My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021
Just for the fun of it, I’ve decided to look back at 2021 and pull out some of my favorite images that we created. Simply called: “My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021.” The subject might be anything, kids, wedding, light painting, Santa, wildlife, who knows? This should be fun!
What will make this blog post really unique is that it will change each time I add a new image to the list. So will the featured image for the whole post. For each image, I’ll add a little backstory and my reasons for selecting it. We’ll have to see what I come up with as I look through our images in the weeks to come.
There’s no question that images from our fabulous bucket list trip to Alaska will be in here, but Joannie and I photographed a whole lot more in 2021 than just in Alaska!
So, here goes, in no particular order, with “My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021”!
My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021 – Image #2- Portrait of a Bald Eagle
This close-up portrait of a bald eagle was taken on a beach near Homer, Alaska. I had been watching this beautiful bird while it was scavaging for food on the beach. Over a period of time, the two of us eventually got fairly close to each other. And, at 500mm on the Canon R5, with a little cropping, I was able to capture this wonderful tight photograph of our National Bird!
Image # 1 of “My Favorite Photographs from 2021” will appear in the days to come. Take care, and have a great Friday!
My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021 – Image #3 – “Scarface”
While at the world-famous Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Joannie and I saw this big guy fishing for salmon in the river. It’s pretty obvious that he’s been in a tussle or two over the years. If he could talk, I’m sure he’d have some interesting stories to tell us!
Image # 2 of “My Favorite Photographs from 2021” will appear in the days to come. Take care, and have a great day!
My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021 – Image #4 – Bald Eagle
Not much that I can say that’s not right there in this image. I was up in the hills near Homer, Alaska when this mature bald eagle turned and flew right at me! The distance between myself and the bird, combined with the long focal length of the lens, made the mountains fall softly out of focus in the background.
Just one of many wonderful bald eagle images I was able to capture near Homer over several days.
My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021 – Images #7, #6 & #5 – Bald Eagles Fighting
As we were walking along a beach on the Kenai Peninsula, these two bald eagles went at it for the right to sit on that particular tree. As you can see, there are some other treetops very close by too! Oh well, I guess that one must have had the best view?
They jostled for that position for at least a couple of minutes. I know this because I easily took 100 images of them going at it! As you can see in this series of three images, they even lost some feathers in the encounter too! Frequent bald eagle sightings (many at close range) are the reason I hope to return to Alaska in the future!
My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021 – Image #8 – The Aurora Borealis
The story behind this image is kind of fun!
All the Covid-19 stuff was driving us nuts (just like everyone else). So, spur-of-the-moment in mid-March, we called up to Cove Point Lodge (our favorite lodging spot on Lake Superior) to see if they had a room that weekend. They said yes, so we went! It was so nice just to get away from everything for a couple of days!
Well, I’m in a Facebook group that follows the Northern Lights in the Lake Superior region. Prior to heading up north, they were posting that there was a possibility of the Aurora Borealis making an appearance over the weekend. Predicting the Aurora is never a sure thing, but I brought my tripod and camera gear along just in case.
After a great day just relaxing and sightseeing up on the big lake, Joannie and I were hanging out at the campfire that night visiting with some of the other guests. It was a crisp evening with clear skies and a pretty strong breeze out of the north. At the campfire, we were pretty protected from the wind and the campfire did its job, keeping us nice and warm.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
While we were sitting there, my iPhone was lighting up with messages saying that the Northern Lights were becoming active. Joannie looked at me and said something like “we’re going to do this, aren’t we?” Now, that question wasn’t asked in an overly excited way, the tone was more like, “It’s really cold, are we really going to do this tonight?”
Since seeing the Aurora isn’t something that happens very often, especially as far south as Minnesota, I had to do this. I hadn’t seen them in person in probably 40 years. Since Joannie had never seen them, I encouraged her to tag along, but I gave her the option of going to bed and I’d go by myself. That was a no-go for her. So we packed up our warmest clothes and hit the road!
