2020 Ten Favorites

I never get around to sharing my top ten favorite photos for the year. This time I got on it early. I don’t think anybody is going to look back on 2020 fondly but pandemic, disasters, and conspiracy theory whackadoodles aside, this may have been one of my most creative years. Here are my favorite photographs of the year in somewhat chronological order.

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum Sunset – Landscape

The sun sets framing the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

This photograph of the sun setting behind the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is a favorite for a couple of reasons. I love the iconic Big Sun Setting Behind Something look because it reminds me of Endless Summer. The other reason is that I shot this a couple weeks before COVID-19 showed up in California. This was my last COVID-free image of the year.

Isabella’s Graduation – Portrait

Graduation

I was hired for a special portrait session for Isabella, a recent college graduate. It was early August and the pandemic meant that our shoot was going to be at her parents’ home rather than at Syracuse, New York. I did a considerable amount of planning to create a special session just for her. To capture the height of the trees I lay down on the ground and used a wide angle lens. I had been working with some new radio triggers that allowed me to adjust my strobes from remote so we could keep a safe distance.

Amber – Portrait

Amber

Funny thing, this year most of my favorite photographs are portraits. Amber is an entrepreneur, dating coach, portrait and event photographer from New York. She had recently moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains and we got to be friends.

Wildfire – Landscape / Photojournalism

Burned Tree – CZU Lightning Complex Fire

Things got bad in the middle of August. A dry lightning storm rolled through the Santa Cruz Mountains and ignited a series of fires in Bonny Doon. Those fires merged into a monster. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of us had to evacuate for weeks. I photographed the area around Big Basin Redwoods State Park with a guide and a local reporter shortly after the evacuation orders were lifted.

Air Attack – Photojournalism

A CalFire helicopter drops water on a spot fire.

Fires were still popping up for weeks after the main fires of the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires were under control. Just before evacuation orders were lifted I captured a series of CalFire helicopters dropping water on a spot fire across the valley. I wrote about the fire experience on Photofocus.

Alexis – Portrait

My favorite portrait of Alexis in 2020

Life settled down a little and things were almost routine again by October. Alexis and I coordinated a fun shoot at a spot I had been scouting much earlier. I used a combination of ambient light and strobes to get this portrait how I had in mind.

Capitola By The Sea – Landscape

Capitola Village and Soquel Creek Long Exposure

I’ve photographed this scene before. This time I had some new ideas for composing and processing the image. I saw this set of clouds rolling in and knew what I wanted to capture and how to do it.

Rohanna – Portrait

Rohanna in Red

Rohanna is a dear friend and a favorite local model. This area was untouched by the wildfires so I scouted for portrait settings. Rohanna brought this stunning outfit and some of my earlier ideas sprung to life.

Davenport – Landscape

Davenport Beach Long Exposure

The sun had set to my right, the tide was rising, and a mist was forming. I waited for the waves to rush up against me for this image. Yeah, I wrecked a perfectly good pair of shoes for this but I’m delighted with the results.

Danielle – Portrait

Danielle and Fall Colors Bokeh

I can’t pass up an opportunity to photograph Danielle Crook. Actor, musician, singer and glorious personality.

Quiet Monday morning – pandemic in the USA.

Monday March 16, Santa Cruz, California. The morning after our governor, Gavin Newsom asked for bars to close, older residents to self quarantine. This wasn’t a directive, but it seems to have been a broad request to help slow down this highly contagious virus. I had a physical therapy appointment this morning and forgot to enable notifications on my phone. The therapist office had called me on my way there, saying that appointments are cancelled. I brought my camera with me just in case there was a story to tell somewhere. That story started right across the street.

Some things stopped

All shows postponed

Some things need to go on

Still need to walk the dogs

Storytelling

I genuinely believe this is an important time for story tellers everywhere. I headed downtown for just a little bit — with great care. I saw a mix of things and behaviors. It was a bit quieter than usual. There were fewer people out. Coffee shops were nearly empty. Places like Verve Coffee are usually hopping with activity. There were a few customers but not empty, and not full. People kept their distance. I met a nice man named Mike, a financial consultant visiting from San Jose to meet a client. That client has asked if they could postpone the meeting for an hour, so he was here for a cup. He was friendly and well dressed. We struck up a conversation easily. We tapped elbows and chuckled about it. I didn’t get his picture — I really should have. We exchanged contact information and I hope to hear from him again.

Inside Verve. This little sign didn’t surprise me. The folks there kept on doing their job and made a great latte.

Notices

Chocolate the Restaurant, To-Go ONLY

I was expecting to see some businesses closed, or at least not open yet. After all, it was Monday morning. What did surprise me was how specific the notices were. Consider ordering something amazing from Chocolate via their website. You’re in for a treat.

O’Neill Surf Shop: closed

A little down Pacific Ave and O’Neill Surf Shop was closed. A sign in the door explained why. It’s a smart move, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of it. An iconic surf shop. In Santa Cruz. Closed.

Pacific Avenue. Not empty, but not busy.

People

I walked further past Palomar and Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. Both were open, and with some customers. I stepped out into the street with a wide angle lens. It’s not an empty street, but I’m accustomed to a little more activity. There were still folks making deliveries and some business as usual. Ish. I saw two men happy to see each other greeting with a big hug and handshake. This seemed like exactly the wrong move today.

Wandering around I always come across familiar characters. I think some recognize me too. We have a number of homeless on this street, although in much denser concentrations elsewhere in the county. I worry about these people today.

Troubled in a blanket. Everybody kept some distance from each other.
Homeless man with a mask
Street performers
Man in jacket with skateboard
Familiar characters
City employee keeping things going

Some elements of life looked normal but with subtle dissonance. A family out with their baby stroller. A UPS truck out for deliveries. A couple of cars on the road. 114 parking spaces available. That’s most of them.

114 parking spaces available.