My Favorite Photographs of 2023

Rusted out truck atop redwood stumps in McKinleyville, CA

Photographs are a bit of a given when you spend your working hours as a photographer. I’ve captured another few hundred thousand this year. And though all of those photos I capture are taken by me, they’re populated by the people, memories, and stories of clients I’m serving. And I’m glad to say that I will still grab my camera when I’m off the clock, on the road, or with the people I love. The photos that I capture at those times have a different and even dearer meaning to me. So between my professional and personal photos, perhaps you’ll enjoy a look behind the curtain at what I’ve seen and felt this year.

In no particular order, here are ten of my favorite images captured in 2023—with the quaint/silly/personal/emotional stories behind them.

10. A Good Friday (San Francisco, CA)

A young boy in a soccer jersey tries to surf using a plank of driftwood.

While mom was out of town for a few days, the kids and I took a grandpa-powered road trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. We meandered those busy streets until we arrived at Baker Beach, woefully underdressed for the gray and blustery day (remember, mom was out of town). Though I find that it doesn’t matter what weather we’ve got when we visit the ocean; those waves have an irresistible, magnetic pull on my kids. My youngest son walked the sands and discovered a slab of driftwood, giving it new life as surfboard. He set it down on the sand, waiting for the waves to set him afloat and pull him into the water. Too far from the waves’ reach, it just didn’t happen. So he kept nudging his board closer and closer to the water. He looked out toward the waves, and through my lens, it seemed he was taunting it. I laughed and was proud of his brave little heart. And I was grateful that he was taunting someone other than me this time around.

9. High and Not Dry (McKinleyville, CA)

An old truck sits on top a redwood tree stump in a redwood forest in McKinleyville, California.

I feel absolutely alive in the redwoods. The ferns, smell, mist, and even the banana slugs bring a little heaven to earth for me. So even when the January rains came I knew I needed to explore the forest behind our rented cabin. I photographed all the usual suspects: with beads of water tracing fern leaves, the branched canopy under moody skies. But I was not expecting this rain-soaked scene as I climbed into a clearing. I mean, the worn out truck isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon in most redwood groves. How did it get up there? And why? And all the other “w” questions?

Couldn’t tell you. But I knew that I didn’t want to be impaled on a redwood stump of my own, so I heeded the “NO TRESPASSING” sign and went the other way.

8. The Way Back (Bend, OR)

A boy in tennis shoes leaps into the cinder dust of a trail on Mt. Bachelor in Bend, Oregon.

I could have shared a triumphant photo of my son summiting Mount Bachelor. Or maybe a frame of him pulling himself up its most slippery surfaces, looking tough as nails. I chose this one instead.

A month earlier, I had asked my oldest son what he wanted to do on our vacation to Sunriver in Oregon. After searching the web, he responded with his own question: “Can we maybe climb Mt. Bachelor?”

It turns out that yes, one can climb Mt. Bachelor: a 9068′ ski slope that features in all of the area’s best skyline views. And I also told him yes. So after riding up a ski lift to 6500′ feet, we set off for the summit. We didn’t have boots or trekking poles, but we did have gummi bears and salami. And we needed all of that when we hit the slippery gravel of this ancient cinder cone volcano, or when snow covered up our trail. We finally made it to the top, a bit winded and scraped up, and we celebrated. Inside, I also celebrated this show of grit from my son. And his joy was especially clear as he leapt back down the mountain, stirring up clouds of cinder along the way.

7. Underground (Truckee, CA)

Photo of the grafitti-covered walls of a tunnel at Donner Pass.

To me, the Donner Tunnels are the stuff of local legend. It’s the kind of place that your friends have all heard of but know next to nothing about. So when looking for something to do over the Thanksgiving break, I convinced my family to visit the tunnels ourselves.

Early fall weather and high elevation meant that the area was already blanketed in a bit of snow. And where we might have expected to find water, we instead found ice—and icicles. This made for a slippery, chilly walk through some dark stretches—occasionally interrupted by short bursts of sunshine and snow-covered trees—before ducking back in to one of the four tunnels on this trail.

In one of the longest tunnels, we came across this burst of color. It looked like a graffiti-covered asteroid had burst through the mountain itself, making a way for sunshine to spill in. Given this strange sight and my children’s chattering teeth, we decided that this should be the climax of our hike, and we turned around before reaching the end of the trail.

Next time, tunnels, next time.

6. Red, White, Blue (San Carlos, CA)

A newlywed bride and groom pose in a decommissioned jet engine at the Hiller Aviation Museum.

Ok, so I do enjoy sharing a photo or two of my client work in my annual top 10 lists. And this one makes the list this year, because of the way it conjures up a sense of both joy and pride for me.

Joy, in that I love working at a place I’ve never been with wonderful people. Certainly, the Hiller Aviation Museum was a total unknown to me before photographing Renee and Dan’s wedding. I loved walking through the exhibits and runways, improvising little recipes for dynamic images out of spaces and people. And that time also gave me the chance to spend hours with these two, breathing in their hobbies, wanderlust, and contagious excitement about what’s to come.

Pride, in realizing that I had none of the understanding of photography, creative lighting, posing or camera technology to make an image like this a decade ago. It makes me smile to look at an image and sense that I’m still learning and growing.