No Tee Time Needed
As you know, we’ve been on the north shore a lot over the years. So I knew of a few spots that I thought might work to see the sky to the north. After a few stops, we ended up at the Silver Bay Golf Course. I’m pretty sure that we were on the 4th tee box. I set up the tripod and camera and captured the image above (along with several others).
It was really cold once we got to where we could see the northern sky in an open area. The wind made it feel pretty raw. We kept the van running and just ran back and forth to keep warm. The snow was about knee-deep in spots making it tough to move quickly. We always have blankets in the van, and after a while, Joannie was all wrapped up in them and sleeping.
Little did I know at the time, I would be using one of these images in dozens of our Santa Experience photographs just 8 months later! Take a look back at Image #15 below to see one of them.
Image #9 – Jake & Johnna’s Wedding on Harriet Island
Well, this one is a favorite for many reasons. Jake and Johnna’s Harriet Island wedding was a “redo” from 2019 due to Covid. But that’s not one of the reasons that I selected it.
As a former “Eastsider”, many times during my growing-up years, I would be looking at the St. Paul skyline in awe of just how tall the 1st Bank Building was. Of course, nowadays they build condo highrises much taller than that!
Jake and Johnna’s wedding was a hot one! At (outdoor) ceremony time, it was nearly 100 degrees! The whole day on Harriet Island was blue skies and high heat. But what a fantastic wedding! These two were so cool (pun intended) and calm, their family’s and wedding party were too. It made the heat much easier to handle the hot temperatures knowing that everyone was pretty chill (pun intended once again).
While we made a lot of great images at their wedding, this one is one of my favs because we finally had some soft light just after the sun went down. The Mightly Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul make for a great backdrop too! A perfect image for a former St. Paul Boy.
Image #10 – Santa’s Magic Toy Bag
I just love it when kids visit Santa each year at The Best Santa Experience. And images of them looking into Santa’s Magic Toy Bag never get old!
This cute image of Colton, Wyatt, and Delaney captures the essence of children at Christmastime. They’re totally locked in on what Santa is telling them as they peek into the toy bag for the first time.
Image #11 – Bald Eagle and Mount Redoubt Volcano
Well, it’s back to Alaska, and one of my favorite subjects to photograph: bald eagles. I never get tired of watching bald eagles. It’s a bonus that I’m usually holding a camera when I do so. While I’d like to do so more often, they are not just around every corner to do so, even here in Minnesota where we have a growing population.
Then there’s Alaska. The number of eagles, in certain areas there, is amazing! Joannie and I found places that had dozens of them hanging out at a time. Quite often they were not too far away either. While they are very wild there, they tolerate humans, more so than they do here in the lower 48.
Combine a large number of eagles with stunning backgrounds, and a Canon R5 camera with a Canon RF 100-500mm L IS USM lens, and you have a recipe for capturing some amazing photographs of these majestic birds. I’m pretty sure that the mountain in the distance is the volcano Mount Redoubt. At over 10,000 feet high, it does make for very picturesque images, with or without an eagle flying by!
Image #12 – A Daytime Light Painting
One of the most unusual photographs in my list of the Top 21 of 2021 has to be this one. Matt and Grace’s wedding light painting that we created for them at the Lake Elmo Inn Event Center in September.
By now, pretty much everyone knows that we create one-of-a-kind light paintings for our couples at their weddings. We’ve been creating these for nearly five years now. And you probably know that these images are created in the dark. So, what do we do in the case of a wedding that is all wrapped up in the early afternoon? We try it!
While Matt & Grace were saying goodbye to their wedding guests, we set up in the garden to see if we could pull this off for them. My test shots showed promise, so we went for it!
I recruited both dads to hold our kicker lights (see above) and we placed Matt and Grace in the middle of our experiment. Of course, about that time, the sun popped out of the clouds just to make it more of a challenge. The cool finished image is below!
