2020 Year In Review

Well, it’s the end of the year. That means it’s that time under normal circumstances when photographers look over their work and question their existence as artists. The only formula for these photo reviews that I’ve been consistent with is that they are predominantly my personal work. I guess the assumption I’ve had over the years is that most of my paid work isn’t super exciting for my friends and family who I aim these end of the year posts towards. When I shot weddings exclusively, did anyone want to see a hundred-plus wedding image blog post? I certainly didn’t, and it was my work. And although I am much more excited these days about my headshot and commercial-ish sort of work, it’s still not stuff I think would be enthralling for my audience. Given that this year has been the year of Covid, there wasn’t much content to show anyhow. So that decision was made for me.

This year I’ve decided to attempt to write some tidbit about each of the photos I post. My rule in their selection was that it had to mean enough to me to be able to at least throw a couple of words down. This eliminated thousands of photos I took that I could only say, “this looked cool to me, so I took a photo of it.” This requirement of being able to say something about each image also brought a few photos into the fold that may not be as impressive visually. I also decided that except for my “Sphere Project” I would only post one image from each portrait shoot. Of course, that can sometimes be extremely difficult when I had multiple photos from a shoot that I loved. Disclaimer: This post is going to be enormous and probably load slow (133 images total). It is also best viewed on larger monitors. It takes me a long time to narrow down image selections for these reviews, and even longer to conjure up some words to say about each photo. It means a lot to me when someone takes the time to actually look through it all. So if you’re one of those people, thank you!

^ “Stripe” is the name of this project I started last year. It’s a series based loosely on being inspired by the cinematic lighting in Blade Runner 2, and each subject picks their color. This particular Stripe was a celebration of confidence and feminity. I love this project, and one of the things I hated most about this year was not being able to continue doing them.

^ I had grand plans for photographing the ever-elusive Priscilla more this year. Had I known what was about to unfold with the pandemic, I would have insisted we shoot a lot more before the lockdown. Priscilla came by after work to let me practice two lighting ideas I had. She was the first person to participate in my Sphere project. I had intended to photograph any willing subject I could get in front of my camera to do Sphere in 2020, but again, pandemic. The first P photo is a portrait of her using strip boxes to get a weird catchlight. I kinda liked it, but I’m not sure I’d do it again. The second photo is the Sphere Project shots, but you probably figured that out.

^ My birthday tradition for the past few years has been to go to the Salton Sea and do some sort of creative shoot. This year was a little bittersweet because Devan couldn’t attend, but Melissa and I took the La Femme model with us for a little “black angel” concept we pulled together. I’m not sure my model was as enthralled with the sea as I am (I do have the benefit of having some history with it), but we still had fun.

^ For the past couple of years, I have been feeling reflective and nostalgic. I decided I wanted to get on to the campus of my former elementary school and photograph it. Public school campuses are basically like fortified child prisons these days, so I did have to go through the process of contacting the school and getting permission. Luckily they agreed to indulge my request. So on the actual day of my birthday, I took Melissa on a little tour of my elementary upbringing. Not much had changed except for the paint.

^ It’s not easy for me to do a photoshoot like Stripe with a total stranger. That’s why I am always awestruck and impressed by women like Sabrina who can show up and model so amazingly. Because it’s awkward as hell to just meet someone and get naked, we first did a Sphere shoot before we switched gears and did the Stripe. Sabrina was a lot of fun to work with and someone I probably would have photographed more than once this year, if not for COVID YET AGAIN. The lighting for Stripe is predominantly a linear beam of light that I can have in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal patterns. I discovered the modifier I use for the project also can make for a fascinating backlight – which is what was done in this particular shot that I love so much.

^ With still no indication that the world would soon be coming to a dramatic pause, I was happy that the year seemed off to a good start for personal work. Beena was another model I had never photographed before. After her Sphere session was over (they don’t take that long), we had decided to do a little experimenting with lighting. In retrospect, I think I should have taken more time preparing for her shoot because I didn’t knock anything out of the park – which is on me. The image with the flowers I’m posting was mostly her concept, but I was able to create some artificial window light that I felt pretty good about.

^ Alanberto’s might have already been under a new administration in February, but the United States was not. I can tell you that even though this photo is kinda ridiculous and completely non-artistic, it does say something about American life in 2020. I can’t think of any year in my life where I had as much anxiety over an upcoming election as I did this one. Side note: I think we passed this taco shop a few times before I finally stopped to document their very awesome sign.