5. Deschutes Sunrise (Sunriver, OR)

A sunrise plays out over the Deschutes River in Sunriver, Oregon.

Any dedicated landscape photographer is up before dawn and out with the stars. Guess I’m not a dedicated landscape photographer.

This morning on vacation was possibly the only time I woke before sunrise the entire year. With no regard for my beauty sleep, I rolled out of bed with that same compulsion I’ve faced for about a decade now: to use my vacation mornings to capture some landscape photos before the family even notices I’m gone. I threw on a thick jacket to face the high desert chill, grabbed my camera bag, and set off down a promising dirt road I had noticed the day before. And thankfully, that road led me to this sleepy bend of the Deschutes River with not a minute to spare.

Though I race the rising sun for these sorts of photos, I always feel a sense of peace and joy as I find a spot to post up. Adjust my camera settings. Breathe deeply. Snap. Debate if I should move over another few feet. Snap. Move over. Snap. Move back. Snap.

Honestly, this silly little early morning dance is my madcap way of thanking the God who created this breathtaking world.

And on a side note, this little spot became our family’s swimming hole just a few days later.

4. Only the Best (San Francisco, CA)

A grandfather and granddaughter look out at the Pacific Ocean near the Sutro Baths.

There’s nothing magical about this photo except for the people in it. I captured this candid image on the same day as the image at the beginning of this list, and everything about it speaks of the chilly conditions of the day: thick winter coats, my daughter’s mouth buried behind her collar, my dad’s hands burrowed in his pockets, hair blowing in the coastal wind. I see their body language and feel cold all over again.

Though I also spot the squinting resolve on my dad’s face as he looks seaward from this platform above the ruins of the Sutro Baths. That’s the resolve he offers in just about any situation. Oh, and see my dad’s subtle smirk? It’s one that I’ve seen so many times that I’ve adopted it myself.

Come to think of it, these are the two people I resemble most in this world. I love ’em.

3. A Departure (Twin Bridges, CA)

Landscape photo of Pyramid Creek flowing through the Desolation Wilderness.

Ordinarily, I hike with friends. Since nobody was free that day (a wedding photographer’s free time falls during the work week), I promoted my golden retriever Mac to trail buddy. We set out on the trail up to Horsetail Falls in California’s Desolation Wilderness. Don’t worry, it wasn’t as perilous as it sounds. This trail was one my family had attempted years before but had to give up on when we ran out of daylight. I’d be moving at the speed of my dog and I this time around, rather than the pace of a family with little kids.

And though we moved at a good clip, Mac did twice the hiking I did. He ran far ahead then back again, to the edgewaters of the Pyramid Creek and back again, out in the thick brush and back again. This guy was fully alive. And his joy was infectious—helping me to take each step through the beautiful high country.

We made it to the falls and down again in the same two pieces we started with, with muddy paws and big smiles on our faces.

2. Playing in Traffic (San Francisco, CA)

A bride and groom stop to kiss while walking down the streets of Nob Hill in San Francisco, CA.

So a photo in the busy streets of “The City” (as NorCal folks call it) isn’t in keeping with the rest of these photos—most of which were captured outdoors and off-road. But I enjoy this one nonetheless.

For me, it conjures that uncanny feeling of deep love, where you’ve got the whole world to yourself even when you’re surrounded by millions of others. And there are millions of others in San Francisco. The towering buildings host floor upon floor buzzing with people getting business done. The streets brim with pedestrians and drivers making their way to that place they’ve got to reach. The Bay Bridge connects city to city, welcoming tourists into town. And still, all you can see is each other.

All these surroundings could make one little couple feel small and overwhelmed. But I suspect Laura and Matt felt as big as could be that day, simply overflowing with joy.

1. Bro-shoeing (Truckee, CA)

A young man snowshoes toward a frozen Donner Lake in Truckee, CA.

A glance back at favorite photos from years past shows my soft spot for northern places like Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, or Norway. While I couldn’t squeeze in travels to any northern latitudes this year, at least I made it up to higher elevations with my brother. The thoughtful guy arranged for a snowshoeing adventure for my birthday, and had the shoes and poles rented and ready to go. Just show up, strap in and set out.

8 feet of powder and mild temperatures meant that we hit the jackpot with our winter playground. Skirting the frozen Donner Lake was a highlight for me. As with all of my travels, I find the otherworldly spots are the most memorable, and this world covered in snow felt plenty unfamiliar (I must be from down in the valley!).

As I look back through photos from that day, I realize that my brother was consistently in the frame, just a few yards ahead of me. While we’re brothers and close friends, this photo also symbolizes how my 3-year-younger brother is a trailblazer in my life. Whether in his outdoorsy hobbies, in his worldview, in his growing faith, he’s often pushing the boundaries that I’ll often shy away from. But somehow, it’s easier to go to some of those literal and metaphorical places when you’ve got someone walking the path just a few feet ahead of you. Ted does that for me.

Thanks for the snowshoeing, bro, and for bringing me along in so many ways.

Runners Up

Poor Man’s Sledding (Lassen National Park, CA)
Big (South) Sister (Bend, OR)
Graffiti, Sutro-style (San Francisco, CA)
Scottish Weather at Folsom Lake (Granite Bay, CA)

Thank you kindly for looking in on some of my favorite photographs and memories of 2023. I hope the new year holds plenty of adventure for us all!

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