It is that time of the year again where I take a well deserved break, celebrate the holidays and take some time to look back at the past year and also look ahead to what is coming up.
2013 was a good year photographically. I took some of my best images ever and travelled to a few places I never thought I would get a chance to see. The highlight of the year was most definitely visiting Israel and Jordan, and particularly Petra. But I also took some great shots much closer to home, which proves that it’s not the location that counts but the emotion you put into taking the shot.
So, without further ado, here are my thirteen personal favourite images from 2013 (in no particular order). Hope you like them. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and share the link.
Tourists in front of the Treasury in Petra Jordan
“Petra at Night” is an amazing spectacle. Ever since I learned of it’s existence I knew I wanted to go to Petra at a time when I could see this show. We arrived in Wadi Musa (the modern town next to the archeological site of Petra) on the day of the show and first visited Little Petra. After a few hours break, we headed off to Petra for the show.
To my (and several other good photographers who we there too) photographic dismay, the place was filled with tourists taking snapshots with their smartphones, flashes going off uninterruptedly, and a videographer with a spotlight permanently on.
I wanted to capture not only the majestic architecture of Al-Khazneh (aka “the Treasury”), but also the almost tangible element of excitement that the spectators bring to the site. What could have been a very quiet serene experience was actually very electric.
Sunset over the St-Lawrence in Coteau du Lac
This shot was taken about thirty minutes away from my home. Since I was using my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at the 14mm setting, I was very very close to the foreground rocks.
So much so, that my main problem was getting water droplets on my Fotodiox neutral density filter. I spent as much time wiping the water off the filter than I did composing and taking pictures. In the end, I still had to Photoshop two drops out of the final image. Can you tell?
Wellington street overpass in Ottawa
Every time I go to Ottawa, I always feel drawn to this overpass. The architecture is so visually interesting, the swirls and hard edge diagonals are pure fun to compose with – especially with an ultrawide angle lens. I shot this same scene a few years ago with my Nikon D70 and went back in 2013 with my D800, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and a tripod. It was awesome fun.
Autoroute 30 bridge spanning the Beauharnois canal
This bridge was opened only last year and I searched hard for an interesting view of the span. Although this composition is not what I had in mind when I went out to shoot that morning, it remains one of my favourite architecture shots of the year. In photography, it pays to keep an open mind.
Glen Ellis Falls (Pitcher Falls) in Jackson, New Hampshire
I shot this image on a cool cloudy day during the Labor Day long weekend just before the rain started coming down.
The hardest part of taking this photograph was waiting for people to get out of the way as many tourists were walking back and forth into and out of my composition. The perils of using an ultrawide angle lens is that people assume they are far enough to the side that they can’t be in the picture. And they stay there – for what seems like an eternity.
As a photographer you just wait for an eight second window of opportunity that never seems to come…
Saint-Joseph's Oratory at twilight in Montreal Canada
Shooting the Oratory was an exercise in reality checks for me. I had such a strong previsualization of what I wanted as far as a composition that any angle I shot seemed a disappointment. In the end, I realized that the image I had in my mind’s eye was physically impossible to achieve, not matter which focal length lens or location I tried. I had to return a second night and shoot without this visual prejudice and work with what the scene actually offered.
Ammonoosuc river cascade, New Hampshire
The cool overcast light was perfect that day. No shadows and relatively little light let me shoot this scene without any need for light reducing filtration, such as neutral density filters. I actually came back the next day – which turned out bright, warm and sunny – and was actually disappointed with the photographs I took in the harsher light. What was better for humans (people were sunbathing and swimming on the second day) was worse for photography.
Sunrise over Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls
This is another prime example of previsualization in action. I imagined this image a few weeks before heading off to Niagara Falls, after seeing some other images online.
I used an app called the Photographer’s Ephemeris on my iPhone to pinpoint the location of the rising sun in early August and knew that it would rise behind the permanent mist. I knew I would need a graduated neutral density filter for my 14-24mm f/2.8 lens and bought it in consequence. I set out for the falls well before sunrise to be able to get the exact spot I had found the afternoon before and setup my tripod and attach my filters and other accessories. All I had to do was wait for the sunrise. I shot about seventy exposures to get this one that had all the details just right.
Abstract detail of the Niagara river, New York
I shot this image the morning before I shot the previous image. To my disappointment the sunrise was flat and colourless, mostly overcast, with only the slightest bit of colour at the horizon but none anywhere else.
I switched from my panoramic wide angle lens to my telephoto zoom and started extracting interesting details about the Niagara river. Only a few meters from the lip of the Falls, the water rushes at high speed with an impressive amount of force. I wanted to capture that feeling of rushing power and relentlessness.
Pedestrian bridge at night in Tel Aviv Israel
The Azrieli Center’s geometrically shaped towers (circle, triangle and square) are an architectural landmark in Tel Aviv. Only a few blocks from where I was staying, I wanted to capture the dominance the towers have over the neighbourhood early on during my trip to the Middle East.
To my surprise however, we were yelled at by an Israeli soldier for setting up on the sidewalk across the street from the buildings. Turns out that the building behind me was a military headquarters and the area is permanently under tight security.
As a westerner who had only been in the Middle East for a day or so, it was a rude awakening to how different this part of the world can be compared to home. Security is a way of life in Israel. Lesson learned.
Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba, Jordan
The first morning we were in Jordan, we woke very early to discover Aqaba before the heat became unbearable. (The previous afternoon when we crossed the border, it was a toasty 45° Celcius.)
So, at 6am, we walked across town to the most splendid mosque I have ever seen (OK, granted… I haven’t seen that many yet…). The Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque was recently renovated and was absolutely gorgeous in the sunrise light. I walked around it with my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and snapped away handheld. The textures and colours were sublime.
Al-Khazneh (the Treasury) in Petra Jordan
The Treasury is certainly one of the most photographed places in the world. It has been featured in many Hollywood movies and even in video games. So how does one photograph it and do it justice?
To me, the answer was to go up close and portray it as the imposing world heritage icon it actually is. Using my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 at 14mm, I was able to walk up and confront the sculpted building, but also force its columns to converge and make it look that much more larger than life.
With the mid-afternoon sun starting to dip behind the towering stone walls behind me, the top of Al-Khazneh was still sunlit making the top of the building look like shimmering crown jewels.
Stairs in the Old City of Jaffa, Tel Aviv Israel
Upon my arrival in the Middle East, the first “ancient” place I visited was Tel Aviv’s Old Jaffa neighbourhood. Tel Yafo (Jaffa Hill) rises to a height of 40 meters and offers a commanding view of the coastline which gave it strategic and military importance throughout history. Archaeological evidence shows that Jaffa was inhabited some 7,500 years BCE while it’s natural harbour has been in use since the Bronze Age.
As a westerner, anything older than 500 years seems surrealistically old and a mind boggling mix of societies, cultures and historical narratives. Walking through the narrow streets of Old Jaffa, I was constantly reminded of the intertwined Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths but also of the influence of Greek and Roman cultures as I roamed the streets where an outcropping of rocks near the harbor is reputed to have been the place where Andromeda was rescued by Perseus.
In this photo, I wanted to capture the weathered feel of the old walls, the palette of earth tones that range from dark brown to light tan all under a cloudless deep blue Mediterranean sky.