^ Devan and I had been talking about more Caitlin photoshoots since the last time we worked with her in early 2017. The extra fun part of this shoot was that Caitlin had no idea that Devan was also coming down to do her makeup for the Sphere/Stripe sessions she was going to be my subject for. Being able to give Cait a happy surprise like that was fun. After we did Sphere shoots for both Cait and Devan, we did the red Stripe. Of all of the Stripe shoots I had done prior, I think the emotional intent behind this one was the hardest to convey. Caitlin of course was amazing. This photo was everything I wanted from the shoot. Vulnerable and powerful.

^ Except for connecting with a few friends way more briefly than I would have liked, WPPI 2020 was a colossal letdown for Melissa and me. I think we were both collectively over it, and probably should have skipped this year. Of course, if we had done that I wouldn’t have been able to say that Sphere is a portable project. I would have loved to photograph tons of people for it while we were there, but people are insanely non-commital about plans for WPPI and I didn’t have the energy to be persistent. So here is Miss Meerloo being a beautiful good sport before she headed off to a party.

^ On a late March afternoon, Melissa and I were walking through South Park. I noticed the peace sign in the window of this house and it reminded me of Portland.

^ Am I psychic to have photographed these masks before wearing a mask became a world-wide reality? It’s hard to say, but there is a good chance I am at least somewhat precognitive.

^ Minimalism was something I started to pay more attention to this year in my photography. This photo was taken in Old Town the last time we had a sit-down restaurant meal in 2020. Things were about to get weird.

^ I managed to grow up in San Diego having never even seen snow in person until I moved to Chicago. It snows every year in the mountains, which are about an hour to the east of us. This year, the day before the first stay at home order was announced, we got up to the mountains during a snowfall. I think the fact that the order was impending probably kept people away, since typically if one snowflake hits the ground in the county there will be a traffic jam just to get up to the mountains. Sadly Melissa and I have lost whatever cold resistance powers we gained living in Chicago.

^ The first official, “lockdown walk.” I never suspected that it would be a term I’d still be using at the end of the year. I think Melissa and I have done a decent job taking precautions to avoid catching Covid. We’re not perfect, but we take it seriously. That said, if I can’t be creative in some sort of way – I think my sanity suffers quickly. Although nowhere near as fulfilling as photographing people, going out and taking photos around town away from people has been essential for me. Our world was just beginning to turn upside down.

^ Rain. It makes for exceptionally cool photos at night. The problem is I have a hard enough motivating myself to leave the house to take night photos in the first place. So if you’re adding cold water falling on my head into the mix it becomes even harder to get me out of the door. Somehow this night we made it out. There were a couple of other images from this night that may be cooler than this one, but can anyone honestly say they have seen a more dramatically highlighted self-serve carwash token machine than this one? I think not.

^ Melissa wanted a new photo for her website. I think at this stage of the year I was still in a personal challenge mode of attempting to produce one creative effort each day. That ended rather quickly. I don’t think she ever updated her website either.

^ Many things I see in my day to day life now would have very much looked like Star Trek level science fiction to me if I had viewed them as a child. This weird SDG&E solar panel in Mira Mesa (or was it Clairemont Mesa? Kearny Mesa?) fits the bill.

^ No one could guess what this was when I posted the whole series. It is a couple of blank DVDs with water sprayed on them. I held them under our dining room chandelier while moving them around to catch different angles of an LED light aimed at their surface over my shoulder. I used a Fuji X100T in macro mode to capture the shots. I don’t do much abstract stuff, so this felt like some sort of artistic victory.

^ The La Mesa Village at night isn’t exactly party central. It is, however, usually more bustling at night than this. The surrealness of the empty streets in the beginning days of the lockdown was both haunting and beautiful. I wish I had really gotten out and photographed more of the city then, but we were also trying to play by the rules like everyone else.

^ Downtown La Mesa is a weird mix of restaurants I’m less than enthusiastic about, thrift stores, escrow companies, salons, and new age bookstores. This little scene caught my eye, and I remember thinking it felt sort of like a Jasmine shrine. I used a prism for the strange light effect. I remember I texted this to Jasmine unknowing that I’d get to see her this year.

^ I thought this use of the prism was kind of a cool “portal” effect. I held the prism in one hand while I was taking the shot, but it’s next to impossible to hold anything still for 8 seconds. I thought about making it a theme and doing a series. I learned quickly that I had the prism pretty steady in this photo, and if I really wanted to make it cool I’d need to devise a way to have it on a stand so it was stable during the exposure. That was a lot of effort, so this year there is only one cool portal shot, and this is it. Maybe next year I’ll get more motivated.

