2019 in Review

As I look back on 2019, it seems that I traveled outside New England more than usual this year (noted by my immediate family). The year started with a photography trip to the Algarve region of Portugal in January, followed closely by my 5th visit to the Lofoten Islands of Norway in February. Then in April, I joined Tom Mackie and friends in exploring the Eastern Sierras of California. In August, I went on a little camping adventure with Action Photo Tours in the Arizona and Utah deserts, and then traveled to England in late October to photograph in the Lake District region, followed by a trip up to the Scottish Highlands in early November.

In keeping with the tradition of choosing twenty photos for the year, here are my very subjective selections. I’ve included a behind-the-scenes narrative with each photo for those interested in the details.

Wishing you a peaceful and pleasant Holiday Season!

SANDSTONE ARCH, ALGARVE, PORTUGAL. The Algarve region is known for its sandy beaches and red sandstone formations that include arches, sea stacks, and caves. This beach was only a short hike from our hotel, so I came here several times. But the only access to the beach is through a narrow cavern that fills up with rushing water at high tide, so it can only be reached at low tide. I took this photo at sunrise from inside one of the steeple-shaped grottos, looking out toward a large sandstone arch. Since my tripod was mere inches from the right wall, I took a series of photos focused at different intervals (a focus stack) to ensure front-to-back sharpness and then blended the frames in post-processing to yield a balanced exposure. I was honored to have this photo selected as the “Galleria” feature in the May issue of Landscape Photography Magazine.

BEACH SHACK, LOFOTEN ISLANDS, NORWAY. I love northern Norway in winter. This was my 5th time to the Lofoten Islands in as many years. The little fishing villages, turquoise waters of the Norwegian Sea, fjords and the snow-capped mountains all contribute toward making these islands strikingly photogenic. I’ve photographed this little beach shack several times, but this is my favorite image of the place so far. The red shack, turquoise fjord waters, snow-capped mountains, and bluish sky all serve to capture the distinct mood of this Arctic archipelago. I took a 30-second exposure to smooth out the water, which also had the effect of softening the moving clouds. By the way, we were once told by the owner of the shack that the small knoll on the right side is a Viking burial mound that has been dug by archeologists from Oslo

AURORA SWIRLS, LOFOTEN ISLANDS, NORWAY. On clear evenings in autumn and winter, the Northern Lights make frequent appearances in the night sky here. We had been out photographing the aurora borealis on a beach for much of the evening, when we saw this vibrant display of light on the drive back to our cottage. The vivid green plumes swayed and shifted above pointy Olstinden Mountain, while casting a green hue upon the surface of the fjord. And, it was a full-moon night, which served to light the foreground and mountain effortlessly. The display only lasted about ten minutes, but the memorable experience was enduring.

WINTER SUNSET, SCHOODIC PENINSULA, MAINE. In early March, I spent a few days on Schoodic Peninsula — the only part of Acadia National Park located on the mainland. It’s more secluded than Mount Desert Island, with less commercial development. It was a very cold and windy evening when I arrived here mere hours after the end of a storm that had just dropped six inches of fresh snow on the landscape. After studying the weather forecast, I decided to photograph sunset from Raven’s Nest, a scenic point that faces west over Frenchman Bay toward Bar Harbor. The clouds were rapidly moving toward the camera, so I took a 2-minute exposure to accentuate their motion as the setting sun painted the sky in pleasant hues of orange and magenta. It was so windy while taking this long exposure that I had to shield my camera from the wind using my body to avoid camera shake. But it was all worth it. Cadillac Mountain is visible across the bay above Bar Harbor.

SPRING BLOOM, ANTELOPE VALLEY, CALIFORNIA. You may have heard that 2019 was a banner year for desert wildflowers (“superbloom”). We spent some time photographing around Antelope Valley in early April, and it was truly insane. Sprawling carpets of orange California poppies covered entire fields and hillsides, intermixed with other wildflowers such as California goldfields (the little yellow flowers in the foreground). This was my first time photographing California wildflowers and one that I will not soon forget.

MAN ON DUNE, DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA. Death Valley is a desert valley located in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert. It’s one of the hottest places in the world, competing with the deserts of the Middle East. We were here for only a few days in April, giving us just enough time to take in a sunset and sunrise. Tom Mackie and I hiked out quite a long distance at dawn to find a pristine dune without humans and footprints. We positioned our tripods to include the sweeping curve in the dune, as it seemed to reach out toward the rising sun. Because it can be difficult to get a sense of scale in a grand place like this, I agreed to go stand on the tip of the dune while Tom fired off the shutters on both our ready cameras at sunrise.

NIGHT TRACKS, CRAWFORD NOTCH, NEW HAMPSHIRE. I took this photo at Crawford Notch, in the heart of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was around 3am in May, as the Milky Way passed directly over the opening in the railroad tracks. Standing here alone, my brain remained on high alert for wild animal sounds. These days, the tracks only service the tourist trains of the Conway Scenic Railroad. I took a series of short exposures (10 seconds each) to capture the night sky, and a single long exposure (10 minutes) to bring out the dark foreground. The yellow light at the end of the tracks is from one of the New Hampshire towns.

