This year, I finally got to check off one of my New York photography bucket list items - covering the Chinese Lunar New Year Firecracker Festival. Here are my favorite photos from the Year of the Pig celebration in Chinatown.
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.
Time once again for the annual struggle to choose 20 photos that best represent my year in photography. As any creative-type might imagine, the process of choosing images for the Year in Review is both rewarding (in sifting through the thousands of photos taken this year, I found a few nice surprises that I'd overlooked at the time) and torturing ("was last year's Year in Review better? Am I actually getting worse at this? Were these really the best shots that I got?")
In choosing this year's favorites, I noticed the following:
1) I took tens of thousands of photos of my 1 year old daughter this year, and not much else. There were just a handful of days this year that I actually went out to take pictures. New Year's Resolution #1 for 2017 is to get out there and shoot more.
2) I don't know if this represents an evolving personal style, but this year, a few things caught my eye much more-so than in years past: geometry, primary colors and umbrellas. Read into that what you may.
Without further ado:
I've been photographing the September 11th Tribute in Light for about five years now, and each year I try to find a new vantage point. This year, I planned to start on the Manhattan Bridge and make my way into the city to wander the streets around Lower Manhattan. But the views were so stunning, I spent 3+ hours on the bridge and called it a night.
Another one from September 11th. This one was taken a few hours later from the Manhattan end of the bridge. The graffiti in the foreground is Chinatown, and the smell from the bridge was amazing. After taking this photo, I called it quits and went for dumplings.
Presidential debate #2 between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was an especially dark, ugly and discouraging affair, sure to make anyone anxious-at-best about the future of our country. The next morning on the way to work, I climbed the stairs from the subway, stepped out onto Wall Street and saw this.
I'd love to say this moment just happened. But I camped out in this spot for about 15 minutes hoping a pedestrian would walk through the street instead of along the sidewalk.
Los Angeles' original Farmer's Market is amazing for vintage signs and old school Americana. I was taking photos of this great old soda shop when this guy wandered into my shot. Sometimes the photography gods just hand you a scene from a Wes Anderson movie and you just have to be there to take the picture.
Full credit for this photo goes to the graffiti artist.
I mean, come on. You couldn't have asked for a better car to be parked there. Even the colors on the Louisiana license plate match.
Downtown L.A. is weird. There are pedestrian overpasses connecting nearly every building so it's entirely possible to traverse the city without ever touching the sidewalk. It must make urban planners insane. On the bright side, the walkways offer some interesting perspectives, transforming the streetscape below into a living Mondrian painting.
In January, New York got the largest snowstorm on record with 27.5 inches falling in Central Park. Laziness prevailed and I only made it about four blocks from home before deciding it was too cold/windy/snowy and calling it quits. I'd make a terrible mailman.
This photo was taken about a half block down from the previous one. I told you I didn't make it far.
This was another intervention from the photography gods. I was working this scene, taking some really mediocre photos of the reflection of these umbrellas in the marble when this guy in his perfectly matching blue shirt walked out to take a phone call smack in the middle of my shot.
One of my favorite photographers, Jay Maisel, says that all great photographs are about one of three things: Light, Color or Gesture. Light and color are easy to understand. Gesture is a bit harder to explain, but you know it when you see it.
One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong...
We were staying at the Standard Hotel in Downtown L.A. for a quick work trip. I stepped out of the elevators and saw this.
I took this photo from the airplane window on the way to the LA trip mentioned above. Taken somewhere between Kansas and California.
While staying in Santa Barbara, I motivated myself to get out of bed stupid-early in the morning and go try to take some photos from the pier at sunrise. It was the right decision.
I took 20 or 30 shots of this kid running in and out of the surf. Not many came out. Not because they were out-of-focus, but because he needed the lightness of the waves crashing in the background in order to make out the shape of his silhouette.
The nice thing about taking the ferry to work is that, instead of crowding onto a train and being wedged into a stranger's armpit, your commute home looks more like this.
At the end of Brighton Pier there's an amusement park. This shot was taken at the trampolines.
Closed in 1975, Brighton's West Pier sat vacant and partially collapsed for years, until a fire gutted the structure in 2003. To get the ghostly effect in the water, this photo is a 28 second long exposure. I got this shot just in the nick of time. A few minutes later, those storm clouds unleashed a massive downpour and I went for fish and chips.