^ Ever wonder what four gelled lights can do to an IKEA paperweight?

^ Is it a sign of romance or stupidity to climb onto a light rail bridge that suspends high over a usually busy stretch of interstate to declare your love for someone with spray paint? Despite the sentiment, the message still feels lonely to me in the visual context.

^ My neighborhood has spiritual messages.

^ The religious messages were starting to get personal…

^ I remember being extremely irritable this day. I think I was annoyed at how difficult it was to take photos with a mask on with glasses. I believe I was also cold and left my sweatshirt in the car… Shortly after arriving at this spot, I took a photo and left. I think the tagline was, “the ocean still exists.” I do like the simplicity of photographs like this.

^ I think one of the saddest aspects of the pandemic is knowing that some of the smaller businesses we may have been patronizing for years may not make it through this. Of course, businesses do not last forever, and the restaurant business, in general, is especially fickle. I took this on a night walk through the Village at the end of April. Mario’s has been a favorite restaurant of mine since I was a child. It’s still around, and hopefully, they make it through this.

^ We were walking around in the University Heights area. It’s a part of town that I spent the core of my childhood years. I looked up and noticed the Tai-Chi symbol in the upper window of some businesses we were walking by. I don’t know that I had ever seen a neon yin-yang, and it struck me that in this manifestation of the symbol there was no black or white. Just two opposing forces.

^ I’ve observed that despite how much I am missing photographing people, in my urban landscapes I tend to go out of my way to not have any people in the photos – or at least very few people. It’s been a lot easier to accomplish that these days.

^ Superman on lockdown. It was a small detail I noticed walking by a retail shop in Solana Beach.

^ Photographing other people’s art has always felt a little weird to me. I have never been flattered when people take my images and alter them without my permission. Is it the same thing when a photograph is taken of a piece of physical art in public if it’s done in a way to make it unique and almost unrecognizable from the original? I’m not sure I have an answer, but I like this photo, and I think it’s different enough from the original sculpture that if I had been the artist that created it I would appreciate it.

^ One of San Diego’s most beautiful buildings, in my opinion, is the new Central Courthouse. Although it was completed in mid-2017, for some reason, I never really noticed it. There is a line from a Peter Gabriel song, that goes:

All of the buildings, all of the cars
Were once just a dream
In somebody’s head

^ I love a photo that has some obvious irony in it. Like putting a dumpster right next to the “smile, you’re in San Diego” mural. You won’t likely easily see it since this image has resized to fit my blog, but a man is emerging from the dumpster. I didn’t even notice him when I snapped the photo.

^ There is a building downtown that has this great exterior texture that I was drawn to. On one window sat a singular ceramic pot with its contents dumped out next to it. It felt odd because there was no real reason for the plant to have been there in the first place. It had a bit of a sad feeling to it.

^ Melissa is mildly obsessed with RVs. My grandfather lived in an RV by choice for a good portion of my life. This year I began to notice that all modern RVs are completely covered in tribal tattoos. It’s really bizarre.

^ Sierra is one of my best friends. This year I only got to see her a couple of times, one of them being this Mt. Laguna portrait session attempt we made. As it turns out, photographing someone during an insect migration impedes creative results. Many of my friendships sort of feel like I pressed the pause button on them this year, but Sierra and I were only interrupted by physical presence. I hope that our in-person friendship, much like our beloved Nacho Fries returns in strength soon. Only unlike the Bell’s terrible policy of keeping the fries as a temporary menu item, I intend to keep Sierra around in perpetuity. Sierra > Nacho Fries. Also worth mentioning, the last photos I took before I had Lasik surgery were photos of Sierra.

^ I never in a million years would have thought that La Mesa would be the epicenter of a police brutality protest that later morphed into a full-blown riot. We live one mile from downtown La Mesa where all of this unfolded the day I was at home recovering from eye surgery. That night as we watched the smoke billowing in the distance from our house, we naturally felt uneasy and worried about the situation. I don’t advocate violence or the destruction of property as a constructive way of fixing a problem. BUT – It’s also not for me as a privileged white man to condemn a reaction to the real violence and destruction that racism has brought to people of color since the first white people arrived. For the record, Union Bank has terrible customer service.

