Favorite Photographs of 2016


In these final days of 2016, the year has already become more memory than reality. And ever since falling in love with photography, so many of my memories are attached to places or people or feelings that I also got to capture with my camera. The images that follow, whether personal or those taken for my clients, are my personal favorite photographs of 2016. Because I’m a wordy guy, I’ll even throw in a bit of the story behind each image for good measure. Let’s get going!


10. The Slickrock Trail – Moab, Utah

Mountain biker resting on the Slickrock Trail in Moab, Utah.

Four of us blokes had come on a pilgrimage to one of the U.S. capitals of mountain biking: Moab, Utah. And we decided to tackle one of the most famous (and grueling) trails. Imagine riding a roller coaster up and down petrified sand dunes—with what felt like far more up—and you’re doing all the pedaling. I captured this moment at the highest point of the trail, as the four of us stopped to rest for dear life. My brother-in-law soaked in the dramatic landscape and big skies, all while looking rather dashing. The rest of us, however, were laid out on our backs and panting. I’m not sharing that photo.

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9. A Toast, or Was It a Roast? – Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

A bride and a groom are toasted by his father as the guests look on in laughter.

This moment comes courtesy of my dear friend’s destination wedding in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. After the ceremony had finished, the guests all filed into the mansion’s back room for champagne. Now Justin is the youngest of three boys, and had already lived through his two brother’s weddings. Those events had taught him that his father had a penchant for long-winded and embarrassing toasts. I could see Justin bracing for impact as his dad signaled that he wished to give a toast to the bride and groom. Dad first complimented the spirit and beauty of the bride, and then read a heartfelt poem he had prepared. Then he let loose with embarrassing stories of Justin. The guests laughed, and so did dad. But Justin and his brother? A little less laughter, a little more grimace…

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8. Sunset Silhouette – Roseville, California

Silhouette family portrait during a gorgeos fall sunset

Jenn had pleaded with her two boys to be on their best behavior during our photo shoot. I get it. I’ve got two boys of my own and I came from a family of two boys. I know that it doesn’t take long for combed hair to fall out-of-place, for shirts to get untucked, and grass stains to emerge, born of spontaneous wrestling matches. And yet these two held it together perfectly, like no brothers I’ve never seen. And not only that, they had no qualms about showing their tender side. While this isn’t the photo that I expect Jenn will hang on her wall, this is my favorite image of the day. I love the warm sunset lighting, and the suggestion of these two boys doting on their mom without even being able to see their faces.

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7. Ireland Double Take – Planada, California

Landscape photograph of the hills of Planada, California.

My chronic wanderlust is a condition that can only be cured by travels that require a passport. Yet this was a year in which I never left U.S. soil. But in this moment, at the tail end of a wonderful rainy weekend with my home church family, I spied this image. The spring rains had transformed this pastoral hillside into the very picture of Ireland, despite several years of California drought. This almost made me book the next flight to Dublin. Almost.

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6. Oswaldkinder – Camino, California

Three young children embrace in the middle of a fall hike through a forest.

My kids rarely stop their rollicking adventures long enough for a posed picture, so I’ve given up on that effort. Thankfully, they occasionally reward my (im)patience with images like this—which is my favorite photo of the Oswald kids this year. This scene played out during a woodsy little hike in the Sierra Nevada foothills outside of Sacramento. The kiddos, my wife, grandma and I were up here to enjoy the fall weather near an apple orchard that produces some of the most American (i.e. largest) apple pies you’ve ever seen. Just five seconds before, my youngest had pitched a fit. I commanded him, “Whatever you do, don’t smile!” That brought him back down to earth with a grin.

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5. The Lord is One – Sacramento, California

A bride clutches her mezuzah clsoe to her chest.

