If this is your first read of this type, what I am sharing is part of a larger project that Jim Goldstein leads every year. For those who don’t want to read 2,000 words, click this link to go straight to the image gallery. But I would rather you read!
Thoughts On 2019
2019 began with the best Southern California rain season in 14 years, followed by a long period of dry weather. Our monsoon season was almost non-existent. We closed with a few surprise storms and a sense this was a really strange year.
I also photographed much less. I created the fewest images since 2013, and I view that as a positive development. It was easy to skip the Poppy-apocalypse that created a month of 10-mile backups. I find interest in the quiet, the peaceful, and the contemplative. A single canyon busier than Disneyland was representative of where photography and tourism are headed to, and I want to run the other way!
Photography used to thrill me, and the great photographs made by my friends and colleagues motivated me. Now, over 15 years into making “serious” images, they mostly bore me. For the same reason that I think Stairway To Heaven is a great song but I have little interest in listening to it, most photographs have lost their power with me.
Sometimes I think the biggest problem in photography is that there is too much photography. Is this medium worthy of being “art” when there are seemingly more artists out there than patrons?
So while I show you these 12 images, I really wonder where I want to go in 2020. Only 7 of the 12 images were part of my Photo of the Month blog series. 3 of the 12 were shot vertically. I wonder if I should consider that next year. I am also struggling with not being able to travel out of town as much, and I am definitely pondering some smaller weekend excursions (maybe 6 – 10 per year?) to get out of my San Diego rut.
On that note, I created 12 images that are my favorites. These are not necessarily my “best,” or my most “technically proficient,” or have any special status among people online. My favorite images make me think, make me study, make me come back, and make me meditate some more. That’s what I want for my images and for my brain. So please enjoy all 12 images on that note.
My Favorite Photographs of 2019
The best rain season since 2005 got off to a great start in the lower elevations. In the “lower” end of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the blooms started in January and February.
With clearing storms and growth through June Wash, this was one of many photographs I made. I think this image is the best representative of what I hoped to find during the early season.
The best part is that this area wasn’t overwhelmed with flower tourists. Most of the people encountered throughout the early months were the normal desert travelers and adventurers that enjoy the Park year-round. This was encouraging. While some areas were to be loved to death, quiet places like this still exist.
I haven’t been able to travel much the last few years, with demands from my career and being a parent. This year, I was able to travel to Hawaii for the first time as part of a work recognition program.
While Hawaii (Oahu) wasn’t quite what I expected, one of the highlights was visiting Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden. The Garden sits along the the mid-island ridge on the windward side. With plentiful precipitation, this was the tropical forest I was imagining.
The garden is well managed and free admission (my kind of fee). This was taken after a large storm. My first thought was to get a photo of the beautiful lake (reservoir) that is a landmark in the garden and protects the communities of Kaneohe and Kailua from flooding. The water was brown though, so I ended up back at this overlook. Some may not consider it a landscape with the road, but I think it fits well.
Sometimes, you find something unique in your life by traveling hundreds (or thousands) of miles away. Other times, you find something unique walking distance from your house. If there was anything that represented just how incredible the Spring season was in 2019, it was a single thick patch of Ground Pink (Linanthus dianthiflorus) growing in a field on the street I live on.
This image may be too dark and moody for some people. I enjoy scenes with contrasting emotions. So why is it a favorite photograph of 2019? The field of flowers are certainly beautiful, but gloomy weather, like the example in my photograph, helped create the conditions for this flower bloom.
I was happy to show a number of my friends this field, and my child even enjoyed visiting it and taking her own pictures. She said this was her favorite spot during the Spring, and I could not have been happier to hear that.
If you want an idea about how rare this bloom was, see one of my Two Years and Two Images post on what a difference the right conditions make.
I had no interest in participating in the Walker Canyon Poppy-Apocalypse. Even during the week, there were 10 mile backups. Visiting the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve was much more fun. I also got to help my daughter enjoy the flower season, but still have some semblance of quiet away from the crowds.
So what ended up being my favorite image? It was a photo below the canopy of an Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii). Like me, the Engelmann’s like to live in quiet to solitary areas. I can support a tree that’s an introvert!
Like most of our oak species, they grow in unique canopy arrangements. With partly cloudy weather, it was easy to pick a composition of limbs and know I could pull the highlights down and bring the shadows up. These trees never get old.
Another positive consequence of a good rain season is water, and lots of it. On a Sierra Club Photo Section activity, the skies were mild in color but much more dramatic shooting for black and white. It gives me pause, because I created a lot less monochrome work than in the past. I love black and white, so why did I make less of it?
