Favorite Images of 2019: A Retrospective

I spent much of December at home with a thought-provoking read titled The Artist’s Journey by author and screen writer, Steven Pressfield. And while I don’t completely agree with everything he espouses, I do recommend the book for artists, writers, musicians, or anyone with a career in a creative field. Among the many views the author posits (you can read some of the more profound excerpts on Tim Ferriss’ blog, How To Undertake the Artist’s Journey) is that the artist’s intent should not necessarily be one of self expression, as you might have heard and believed most of your creative life, but rather a journey of self discovery. 

“Artists discover themselves by the work they produce,” Pressfield asserts. 

Those eight words above have haunted me now for weeks. As I pored over this year’s work to make the following selections, I asked… What matters to me most? What is my life’s purpose? What three words describes me best? I had relatively adequate answers to those questions already yet I searched for new meaning in my most recent work, making little to no progress. But since I’m insanely self-critical (there are no framed pictures of my work adorning the walls of my home or office, for example) I did manage to extract the following threads of introspection: Is this really all you’ve accomplished this year? Seriously, what an utter waste of twelve months. You really should spend more time actually doing photography and less time writing and talking about it. Okay, fair enough.

In addition, he implores artists to “put your ass when your heart wants to be” – an inelegant way of phrasing, Do Whatever Inspires You. Great advice, I’d say, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years, including this most recent one. So with regard to Pressfield, his book, and my journey of self-discovery and loathing, let’s just say it all evens out and continue to my favorite images of 2018, shall we?

Lilac Wine
Acadia National Park, Maine USA
October 12, 2018

Perhaps subconsciously inspired by Claude Monet’s series of impressionist water lily paintings, I caught the sunset sky reflected in a beaver pond along Duck Brook Pond in Acadia National Park in Maine. I liked the combination of abstract qualities with a touch of the literal found in the lily pads and reeds. Getting the right amount of balance and spacing of literal elements within the image frame was key. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 400mm, 1/125 second @ f/16, ISO 500.

Dark Karma
Praia da Adraga at dusk, Portugal
June 1, 2018

Praia da Adraga is a place of dangerous beauty. The waves are big and powerful, the surf thunderous, and the rocks either too slippery, too sharp, or the lethal union of both. I anticipated an epic fail at every turn but managed to avoid disaster with each visit made. I wanted my images to convey this feeling of impending doom I carried in the pit of my stomach and Dark Karma came as close as any others. But alas, on my final evening at Adraga, while walking out in the dark, I suffered a violent, if not comical fall on the rocks, leaving a hockey puck-sized bruise on my thigh with all the colors of a Mediterranean sunset. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Irix 15mm, 30 seconds @ f/11, ISO 100.

Turning Away
Humpback whale, Johan Petersen Fjord, Eastern Greenland
August 21, 2018

Most of you know that wildlife conservation is a passion of mine, particularly the preservation of endangered species. The humpback whale is one of our rare success stories, with its conservation status upgraded from endangered (1988) to vulnerable (1996) due to the cessation of commercial whaling practices. But now the ocean’s plastics crisis threatens them once again. I like to imagine the displayed gesture as an anthropomorphic middle finger to the most “advanced” primates of the planet. If you look closely above the tail, you can see not only the outline of an iceberg, but also the edge of Greenland’s massive ice sheet. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 158mm, 1/1600 second @ f/5.6, ISO 125.

Daughter of the Sun
Etosha National Park, Namibia
June 25, 2018

This Etosha giraffe appears to be bowing before the sun mere minutes before it dropped below the horizon. The sun is so large in the image from because of the focal length (560mm) and I battled all the usual bugaboos associated with shooting directly into the sun: flare, ghosting, autofocus problems, underexposure, and real possibility of being blinded in the process. All in all, however, it seems to have worked out well enough. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm w/ 1.4x @ 560mm, 1/500 second @ f/10, ISO 250.

