My favorite photographs of 2020 are here. 2020 was not a particularly great year, as you know. But, even with the biggest pandemic in 102 years permanently changing the way we live and interact, there were small moments of peace and contemplation that I was able to document. I hope this collection helps bring some happiness to an otherwise depressing year.
This blog post is part of a larger project put together by Jim Goldstein each other that chronicles over 100 photographer blog posts each year. It’s a much better read than social media, and a much better community. I recommend you check out Jim’s website in early January to see all the work the community has made in the past year.
As I have mentioned in the past, this isn’t simply a list of my “best” photographs. This post is meant to chronicle where I have been and what I have been doing, and they are “my favorite” images. This means that some of the photos resonate with me for personal reasons. They may not be your favorite. But I will try to explain why they are meaningful to me.
To see some of my past posts, see the selection below:
To be back in January, when a novel coronavirus was just a rumor and the “old normal” was “normal.” OH8060, using my silly title numerology, is part of my ongoing Old Highway 80 photography project.
This section of road, however, pre-dates U.S. Route 80 was part of the pre-1926 Bankhead Highway system that the highway replaced. The road width accommodates a single modern SUV, yet the concrete, over 100 years old, is still in great shape. Using Adobe Lightroom’s map module, it has been great to “fill in holes” in my documentation of the original roadways that Interstate 8 bypassed.
Early 2020 was also the most sensible time to work on my coastal sunsets. By the time March hit and we were under the first lockdown order, I decided the coast would be off-limits.
Windansea Beach is a wonderland of rock, reflections, skies, and lots of people. The challenge is to try to eliminate the last one from your image.
Depending on the tide, these reflections can be found in numerous locations. I ignore the surf shack, and look for the rocks and the compositions waiting to be found.
Interestingly, this was the only sunset photograph that made it into my collection. Some of this is a function of not considering a busy beach during a pandemic for a location. But I also have realized over the last couple years that my personal expressive vision has been leaving the “epic burns” to other people while I search for something else. Perhaps sunsets are from the Introverts Guide To Photography – I seek something quieter and less crowed by the online community.
I miss the coast. Maybe I will visit when being around a crowd isn’t so dangerous. Here’s to 2021.
The lower desert of Joshua Tree National Park is often overlooked. Beyond the Cholla Garden, most people view it as a transit point to the high desert with what has become shocking crowds during the mild season.
When a storm is passing, the low desert can be quite dramatic. A couple hours stalking these clouds from Turkey Flat and several of the washes in Pinto Basin created a variety of scenes. Rainbows, flashes of light, shadow and brilliance, this early evening had it all.
This was a particularly poignant moment for me. Dark and foreboding, the light somehow hit the peak of Pinto Mountain perfectly. It only lasted a couple minutes. I saw only a couple people pass through – they used their cell phones. The second I clicked the shutter, I exactly how I wanted to process the image. I knew in February this was going to be one of my Favorite Photographs of 2020.
By the beginning of March, it was becoming obvious that the world was going to change, dramatically, and quickly.
San Diego County’s Laguna Mountains are a refuge. The crowds head to the Sunset Trailhead and Penny Pines. There are usually several cars at the Storm Canyon Overlook, yet this spot just down the road is often quiet and beautifully lonely.
This overlook sits right on Laguna Crest, and it gets some of the strongest wind currents in San Diego County. There have been countless times when I could feel like Ford Escape shaking while parked.
If you’re willing to battle the winds, you can find drama. Because of the dominant rain shadow, the clouds above the crest do unique and interesting dances as they try to pass over and reach the lower desert of Anza-Borrego.
This image is all about shape. The North-South massifs that define Storm canyon form a great “V” shape, and with a little help from the clouds, you get a moment that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Let’s fast forward to June, because that really was the time when we started to come out of our homes. There were a few quick sojourns simply to keep up my Photo of the Month blog series going (now over 90 posts and going). June was the first month that I really felt motivated to get out and spend some quiet time in contemplation outdoors.
Unfortunately, this is also the time when people had the naivete to think we could safely re-open. That flopped rather dramatically, and people stayed in denial all the way to the Holidays when COVID-19 numbers exploded. Rather than dwell on that frustration, let’s talk about the Laguna Mountains when they are green and vibrant.
