2022: A Dozen Favorite Photos

2022: A Dozen Favorite Photos

2022 has been difficult for me, and many others. However, I am confident 2023 will be better. I made fewer photographs this year than in some recent years, but I still found joy in creating images. Enough that I selected a dozen to share here.

These 12 photos are my favorites, meaning they may not be the best technically, or there might be composition that does not “follow the rules”, or the subject may not connect with everyone. But, that’s ok! Each of these photos made me happy – and reviewing them still does! ūüôā

1 – February: The Talimena Drive

After judging a photography competition at the Mena Art Gallery, I had enough time to travel west on the Drive. There was a lot of snow and ice, and I had always wanted to visit and photograph in these conditions. I was not disappointed!

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2 – April: Indian Paintbrush, Flanagan Prairie

A visit to Flanagan Prairie usually rewards with a variety of wildflowers, but on this day there was not a great assortment. However, the Indian Paintbrush were blooming well, and that has always been a favorite to me.

I found this one in very nice light with a soft green background. Later, I used Lightroom Classic’s background selection brush and slightly darkened the background so the red-orange colors popped from the green.

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3 – April: Dogwood, Devils Den State Park

A few days later, I stopped at Devils Den State Park to look for dogwoods. I had not photographed any thus far, and I knew the blooms were nearly gone. In years past, however, they sometimes bloomed in this park a little later, and this year was the same. Not that I really needed more dogwood photos; but, on the other hand, can we have too many dogwood photos? I do not think so…

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4 – June: US Marshals Museum, Fort Smith

The Museum is not open to the public yet, but we are hopeful for this coming year!

But until then, it sits on the banks of the Arkansas River, looking across into Oklahoma. I see it as a striking piece of architecture and often go there to make photographs. Some of our photography classes have visited as well, and after taking a group there in May, I was inspired to return a week later and make this panorama. It is 7 horizontal images, merged in Lightroom Classic.

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5 – July: “Ghost Rider in the Sky”, US Marshals Museum

This untitled and un-credited statue stands outside the Marshals Museum and looks like a Marshal from the 19th century on horseback. I imagine it’s what a criminal would see when the lawman caught up to him.

However, when I made this photo, the camera was set to overexpose the scene, and the resulting image immediately reminded me of the cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

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6 – August: Milky Way, Talimena Drive

The Milky Way always provides a thrill, no matter how many times I have seen and photographed it. This old fire tower makes a nice foreground object, although there have been occasions when I found the access gate locked and had to find another vantage spot.

On this night, there was a little haze, but the stars still shone through for my class of 4 students.

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7 – October: McWater Falls, Lake Alma Hiking Trail

In the Alma, Arkansas, City Park, a hiking trail makes a 3-mile loop around the City Lake. It is fairly rugged, and very scenic with tall trees, wildflowers, birds, and other wildlife. McWater Falls is about 300 yards off the main trail, and like many other falls, has the best flow after some good rain fall.

This photo was made in October, and the trees above the opening in the rocks were well on their way to having some good Autumn color. They also were much brighter than the waterfall area, but our modern camera and computer technology is so good that I was able to nearly balance the light in both parts of the image. This is NOT an HDR photograph.

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8 – Thanksgiving Day: Arkansas Highway 59

Thanksgiving Day, after visiting family in Northeastern Oklahoma, I drove down Highway 59 from Summers to Van Buren. I had time, and the weather was nice – misty and foggy – and I decided to stop occasionally and also to drive down a dirt road, just to see what I might find.

I did find some cattle heading in for the afternoon feeding, but the favorite photo is just one of the dirt roads, bending into the forest and the fog. After making my photos, I continued driving south on Highway 59…

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9 – Thanksgiving Day: Natural Dam

Natural Dam is an 8-foot-tall waterfall, located just off the highway. I have made hundreds, probably thousands, of photos here. The falls, but also wildflowers, autumn colors, the rocks, the water, and more. On this foggy, rainy day, with the sun already setting, it was getting dark, but the colors of Autumn were dark and rich…

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10 – November: Cows in the Fog

A cattle rancher hired me to make photos for their website. The day began foggy and stayed that way for a while… I made photos anyway. This is probably not what he had in mind, but I liked it – and I think he did too!

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11 – December: Johnson County, Arkansas

Near the Mulberry River is a twin waterfall called “High Bank Twin Falls.” This photo is of the creek flowing from the falls and headed toward the Mulberry. This was another dark, misty, and foggy morning; the exposure time was 8 seconds. I normally like a shorter length to maintain some “texture” in the water… But, I still like this photo, largely for the leaves in the distance still hanging from the trees, and for the leaves, rocks, and water in the foreground…

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12 – December: Pigtrail Falls

This pretty little waterfall is right beside Arkansas State Highway 23, locally known as the Pigtrail. We only see the waterfall during runoff after some rainfall. It is such a popular spot for people to stop, the highway department enlarged the size of the parking area.

