My Favorite Photos of 2016 (12 photos)

Once more, I compiled a selection of personal favorite photos from the year, for Jim Goldstein’s ongoing blog project. 2016 went by, seemingly in a breeze – but looking back at my photos, it was actually filled with many memorable events. So I guess it didn’t actually pass by quite as fast as it appears right now, in the short daylight hours of December and the last days of the year.

Even if you’re just looking for the photos, please read this: when I first began the selection process for the compilation, I wasn’t too thrilled by what I was looking at. But then I reminded myself that I don’t want to pick the photos with the most “pop” and impact, but the photos that are most meaningful to me. There’s this video by Ted Forbes where he says, simplified, “Nobody cares about your photography” (except you), so the photos should at least matter (to you).

So I began looking for images that invoked personal memories, reminded me of enjoyable moments, unexpected sights in familiar places… and I ended up with an initial selection of over 30 photos. So I guess in that inward direction, it was a pretty good year – editing the selection down to the 12 images presented here wasn’t easy, but using “how much does this matter to me?” as a measure worked quite well.

So here’s the gallery of those photos. Clicking on a thumbnail will open the familiar slideshow viewer with navigation. More information about the selection, and individual notes on each photo, are below the gallery.

The biggest surprise is that there’s only one black & white photo (well, sepia) in there this year! It was the year of color photos. Also, there’s only one coastal photo – since I consider myself more of a photographer of trees and back country landscapes and things, that’s no surprise. All photos were made in California – and only three outside of San Diego County. We didn’t travel outside of the state of California this year, but since I consider myself more of a local photographer anyway, that’s not a bad thing either.

It was also a pretty good year otherwise – knowing my photos are now decorating multiple medical facilities in San Diego County, having sold more licenses and prints, and being appreciated as a photographic judge, speaker, tutor, mentor, teacher. Thanks to everyone who made this happen, placed their trust and confidence in me, and supported me with their friendship, advice and wisdom.

Following are some individual thoughts about photos, why I picked them, and why they matter to me. Sometimes that’s very clear, sometimes more obscure. It’s not always easy to find precise words for a photo.


The Beekeeper Oak (Rancho Bernardo)

The Beekeeper Oak along Highland Valley Trail, San Diego, California. January 2016.
The Beekeeper Oak along Highland Valley Trail, San Diego, California. January 2016.

Having moved from 4S Ranch to Rancho Bernardo, the trails east of I-15 were a lot closer, and I went there for walks with Toni often. I immediately fell in love with this old, twisted and bent Coast Live Oak along the Highland Valley Trail, which had a bee hive at the base of its trunk. I wrote a little bit more about this photo in a blogpost: Another Favorite Oak – and was hoping to perhaps make photos of it throughout the year. Unfortunately though, it fell victim to strong Santa Ana winds later, and is no more. So I wrote about that, too: Farewell to a tree.

At this point I’d like to insert a reference to the Cottonwood tree at Lake Henshaw (aka “that tree”, “my tree”). I actually made photos there this year and added one infrared and one color picture to the gallery. I like them both and they were in my initial selection for this post, but didn’t make it. Now if I had been able to make a photo there with snow, it would have been different… I’m still waiting for that. :-)

 


Hummingbird Mother on Nest (Rancho Bernardo)

Peaceful hummingbird mother sitting on the nest, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, California
Hummingbird mother sitting on her nest, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, California. February 2016.

Having our own backyard for the first time, we’re now also the proud owners of two lemon trees. When I was picking some lemons in February a little Anna’s Hummingbird buzzed around me angrily and chirped at me – she had built a nest in the tree, and I was intruding, of course. I left her territory, but saw that the nest was visible from one of the rooms of the house – and all I had to do was to set up the camera with a long lens, open the blind and window, and make photos. That was delightful.

Unfortunately, the nest got robbed later, probably by crows, but we’re not sure whether the one chick in it fledged or not (I hadn’t made photos for three days, but I know there was a second egg in the nest that had not hatched, so maybe the chick fledged and the crows only took the second egg). We saw a juvenile hummingbird a couple of days later, and want to believe that it was “our” hummingbird baby. I published a couple of blog posts which concluded with Hummingbird Happy End (links to the other posts are in that article).

But that wasn’t all – we soon had another hummingbird nest, on the other side of the house, in a pine tree. It wasn’t as easily accessible, photographically, but two chicks fledged from that nest. It was the year of the hummingbirds for us.

 


Granite Mountain Summit View (Anza Borrego)

Summit View to the East from Granite Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California. March 2016.
Summit view to the East from Granite Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California. March 2016.

This was the best hike I did in 2016. Granite Mountain had haunted me for a long time and I hiked it in the best possible conditions in Spring. It was a cold and windy day, the valley below was sparsely green, some clouds from a storm to the west made it over the mountains and into the desert – some raindrops too. And at the summit, a natural garden of Manzanitas, in bloom! It was strenuous for me, but I loved every minute of it. More in this blog post: Granite Mountain (with plenty more photos too).