Over the centuries, Jews have taken literally God’s biblical direction to “Write [the commandments of God] on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” It is customary to place a slip of paper or parchment with critical passage of scripture (the Shema) within a casing called a mezuzah, and hang it over doorways in your home. Shaina didn’t stop there. On her wedding day, she wore a mezuzah necklace around her neck and I took the opportunity to capture this photo of it. Not only do I love the soft tones and the texture of the Hebrew characters on the necklace in this image, but I love the scripture inside and the God it describes:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

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4. On Top of Mount Ashland – Ashland, Oregon

This one took some doing, and I loved the doing. During our wedding anniversary trip to my hometown of Ashland, I woke before the sun to make my way to the top of a local mountain for some sunrise photography. Only when I arrived at said mountain, I discovered that I had to park my car two miles short of the summit and hoof my way to the top. This wouldn’t ordinarily have phased me. But with hardly any time before the sun would pop up over the mountain range on the horizon, I had to race the sun to the summit and hope that I could find the right spot to take it all in. Oh, the pressure! Ultimately this view of Northern California from the southernmost edge of Oregon is what I left with. And I was happy.

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3. Downtown – Sacramento, California

Senior portrait in an urban environment.

I love working with clients who bring their own creative eye, and Reed’s just that sort. He’s a filmmaker himself and a lover of cinema, which meant that he was up for trying all of the artistic shots and angles that we cooked up during his senior portrait session. I find myself continually coming back to this particular image in a dingy alleyway in downtown Sacramento; Reed was relaxed. The walls told a story in color and distressed paint. And the afternoon lighting was perfect. Maybe I’ll open a studio in that alleyway someday…

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2. Into the Woods – South Lake Tahoe, California

Environmental wedding portrait above Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe, California.

Nichole and Nicholas were speaking my language when they asked me to photograph their wedding. Sure, they’d have a brief wedding ceremony at a chapel followed by some family photos. Though what they really wanted was someone who could help them capture images of them exploring the beautiful surroundings on and above Lake Tahoe. That’s a real score for a landscape lover like me! So we spent several weeks planning out the different spots that we could conceivably hit with just four hours of daylight. This particular moment was captured alongside a waterfall that spills into Emerald Bay. I loved the rolling waters and the slopes of trees, not to mention the adventurous spirit of these newlyweds.

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1. Looking Back – Sacramento, California

Black and white photograph of a little boy riding a bike with training wheels.

Of my three children, it is William here that has taken the most time to warm up to riding his bike. We wile away so many summer evenings riding little bikes around the cul-de-sac in front of our house. And this was one of those rare evenings when William here actually wanted to ride. I had just gotten a new lens prior to a wedding I’d be photographing, and so I brought it outdoors to put it through its paces while he rode. I caught this frame of him looking back with reluctance written all over his face, with a long evening shadow cast behind him. Oh, and he’s wearing the trademark swimsuit wardrobe that he wore all summer long. I love this guy like crazy.

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There you have it: my favorite photographs of the year 2016. I hope that your 2016 has been just as full of laughter, discovery, adventure, and reflection—whether they’ve been photographed or not! And I pray that 2017 is a wonderful year for you and yours.

I get my kicks (and my livelihood) crafting images like these. Take a look at my wedding or portrait galleries and let me know if I can capture some for you!


  • Stephen Hadeen 12-27-2016

    Great stuff here PJ! So glad to know you are enjoying the photography. You have a gift for it. Might be hitting you up someday for thoughts. Penelope and I are wondering about the possibility of doing wedding/portraiture/etc. as a team – with my hearing loss, she’d be a great “hostess” and set up person to help me out. We’ll see as we both also remember working together for our job in CA … lol

    • P.J. Oswald 12-27-2016

      Yeah, you guys do make a great team, Steve! And you know I’m a believer in the husband/wife photography approach. Feel free to connect if you’d like to talk or email more.

  • Reply

    PJ these are some great photographs. we love looking at all the pics that you post , you do such a wonderful job. thanks for sharing.

    • P.J. Oswald 12-28-2016

      So glad to know that someone in Illinois is watching nd reading along. Thanks for the encouragement, and have a great new year!

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