This could not have been pulled off without the amazingly powerful MoLight portable strobes that we use at weddings and for many of our on-location portraits too. We rarely need this much flash power, but it’s nice to know that we have it if we need it.
Image #13 – Aialik Glacier
While in Alaska last July, Joannie and I stayed in the beautiful Seward area for a few days. One of the cool things that we did while there was to take a boat excursion with Kenai Fjords Tours. While the weather wasn’t wonderful (it rained quite a bit), it sure was stunningly beautiful!
One of the stops on this 8-1/2 hour excursion was at Aialik Glacier. Wow, it’s huge! Aialik Glacier is approximately 1.5 miles wide and 3.5 miles long. Located in Kenai Fjords National Park, it (along with many other glaciers) drains the Harding Icefield.
The Aialik Glacier is a glacier in the Kenai Peninsula Borough of Alaska, and it drains into Aialik Bay. Aialik Glacier is about 15 miles from Seward by boat and is the largest glacier in Aialik Bay. While fairly stable, Aialik Glacier calves most actively in May and June.
We did see it calve a little bit while we were there. But it was the sounds that it made that were really cool. Creaking sounds, like thunder, made it feel very mysterious just to be there. Very cool!
Image #14 – Grandpa Ron
Back in September, Joannie and I had the honor of photographing Dan and Jenny’s wedding at St. Joseph Of The Lakes Catholic Church in Lino Lakes, Minnesota. I’ve been friends with Jenny’s dad, Jason since he was a boy.
Shortly after Jenny had her first looks at the altar with her dad and then with Dan. Then, we headed outside to the church cemetery to grandpa Ron’s gravesite.
Needless to say, this was a very tender moment for Jenny and her family. Joannie and I also knew Ron, and this was very special to us as well.
We had another wonderful holiday season, this year in Santa’s Enchanted Forest! Yes, we created an all-new set this year, and it was a pretty one too!
I could have selected any one of several hundred images as one of my favorites (there very well might be others to come). In the image below, Santa is sharing his Magic Toy Bag with a couple of special kids, his grandkids! All of the kids that come each year are super special, and we had about 60 kids this year, but it was awesome to have Decatur and Aurora having fun with Mr. Kringle.
And speaking of Aurora, this year’s theme was unique in that I could change the sky in the scene! Options were the Milky Way, a full moon, and this sky with the northern lights. The aurora borealis in this sky was an image that I captured up on Lake Superior last March.
And the best thing of all! This year, we were able to raise more than $6400 for Cystic Fibrosis!
That’s a record for us! Thank you to everyone who came to be a part of The Best Santa Experience for 2021! We’re going for a goal of $10,000 for 2022! We are already taking reservations for the late October and early November dates! Click on the link above to find out more, or give us a call!
My 21 Favorite Photographs from 2021 – Image #17 & #16 – Brown Bears at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park, Alaska
Well, I have gotta put two images in this section because the experience was like nothing we’ve ever encountered anywhere. Quite honestly, I will be hard to surpass as well. Last July, Joannie and I were in Alaska, which all by itself was amazing! But this one excursion was the icing on the cake!
We took a fly-in trip to world-famous Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park to see brown bears (aka grizzlies) in their natural habitat. All of these bears were there for one reason, to eat! All of them were putting on fat for winter by gorging on salmon going upstream to spawn. At one point, we counted 20 brown bears in sight at one time!
I’m pretty sure that there will be another image or two from Brooks Falls in my top 21 of 2021. In the meantime, thank you for reading our post.
Image #18 – 1953 Ford Crestline Victoria Light Painting in Stillwater, Minnesota
For Image #18, we’re heading back into the wedding genre. This pretty wedding photo was created as part of Ryan and Tina’s wedding back in May. The backstory behind this beautiful light painted wedding photograph is that we didn’t actually create it on their wedding day. Ryan and Tina were married on Memorial Day Weekend on the Jubilee II paddleboat. Prior to the wedding, we discussed the timeline for the day and decided, correctly, that this would be too much to attempt on the night of their wedding. Light painting an automobile takes at least 3 hours to do well. That, and downtown Stillwater would be very crowded on the holiday weekend making it very challenging to pull this off without having people everywhere.