^ A day or two after the riot in La Mesa, something happened that surprised me. People began painting on the plywood covering the windows. In San Diego, people tend to be more conservative the further east you go. La Mesa is the first suburb you encounter in the eastern part of what gets lumped in as “East County San Diego.” I honestly wasn’t expecting to see many murals supporting BLM, but a lot of them did. And even the ones that didn’t outright voice support for the movement had a strong universal message of support. I thought that it was going to be a lot of pro-law enforcement, pro-Trump sentiment. That did not manifest in the La Mesa murals I am happy to say. The cardboard sign at the bottom of the frame by the flowers reads, “this is not a photo opportunity, it’s an opportunity for change.” I interpreted that as an appeal for people to not pose in front of the art. The artist can be found here.

^ Everything in the pandemic world is a calculated risk. Do I take a chance of exposing myself to a deadly virus? Or do I stay home and be safe but creatively stifled? It’s a tough question to answer as a creative. My mental health and my capacity to create imagery are tied together. I ended up scheduling a very casual outdoor shoot with a new model. Although I was mostly testing out some equipment in this shoot, it was good to point a camera at someone again. And super weird to not have glasses on while I was doing it.

^ I usually cross paths with Vynce a couple of times a year at weddings. This year I didn’t second-shoot much, and I’m no longer a primary wedding photographer. So the opportunity to randomly run into my Escondido-based DJ friend wasn’t there. The good thing about Vynce is he’s a headshot opportunist, so anytime I want to try something new, he is usually willing. We shot up in Solana Beach, on a rather gloomy day.

^ As protests against police brutality continued to happen nationally, it was very cool to see messages of support pop up in the city. Although photos like these may not have tremendous artistic value, I wish I had taken more to document the time.

^ This year we’ve walked some neighborhoods we’ve never walked before, and I enjoy coming across quirks like this random shrine we found in South Park. Reminded me a bit of all of the Virgin Mary lawn statutes that used to weird me out when I lived in Chicago.

^ Melissa and I started hiking a different trail route on Mt. Laguna that provided a new view for us. We are pretty bad about taking the time to figure out new trails.

^ For the last few years, I haven’t had any desire to own a lens wider than 24mm. I’d watch Walter use his 14-24mm all the time, but it never seemed like it would be much more than a novelty for me. I have officially changed my tune. Going back to places like UCSD to photograph the architecture is totally different for me now. Making the Geisel look like an alien mothership here.

^ I often tell people I love concrete. That’s a weird statement to make, but something about the texture and colors that can come out of concrete has my heart. It’s just grey, sure. But there are many different shades of grey, and for me, none of them involve any bondage. One July day at UCSD we were walking around and one of the many beautifully textured/toned concrete walls stood out to me. Someone had taped a perfect rectangular box with this yellow tape. I imagine it had some construction significance, but it felt more like a doorway to me. Sort of like that part in the Lord of the Rings where they are trying to figure out how to open the door to Moria.

^ Despite being a non-religious agnostic type, I frequently find myself stopping on my neighborhood walks and wanting to photograph religious symbolism. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why. It has a strange, solemn feel to me. A reminder maybe about how badly people want to believe in something.

^ I walk down alleys frequently. Maybe I like the challenge of finding beauty in places that people traditionally avoid or look down on. I would have expected to see this cool owl mural on a garage door in North Park or some other hip neighborhood. It is actually in La Mesa! Maybe La Mesa will one day become a hip place. Of course, our neighbors might have to stop parking their cars on their lawn for that to happen…

^ This is the sort of photo I needed a drone for. Just in case anyone has forgotten, Black lives still matter.

^ If you haven’t seen Ex Machina, or aren’t big into science fiction in general, this photo probably won’t grab you as it did me. One day I was at UCSD exploring a part of the campus I had never been to before. I noticed this robot in the window. The only place it was visible was from the inside of a very dark exterior hallway. Originally this was a horizontal shot, but one of the benefits of a 42MP camera is the capacity to crop to verticals and not have your resolution go to absolute trash. I may need to print this.

^ On the Stonewall Peak Trail in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, there is a tree growing out of a boulder. It’s the coolest thing. I had photographed it once before, but this one came out much better than the last time I was there.

^ In early August, Melissa and I decided to take a road trip up the coast and back. It was a calculated risk on our part, and I fully acknowledge that. As I’m writing this review, our ICUs are maxed-out, and things with Covid are worse than ever. I would not go on any road trips at the moment. That disclaimer aside, I did take photos that rejuvenated me creatively for a time. We also got to see some friends that we hadn’t seen in a while. I typically see Devan a handful of times each year when we collaborate on our photo projects. This year has been hard for her and Peter because their wedding plans got Covid-ed. Makeup-artists as creators got especially screwed this year. It’s pretty hard to distance yourself from people if you also want to do their makeup. So on the way up the coast, our first stop was in LA to photograph Devan (and Peter). Devan never has any shortage of atypical wardrobe to photograph her in. I wasn’t quite prepared for was the sheer joy she experienced when being photographed with the new wide-angle lens. It was nice to share something fun with her because right now, LA is a nightmare.

