

    I thought for sure that “breaking Through” or “Rocks” would be my favorite, but “Wild Born” surprised me with its’ beautiful capture of wild nature won me over! I love your images of Yosemite, both grand and intimate. Thank you for creating this body of work we can all enjoy.

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks, Martin. I am very proud of my image, “Wild Born.” Not only was it my very first encounter with a wild wolf, but I got a luck shot too. I learned afterwards about a law that was passed in Montana recently that opens up a lot of hunting restrictions of wolves outside the park. Michael Frye wrote about it in his blog, if you’re interested. https://www.michaelfrye.com/2021/10/24/wolf-memories/ Anyway, now when I look at “Wild Born,” I see a wildness in the animal, but also a vulnerability.

  • Sarah Marino

    Hi Charlotte – First, I wish you and Gary a Happy New Year, with the hope that 2022 includes a lot less grief than you have experienced in recent years. Second, this is such a beautiful collection of photos. It is fun to see you working with animals and birds–and doing so quite successfully. I also enjoyed the landscapes with your signature soft colors and beautiful treatment of the light.

    • charlottegibb

      Happy New Year, Sarah! Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I’m enjoying working with wildlife and birds — quite different than working with the landscape which doesn’t move quite as fast! Pretty soon you’ll see me with one of those enormous lenses hunkered down in the grass somewhere stalking some poor creature. Seriously, photographing wildlife gave me a new challenge, which I think I needed last year. I will likely keep up with it, but not abandon landscape, which is my true love.

  • Sally Arata

    First I hope this new year will be more filled with joy for you & Gary.
    Thanks for thes wonderful images and all your work, that I was first exposed to Yosemite.
    Your photographs are truly inspiring. If I get to the point of changing my Canon equipment, I’ll give you a call. It sounds like your new camera is very satisfying.
    All my best. Sally Arata

  • Andrea

    Pretty darn late commenting on this, but “Human Nature Five” really resonated with me. I find that shocking, since a photo of crowds at Yellowstone usually make me think of potential Darwin award winners (the things I’ve seen people do there…) but that photo is amazing. The way the mist parted to highlight that man is incredible and I can feel his joy.
    I hope you have a much a happier 2022 and are able to travel to some amazing places. If you return to Yellowstone this year, make sure you spend some time in Grand Teton. I find the scenery there absolutely breathtaking and the wildlife watching can be just as good as in Yellowstone, although you are not as likely to see wolves there. I can’t believe you saw wolves that close in Yellowstone; so lucky. No matter how much joy I get from seeing an amazing landscape nothing can match the excitement of seeing wildlife!

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks for your comment — it’s never too late! I’m very glad to know that “Human Nature Five” resonated with you. If you are interested in seeing the whole series in that project, here’s the link to the collection. https://www.charlottegibb.com/human-nature. I’ve since added a sixth image to the series, taken at Death Valley last month.

      I’d love to get back to Yellowstone and the Teton, in particular. I enjoy doing wildlife photography. As you say, landscapes are nice, but there’s nothing as thrilling as coming face-to-face with the creatures of the forest.