In June, my wife and I had a daughter. Which means that 95% of the photos I took in 2015 were baby photos. Here are the best of the rest.
Click on any photo to view it in lightbox mode
In January, winter storm Juno was forecast to bring a major blizzard to New York City. The storm missed New York (sorry Boston!), but gave us enough snow for some magical twilight photos on Stone Street in the Financial District. I love the way the warm glow from the lights plays against the blue evening sky in the distance.
One of the most annoying things that can happen as a photographer is to frame up a beautiful shot of the last fleeting moments of the sunset only to have a bunch of thirteen year olds walk into said sunset shot and start posing for several hundred iPhone photos. After briefly cursing them and wishing that they would fall off the end of the pier, I realized I could use them to make a more interesting photo. I used a slow shutter speed to capture the flash from their iPhone, which cast a spotlight onto the girls while leaving the boys in silhouette.
Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys is at the foot of an old abandoned railroad bridge. To get the smooth water effect and movement in the clouds, I used a three minute long exposure. Here's a shot from the other side of the bridge.
I guess I had a thing for water and pylons this year. This shot is taken at sunrise in Jamestown, Rhode Island. I love the ethereal mood created by the fog rolling across the harbor.
This was taken just before sunrise at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. To get the reflection in the marble, I sat on the floor and set the camera on the ground.
It wasn't easy to get this shot from inside the Lincoln Memorial. There was a boot camp class with about three hundred people running laps up and down the stairs and weaving in and out of the pillars. Fortunately, I got enough of a break between runners to make it seem like a much quieter morning than it actually was. The lone runner created just enough mystery to the shot with the shadow on the wall.
Coney Island is magical in the fog. Especially on Christmas Morning. Something about this photo feels like it could have been taken 75 years ago.
I took this photo of the clouds draped over downtown Brooklyn from my office window in Lower Manhattan.
The new transportation hub at the World Trade Center is controversial because of its four billion dollar price tag. But it does make for some really great photo ops.
I took this photo of the World Trade Center from the back seat of a taxi somewhere in TriBeCa. The red glow is from another car's brake lights hitting the plexiglass divider in the cab.
I'd just gotten off a train from Washington, DC and turned the corner in front of Amtrak's Penn Station just in time to catch this incredible sunset. I love the way the neon lights along the side of Madison Square Garden blend with the purple glow in the sky and reflect on the buildings across the street.
In November, we edited a film project at a studio called Work in TriBeCa. This is the view from their office. Not bad.
Hard to go wrong with lighthouse shots. This one was from a trip to Newport, Rhode Island in November. I like the way the cracks in the rocky cliffs draw your eye down to the lighthouse. Classic leading lines stuff.
The trouble with shooting famous landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial is that it's photographed thousands of times every single day. And often by photographers with much fancier equipment. To avoid taking the same postcard picture everyone else took, I came out at sunrise to try to find a unique perspective. I found it in a tiny puddle of water on top of a metal wayfinding sign.
The September 11th Tribute in Light as seen from the waterfront in Jersey City, New Jersey.
This was shot from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with my telephoto lens at 200mm, using the fence as a makeshift tripod.
I saw this scene while walking the dog. I have so many questions.
New Yorkers are a hard bunch to impress.
According to Lightroom, I took well over ten thousand photos in 2014. It wasn't easy to narrow those down to my 20 favorite photographs, but I gave it my best shot. I hope you enjoy them.
Here's to many more photo-worthy moments in 2015. Happy New Year!
The Staten Island Ferry is some of the best free entertainment you'll find in New York. It's a one hour round trip from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island and back. The ferry is free, and so are the sea breezes, the panoramic views of the Financial District, Jersey City, Governor's Island and the Verrazano Bridge. Not a bad way to spend a lunch break.
In June 2013, we visited the scenic mountaintop town of Ravello on Italy's Amalfi Coast. To reach Ravello, you take a bus from Sorrento which winds you around hairpin turns at the tops of cliffs with far too little concern for oncoming traffic if you ask me. Fortunately, we survived the ride, and didn't hit a single scooter driver.
All photos were taken with the Fujifilm X100s and XPro 1.
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From the Bus:
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