MOSSY GROVE, CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS. The boardwalk at Atlantic White Cedar Swamp meanders through an isolated remnant of ecosystem created during the last ice age, and now only found in mid-Canada or farther north. This is not something you expect to find in a region known for its white sandy beaches. Since this is a swamp, there are plenty of bugs in these parts, and my visit in early June was no exception. Both tics and mosquitos are in abundance here, so there was a serious amount of swatting going here while taking this photo. I lowered my tripod a foot above the boardwalk to emphasize its texture and include the shapely ferns.

CLEARING STORM, CABOT, VERMONT. The A.M. Foster Bridge is an exact reproduction of the original Martin Bridge that sits over the Winooski River in Marshfield. This one sits in a private field overlooking the Green Mountains of Vermont. On this occasion, the weather forecast suggested that colorful skies were likely at sunset, so I returned to one of my favorite west-facing covered bridges with high hopes. But after setting up my camera for the shot, heavy clouds, strong wind, and hard rain moved in, forcing me to race back to my car for shelter. Then, as the storm began to clear, the setting sun lit the sky in the palette of dramatic colors that you see here. I rushed back down to the covered bridge for this photo just before the colors faded.

STARS AND ROSES, BRISTOL, MAINE. Pemaquid Point Light is located at the tip of Pemaquid Neck. It’s one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine. This photo was a bit of a technical project because it could only be achieved by taking a series of photos at slightly different times. The whole process took about five hours, which means that my tripod and camera stayed on the same spot for the duration. Since my tripod was positioned mere inches from the nearest beach rose, I first took a focus stack (a series of photos using different focal points) of the rose patch at dusk. Then, I took a photo of the lighthouse structures before it got too dark to avoid burning out the bright tower. And lastly, I took a star stack (a sequence of short exposures for the stars) when the Milky Way was in the desired position. The various frames were then blended in post-processing.

CRIMSON SKIES, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND. Providence is the capital city of Rhode Island, and home to Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. I came here on a promising July evening to photograph downtown at sunset from the Providence River. I placed my tripod low above the calm river to maximize reflections and then waited for the light. As the sun went down, nothing much happened. But after sunset, the clouds gradually lit up in crimson hues. I included the shoreline on the right with its greenery and light post as a means of guiding the eye toward downtown Providence and the colorful sky beyond.

STARRY ALCOVE, GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALATE, UTAH. This remote desert alcove is located inside Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. Reaching this place involved a long drive over rough terrain and a tiring 30-minute hike up a sandy dune. I came to Arizona and Utah in August to photograph the desert during monsoon season but we ended up getting clear skies much of the time, so we reverted to night photography. The person on the dune is David Swindler, the award-winning landscape and wildlife photographer who was our leader. David is also an expert night photographer, lighting the inside of the alcove using small LED light panels to bring out the red sandstone. These noise-free desert skies were among the most star-studded I’ve ever photographed.

DESERT CROWN, WHITE POCKET, ARIZONA. White Pocket is a remote region of the Arizona desert featuring domes and ridges with contrasting colors and shapes. A “pocket” is defined as a small area of land different from its surroundings. White Pocket includes white, grey, and red rocks often interwoven in swirling layers and lines. We spent one hot August night camping in this remote desert area to photograph sunset, the night sky, and sunrise the next morning. I took this photo of striated and twisted rock formations at sunset.

CRACK OF DAWN, CAPE ELIZABETH, MAINE. Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine. There’s a good reason why this historic structure remains an icon: it ranks among the most beautiful and photogenic lighthouses in the country. I took this photo at dawn in September while co-leading a Maine photography workshop along with Ben Williamson. It was the very first morning of our workshop, and Mother Nature treated our participants with some of the best sky color I had seen in a long time.

TANGERINE SUNRISE, CAMDEN, MAINE. Camden is known as the “Jewel of the Maine Coast”, featuring a quaint town by the sea that includes a picturesque harbor at the foot of Camden Hills on Penobscot Bay. I took this photo just before sunrise in September, on a calm and colorful morn with tangerine skies.

AUTUMN SUNSET, GROTON STATE FOREST, VERMONT. A short hike up Owl’s Mountain yields a spectacular view, especially in autumn when the foliage colors are at peak. I took this photo at sunset in early October, using colorful trees to frame the scene. Earlier in the day, we asked the park ranger to keep the gate open until after sunset. Kettle Pond sits below the mountain, catching a vibrant reflection of the colorful sky above.