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Reviewing your photos annually, or any other fixed time, is a good exercise in comparing where you are today, and how your work has changed and hopefully improved.

It also helps me to relive the moments that I have preserved, and the pleasure and joy, of seeing that part nature.

I hope you do the same, and…

Slow down. Look. Prepare to be astonished!

Have a Great 2023!!

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Perfect Imperfection…

Locust leaves, on ice…

When photographing Nature, I believe that some photographers (yes, including me) overlook or ignore gifts from Nature that are less than perfect.  If a flower was missing a petal, or part of it had been food for insects, we keep going and look for a perfect specimen.

But Nature is not perfect.  In the mix of wind and rain, sun and heat, growth and life, very few of Nature’s gems remain whole or without damage…

A few weeks ago, I found this small locust tree branch in a small puddle of water, frozen.  What stopped me was seeing first that some of the leaves were partially consumed by insects or caterpillars, but then I noticed the pastel colors, and the one magenta leaf detached and apart from the branch, also frozen in the same puddle.

It was still beautiful, I thought, despite the age and wear.  Nature had placed it there for me to find, so I could see the story of its brief existence, its natural beauty.  I photographed the leaves and the ice and spent a few moments just looking.  And I still think of the little branch and its lesson today.

Here is another image, this one of a single leaf, which if we saw hanging on the tree, or on the ground, we would pass by. But, with a little help from the sun, the leaf seems more alive with beautiful rim-light, and the reddish-brown patches glow, and one of the holes in the leaf lets the sun make its own statement…

A phrase we nature photographers hear often, and just as often repeat, is “just slow down”. When we do slow down, and look, there is so much more to see.

Slow down. Look. Prepare to be astonished!

This Photo, #9

This Photo, #9

Lone Tree, Oklahoma Panhandle, April 2021

Image File MGC04924.ARW

Lone Tree, Oklahoma Panhandle

Driving across Oklahoma for my first visit to Black Mesa – the most western, the most remote, and the most elevated point in Oklahoma – I could see why some people have considered this part of the state barren and even worthless over the centuries‚Ķ  But the landscape fascinated me with each mile I traveled.  The seemingly never-ending plains, the occasional rolling hills, the distant windmills, the tall grasses and the wheat fields ‚Äď all were new to me, and I enjoyed every every scene and every moment.  I made several stops to look with my camera, and made notes of many places worth a return visit.

I drove by this tree, alone on the prairie, and argued with myself (the light is wrong; it‚Äôs the wrong time of day; I could stop on the return trip, etc.) for about a half-mile, but the photographer-self won:  I stopped the car and went back.

After parking on the side of the highway, I pulled out the camera and the telephoto lens, mounted it on the tripod, and crossed the highway so as to fill the frame with the tree, the grasses, and the sky.  I was intent on composing the photo to emphasize those elements ‚Äď expressing my vision of the lone tree.

Oh?  The nest in the tree?  Yes, I saw it, but did not ‚Äúlook‚ÄĚ at it ‚Äď composition of the landscape was my concern!  After making a few exposures, I moved the tripod to the right about 20 feet and recomposed.  When I looked up from the camera, a female Northern Harrier was taking flight from the nest!  I was stunned and did not photograph her as she flew ‚Äď I only watched her fly and marveled at her grace and beauty, and gave thanks for the moment, and apologized for my disturbance…

Tech data: Sony Alpha 7RIV, Tamron 70-180 f/2.8 lens, Manfrotto 055 tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head; 1/640 sec, f/11, iso 400, zoom set at 83mm.

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The 2018 Annual Favorites

The 2018 Annual Favorites

Every year, I spend time reviewing and then selecting my favorites for the past year. It sometimes is not easy; not that all the photos are great, but because favorites often have emotional ties that go beyond the image itself…

 

After starting with a first selection of over 100 photos, I narrowed it down to about 50, and then to 17. From there, it was much harder! However, I took a deep breath and have included here the ones that I most wanted to present and discuss.

