Favorites from 2015

December 22, 2015  •  7 Comments

The numbers
7,361 images in my 2015 catalogue; 396 awarded 5-stars (I'm pretty liberal on stars during the year but they get pared down as I revisit over time); 77 made first cut, 23 were still breathing in the 2nd round and the final 12 will go into this write-up describing the year's efforts as soon as I can figure out why I like them.  

The Places:
I visited many of the same locations as in previous years: La Jolla, Anza-Borrego, Mt. Laguna, Joshua Tree but also hit some new locales during my 2,500 mile loop through the Colorado Plateau: Great Basin National Park, Monument Valley, Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelly and a new favorite, Natural Bridges National Monument.  I'm disappointed that nothing from Anza-Borrego or Joshua Tree made the final cut,  two of my favorite locations. 

The Angst
Some of these reinforce my core ideas as a photographer and thus belong because they reflect progress where I feel my 'center' is. One has been chosen because it extended my range and shows, for me anyway, an atypical look at the world. 

It's not easy choosing 12 from a pared down selection of over 70.  How do you choose?  I've considered criteria such as how hard it was to make the image; how well it developed from a pre-visualized concept; how pretty it is; whether You would like it; whether I'd hang it on a wall or offer it for sale; and whether the selection reflects the range of places I visited this year (it doesn't).

All the selections and those not selected have an emotional content for me.  I was there, I saw the image emerge, I waited, I experienced the long hikes, cold waves, long drives, occasional crowds, peaceful settings, and perfect light.  And because of that I don't want to cut any image that has meaning for me.  I want a 50 Favorites for 2015!  But, that would bore you to tears and make only me happy. 

The bottom line though, is whether the image, regardless of how it arrived on your screen, is any good? Does it convey emotion, does it work technically and aesthetically, and geez, is it art?  These are questions only the viewer can answer and really, he or she could care less that I came home drenched in ocean spray from making that image in La Jolla.  Terrible thing is, I still haven't answered the question.  I don't know why any particular image was chosen today.  The only criteria I have is that today, in late December, coffee in hand, I happen to like this one enough to grant it access to the blog.  And be advised, they won't be seen as a cohesive whole because I still have many frayed edges in my style and photographic eye.  I like landscapes and street photography and abstracts and ...

Some answers:
So many questions and only 12 answers. Thus, in no particular order...


Reef in a Minor Key
This has been a favorite from the beginning.  Taken in June at Wind'n'Sea Beach in La Jolla, CA.  I've always like the lines created by the wave action and how they eminate from the reef. 
Reef in a Minor ChordReef in a Minor Chord

Soft Caress
Morning at Red Rock Conservation Area outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.  I was cat-sitting for my daughter in January and spent my mornings in the surrounding desert landscapes finding tremendous clouds wherever I went.  
Soft CaressSoft Caress

A Little Zion
Cedar Creek outside of Ramona in San Diego's east county.  I've titled this "A Little Zion" because that was my first impression on arriving here. If you've ever been to Zion National Park I think you'll see the likeness.  My friend Alex invited me for a hike to this idyllic spot and we had perfect conditions with no other people. Really, zero.  With some good rain this year the falls should be more full. 

Being Watched
My favorite street image and one that I knew would be in this collection from the time I had it printed.  I love the strong diagonal line cutting the frame, the older gent's posture as he walks in shadow past the Museum of Man and the saintly icon staring at him from his perch on the facade.   being watchedbeing watched

Distant Memory
Solo objects, like trees on a hill, always catch my eye, as did this string of kelp on a La Jolla shore near Scripp's Pier. I was fortunate that a long, slow wave had just cleaned the sand of footprints and minor annoyances.  I lined it up with the rock in the distance and took a few frames.   Distant MemoryDistant Memory

Upon a Crooked Path
Another from Nevada, this time from Valley of Fire State Park around 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas. Yeah, still cat-sitting.  The clouds this time of year are astounding!  Here's a study in leading lines.  I converted the red and cream colored rock to monochrome to really see the contrast as it leads your eye to the rocky outcropping in the distance.  
Upon a Crooked PathUpon a Crooked Path

Slow Descent
From under Kachina Bridge in Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument.  I knew how I wanted this to look when I made the image and it turned out just as I had imagined.  Which may be why it had an advantage during the selection process.  I just finished the processing a few days ago even though the image was made back in September.  Sometimes it just needs to marinate for a while before I figure out how to make it look like I felt it should when I snapped the shutter.  I feel my B&W work is moving to the dark side as I'm seeking out more scenes that lend themselves to a singular subject that can be set in a high contrast against its darkened surroundings.  There's a bit of Sith in all of us, eh?
Slow DecentSlow Decent

Kachina Mud Ripples
Another from underneath Kachina Bridge.  The morning light made for some beautiful scenery under the bridge.  I took quite a few photos there and 5 or 6 could have ended up as favorites.  So, consider this one a representative for the half-dozen that aren't shown here.  What caught my eye initially is the mud ripples lining the creek.  I was fortunate to get there early as to the left of frame there are a long line of deep boot prints of someone who arrived before me and scarred the scene.  