^ After the sun went down in Hollywood the same day I photographed Devan, we switched gears entirely for a shoot with Peter as the subject. Despite the similarities to Slender Man, the inspiration for this particular shoot came to me from the movie Jacob’s Ladder. I hope to return to this concept in time, having learned some lessons on the lighting with this one.

^ The last time I had gotten to see Jasmine was in early 2017 when she came to my Palm Springs retreat. I had very much regretted not being able to spend as much time creating with her during that trip. It wasn’t looking like the timing of this particular road trip we were taking would work with her availability. I had tried to keep my expectations low to avoid being disappointed, but I do love Jasmine, and being able to photograph her is a magical thing. We were able to meet her in Aptos, in this secret forest spot of hers. Of all the people I photograph, creating images with Jasmine always feels like a lesson in spirituality.

^ There is simply no way of describing the scale of northern California Redwoods if you’ve never seen them before. No photo truly does justice to their enormity. I’m grateful we got to visit them before the fires that began almost as soon as we returned. I have no idea if the specific spots we saw were harmed, hopefully not.

^ I had never been to Patrick’s Point before this trip, but I know I want to go back. In our short time there, I took many photos that I liked. There were two in particular that resonated with me. I have three different versions of this first image. Originally I was obsessed with the 16:9 version. After making a vertical portrait-oriented version for my phone’s home screen, I became more obsessed with that view. Now I am leaning towards the 3:2 version. It’s the calm of the ocean, the single rock island monolith, and the fog that obscures the horizon, making it feel even more vast to me. And it was plenty vast in person.

^ One of the best things you can do as a photographer is to turn around and look behind you. Behind the vast ocean view of the previous photo, there were beautiful trees on a ridgeline melting into the fog. The irony is that the goal of this trip was to photograph foggy scenes in Cape Disappointment. Despite my research that told me that the foggiest times of the year for Cape Disappointment (the foggiest location in the US) were in the summer, we got no fog while we were there.

^ I’m most definitely NOT a wildlife photographer. However, one does not often see bald eagles, so I had to give it an attempt. Seeing this eagle was even more exciting to Melissa who had decided seeing bald eagles was a goal. Wish I had a longer lens to have captured this one (180mm is a wide-angle for wildlife).

^ It’s been a very long time since Melissa and I have taken a vacation. Usually, the few trips we do take are for a specific purpose. Work, family obligations, some sort of event. This trip was mostly for mental health recharging purposes. Despite the risk of Covid, for the most part, our trip was pretty relaxing. The most relaxing moment for me was the first night in this hotel/motel we stayed at in Ilwaco. This was our view from our window.

^ There is a long story wrapped up in this image, and it was one I had to give some serious consideration as to whether or not I would post it at all. The subject in this photo and I had a conflict that killed my desire to share the images. It was sad because our actual time together in Washington had been enjoyable. Had the conflict not happened I would have shared the photos I took of her with pride and enthusiasm. It’s not the first time I’ve had a disagreement with a model that impaired my capacity to appreciate what we created. I have images from a couple of these experiences that it took me years to be able to go back and look at and to be able to appreciate them just as art and not reminders of the conflict. The more I thought about this image and the situation, the more I felt empowered to share the photo I most loved from my time with her. After all, we essentially risked our lives for these photos. That and I work hard for these collaborative shoots. Anyways… at least the one major negative that came out of this trip happened after we returned, and didn’t involve Covid. So that’s a plus.

^ After abandoning all hope of seeing any semblance of fog in Cape Disappointment, we did get a smidgen of coastal mist the last full day we were there. I love low tide photos.

^ Here is another example of being focused on what is in front of you and then turning around to be greeted by an equally beautiful sight.

^ The place we stayed at in Ilwaco was essentially just a standard two-story motel with a courtyard that the current owners had spent some time styling and designing the aesthetic. It had a comfortable modern, nautical feel to it. On one of the exterior walls, there was a very cool Poseidon/Neptune mural that grabbed my eye.

^ I would have loved to have explored more of Ilwaco, and Astoria, which was across a bridge to the south. It reminded me of a lot of parts of Ballard, a neighborhood in Seattle. This particular dilapidated building had an amazing geese mural that seemed to be tickling whatever repressed memories I have of the 70s.