 


Elfin Forest Trail (Del Mar Mesa)

Trail winding through old-growth Scrub Oak chaparral at the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, San Diego, California. March 2016.
Trail winding through old-growth Scrub Oak chaparral at the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, San Diego, California. March 2016.

I “discovered” the trails winding through Deer Canyon at the Del Mar Mesa Preserve only in 2015, but I’ve returned a couple of times now with the camera, and I absolutely love the place (and so does Toni).

Even my fellow chaparral naturalists are astounded when they see it, and some have wondered whether these are actually California scrub oaks (Quercus berberidifolia, also called Inland scrub oak), or perhaps Coastal scrub oak (Quercus dumosa, also know as Nuttall’s scrub oak) – or some kind of hybrid. What I found online suggests that… a) it is a Scrub oak, and b) it’s complicated. :-)

So whatever Scrub oaks these are, they form this beautiful pygmy or “elfin” forest, and every time I’m there, it is completely mesmerizing and enchanting. When I made the photo above, I had met my friends Joe and Jeff for lunch before we took the brief hike down into the canyon and I showed them this place.

Later in the year, I used this photo during a presentation at the San Diego Photo Club, showing my approach to processing such high-contrast scenes into a more even and natural looking appearance, all from a single exposure, with just local adjustments in Lightroom – the positive feedback I received strengthened my confidence to teach more and pass my knowledge on.

 


Waking Dream (Solvang)

Lace-lichen covered oaks in the canyon of Alisal Creek near Solvang, California
Lace-lichen covered oaks in the canyon of Alisal Creek near Solvang, California. April 2016.

Our road trip at the end of April marked the end of five difficult months (less for me though), and felt a little bit like coming back to life. We traveled California’s central coast and inland regions. I woke up early on the second day, after we spent a night in Solvang, and took Alisal Road out of town for a walk with Toni. The lush green of Spring matched the feeling of a spiritual renewal and reawakening.

I didn’t really know where to go though, there was no trail and the land left and right was all fenced and private property. The area was most lovely, so I just parked the car somewhere at the side of the road and walked a little bit. In the most densely forested parts, the sun had not yet found a way into the canyon, the lace lichen on the trees swayed gently back and forth in the wind, and otherwise it was just… silence…

 


Young Black Oak Leaves (Volcan Mountain)

Young leaves still missing their green epidermis, on a Black Oak in fog at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, California. April 2016.
Young leaves still missing their green epidermis, on a Black Oak in fog at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, California. April 2016.

This photo is from a rainy and foggy hike at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve. It was only the second time I hiked there (with my friend Tracy on this occasion), and in the rain and clouds, surrounded by dripping trees and lush green, it was hard to believe that we were still and actually in San Diego County, in Southern California.

When this old Black oak along the trail emerged out of the fog, with its fresh young leaves bright and pink, it reminded me more of photos from Northern California’s redwood forests, or maybe Yosemite. Such an unexpected and astonishing appearance. On this gloomy day, it was one of these tricky situations where you need a short enough shutter speed because it was windy, but also want to keep the ISO as low as possible. I probably made ten photos of this tree, just to be sure. :-)

 


Rocky Passage of Escondido Creek

Infrared photo of a Rocky Passage of Escondido Creek at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, Escondido, California. June 2016.
Rocky Passage of Escondido Creek at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, Escondido, California. June 2016.

In May and June I was able to use an infrared converted Sony A7r camera, thanks to my friend Shannon Johnson (and my friend Frank borrowed me some lenses to use). I went on a quest to photograph some of my favorite places in the county, to see what they’d look like in infrared.

Now (color) infrared photography looks pretty unreal, and thus lends itself to endless manipulations of whatever color is there. I’m particularly fond of how the colors turned out in this photo, at this quiet spot in the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido. Two more photos in this blog post: Elfin Forest in infrared.

 


Clarity (Windansea Beach)

Just before sunset at Windansea Beach, La Jolla, California. July 2016.
Just before sunset at Windansea Beach, La Jolla, California. July 2016.

This is a multiple exposure to capture the various states of the water as it was flowing in and out through the opening in these rocks, and to smooth out the appearance of the water further out a little bit. Why a multiple exposure? Because I forgot the pouch with my ND filters at home! :-P

I prefer using longer exposures for seascapes because I really don’t like the hard, choppy and busy look of water when it is frozen in motion by the camera. Smoothly rolling waves become hard and jagged lines. Gently flying spray becomes a nervous mess of dots.

Sometimes, this means losing a certain dynamic and energy of course. I quite like the mixture that I was able to achieve here with the multiple exposure. There’s nice and fine detail in the front, but further out the ocean is smooth. It’s something to keep in mind, and play with more often. In addition to that of course, I really like the play of light and shadow, and how the lines that the shadows draw actually really “make” the photo, with regards to the effectiveness of the composition.

