Year in Review: 2022
Somehow 2023 is upon us already. I don't understand how time flies so quickly!
Actually, that's a bit of a lie. The main reason the passage of time appears to accelerate as we age is because a smaller and smaller percentage of our experiences are new. When we are young, we are constantly experiencing new things and time slows down when we are processing these new experiences. Time also passes slower when we are more intentional about what we're doing. Ultimately, the more routine our lives become, the more we go on autopilot, the faster time goes by.
Maybe this seems like irrelevant rambling, but it's not. One of my biggest personal goals is to live a slower and more intentional life. Now, slow doesn't mean boring and in fact, it means the very opposite. It's simply a reference to living in a way that makes the most of living this life. Without photography nurturing and facilitating my connection with nature, I don't think I ever would have discovered this mindset and approach to living.
2022 was a bit of a stressful year. On top of all the various issues plaguing the world, the struggle to build my photography business has taken a toll on both my physical and mental health. I almost gave up on more than one occasion, but I know when building a business success tends to come after the toughest battles. The stress I am experiencing now is not permanent, and once my business has strong foundations things will become easier. I am optimistic heading into 2023.
Despite the stress, 2022 was my most productive year ever. I made more money from my business than I did in 2021. I felt that I connected with nature on a more meaningful level than ever before. My desire to create photographs and experience the outdoors has never been stronger. With more than 70 new portfolio images, numerous memorable trips and a successful first workshop with Blake Randall, it was certainly one for the books. I feel like I grew significantly as a photographer and created stronger work than I have in any prior year. I also spent more days camping than in any past year, and visited multiple new places, some of which I've been dreaming of for years.
I have a lot of plans and goals for 2023, but I wanted to start it off by reflecting and taking a moment to look back at my favorite photographs and moments from 2022. I may have more to say for some images compared to others. It should be also noted that these images are in no particular order, with the exception of the first photograph, as I have zero desire to rank them.
They are all favorites!
Sidenote about my image titles: sometimes they come to me in the field, sometimes while I'm editing, sometimes completely at random. Sometimes I have to think on it for a while. My inspiration for titles comes from any number of sources: books, songs, video games, my emotions and experiences, people in my life, the subject of the photo, and occasionally even the thesaurus when I need to replace an ugly word with a beautiful word.
I've spent too much time thinking about my favorite single photograph from 2022. If I absolutely had to choose, Invigoration would be it. But let it be known I don't like the idea of choosing a single favorite, or even a top 10, which is why this blog contains all of my favorites. Why is it my favorite? One of my biggest beliefs is that landscape photographers should spend as much time as possible getting to know their favorite landscapes, especially if it's a local place. This image encompasses that belief. I've spent hundreds of hours wandering this particular forest and canyon and if it weren't for that, I never would have made this photograph. The light and atmosphere are also top notch, and I was able to use my favorite device for composition: the natural frame. A strong natural frame looking into a beautiful canyon is difficult to come by, especially in the chaotic forest!
I made this photograph on the same day as Invigoration. In fact, you can see this composition in Invigoration. I consider this to be a little "easter egg" for those who closely follow my work.
Although I love this image immensely, it recently became even more special. Sometime over a month ago a large tree came down and made a big mess right in the middle of this shot. When I return to my favorite places I always make a point of looking for things that have changed. The forest is a place that undergoes constant change. Logs come and go from canyons, boulders shift around during high flow events, trees come down, rock falls, landslides happen... and on and on. And that's on top of all the seasonal changes and ever changing light! The constant change is part of the beauty and integral to the experience. For the time being this composition is not possible to shoot, but we'll see how things shift during the spring!
I completely disregarded this image at first. Other people liked it significantly more than I did. But the composition grew on me, I gave it a pass in Photoshop and now I love it. It's rather unique because that's not fog you see amongst the trees, it's forest fire smoke... in October. That was something I never, ever expected to see in this decade or maybe even the next.
Hopefully it's an outlier.
I can't think of a more natural and beautiful duo than verdant rainforest and beams of sunlight.
This image does have some elements that might not sit well with some people: the mess in the bottom right corner and the placement of the young tree closest to the lens. One of my emergent goals in 2022 was to be less clinical and incorporate more chaos into my forest scenes and I think I struck a good balance here. Besides, lighting like this is typically quite fleeting, so it's a race against the clock to compose and execute a photograph before it disappears or changes too much. The thrill of chasing light will never get old!
Out of all the photographs I created this year, this one is probably what tested my skills and patience the most. I came very close to choosing this as my #1. I'd been waiting years for conditions that would result in canyon icicles without significant amounts of snowfall. The conditions came just days after I was bemoaning to some friends about how these conditions never occur in Vancouver, which was what inspired the title.