^ Another dilapidated building in Ilwaco. This one actually had plants weeds growing on various parts of the exterior wall. There is urban decay, and then there is a fishing town’s urban decay.

^ I love everything about this photo. The blues, the textures, the feeling of age, decay, and abandonment. The whole little downtown part of Ilwaco makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.

^ Be still my retro heart! I am pretty sure my grandmother had a typewriter of this magnitude.

^ I had thought that Kelly moved to Portland a couple of years ago. So as we were formulating the planning of the trip she popped into my mind as someone I’d like to attempt to see and maybe photograph. Kelly was one half of a shoot I did with Caitlin and Devan a few years back that remains one of my all-time favorites. I had last seen her during my Palm Springs retreat. The problem with photo retreats as mentioned with the photo I posted of Jasmine is that you never really get to spend enough individual time with all of the people you’ve invited. Sure it’s super fun, and yes, you get great images of everyone. But there is a certain magic when you’re focused on one person, or even a duo for a specific intent or theme. So when Kelly moved I was bummed because she was someone I likely would have photographed again and hung out with. Life moves at freeway speeds and my photoshoot plans are chugging along in a golf cart. As it turned out, she lives in Eugene, not Portland. So she drove all the way to Portland for this shoot when we totally could have shot much closer to her. Kelly didn’t seem to mind at all, but I definitely felt bad! She had not modeled for a while, but she most definitely had not forgotten any of her tricks for being completely ferocious in front of a camera. It was almost painful to narrow it down to one photo but this was my favorite.

I’ve moved away from enough cities in my life to no longer fret the inevitability of losing touch with people. So when we attempted to organize a little distanced outdoor gathering of our old Portland crew, we got very few responses back from folks, and even fewer attendees. But one person who did show up was Biliana, wife of my favorite Australian, Marc (Marc was there too). Bili needed a new headshot, so I was happy to help. I probably would have spent more time photographing her if we had dedicated more time to it. It’s sort of rare for me to have friends like Marc and Bili where we can sometimes go months or even years without seeing or really communicating with each other, but as soon as we get back together we’re the same friends as we were when we left. I can only assume that she was thinking about science when this was taken.

^ Jacob, our former intern who worked with us at our studio in Portland exactly one million years ago, asked me to shoot an engagement session for him with his wife, Cassie. I know that sounds a bit weird, but due to Covid that had gotten legally married in May. If all my couples shoots were the same sort of effortless fun that these two were, I’d probably still be doing weddings full time. Both of them are really cool people.

^ As we left Portland we made a stop in Newport, Oregon. It’s a slightly less decaying version of Ilwaco, and a lot more touristy. The most beautiful warehouses, rusting, paint peeling, and smelling like the death of all fish lined up one after the other. I only wish we had more time there. That is Newport. Also: Newport, Oregon > Newport, California.

^ I’m proud of this photo. Partly because I like the photo, and partly because I managed to motivate myself to go back there and take it when the light got optimal. This was taken from the Yaquina Bay Bridge, which even in mid-August, is windy and cold.

^ Lately, I’ve observed that I have an affinity for elements of modern technology emersed in natural settings. Normally I go to great lengths to make sure the communication towers, power lines, random cars, etc. are not present in my nature shots. Yet I also have been starting to enjoy not fighting with those elements in photos, just accepting them, and documenting their existence. I dunno, I could just be weird.

^ The toughest part about road trips in my opinion is not being able to stop every time I see something I want to photograph. For as many photos as I took on this trip, if I had a photo for every impressive, beautiful sight I saw, I’d probably still be on the road. We did however make an exception for the area around Paso Robles. Sometimes things get so pretty you have to just stop and document.

^ A few days after we returned to San Diego we met up with Sierra for a little photo adventure around Barrio Logan. Sierra had spotted this mural when she arrived a little ahead of us. I like seeing these reminders throughout the city.

^ I’m not sure when Selina and I first talked about doing a shoot. It seems like it was many months in the making. We went to UCSD (big surprise right?), and this was my favorite image from the shoot.

^ California typically catches fire during the summer, but this year was exceptionally terrible. I took this from the top of Mt. Helix. The air quality was awful here, but nowhere near as terrible as it was in some of the areas we just returned from.

^ The pandemic put a temporary pause on Luz’s campaign to become the next top model of New York City. I very much admire her upbeat spirit though, always able to make the best of her situations. I definitely missed her energy, and I hope that I get to photograph her a lot more in the future.

