Year in Review time!
Having done this a few times now, it seems like it should get easier. But the Fourth Annual “20-best” has been the hardest to cull by far.
This is for two main reasons:
1. I took a lot more photos this year and
2. I’m getting a lot worse at self-editing.
Long story short, “The 20 Best of 2017” is now “The 36 Best of 2017.”
The process of reviewing a year’s worth of photos is always interesting, because common themes always emerge. Last year, I was all about geometry, primary colors and umbrellas. This year, I apparently had a thing for dramatic lighting, pictures of things framed through windows, and wildlife photography taken at dangerously close proximity.
Another big change for this year is that I started work on some longer-term photography projects. These will all be ongoing, but I’m happy to share three works-in-progress. You can follow the links below to see the full galleries:
"Holiday Windows" is a sentimental portrait of people’s reactions to 5th Avenue’s enchanting holiday window displays.
"Crud" is a germaphobe’s eye view of the cringe-worthy, yet strangely beautiful “crud formations” in NYC subway stations.
"American Palace" is, well, that one's pretty self explanatory.
Without further ado, here are my top 20... er... 36 photos from 2017.
As the sun set over the Grand Canyon, I spent a half hour cursing these guys under my breath to get out of my shot. (Photographers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to harness the power of telekinesis to move strangers in and out of their compositions. It's not normal.)
Eventually the mind trick worked, the guys left, and I had a clear scene.
Of course, when I got back home and downloaded all of the photos from the series, I liked the one with the people in it better. (Although I'm still cursing the guy on the right for wearing his sunglasses on the back of his head like Guy Fieri.)
The hardest thing about taking photos of iconic locations like St. Paul's Cathedral in London is that they've been photographed TO DEATH. So you have to work a little harder to try to find something more original than the typical postcard shot.
After taking a dozen photos of this scene, I noticed the traffic pattern and had an idea. Using a trash can as a makeshift tripod, I waited for a double decker bus to pass by on its route, then left the camera shutter open for ten seconds – long enough to create these bus-shaped light trails.
During Fleet Week, Naval officers are nice enough to wander around New York in uniform and sit in front of things, making every photographer feel a bit like Alfred Eisenstaedt.
I wish I could say that I saw this photo coming together, dropped to the ground and snapped it. But the truth is, I was awkwardly crouching, cheek to the pavement, trying to compose a shot for the stripe and the scooter. Then this guy who perfectly matched the bike (right down to the fur hat and shoelaces) just wandered into frame.
"Some have said that if you take a great picture in color and take away the color, you’ll have a great black-and-white picture. But if you’re shooting something about color and you take away the color, you’ll have nothing." - Jay Maisel
I took this photo at the edge of a triangular island of sidewalk in Notting Hill, London. It's my favorite photo yet in my ongoing Literal Street Photography project.
Moments after I took this photo, this group of kids took off sprinting across the beach. Pure joy.
"A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person." - Saul Leiter
The Louvre is another one of those locations where it's really hard to make an original photograph. After spending the morning walking around the courtyard searching for a unique angle, I found it in an unexpected place - the back seat of the Uber on the way back to my hotel.
I traveled halfway around the world to Cape Town and one of my absolute favorite shots is also the most mundane.
I took this photo in standstill traffic at the tunnel entrance to Zion National Park. Hey, you've gotta pass the time somehow.
I don't take a lot of photos deep with symbolism. But there's a lot going on in this shot. You've got Jesus in the foreground faltering under the weight of the cross, gazing out longingly from between flea market trinkets (including an empty decanter of wine). His plight is completely unnoticed by the crowd of onlookers. And in the background, the weirdly devilish-looking salesman hides a blood-red cloak under his jacket and has ACTUAL HORNS on his truck.
Art historians, go nuts.
When I visited London, the Tate Modern was hosting "The Radical Eye," an exhibition of Sir Elton John's extensive photography collection. Just beyond the ticket window, I captured this shot for my own collection.
