Mahalo for sticking with me as I countdown my favorite 19 images from 2019. This year on Kauai I spent a lot of time in the water, photographing empty waves and surfers with my new SPL Waterhousing. Off island I made two trips to California, visiting first, the Sonoma Coast and Point Reyes National Seashore; and then Yosemite National Park and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest later in the year. My now annual trip to Alaska took me to Katmai National Park for the second year in a row and to Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward for the first time. The top 6 will have a few from the water and a few from these trips, for sure.
#6. There's So Much to Like, Kealia Beach, Kauai. February 21, 2019
Canon 1DX II, Canon 300mm @ f/2.8, 1/3200 sec. ISO 250
On a good day Kealia can be one of the most beautiful places on the island. So what makes a good day here? Well, for surf, you want no trades or slightly variable winds. Unless there are very heavy clouds you'll almost always get the waves back lit, causing the water to shine like an emerald or a delicious granny smith. There's so much to like about nature. The way it can inspire us or calm us. Heal us or even provide us a place to play.
#5. Carving Glass, Poipu, Kauai, May 27, 2019
Canon 1DX II, Canon 70-200mm @ 200, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 200. SPL Waterhousing
This photo of surfer Keakaikauai is so special to me. First, this was an epic day in the water. Probably my first real good day of photographing surfers. The conditions were excellent. The surfers incredibly talented, extremely generous, and patient with my presence. The lineup wasn't too crowded and everyone was sharing waves. Bethany Hamilton was even in the water just rippin'! Yes, it was an awesome day, but I did have to suffer for this photo. You see there was a negative low tide on this day. And to get to the surf break I have to swim about 200 yards or so. Even on a medium to high tide there are a few shallow areas and a notorious "rock pile" that you navigate your way around, but on this day I had to literally walk over the rock pile as there were just a few inches of water between my belly and the reef. So walk I did. With fins. Not easy. I stumbled and stumbled and stumbled again. I fell on vanna (sea urchin), and the thing just stuck into my right butt cheek. I was pulling out needles and scratching the venom all session long. The wound took about two full weeks to heal, but I got this shot and enjoyed a wonderful day in the ocean with my camera and lens. Something that, before this year, was just not possible.
#4. Dawn Dance, Katmai National Park, Alaska. July 6, 2019
Canon 1DX II, Canon 300mm, f/2.8, 1/640 sec, ISO 2000
#3. Young Wolf, Katmai National Park, Alaska. July 6, 2019
Canon 1DX II, Canon 300mm, 1.4 EXT III, f/4, 1/1000 sec, ISO 2000
Numbers Four (Dawn Dance) and Three (Young Wolf) were taken on the same day. Same morning. Thirty-Two minutes apart. 5:22 AM (bear) and 5:54 AM (wolf). What a morning of photography!!! I chose to get up early to look for the wolf, which I saw a few days earlier (before I went backpacking into the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and from where I had just returned). Instead of taking the trail directly to Brooks River I decided to walk the beach and see if any bears were visible. And sure enough, there was one. The soft light of dawn reflected off of Naknek Lake, filling the lens with pinks and blues. I love the graceful step in the soft dawn light of this giant brown bear. Blessed with this sighting, I then went on to the river-viewing area and where I sat up my gear and waited, hoping for another wolf sighting. After a few minutes, the young wolf came out, cautiously steping through the shallow waters of the Brooks River. The wolf walked from one area of tall grass to another until it swam to this little island. The gaze of the wolf was arresting. Eyes alight with life-- hunger and curiosity. I love this photo. The texture of the grass, the drops of dew ,and those young wolf eyes. These photos are why I dream of Katmai all year long.
#2. Flexibility in Body and Mind, Poipu, Kauai, September 27, 2019
Canon 1DX II, Canon 70-200mm @ 110, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 250. SPL Waterhousing
When I evaluate a wildlife photograph it's all about the eyes. That look of expression, wisdom, emotion, concentration, playfulness, intensity, life. I believe all of these qualities are seen in the eyes. If it's there you know it. And if it's there it's, then it's usually a great photograph. That's why I like this photo of local Kauai surfer Kyle Ramey so much. Yes, the wave is nice. The action is there. The splash of water, too, gives it a sense of realness and intimacy. But what makes me really feel the photograph is the look in Kyle's eyes, and the emotion and energy that those eyes share. Kyle is so focused on the experience of riding this wave that nothing else in the world (at this moment) matters. He is totally in a state of FLOW, and I am so stoked to have been able to photograph this moment of skillful/playful zen. One with the water. One with the wave. One with mother mother ocean. Yes, as my favorites move along so too my prose takes on a purple pace. Mahalo Kyle for gracing my camera with this fantastic moment. Aloha!
#1. Transformation, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska. July 15, 2019
Canon 1DX II, Canon 70-200mm @ 75mm, f/7.1, 1/320 sec, ISO 200
When the rain stopped, the lagoon glassed out and perfectly reflected the glacial ice that had calved off of Bear Glacier some 4 miles away. The icebergs cracked and popped as I glided by in the kayak. It was as if the ice was alive. Other sounds that I heard were the distant waves, the birds, my paddle, and the thunder of these icebergs, breaking. That was a scary sound. Thunder through the silence. A portent of the dangers to come.
The solitude was profound. I had a lot of time to think about what we are doing to the earth. I could see the effects of climate change right in front of my eyes. Often what I photographed in the morning was either gone or completely transformed by the afternoon. And after a week of near 90 degree weather and smoke filling the Alaskan skies, climate change became very real to me. It was an incredible experience, and it impressed upon me the need to fight global warming. To physically feel the difference of being near to a glacier and it's cooling qualities was startling. The water that poured off my paddle froze my hands. The temperature difference on the lagoon and at camp was striking. The experience added a physical understanding to the intellectual. The need to lower the earth's temperature-- to combat climate change-- became mind-blowingly obvious.
2.7 degrees Fahrenheit is the current goal. To lower the temperature of the earth 2.7 degrees. If we consider the earth to be a living organism then just think how much a difference of 2.7 degrees would make. Think of us. As humans, when we have a high temperature, lowering it 2.7 degrees can mean the difference between severe illness and recovery. So, too, for the earth. Let us work to lower the temperature 2.7 degrees. Glacial melt will slow and future generations will have an opportunity to live on a healthy planet full of nourishment and beauty.
I look forward to sharing my photography with you in 2020. I'll have more images from Kauai, and a few from abroad as photography trips to Bolivia, Peru, Scotland, and Ireland are on the books. So stay tuned....
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and mahalo for taking the time to read these blogs and view these photographs.
Have a good one.