BOATS FOR RENT, KESWICK, ENGLAND. In late October, I joined friends in northwest England to photograph the Lake District, known for its beautiful lakes and hills. Derwent Water is one of the principal bodies of water in the region. It lies immediately south of the town of Keswick, surrounded by impressive hills (known locally as “fells”). I took this photo at the lakeside marina in the town of Keswick as sunset approached. Our main challenge here was an overabundance of geese that roamed the beach and water, constantly getting into our shots

CREEK IN WOODLAND, ABERFELDY, SCOTLAND. After photographing the Lake District, we traveled up to the Scottish Highlands. The Birks (from the Scots for birch trees) of Aberfeldy is a 2-mile hike through mature woodland, waterfalls, and cascades. The beautiful River Moness seen here is overhung with colorful trees that include birch, oak, ash, and elm trees. We climbed over a wooden farmer’s fence to reach this side of the river for a better angle of the cascade, fall foliage, and little bridge. Shortly after taking this photo, I slipped on a rock and unfortunately knocked my tripod with mounted camera and lens into the river. I was able to retrieve them but they were damaged beyond use for the remainder of the Scotland trip (I did have a backup camera).

COUPALL FALLS, GLENCOE, SCOTLAND. Glencoe is a village in steep-sided Glencoe Valley, in the Scottish Highlands. The area is known for its waterfalls and trails that reach mountain peaks. Coupall Falls is the most famous and heavily-photographed waterfall in Rannoch Moor (an expanse of boggy moorland). It sits on the River Coupall, with iconic Buachaille Etive Mor Mountain in the background. This waterfall is so heavily visited that the path and riverbank have been turned into thick, wet, and slippery mud. I found out the hard way, slipping on a decline and falling flat on my back in the mud while desperately holding on to my tripod with mounted backup camera and lens. Neither person nor gear were damaged in this compromising incident.

BIG MOON OVER NUBBLE, CAPE NEDDICK, MAINE. In December, I joined a group of photographers on Long Beach in York to capture moonrise over Nubble Light. This seems to be a tradition for many New England photographers, although it was my first time photographing the lighthouse (also known as Cape Neddick Light) from this beach. Since the moon only rose at the end of civil twilight, it was already quite dark when I took the photo, making for a challenging exposure — not to mention the clouds that partly obscured the moon. The moon appears larger than life only because I took it with a 420mm lens from two miles away. The long lens exaggerates the size of the moon, a very popular style among moon photographers.

27 thoughts on “2019 in Review”

  1. Absolument magnifique! Quel beau cadeau de Noël! Tu es vraiment très doué et très généreux de nous partager ce grand talent! Joyeux Noël à toi et à toute ta famille! Bonne année remplie d’heureuses surprises et de bonne santé et bonheur!

  2. Thanks for giving me a chance to see such beautiful places at the perfect moment! Looking forward to your adventures in 2020. God bless you and your family.

    1. Thank you, Lynda. In fact, I thought of you when I drove through St. George on my way from LV airport and back. Lucky you!

  3. So glad to have had a chance to spend some time with you in New England, that Owls Head sunset will last in my memories for many years to come… Especially the run up the trail to get in place just in a nick-of-time after a great meal with great folks..

    This collection is superb and inspiring Michael, thanks for sharing.. Best wished for a wonderful 2020!

  4. First, let me congratulate you on an outstanding body of work. 2019 was definitely a bountiful year for you. Thanks for the inspiration. Secondly, your physical misadventures were shared by this aging photographer. I was in Glacier NP this summer with Jim and Susie Kay. Trying to straddle a small stream for a shot, I slipped into the water and had to grab for dear life to keep from being swept downstream and over a waterfall and down into the rocks below. Not an easy feat while holding your camera out of the water with one hand. Fortunately, Jim and some other hikers were able to rescue me from serious harm. My embarassment was far outweighed by my relief at avoiding serious injury. My camera gear was spared, but the iPhone in my pocket was ruined. Small price to pay for poor judgement. Keep shooting and posting . You are turning out marvelous work.

    1. Wow, Mark. I’m glad you’re OK after that close call. The consequences of your misadventure would have been a lot more serious than mine. And thanks for the kind remarks. Best of luck.

  5. Always a treat to see and read your year end review. Thanks for your work throughout the year capturing these images and inspiring landscape photographers everywhere.

    1. Thank you, David. As a recognized Boston area photographer, you’re doing pretty darn well yourself. Wishing you a great year of photography.

  6. Such beautiful images from around the world, the U.S., and—of course—right here in New England! Thanks for sharing such inspirational work!

  7. Tu as raison, ces photos sont splendides. Chaque photo est une merveille. Merci de nous partager par ton talent en photographie les merveilles de la nature.

  8. Michael, as always, your creations are inspiring. And thank you for all the detail you give along with your photos. I learn a lot from reading your descriptions.

    As a much older photographer, I have a different perspective than you. While photography is an incredibly creative and satisfying endeavor, don’t sacrifice time with your family. That is time you can never get back. There will always be one more shot to take, one more location to visit.

    Happy holidays to you and your family.

  9. You’re images are always superb, and your Year In Review is always a visual treat that serves as a benchmark for us digital wannabes. I hope 2020 is another banner year in the pursuit of your craft.

  10. A stunning selection of images for the year, such a pleasure to view! The milky way over the tracks is exceptional, and I really love the triangular mountain background for the Coupall Falls. Congrats and all the best to you in 2020!

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