 

These are the photos that I enjoyed making – because of the spirit of the photo shoot, or the content, or because of the friends with me. My wish is that you feel some of the emotion I felt when making the photographs…

 

In chronological order…

 

Winter Morning at Natural Dam

Winter Morning, Natural Dam

Natural Dam has always been a favorite place, and I have learned to look beyond the obvious here for a surprising photo. On this January morning, it was cold with a mist in the air, but there was music in the water as it tumbled and splashed over the rocks… (Sony Alpha 7R, Sony 24-240 lens)

 

The Bridge at Natural Dam

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In the spring, some friends and I stopped here during an outing. Attempting again to create a different image, I made this photo to include the rock shelf along the creek, and the bridge, as well as the falls. Our friend Tracy commented that few people really notice the bridge… (Sony Alpha 7R, Sony 24-70 lens)

 

Dogwood on the Lake Alma Trail

Dogwood

Dogwood trees with their blossoms in the spring are a favorite sight.¬† This morning, I was scouting for an upcoming workshop on the Trail, and was stunned by this tree’s beauty…

 

Orchard Web Weaver on Fern

Orchard Web Weaver on Fern

This Orchard Web Weaver was very small, and a surprise find during our workshop on the Lake Alma Trail.¬† However, she was a lovely, delicate creature, and we were happy to make photographs of the lady…¬† (Sony Alpha 6500, Sony 90 macro lens)

 

Dew Drops and Wild Onions

Dew Drops, Wild Onions

In early Spring, Flanagan Prairie was covered in blooming wild onions.¬† They were spectacular!¬† I do not ever recall seeing so many.¬† Which means there was a feast for the macro lenses.¬† A cool May morning presented the flowers covered in dew drops, and this photo became the favorite of many of my friends…¬† (Sony Alpha 6500, Sony 90 macro lens)

 

The Pink Katydid…

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Mid-May, some friends posted photos on Facebook they had made at the Prairie of a pink katydid.  Most of us had never heard of that!  A little research on Google and we learned that there are a couple of colors besides green, and pink is actually more common than we knew, but because the little creatures stand out in the green grasses, they do not survive long.  This one lived for nearly a week, and had its photo made by numerous photographers in the area.  I think he liked the attention!  (Sony Alpha 6500, Sony 90 macro lens)

 

A Stormy Morning at Cherokee Prairie

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Blazing Star (Liatris, Gayfeather), Yellow Coneflowers (Black-eyed Susans), and some Queen Anne’s Lace covered the Prairie this morning in late June.¬† Our friend Tracy met up with me there, and we made photos, all the while hoping the storm would not also join us!¬† It did not, and even gave us a small rainbow…

 

Koi!  At the Little Rock Zoo

Koi - Little Rock Zoo

For a quarter, you can feed the koi fish in this little lake at the Little Rock Zoo.  How much fun can you have for 25 cents?!  The color, the action in the water, all the movement, still makes me smile!  (Sony Alpha 6500, Sony 24-240 lens)

 

Arkansas-Oklahoma Bridge 

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In late summer, from Fort Smith’s park by the Arkansas River, you can see this view of the bridge.¬† ¬†And, sometimes you get lucky and have a sky like this!¬† (Sony Alpha 7R, Sony 24-70 f4 lens)

 

A Rainy Morning at Devils Den State Park

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One of the canoes in an early autumn rain that soaked the wood of the dock, and gave us a bit of mist on the water of the lake.¬† I try to visit the canoes each time I go to Devils Den.¬† They make a good photograph by themselves, but sometimes Nature gives us the extra something…

 

A Puddle of Leaves

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As Autumn ends, and few leaves hang on, the wind and the rain will bring the last of them down to earth, then gather them to a puddle of rainwater.¬† A “puddle of leaves.”¬† (Sony Alpha 7R, Sony 24-70 f4 lens)


 

2018 is now history.¬† These photos were fun to make, and I am thankful for the opportunities I had last year.¬† Now… I am looking forward to 2019, and I hope you are as well.¬† It is my wish you might see something here that will give you hope and inspiration for the photographs you will find in front of your lens!¬† Watch the light – and follow it for the best photographs!!¬† And joy…

 

Familiar Places

Familiar Places

Many photographers, especially outdoor and nature photographers, including me, like to travel and to seek out new locations and scenes.  There is so much in this country, not to mention the world, yet to be seen.

However, circumstances and time often prevent us from traveling, so we learn to make the best of the locations near to home.¬† And, we soon find that we have favorites:¬† “go-to” places that always give us a photo opportunity.

Returning there often, we learn the best times to go, we see the seasons change, and we challenge ourselves to see familiar things in a new way.

My go-to locations near my home in Western Arkansas have been Natural Dam, Devils Den State Park, and Cherokee and Flanagan Prairies, among a few other spots.  I always find something to photograph at these locations. Continue reading

The 2017 Annual Ten

The 2017 Annual Ten

Once again, it is time to review the photographs made this year, and select my favorites.¬† We have been doing this for the past several years, and I look forward to it every year.¬† This year, I started with over 50 photos, and after making several passes through the collection, and making some tough decisions, I selected the 10 photographs that gave me the most joy and satisfaction when I made them, and continue to do so now.¬† Here are my Favorites for 2017, in roughly chronological order… Continue reading

This Photo, #6

This Photo, #6

Two years ago, at dawn on a cold December morning, I visited Natural Dam and made one of my favorite photographs ever. There was a fog rising from the water, and the sun was just about to rise, and the fog glowed in the pre-dawn light.