Promenade
Lake Clark National Park at Cooke Inlet, Alaska
August 10, 2018

My love-hate relationship with bears continued in 2018 with a visit to Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. The chosen image here teaches a valuable lesson for wildlife photographers who instinctively reach for the longest lens in the bag and zoom in as close as possible. Many just aren’t happy until every detail of fur or feather can be resolved fully in the frame. And let’s face it, this tendency is also an opportunity to show off some of your technical proficiency, am I right?  But the more compelling image is often the wider option. Here we have layers of sky, mountains, water, shoreline, bears, and their reflections. This is much more interesting than the conventional close up. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm w/1.4x @ 560mm, 1/2500 second @ f/5.6, ISO 800.

Steel Rain
The Vestrahorn at Stokksnes, Southeast Iceland
February 24, 2018

Classic landscape layout; sweeping, wide-angle perspective, compelling foreground with patterns creating perspective progression, diagonal shoreline leading the eye to the mountains in the background. This was captured in some of the worst weather you can imagine with the temperature near freezing, rain, sleet, and wind (I did have friends and fellow photographers nearby with whom I could share the agony) but within the hour, the skies opened up and a rainbow appeared over the mountains. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35mm @ 17mm, 4 seconds @ f/14, ISO 100.

Chasing the Light
Etosha National Park, Namibia
June 27, 2018

This is my personal favorite from 2018 and the most difficult image for me to describe with mere words. For one thing, I never remember taking the photo; it’s like a dream. I discovered the photo later that evening while reviewing images in my cabin. No animal is displayed in it’s entirety; the photo is all legs and trunks. The light is exquisite. The combination of backlighting and dust kicked up by the herd of elephants produces some curious visual effects such as the double edges where the light bleeds into the shadows and vice-versa. The composition uses layers to frame the young elephant farthest away from us, which is where our eye comfortably rests. I’m reminded of Robert Hunter’s lyrics, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” The camera and lens were pointed in the right direction at the right time for a reason I can’t explain or properly take credit for. Maybe it was just the light. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm @ 280mm, 1/1600 second @ f/9, ISO 640.

Quercus Angelus
Johns Island, South Carolina
November 26, 2018

This is my backyard, not quite literally, but nearly so. I’ve photographed this tree on many dozens of occasions, including this exact composition time and time again. And time is the most conspicuous dimension on display here, as the Angel Oak, as it’s been titled, is the oldest living thing in America found east of the Mississippi River. On this particular morning I had no people to work around, soft diffused light, and a touch of mist in the air which lent a dreamy look and feel to the scene. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 11-24mm @ 19mm, 5 seconds @ f/16, ISO 160.

Eternal Blue
Iceberg, Angmagssalik Fjord, Eastern Greenland
August 22, 2018

Here’s a perfect example of an intimate scenic; no foreground, no sky, no “sense of place” – just color, patterns, shapes, and lines. Intimate scenics always say much more about the personal vision of the photographer than it does about the place, however if one had to guess, Greenland would have been a good one. Grand scenics, conversely, usually rely more on the specific location to carry the image. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 200mm, 1/640 second @ f/11, ISO 2000.

Take a Bow
Diamond Beach at Jökulsárlón, Southeast Iceland
February 4, 2018

Due to the extremely changeable weather in Iceland, rainbows are not an uncommon phenomenon. Despite this fact, however, they never fail to bring a smile since they always seem to be preceded by the foulest of weather. This 180 degree rainbow perfectly frames this lone iceberg on Diamond Beach at Jökulsárlón. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 11-24mm @ 17mm, 1/200 second @ f/14, ISO 500.

In 2019 I’ll be traveling to Iceland, Greenland, China, Patagonia (Argentina and Chile), Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Gabon, diving with gray whales off Mexico’s Baja California, returning to Antarctica, and more. Follow my adventures by signing up for my monthly newsletter

Here’s to Truth, Adventure, and Passion in 2019 –  Richard

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

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