Horseshoe Bend is not a great location to visit if you're a photographer who is also afraid of heights. I honestly don't know how those rooftopper people do it. I was sitting a good five feet back from the edge, and just holding my tripod near the cliff was making me sweat bullets.
The photographer's tour of Antelope Canyon is great, because the guides idiot-proof it for you. They tell you what camera settings to use, then show you just where to set your tripod to get all the best angles. Like this heart-shaped skylight in the canyon ceiling.
I was in Cape Town for two weeks in November, but we spent most of the time in meetings or on location for a film shoot, so I had to find photo-ops wherever I could. Fortunately, this was the view from our pre-production meeting.
I've admired these magical photos of light shafts in Antelope Canyon for years. Peter Lik's version of this shot is the most expensive photo ever sold, fetching $6.5 million dollars. (For the record, I'll happily take ten grand for mine if anyone wants a print. I'll even sign it with Peter Lik's name).
The thing I never knew was how they get that ethereal misty effect in the light beam.
Here's how: a photo tour guide chucks shovelfuls of sand into the air, then tells you to take a picture.
I've been documenting the September 11th Tribute in Light for seven years now. Each time, I try to find a different vantage point. This year I photographed the lights from Staten Island. The shot from over there was nice. But this perfectly-aligned view of the lights haloing the World Trade Center during the Ferry ride back to Manhattan was a total surprise.
The Grand Canyon is another location that's easy to take a great photo of, but really hard to shoot in an original way. Putting people in the frame helps. So did framing the canyon through this window inside the Desert View Watchtower.
...that said, when you get a sunrise like this, you can get away with being a little less original, because, wow.
Do you think this tree has any idea how good its view is?
I took this photo of an Elk with a 23mm lens (35mm equivalent. For reference, that's just slightly more zoomed-in than your iPhone camera) while crouching in the grass on the side of the road in Kaibab National Forest.
It is without a doubt one of the dumber things I've done.
This photo was also taken with a 23mm lens. Which means this kitty was well within booping distance.
I just love the skepticism.
I took this photo from the passenger window of our production van in Cape Town, while going about 30 mph. (Which I think translates to around 190 kilometers per hour).
I took this long exposure of the seaside chapel at Ender's Island, a catholic retreat and sanctuary at the southern tip of Mason's Island, Connecticut. If I were Catholic or in the market for a retreat, I would totally book a stay at this place. It was stunning.
The only thing more remarkable than capturing this photo was not being pooped on moments later as these pigeons took off flying over my head.
This shot at the Louvre in Paris is solid addition to my tourists project
This is pretty popular and well-tread location for taking photos of the Tribute in Light, so I can't say this shot is breaking massively new ground. Although I've never seen the water on the East River calm enough to reflect the lights quite as well as it did this year.
Because I've shot the Tribute in Light so many times now, I'm always trying to find original vantage points. I love this one, framed through the window of the Staten Island Ferry, en route from St. George Terminal.
(Because the window thing.)
This shot of the Eiffel Tower nearly got cut from the list because the photo is a little postcard-ish. But one little detail does makes it much different than what you typically see: there are no people. (The lawns on the Champ de Mars were fenced off for the winter).
"Hey Mike. What do you think we oughta call this porno shop?"
I usually keep my family photos and my year-in-review photos separate to spare you all from cute baby overload. But this shot of my wife greeting my daughter at the bottom of a slide is objectively one of my favorite shots of the year.
Sometimes you get really lucky, turn a corner and happen upon a pre-lit, period-piece film set.
The driveway to the historic Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town is lined with palm trees. From the right vantage point (that is to say, smushed awkwardly up against a lamp post) they provide the perfect frame for Lion's Head Mountain.
Every year when I go back through all of my photos there are a few gems that I totally overlooked at the time. This photo is interesting, because I have absolutely no memory of taking it. I’m not even sure if I took it in Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Maybe it's because, as a picture, it’s not actually all that good. But as a representation of what it feels like and means to live in NY? It’s SO good.