Some people think black and white is simply hitting a button in Lightroom, but that isn’t so. Good black and white images come from particular scenes. Perhaps I had some bad luck while out, or maybe I wasn’t out enough. I expect I will do more in the Laguna Mountains in 2020.
Windansea Beach is a wonderful place. It’s also a pretty busy place! However, once you get over the parking and you arrive at the coast, you find the best coastal spot in San Diego. Even on a busy weekend, there are compositions everywhere. Nothing is every the same. The tide will be different, the surf will differ, the light will vary.
Sunsets though, are plentiful and all over the internet. I have been trying to photograph more during our marine layer season, in appreciation of the unique onshore flow that keeps San Diego’s mild environment what it is. I like the clouds to be moody, and I like the coasts to be warm. This contrast brings to mind so many moments where I get to think without the noise and commotion.
I have mixed feelings about this image from Garnet Peak. I nearly fell from dizziness on the way up. This is not something I was used to. I later had trouble with my heart rate that required hospitalization. After a battery of tests, it wasn’t clear what happened, but I am in my 40s and my body doesn’t work like it used to.
Garnet Peak is my favorite mountain in San Diego County, both from the experience of climbing it and photographing it. Its just picturesque, and even on a clear morning you can still create a beautiful image.
This image, of course, will always remind of the big health scare I had from 2019, but I made it out of the year in one piece. Perhaps that speaks well from 2020.
This is Alex’s tree, and will always be Alex’s tree. I will still photograph it though. During a clearing storm, I wanted a vertical image. So why is it one of my favorite photographs of 2019?
Cloud structures are much larger and vertical than ground-based people realize. Photographing this vertically brings some clue to these impressive natural features. I have done this before, particularly at another lone oak in the Laguna Mountains.
Perhaps my quest for verticality makes this a style now. I need more weather and more oak tree introverts to build a bigger portfolio of these wonderful spots.
Granite Mountain, as it sits to the North, is always the beneficiary of beautiful sidelight. Add a storm and the results are beautiful. This is one of the best spots along Sunrise Highway. It’s appreciated by some, missed by many, and taken for granted by even more. A few of my friends have made excellent images of this mountain. This photograph is but one of many I have enjoyed. I considered omitting it from my Favorite Photographs of 2019 because I have so many images from this location, but I could resist.
Now, while I enjoyed making the image, I did not enjoy the aftermath. You see, it had just rained, so you couldn’t really tell the difference between undisturbed soil and an ant hill. I finally realized I was standing on an ant hill, but that was because I was bit simultaneously by 7 fire ants. The ants are no longer with us, I must apologize. I was quite surprised by how painful they were, and the itching was with me for several days. Not fun. Please don’t let me photograph where there are Bullet Ants.
I am still chasing a more ideal image of this spot, one of the few quiet views of the San Diego River. This is close to my home, and I can go there on a moment’s notice. The sunsets can be great, and I enjoyed the dark but haunting light as the lake was retiring for the evening.
People like to chase the oranges and reds in their sunsets, which are the easiest to oversaturate. I love the purples. Its just a few minutes after what most people think is ideal light. Its a transitory moment between color and twilight. Its that transition that stays with me.
This image is my favorite photograph from 2019. Tabletop Reef is a favorite spot of Alex, who has probably shot it more than anybody else. After being frustrated, sick, and locked out of doing a Thanksgiving road trip due to weather, I needed to get out.
We were a few minutes late to arrive for the traditional sunset, but I really wanted a blue hour image anyway. Helping the composition were fast, clearing, storm clouds and a crescent moon darting in and out of view.
With a hint of the fading sun and quickly advancing twilight, I set up a section of the reef leading you into the drama of the early evening. With calm seas and a nice reflection on the sand, this became one that I definitely want to see in print as soon as possible.
I have been chasing some version of this image at Sunset Cliffs for many years. I still don’t have the result I want. However, I feel this last image of 2019 represents something I have gravitated to. I love these slow, contemplative, landscape images. The coast, viewed quickly, seems like a turbulent and sometimes violent place. Viewed slower, in this case, about 30 seconds mapped to a single photographic moment, the ocean reveals itself to be peaceful, still, tranquil, and much more quiet.
This made me consider the fact that life on Earth began in the ocean. It wasn’t until later that life migrated to land. Homo Sapiens, endowed with a single concept of time that continually gets faster, busier, more stressed, and more frantic, is simply not conditioned to understand the ocean the way that our water-breathing and coastal living brethren do. I have been thinking about this a lot, the idea that life would be better if it was more quiet, less noisy, less busy, and more contemplative. That is something I want to make part of my 2020.
Favorite Photographs of 2019 Gallery
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.