So, a couple of weeks later, on a nice quiet Tuesday evening in Stillwater (with permission from the Stillwater Police), Ryan and Tina got all dressed up in their wedding clothes and we create this together along with Tina’s mom and dad! Pretty cool!
Image #19 – Soaring Bald Eagle Near Wabasha, Minnesota
In preparation for our July 2021 trip to Alaska, I made several trips to the Red Wing and Wabasha areas to practice the art of photographing “birds in flight.” Specifically to photograph bald eagles. Hundreds of bald eagles spend much of the winter in that part of Minnesota because the Mississippi River typically does not freeze over due to the currents from the Chippewa River joining it there. That means that one of their favorite food sources, fish, is available.
Birds in flight are one of the most difficult photography subjects to capture. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and then suddenly, everything is happening all at once, and it’s never predictable in any way. That, and the amount of time that the bird is actually in camera range is usually just a few seconds, if at all.
I captured this eagle making a run for a fish that it spotted in the river. What I like about this particular image is that first of all, the eagle is in sharp focus! Laugh if you want to, but accomplishing that is way more difficult than it sounds. And second, I love the falling snow in the scene! It made the background so much prettier than just a bunch of trees in the dead of winter.
This bald eagle had been sitting in a tree, right over my head in downtown Wabasha, when it suddenly took off. Initially, I thought that was it because it flew over towards the Wisconsin side of the river. Then, it made sharp banking turn back towards me. As it got closer, I captured this image just before it dove to grab the fish. It did catch the fish. I, however, did not capture that image. It happened way too fast. Maybe next time?
Image # 20 – Horned Puffin in Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, Alaska
It will come as no surprise that quite a few of my favorite images in 2021 will be from our bucket list trip to Alaska in July. This trip would have been amazing even without a camera! Thankfully, I just happened to bring a couple of them along. 😉
In the middle of our trip, we spent a few days in Seward, and on one of them, we took an 8 1/2 hour-long boat tour with Kenai Fjords Tours with a dinner stop on Fox Island. This wonderful tour, despite some marginal weather, went by way too fast. On the boat excursion, we saw glaciers, orca’s, a couple of humpback whales, seals, lots of great scenery, and a number of different species of birds. This pretty one is a Horned Puffin that I photographed in flight as it left a nest on the cliffside.
The Horned Puffin
The Horned Puffin is a black-and-white seabird with a beautiful orange-and-yellow bill. Its “horns” are small fleshy spikes that extend above the eyes of the adult birds. Horned Puffins typically nest on cliffs (you can see them in the background of this image). They can dive 100 feet or more to chase small fish, bringing dozens at a time back to their nest held firmly in the bill. These hardy seabirds spend their winters far from shore in the Pacific Ocean.
As I mentioned earlier, our weather on the boat tour wasn’t the best, but we made the most of it. On this tour, rain gear was a must. In fact, it rained so much, that, at times, that I was the only passenger out on the deck! Of course, I was fully decked out in rain gear (really good stuff from REI). And, I even used a rain cover on my camera at times even though it is weather sealed. That should tell you something about the amount of rain that was coming down!
Image #21 – April, Dillon, and Memphis in Stillwater, Minnesota
This is a fun candid wedding photo that Joannie captured at Dillon and April’s May wedding at JX Event Venue in Stillwater, Minnesota. This image is both candid wedding photography and pet photography too!
This photograph was taken shortly after Dillon’s first look inside the venue. Then their dog, Memphis, had a few minutes to see April too, outside of course! You feel see the excitement that Memphis had at that moment, and at the same time, you can see that Dillon is doing his best to keep their puppy from “messin’ with the dress”!