 


Trees and Wall (Balboa Park, San Diego)

Two trees against a porous wall at Balboa Park, San Diego, California, September 2016.
Two trees against a porous wall at Balboa Park, San Diego, California, September 2016.

We visited the “California Tower” at the Museum of Man with the San Diego Photo Club twice this year. It’s always fun to hang out with fellow photographers, and the club had bought out an entire tour so we were allowed to bring bulky camera bags and tripods. On both occasions though, I learned that I’m perhaps not much of a cityscape photographer – I lack the enthusiasm for these scenes entirely it seems.

Walking back to the car after we parted, I noticed these two trees (or rather, what little is visible of them in the tunnel-like walkways along El Prado), illuminated by the last light of day in the evening sky. It was such a surreal sight, and so unexpected to see this incredibly beautiful light there. Hundreds of people walk past this spot every single day – I don’t know if I’m the first one to photograph these trees like this, but since there were no crowds of photographers forming ;-) maybe I am? It was a defining moment for me – this is my photographic vision.

 


Pine Rootstock (Mammoth Lakes)

Weather-bleached rootstock of a fallen pine tree at McLeod Lake, Mammoth Lakes, California, September 2016.
Weather-bleached rootstock of a fallen pine tree at McLeod Lake, Mammoth Lakes, California, September 2016.

Our first hike during our Eastern Sierra trip late in September was up to McLeod Lake. It was a very short hike since we weren’t used to the elevation yet (and our physical fitness level was inadequate for longer hiking too;-) but the lake is quite nicely embedded in the woods under the northern part of the Mammoth Crest.

The only problem was of course that there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, which is perhaps the worst punishment for a landscape photographer. :-) I spotted this giant fallen pine – it’s massive, chaotic rootstock was almost entirely in the shade, and I was able to extract this close-up photo from it, handheld – and still manage to arrange the chaotic array of lines in a way that I find most favorable. File under: serendipity, photographic vision.

 

 


Sardine Falls of McKay Creek (Sonora Pass)

Sardine Falls of McKay Creek, seen from Sonora Pass Road, near Bridgeport, California, September 2016.
Sardine Falls of McKay Creek, seen from Sonora Pass Road, near Bridgeport, California, September 2016.

Another photo from our Eastern Sierra trip, when we drove up to Sonora Pass. We had stopped along the road because Shuwen wanted to make photos of some fall-colored Aspens. I just wanted to wait, and then saw how light and shadow played on the landscape in the distance, with a waterfall right at the center. It was wonderful to watch this through the viewfinder with a long lens.

What draws me to this photo the most is actually the valley above the waterfall. I fantasize hiking in to explore it. It looks so inviting, cozy and secluded, like a hiding place in nature – I guess it’s an introvert fantasy…

 


Collage of dry Artemisia californica (Lake Poway)

Collage of dry Artemisia californica, Lake Poway, Poway, California
Collage of dry Artemisia californica, Lake Poway, Poway, California. October 2016.

Throughout the years, I have always combined photos into small sets and arranged them into collages. The triptych above is the most recent one. I found the pale and muted colors of the dry California Sagebrush very appealing, and tried to combine it with the gentle movement and lines that I saw. Put together into a triptych, it turned into one of my favorite little gems.


 

And that concludes my selection. If you made it all the way to here – please take 50% off in my store with coupon code “TPGGVM” if you want to buy a print or some greeting cards. :-) Thanks a lot for your time reading, and for looking at the photos. Happy Holidays!

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23 Responses

  1. A beautiful and intimate collection, Alex. My favorites are the rootstock and black oak. Wishing you happy holidays and all the best in 2017. -Russ

  2. Hey my man, great contemplative list this year. Proud to have hiked with you on one of these images. My favorite is probably your backyard hummingbird, just because getting a nest image like that is so rare, and the story is powerful. Can’t wait to summit Granite Mountain someday, although I suspect I won’t have any clouds! One of my images from Volcan Mountain might make my 2016 list.

  3. Great images Alex. I think my favourite is the Hummingbird, just because I remember the story attached to those photos earlier this year. Also nice to see you finally embracing color. ;)

  4. I’ve said it before, I don’t think anyone does green as well as you. This is a wonderful set and now I’m embarrassed that not one of my 2016 pics was from SD or even the county! I hope you get some snow at ‘your’ tree this year.

  5. “Young Black Oak Leaves” is especially nice Alexander. Thanks for taking part in my year end “Best Photos of the Year” blog project. Always a pleasure to see your photos each year. I hope you have a great 2017!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Jim, and even more thanks for doing this fantastic project every year! I’m already looking forward to many hours of browsing this year’s list. :-)

  6. Nice collection, Alex. The two images I find most striking are Young Black Oak Leaves and Hummingbird Mother on Nest. I love watching hummingbirds (or any bird really) and watching them nesting must have been a great experience, one you created a beautiful image from.

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