Opolo Vineyard
I spent two beautifully foggy mornings in Paso Robles.  Vineyards everywhere and an early morning fog that created magical light for backlit trees and grapevines.  Paso Robles loosely translates to Pass of Oaks or maybe better is The Way of Oaks.  
Opolo VineyardOpolo Vineyard

Sea Cave Window
Credit for this location goes to my friend Alex who took me there during a low tide last December and in February I took a small group of friends who wanted to see it and while there I managed to capture this image.  It's a sea cave (more of a cavern) along the Pacific coast at Point Loma's tidal pools and accessible during low tides. It would be so much nicer if they were available during sunset but the park closes at 4pm.  To get there you have to make the walk of death, so if you're afraid of heights or walking along ledges over deadly drops it may not be for you.  Scares the hell outta me. 
Sea Cave WindowSea Cave Window

Desert Cloudburst

Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.  I chased this cloud from the time I saw it while driving along Sunrise Highway on the way back from Borrego Springs last August.  I hurried up to Stevenson Peak where I figured I'd have a clear view and voila! there it was in its full glory. And, rain is pouring from it onto the dry desert floor!  Monochrome was the only way to go for this image.  May end up being one of my all-time favorites.   
Desert CloudburstDesert Cloudburst

Broken Hill in Fog
If you've spent any time in San Diego you've probably been to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.  Broken Hill is a popular scenic wonder in the reserve and a favorite for photographers.  A nice marine layer makes it especially appealing for camera toting bipeds like me and Alex.  Yes, Alex again. The same Alex in the aforementioned images.  
I need to take a sec to give Mr. Kunz some credit for many of my photographs.  I've probably seen more of San Diego County since I began hiking with him than in the previous 10 years or so.  And Alex has only lived here for what, 3-4 years!  
So, it was Alex's idea to get up in the earliest of hours to hike around Torrey Pines in the dark and early morning fog.  It turned out to be one of the most productive photography trips I've ever had.  Fog does something special to a landscape. I could have presented 12 of my favorites this year just from that single trip.  In order to display a wider range of locations I've trimmed that group down to this single representative image.  If you want to see more then visit my Torrey Pines gallery, here. 


Doug Knisely(non-registered)
Marvelous selection! I had not seen many of these. Obviously (!), Being Watched is my favorite -- and it is fantastic. The very last one is incredibly powerful as a photograph in every way, but that spot never fails to break my heart as a model of human desecration of nature. Your image is better than any I've ever seen from there.
Richard Wong(non-registered)
Great collection of images Joe! They are all beautiful for different reasons. Love it.
Paul Conrad Photography(non-registered)
Beutiful shots in this group.
Rachel Cohen(non-registered)
Amazing series of images Joe! I'm particularly struck by Soft Caress, a morning at a Red Rock Cinservation area! Looks like you had an awesome year! All the best to you in the New Year! :)
Nancy Bailey(non-registered)
Ahhh, I love this time of year when you share your 'best of' and I particularly enjoy reading your insights. Pondering over the images of course leads viewers to identify their personal favorites. Here are mine.

It's certainly true that having an emotional attachment to an image bumps it to our cognitive forefront. On the day that you captured it, Greg and I watched Desert Cloudburst evolve into a massive thunderhead but shared a collective gasp when we saw your photo! It was so much more amazing than the view from our house. To this day that image is the background on Greg's computer.

The artfully arranged seaweed in Distant Memory is very compelling to me. Ain't Mother Nature grand?

From a pure landscape perspective I love Little Zion and it does indeed remind me of its namesake. I was lucky enough to see Cedar Creek falls drop 70 feet into the grotto five years ago during a "normal" winter so am l hopeful for a real show this year if the rains manifest as anticipated.

OK, so I couldn't stop at three. Broken Hill in Fog has a mystical quality. I love the alone feeling it evokes and the subtle change in contrast as the viewpoint recedes into the distance. Torrey Pines is a Wonder of the World to me and yet I've only ever visited under azure skies. This image gives me a new appreciation for the beauty of a foggy morning along the cliffs.

Congratulations Joe on another year of incredible artistry. Your 2015 work is enormously impressive!
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