^ I might as well get a dorm room at UCSD with the number of photos from the campus that have made this review. This particular one was from yet another corner of the campus that I “discovered” this year. For whatever reason, this particular series of buildings gives me an Inception vibe.

^ Shooting architectural photos and correcting perspectives has been a new skill of mine that I’ve been working on this year. Often to correct the keystone effect of shooting with wider lenses, I have to clone or duplicate other parts of the building to fill in for the lost data. I’m not sure if that’s interesting to anyone or not, but this minimalist photo that I really dig the color pop of is a good example.

^ Despite the fact that traveling during a pandemic is for the most part just stupid, we were eager to leave San Diego again about as soon as we returned. I think we probably should have done a little more research and timed our departure for slightly better lighting conditions. Okay no lie, the light was pretty horrible this entire trip. I took a plethora of landscape photos, but very few of them hit me in the art heart quite like our coastal trip did. In fact, this trip might have even fallen into a slightly “meh” category had it not been for Caitlin joining us for part of it. Here she is walking towards the edge of Horseshoe Bend to either get a better view or make me nervous that she’s too close to the edge.

^ I’m probably gonna break all my own rules with Cait photos, but she’s both important and not difficult to look at, so I’m sure everyone will survive. This was taken at the end of the cul-de-sac where our Airbnb was. I love the tones, the dreamy feeling, the Cait-face, and her Van Halen shirt. Just six days before this photo was taken, Eddie Van Halen died. Cait’s a huge Van Halen fan.

^ During our first trip this year I scheduled too many portrait shoots. It’s tough to find a balance where I feel creatively fulfilled and Melissa doesn’t feel like models hijacked her vacation. It was a little different on the second trip because Caitlin is like a family member. Still, I wanted our shoots to be more on the lowkey side. We had been talking about a “just woke up” sort of boudoir shoot for ages. It worked out well because I shot it with natural lighting so Melissa didn’t have to assist. We also got up pretty early (for me anyhow) to knock it out before we went on a hike. Also, Caitlin’s smile helps prevent Covid.

^ Okay, I know this is breaking the rule of only one image per portrait shoot, but come on! Cait in lingerie being sexy on top of a washer and dryer? To be honest I felt like I was making the dreams of people in appliance departments come true.

^ I had never experienced a slot canyon to my knowledge before this trip. Since quite a few of the most amazing ones are on Navajo land (shut down due to Covid), we had to do a little research to find alternatives. Buckskin Gulch was what we decided on, and it didn’t disappoint. Yes, it’s actually that color.

^ Cait, do you have any dresses in your hiking bag you can throw on for a little mini shoot?

^ I wrote a little Caitlin dedication on Facebook a while back because I’m sentimental like that. In this manifesto to Cait’s character, I mentioned a little about our Cathedral Wash hike. This was one I found randomly online that was pretty close to where we were staying and the site I read about it on MARKED THIS MOTHERFUCKER AS EASY. The tiny speck of a person in the upper right of the frame is Melissa, the tiny speck at the bottom right of the frame is Caitlin. Where Melissa is standing in the exact spot where this hike stops being easy and starts being some sort of adventure sport. Somehow getting down there was the easy part. The way back I’ll never forget because in addition to being heat exhausted there was a moment I thought Cait could have been really injured. She was fine, but it did kind of shake me up a bit. I know it’s not like we were climbing up the face of El Capitan or anything, but it’s not like we’re athletes either.

^ The Cathedral Wash trail ends when you reach the Colorado River. It’s not a loop, so you just double back and go back the way you came in. This is the view as you turn away from the river and begin to head back in. At least the view is pretty amazing.

^ Alright, let’s talk about fucking Horseshoe Bend. First – this mammoth-sized, amazing feat of nature, is about ten feet away from a parking lot. The first time we visited this place was a little before 5 pm in mid-October. The light was horrific, but I chalked it up to the direction of the sun and that we weren’t there late enough in the day. Cait had wanted to give it another shot, so we got up in the morning and went down to check it out. Unfortunately, the light wasn’t much better, but I did get an okay shot of it. One of those ones to take just to say I was there. This isn’t a photo Apple is going to use for their Horeshoe Bend OS. If you were to see this image on a large monitor I’d point out that the two small specks in the water in the lower center portion of the photo are two kayakers. That gives you an idea of the scale.

^ I call this photo, “Saint Cait.” Part friendly goddess, part religious candle.

^ After Caitlin had to go back home, Melissa and I had a few hours left of light in Arizona, so we headed to a spot just slightly north of Page to admire some of the landscape. This image is a composite of four or five images shot vertically and stitched together in Lightroom. The full-size file is monstrously large.