For so long, I focused on the overlooks along Sunrise Highway. For good reason; they are some of the best views in San Diego County.
Having more time spent at home, looking through my Portfolio galleries and my Adobe Lightroom catalog, I realized I needed to get out of my comfort zone. This meant, look West along Sunrise Highway, and document the beautiful small canyons that are the headwaters of some of the major drainages in the County.
As usual, I am drawn to clouds. This was an overcast day that many people would overlook. But the stillness really complimented these small canyons and created a lot of beauty. This moment was ephemeral, of course, there were sports cars and motorcycles bringing the cacophony of the City to my little spot. But, they pass. And I still have this moment and this spot. I endeavor to contemplate it for a long time.
A light monsoon in July produced upper level clouds, and I really needed to get out of the house. One of my ongoing projects is chronicling Old Highway 80 and producing good photographs of the old road. This section, just South of In-Koh-Pah Park, has always been a favorite.
This road is the end, but it is not the end. Interstate 8 wraps around this section, and by the look of all the power lines, it is actually a busy place. The end of something is always the beginning of something else.
Another frequent project is my Modern Equivalents portfolio. This is a modern take on Alfred Stieglitz’s original Equivalents project. I have long enjoyed cloud photographs. In this portfolio, I seek to make the cloud itself the subject, instead of a supporting subject in the image.
I give myself a lot more room for artistic interpretation when making these photographs, and I have no problem making the sky jet black. The darker, the better. Contrast is king.
In this case, this cloud burst fit the frame just perfectly. This also spans virtually every tonal value from dark to light. When the clouds look good, I want to create images like this.
Everybody photographed Comet Neowise, but I selected a different image. In this case, on July 18, the comet was nicely lined up in a triangle with 2 other stars. I could not figure out what their names are, because looking it up for that date were the same close-up photographs everybody made.
This photograph was made at 24mm. I enjoy taking a step back and instead of straining to get as much reach out of a lens, I used my wide-angle. This photograph is from the Mast Blvd bridge over Santee Lakes (lakes 2 and 3) looking Northwest at the Pebble Beach and Weston neighborhoods of Santee.
Monsoon season was largely a bust for San Diego County in 2020. We did have a few good days of cloud development, though. This image is from the meadow East of Warner’s Ranch looking North towards Hot Springs Mountain (the highest point in San Diego County).
This photograph is a nice contrast to JT150, which had its subject mountain lit up. In EC35, the mountain is in shadow. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it was 106 degrees out and raining when I made this photograph. That’s wonderful weather to create something dramatic.
ME38 is another entry in my Modern Equivalents porfolio. I was socially-distanced hiking with a friend in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. I wasn’t seeing anything I really wanted to photograph in the chaparral below (although it’s beautiful), but the clouds were lighting up at sunrise. Some of them looked like fine filaments, that had this orange/peach color that looked very interesting.
If you look closely, you can also see the crescent moon poking through. No matter where you are, if you take a moment to just look at the sky, you will probably find something very cool to photograph, and this was a great addition to my portfolio.
I have long wanted to visit the “Rainbow Bridge” that carried old Highway 40 traffic over Donner Pass before Interstate 80 was completed. It is a beautiful bridge. I also got to enjoy this little trip with my daughter. I was in the area to help her celebrate Halloween, and getting a little stir crazy, we hopped in the car and headed for the mountains.
Old Roads are a lot of fun to locate and photograph. This bridge is as good as they come.
This journey concludes in November. With the December return to a pandemic shutdown, I decided I would be doing more writing than imagery in the final month of 2020.
Returning to our local Laguna Mountains, we had a beautiful Fall Color that reached its peak at the end of November before Santa Ana winds cleared the Black Oaks of their lustre.
Framing and balance guided what I wanted to capture here. What the crowds chasing Fall color miss is what compliments it. The evergreen pine forests contribute, not distract, from the magic of an oak turning its leaves. The beautiful reds of the buckwheat on the forest floor, with beautiful light and shadow.
Capturing Fall Color is more than just yellow leaves. It is about putting those moments into context with it’s beautiful but different surroundings. This is what draws me outward in my images, because a golden leaf needs a larger ecosystem to thrive. The same could be said for my photography.
My Favorite Photographs of 2020 Gallery and Lightbox
Click on any the images below to launch a Lightbox and scroll through the images in better detail.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.