Top Ten Photos of 2020

For the past several years I have put myself through the difficult exercise of choosing my top ten photos of the year. Because of the pandemic I took far fewer pictures this year than I did in 2019, but I still have thousands of images on my hard drive taken between January 1 and earlier this week. And that’s after I deleted test shots, closed eyes, and those that were out of focus. Most of them, of course, had no chance of making this list, but there were a hundred or so that I had set aside throughout the year for consideration. So, after a week’s worth of second-guessing myself, I have finally settled on my top ten photos of 2020.

I don’t go through this process in an attempt to impress anyone. Good photographers will look at my work and realize that there is little hope of that. In fact, this is really only for me. It provides me with some means of measuring my development as a photographer and an artist. Notice that I didn’t say “progress”. Development comes in many forms. Some are technical, others have to do with style, creativity and approach. For instance, this year I have only one landscape image in the top ten. Five years ago, I rarely, if ever, photographed people. I was “a landscape photographer”. Clearly, something has changed!

I could point out other developments that I see as I compare this year’s batch with last year’s. I think I see improvements in some areas and regression in others. But none of that would be of benefit here, so I’ll get straight to the images. Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Photos of 2020 in chronological order.

In January, before most of us had heard of Covid-19, I went to a living history event in Florida. I had hoped that it would be the first of many similar shooting opportunities that I would have this year. Obviously, that wasn’t to be, but the Brooksville Raid proved to be a great event, photographically. Interestingly, it wasn’t exploding cannons or men in uniform that rose to the top for me that week. It was this candid shot of a young boy heading out for water. The tones, the angles of his arms and legs, the turn of his head, tilt of the bucket (and that great hat!) all work together to create an interesting image and tell a story.

In February, at a Civil War event closer to home, I was wandering through the camps just after the gates opened. The air was cold. The reenactors had spent a difficult night in their tents, and most were barely moving as I walked between the campsites. This one, leaning over a campfire to find some small bit of warmth, never moved as I walked by. The smoke from the campfire rose into the shafts of sunlight filtering through the trees. The light provided some drama, as well as a perfect rim light around the soldier.

The longer I shoot, the more I realize that photography is about finding the story within the scene. Sometimes I see it unfolding in front of me with my camera in my hand. Other times, I find it later. This was one of those times. Historic Brattonsville hosted a small militia event in early March. I took several images of men demonstrating various types of firearms. The pictures were, umm, OK, but hardly worth sharing. Yet, somehow, I felt there was something more to be found in them.

Through a very aggressive crop I found the only parts of the image that mattered to me. The focused eye, the details of the hardware, the trigger pull, and – especially – the telltale wisp of smoke tell the story here. Luckily, the black hat in the background was there to help make the highlights of the smoke visible, or else this image would have probably never made it off my hard drive.

Not everything is about battle reenactments or weapons. Though the next image is quite different than the last, it, too, is heavy on details. The soft morning light, diffused by fairly heavy clouds, beautifully lit this flower at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina. If you enlarge the image, you will notice a light, textured overlay across the photo.

Two of my top ten photos of 2020 were taken on the same day. I worked with Historic Latta Plantation to provide a series of portrait sessions for those in the living history community. Unlike shooting at historic events, where I typically shoot candid images, or battlefield scenes, these were actual posed portraits. However, I didn’t want them to look like the usual Instagram fare that we have all become accustomed to seeing. I still wanted them to have a “period” look.

The first is a naturally lit, head and shoulders portrait of a woman portraying a backcountry wife of the late 18th century. I placed her a few feet into a barn, facing the large open doorway. The light from the sky reflected off the sand on the floor, illuminating her with a soft, warm light, reminiscent of the Dutch portraiture of the period. Her expression was perfect. All I had to do was push the shutter button.

Later, inside the historic home, I used a single flash, diffused through an umbrella to illuminate my friend, while still maintaining the details in the room around her. I think the light is both flattering to her face, and yet highlights the folds in the fabric of her new gown. Again, her expression and engagement with the camera really makes this image work for me.

The next portrait is more typical of the way that I usually shoot reenactors. This is a candid image, though I am fairly certain that he knew I was photographing him. He had stepped into a cabin in search of something and paused next to an open doorway and window. It was bright outside, so the light falloff was quick, leaving one side of his body in nearly total darkness, while still illuminating his face with the soft, reflected light. The resulting image is fairly dramatic, and the colors of his well-chosen outfit were perfect.

When I first picked up a camera again several years ago, it was largely a result of the backpacking and backcountry camping that my wife and I were doing. I wanted a way to bring back what I saw so that I could share it with others. I have found that capturing the essence of those scenes and those moments is far more difficult than I had imagined when I began. But sometimes I feel like, just perhaps, I succeed in some, small way.

The only landscape image to make into my top ten photos of 2020 comes from Rocky Mountain National Park. I had found my location the previous day, and had already determined my composition. As the sun began to rise, I realized that what I had envisioned was not actually unfolding that morning. So I swapped my wide angle lens for a telephoto and shot past the lake in front of me. The sunlight on the peak and the trees, the colors of the sky, and the angled diagonals throughout the image create interest. More importantly, the photo “feels” like what I experienced that morning. Hopefully, you can sense that as well. (I think you will need to enlarge it to it’s full size to best appreciate it.)

I have shared the next image in a previous post and explained something of it’s background, so I won’t revisit that now. I’ll just say that it’s nice when a picture you weren’t even expecting to take makes into your list of top ten photos of the year.

The first large-scale event that I was able to attend since the pandemic began was in South Carolina in November. This year’s reenactment of the Battle of Camden was large in every way. So many reenactors were eager to finally get out again, that the camps were full. A new location for the event meant a large, sprawling battlefield. Fortunately, I had some idea of the size of the battleground, so I rented a lens that would allow me to still shoot the tighter scenes and small details in the middle of the battle that I enjoy finding.

As it turned out, my favorite photograph from the event didn’t even take advantage of all that length! Even as I type the phrase “favorite photograph”, I’m not sure that I can tell you why. I have a number of images from the event that I am very happy with, but this one stands out. Perhaps because I processed it differently than I normally do with this type of photo. (That’s part of the development that I referred to earlier.) Rather than muting the tones, I actually let the bright red of those coats carry the picture. It is certainly the color that catches the eye. The green background complements the soldiers’ uniforms, and the diagonal lines of the flag, the weapons and even the smoke create a dynamic feel.

If you’re still reading at this point, then I thank you for your patience! Again, this process is mostly for me. I suppose the photographers among you might appreciate the details and the technical data. I hope that you found something you like among the ten. I would be interested to know your favorite, and whether you might have added a different image to the list.

Drop me a note in the comments below.

Here’s hoping that 2021 is a better year, and that 2020 has made us better people.

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!