^ I really love the colors of this shot. This is the view directly east of Page. In the first photo of the scene I took, I deliberately framed it so that the power station (or whatever that is) was not visible. This is the photo I took after the “clean” view. Over time I started to like that the footprint of mankind was in the shot. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s a theme of coexistence.

^ Melissa had been dying to go to Bryce Canyon National Park for years. So after departing Page it was our next stop on our trip that was sadly now devoid of Cait chatter. Upon arriving at the entrance, the rangers were turning people away because the park was at capacity. Considering we were among the stupid people touring national parks during a pandemic, I really should not have been surprised or complained. Of course, I did both. In order to kill some time before we tried our luck at entering the park again, we backtracked to the Golden Wall Trailhead in Red Canyon. Ironically I liked the landscape there a little more than what we experienced when we finally did get into Bryce a couple of hours later.

^ When we finally did get into Bryce, the light was so insanely contrasty and horrible that I didn’t get anything I liked until the very end of the day. Here is one super Bryce-esque shot just as proof I was there.

^ I probably couldn’t have picked a favorite image from Bryce that looked less like the photos I’d seen from Bryce than this one. Yet this forest of tree skeletons was what I loved most while I was there.

^ Zion was even more jam-packed than Bryce. What I had forgotten about Zion was that you cannot access the bulk of the park unless you board one of their shuttles. Being on a bus during a pandemic with the current lineup of maskless non-distancing people with their hordes of wild maskless children was quite unappealing to me. So my second Zion experience was sadly about as unenjoyable as the first time we traveled to there with some “friends” who couldn’t be bothered to wait for us when our car broke down in St. George on the way to the park… I digress. Anyhow the light once again was pretty harsh. The photo I ended up liking most from the entire day is the least “Zion” of all the shots I took. It’s just a simple photo of a calm stream and a cluster of trees with their colors beginning to change. It could have really been from anywhere – but the fact that it’s unlikely that anyone else had taken that shot makes me love it more.

^ We had contemplated going back to Zion a second day, but I really wasn’t enjoying it there. Instead, we went to Snow Canyon, a state park in Utah very reminiscent of Red Rock or the Valley of Fire in Nevada that Sierra had recommended to me. We arrived in the early part of the day and the sun was just intense and oppressive. Luckily the park itself isn’t huge, and it’s located just a few minutes outside of St. George. So we went back to our Holiday Inn staffed by unmasked employees to kill some time. Then we went back towards the end of the day and it was a lot better. As the sun began to set I took this wide angle of the view to the north. You can spot Melissa relaxing on the rock below if you look hard enough.

^ A small sliver of a moon rising in Utah. This had been a good ending to a day. It wasn’t a feeling I felt a lot in 2020. Not that every day ended on a bad note this year, but few felt as content as this one.

^ Las Vegas is weird. Las Vegas is monumentally weird during a pandemic. We stayed two nights there at our favorite hotel, the Vdara. We had gotten an upgrade to a suite, and the view was cool with the new Raiders stadium that looks like some sort of alien intelligence in the distance. I regret not having attempted to take some photos of it. Anyhow, I took a series of images from this view as the sunset turned to dusk and then night, Unfortunately, whatever coating was on the window was causing a weird polarization color effect on the sky.

^ Vegas felt safer to me and more Covid compliant than most of the places we were this year, but it also kind of felt like it lost its dirty soul. Vegas is built around everything a responsible person during a pandemic feels wrong about doing. I do wish this sort of environmentally irresponsible lighting existed in my hometown. It sure does make for some cool night photos.

^ I gotta say, Torrey Pines has lost its luster with me. I do however miss getting to see my favorite tree, Earl. I figured it should have a proper old man’s name. Sadly the view I like to photograph him from is now surrounded by these new guard rail things they have everywhere.

^ I was so hooked on binge-watching “Scientology: the Aftermath” that I had to go and find the Scientology building in San Diego.

^ I find our national obsession with flags to be strange. On one of my photo walks, I thought it would be interesting to attempt to document every American flag I saw. I quickly became overwhelmed with the number of them I saw in just a few square blocks of my neighborhood. One thing is certain, when you’re in the United States you cannot forget that you’re in the United States. Taken downtown in late December.

^ You probably were thinking I was going to end this post with something super upbeat, right? 2021 isn’t an automatic reset on reality. Getting beyond this virus and returning to a state of life and being where we can be around the people we want to be around, and do all of the things we want to do – that is my hope for the future.

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