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The Best of 2017

And just like that - in a flash - another year has come and gone. It's absolutely true - the older you get, the faster that life seems to roll on by. Wasn't it just last week when I was chasing snow in Saluda and shooting spring blooms in Charleston, all in the same crazy day? It sure feels like it.

But alas, it was indeed nine months ago. And a lot of images have been taken by Yours Truly since that day - some in my usual, bombastic, widescreen, grandiose style; and others in styles I barely found myself familiar with, but ones I was eager to pursue, just to challenge myself for the sake of growth.

And a lot of growth happened in 2017, despite the tumult and chaos that happened in the second half of this year, some of which nearly broke me (which explains why this is the first blog I've written in nearly six months).

One has to run through the deep, dark trenches at times to get to a higher place; and that's why I feel so confident heading into 2018 - which, God willing, will be my very first year as a full time photographer. I feel like I have a far deeper well to draw from as I head into the unknown of the coming new year.

And here are my favorites from 2017, ten images that defined my year as a photographer, and ones that point towards the future:

10. Ellie the Elk

Good ol' Ellie the Elk (as I christened her). I was doodling around on the Balsam Mountain Spur Road adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway when I noticed her hanging around the overlook sign, occasionally peeking over at me in my car some seventy yards away; so I pulled out my telephoto lens and shot away until I got something I liked, as Ellie seemed to be really fascinated with that overlook sign!

9. Maggie Valley Winter Barn

A January snowstorm stranded my car at my house until the roads were cleared, so I ventured out by foot with my camera to capture what I could. This was one of those images, bright sunlight breaking through over the iconic barn on Soco Road in Maggie Valley. Glad I went out that morning, too - this image ended up in the December issue of Our State Magazine, the first of hopefully many features in that fine publication.

8. Spring Impressions

My "two seasons in one day" trip to Saluda, NC and Charleston, SC may have yielded the best bounty of any of my journeys this year. As lovely as the snow in Saluda was earlier in the morning, my late afternoon jaunt to Magnolia Gardens in Charleston was the real treat, as I walked the azalea- covered grounds for the first time. Of the dozens of images I shot there, this was the one I was drawn to the most. Someone had commented that this image was reminiscent of Monet, which I thought was a bit much, but I did end up titling it "Spring Impressions" in honor of that great impressionist.....

7) The Eyes Have It

By the time June arrived, I was feeling a bit restless and ready for a change, as I was feeling like one in an endless herd of landscape photographers. So one late afternoon as we ate at Chick-Fil-A, my friend Shardae and I decided to try something new. She would combine her modeling experience with my love of landscapes in a sort of creative collaboration. Our first shoot was at Cataloochee; and while we both were a bit rusty - I hadn't shot portraits in years, and she hadn't properly modeled in a good while - some gems still emerged from that initial session. This was only the second image shot that morning, and it remains my enduring favorite from that session, standing head and shoulders (no pun intended) from the rest. It was her soft, subtle smile and her stunning, welcoming eyes here that left me speechless. We upped the stakes in future shoots, as I incorporated graphic art around the unique characters she created. In all, the shoots reawakened my creative side, Shardae was totally in her element and grew by leaps and bounds from one session to the next, and the wealth of knowledge I gained from the experience is still paying dividends today. I'm proud of what we did. Our collaboration is on hold at the moment - life happens - but I hope somewhere down the road we can resume our shoots, as I still believe our creative potential is limitless......

6. Warrior Pose

All I had learned from my creative shoots with Shardae culminated in what I feel was my very best creative portrait of the year, a session with my good friend Amanda at Linville Gorge. Amanda wanted something dynamic that captured her persona, so I shot several images of her from different angles in a "warrior pose." I chose the best of those images; and when I went to edit the original image (the first one you see below) I decided to fill the space in the rather bland sky with some lightning. So I found a stock image of cloud-to-cloud lightning; and with my newly learned Photoshop techniques, I was able to take that original image to an entirely different level. The end result was exactly what I had imagined.....

5. Follow The Sun

Waterrock Knob, located at milepost 451 on the Blue Ridge Parkway close to home, is my favorite playground due to the variety of stunning vistas along its western slope. This particular image came on a late spring afternoon, as I decided to walk over to an opening on the adjacent Mountains-To-Sea Trail on the mountain. I shot several images of the emerging sunset scene horizontally, but I found the vertical view the best, as it best captured the depth of what I was experiencing. I rarely position the sun in the center of any image; but with the light rays peeking through the clouds in the upper third of my composition, this was one time I felt I could get away with it....

4. Lonesome Valley Morning

As is so often the case with my photography, I had set out one morning to shoot certain images I had in mind - only to find something else, and better. Jackson County NC Tourism Development Authority (one of my photography clients, and one whom I have a great relationship with) had asked for some new images for possible licensing; so I attempted a spring sunrise at Whiteside Mountain, but I got fogged in, so no luck there. I decided instead to head over to Panthertown Valley to capture some waterfalls.

But on the way I decided to stop at Lonesome Valley community near Sapphire. I stepped outside my car to snag some images of the early morning fog as it rolled on by.

But it was only after I had gotten back in my car to drive away that I noticed the one shot that truly caught my eye: a trio of trees framing the grassy fescue field, with leading lines in the grass directing the viewer to the dramatic morning scene of fog rolling over the trees in the distance. I always look for depth in my images, and here I had it in spades. I literally shot this from inside my car, holding my Nikon D3s against my window to keep it steady as I took the image. When I later converted it to monochrome, it came alive in a way I never imagined when I shot it. A totally unscripted image; and it seems like those are the best......

3) Misty Roaring Fork

Water images are, at least for me anyway, an exception to the rule. A lot of folks in the outdoor community chase waterfalls, while I prefer the more dramatic, sweeping, wide screen landscapes that fit my eye.

But there are those exceptions when conditions warrant a waterfall chase. Such was the case as I drove along Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in Gatlinburg earlier this year. Fog had set in, and I went searching for little falls and cascades, this one here best capturing the depth I was looking for.

2. Rough Ridge Autumn

There are two days that stand out for me as being the most productive this year. One was the aforementioned Saluda/Charleston trip; and the other was an early autumn day in the High Country of North Carolina, shooting with my buddy and mentor Tommy White.

So many images were taken that day, and a few fell through the cracks, including this one of the familiar rock outcropping at Rough Ridge. When I went back a month later to develop it, I realized what a gem I'd unearthed, with all the elements I like in an image - depth, color, dynamic skies, and nice leading lines.....

1. Roan Mountain Evening Glow

There are often those sessions where I only come away with one or two keepers. Of course I love those days where everything seems effortless, and I find one composition after another that just works.

But sometimes, quality trumps quantity. And on this cold, windy, rainy June evening I set out rather stubbornly to Jane's Bald on Roan Mountain in hopes of capturing something worth while. My lens kept getting wet, I had to work around a couple who were also there trying to capture the sunset, but once the sun peeked through I felt I had something special. I only managed one image with no rain drops on my lens, and this was it.

What made this image for me was not the sunset itself, but the effect the sunlight had on the landscape. If not for the wet rock outcropping reflecting the evening glow of the setting sun, this would be a decent but ordinary sunset image. But that golden glow draws me in. And considering the conditions I faced, the end result - as rough and unpolished as it is - was my very favorite image of 2017.

Here's hoping for more magic in 2018!

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