Ultimately it took me two attempts to nail this photo. For context, this isn't much of a cave. It's a small overhang in the middle of the canyon wall at about head height. This meant setting up my tripod and camera in the hole, without being able to see my screen. Any attempt to view the screen would ruin the composition, which was a huge no-no because of the crazy focus stacking that was required! Furthermore, I had to duck below the field of view for each exposure while balancing myself on icy rocks, otherwise I would ruin the image. Oh and the icicles were actively growing, resulting in a few spots of motion blur.
I managed to get a composition that I liked, but due to how difficult it was to execute I ended up missing the best light. Conditions stayed ideal and I went back a few days later. This time I installed Nikon's remote viewfinder and shutter control app on my phone, which allowed me to dial-in the composition as I saw fit. I waited for the best light and took all of the required frames. In the end I assembled this out of 24 frames because it's a focus stack, panorama and dynamic range blend.
Additionally, this is another of my images that contains an easter egg. I am in this photo. I was wearing a red jacket and you can see my reflection at the bottom of the second icicle from the left.
"From the Depths"
The days where it's pouring rain are my favorite. To have fun and be happy, you have to accept that you'll get soaked. There is a lot of power in that acceptance, and I think it something that applies to life in general. You can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to make the most of your time. It is our most valuable resource after all. I have such a huge love for these dark, damp and chaotic scenes. The puzzle of the forest. Learning to see them is a never ending process. In 2023 I plan to explore more of the Seymour River valley, as I know it still holds many secrets.
"The Quiet Light"
Perhaps one of the most memorable trips of 2022. I will certainly never forget this day. Matt Jackisch invited me to Carmanah Walbran Park, a place famous for its stunning old growth forest. The park is a testament to what once covered our province. We camped in the pouring rain and set out on our hike the next morning. The hike ended up being more of an adventure than some of the forest bushwhacking I've done. We hiked through a flash flood that buried the trail in knee deep water in some places. There was one point where I went off the trail to avoid a deep pool, only to end up stepping into an unseen hole that put me almost up to my waist in water. There was rotten boardwalk as slippery as ice; surprise thorns lodged in my hand; sections of trail that seemingly vanished at random and worst of all, tons of fallen old growth trees.
If you were lucky you just had to clamber over one. In the worst spots we had to use them as bridges, crawling and shimmying across. It was not possible to walk across them because of the pouring rain from the night before that left them very wet and slippery. The worst log was probably the length of two buses, acting as a bridge over a foresty pit of doom 8 feet below. To add insult to injury, young tree branches had grown to cover parts of it. Their fresh needles were extremely sharp and we had no choice but to crawl through them face first!
But it was all worth it to experience spring in an old growth rainforest. It's the kind of fun that makes you feel alive. My favorite part was the hunt for trilliums, which I ultimately failed to capture. There is one in this image but it's nothing more than a small detail that most people will miss.
Image title inspired by Adam Gibbs.
I am sure I broke some rules of composition with this one. But sometimes they are meant to be broken. I chose to embrace the chaotic forest.
I am not quite sure which was more of an adventure: bushwhacking and routefinding our way to this canyon or the Carmanah Valley "trail." I noticed the access to this canyon when my friend Steve McKenzie was showing me some of the cool old growth trees in the area. Thinking I would be able to remember the route in, I marked some waypoints in my navigation app and left it at that. An entire year later I finally got around to giving it a try with Matt Jackisch. We failed to find the way in. This area is tough to navigate while bushwhacking. There's a ton of microterrain in the form of bluffs and steep drops, and the ground is often a mess with fallen logs, hidden holes, loose boulders and other goodies. Soaking wet from the rain, we gave up and turned around. I took another look at the topo and plotted a revised route. I called up another forest loving friend, Morgan Carmont, and asked if he wanted to make an attempt. He said yes despite my warning that it would not be particularly enjoyable, and we managed to make it in! My new route was a success. With the help of some rope we got into a couple beautiful spots in the canyon. It was beautiful, with unspoiled green moss everywhere. I even found my first salamander. It was well worth the gnarly bush bash while sweating buckets from the humidity and constantly fighting off all the hungry bugs.
Taken on the same day as Salamander's Den. This image may not be the strongest in some aspects, but it stands out for me personally because it was a milestone in my attempt to create more depth and variation in my greens.
This canyon is one of the most stunning I've ever had the fortune to visit. Morgan was kind enough to show me this place. It's also the first canyon that I found was easier to get into than to get out of!
The end of this portion of the canyon holds a beautiful secret: a waterfall. Somehow we lucked out and got fog in the canyon.
I'm not sure if I like spring or autumn in the forest more. But the one thing that can't be beat about the autumn forest is the smell of sweet, decaying leaves. The cycle of life is a beautiful thing. Can you spot the diffraction spike?
"Spell of the Songbird"
The trail by my house is one of my top places in terms of time spent walking and taking photos. Every year it shows me a different side of itself, even when I become certain there is nothing new to see.
The contrast between the cool, haunting fog and warm, beautiful yellow leaves immediately caught my attention. It felt like the tree limbs were grasping, as if trying to reach out to something lost.