December Sunrise

This was the first photo I made that morning, and after I tried some different compositions and exposures, I moved on to different locations around the waterfall. This is my normal approach ‚Äď to look at a scene, and to explore different viewpoints.¬† Eventually, I saw this scene… Continue reading

This Photo, #5

This Photo, #5

Building the Nest
Great Egrets, High Island Sanctuaries
April 2007

For many years, we traveled to the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas in the spring. We would visit Brazos Bend State Park, Galveston Island, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Bolivar Island, and High Island. Spring is breeding season for birds, alligators, and many other creatures. In 2007, we timed our visit quite well, and were able to photograph several animal species in prime breeding plumage and nest building, including alligators’

Displaying alligator
Alligator during breeding season, Brazos Bend State Par

mating displays.

 

East of Galveston is the small community called High Island.¬† It is not an island, but sits on a ‚Äúsalt dome‚ÄĚ, 38 feet above sea level.¬† (This is the highest point above sea level on the Gulf Coast from Mobile, Alabama, to the Yucatan.)¬† The Houston Audubon Society operates a bird sanctuary within the community, and is a popular destination for birders and birdwatchers from all over the world.

Cormorants at the Nest

Cormorants at the Nest, High Island Audubon Sanctuary

Within the Smith Oaks Sanctuary, is Claybottom Pond ‚Äď home to a bird rookery. Species nesting there include¬†Cormorants,¬† Night Herons, Tri-colored herons, Roseate spoonbills, and more. The rookery is on a small island at a perfect distance for photographing and watching the birds. If you want to know more about the rookery, and all of the High Island Sanctuary, here is a link to Houston Audubon‚Äôs site.

Today’s photograph was made late in the afternoon, with the sun behind us. This pair was early in the nest building stage, as most of the other birds were well into the season, with eggs laid already. The male came flying in with nesting material (tree branches and sticks) to add to the structure, and as he landed and gave the stick to his mate, his wing  spread in a gesture that appeared to be protective, supportive, warm, and nurturing.

Great Egret Pair Building the Nest

Great Egret Pair Building the Nest, High Island Audubon Sanctuary

 

I was using a Sony Alpha 100 DSLR Camera, with a Tamron 300mm f/2.8 lens and a matching 2x teleconverter, making the lens 600 mm. Shutter speed was 1/800, ISO 200, and aperture of f/8. Today, I would not hesitate to shoot at an ISO of 800, maybe higher, resulting in a much faster shutter speed. The photo would be sharper… but, the point of the image, its mood, and the story, still is clear, and speaks of companionship, teamwork, family, and love.

This photo, #5 in this series, is about capturing a moment, and sharing a story, regardless of technical perfection.  The original image suffers from camera movement blur.  Today, we can edit the photo in Photoshop, and apply shake reduction sharpening, and at the least, improve the sharpness of the image.  And, that was done with this photo.  But, was it necessary?  Does it now tell a better story?  I believe photography is about capturing a moment, about telling a story, and sharing that moment and the story.  If the story is clear, and if you see the moment, and if you feel the passion of the photographer, does that not make it a good photograph?  Would like to hear your opinion!


“Capturing a beautiful moment in a photo is something I’m very passionate about.” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ~Nigel Barker


Until next time …¬† wishing you good light!

This Photo #3

This Photo #3

Canoes with Morning Reflection

Image 5105     Date:  April, 2016

A couple of years before this, I had begun photographing the canoes at Devil‚Äôs Den State Park. ¬†Probably, I had seen similar photographs of canoes elsewhere (I know ‚Äď who hasn‚Äôt?), and was inspired to make my own version.¬† Each time I revisited these canoes, I would make new photographs, and with each visit, it seemed my photographs improved.

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On this day, we were holding our spring macro photography workshop in the park.  I arrived early, and while waiting, I walked to the canoe docks.
From early spring to late fall, the park rents the canoes and paddle boats for use on the Park’s little lake, formed from Lee Creek.  It’s a very small lake.  Besides the lake, the Park has miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and plenty of the rugged beauty Arkansas is known for.  It is my favorite Arkansas State Park. Continue reading

This Photo, #2

This Photo, #2

Paintbrush Reflections
Image 00842, date 2007

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Years ago, I saw my first image of water drops refracting a background flower, probably in Outdoor Photographer magazine.  I was fascinated, and began the  pursuit of my own water drop reflection photos…

Occasionally, I am asked if the photos are real or if I created them in the computer.¬† Signs of the times, I guess.¬† These are 100% “real.” ¬†The water drops are from dew, occasionally rain, and the reflected image (“refracted”, actually) is just as I saw it.

This¬†morning was bright, sunny, and humid¬†at Cherokee Prairie Natural Area, but with a slight breeze, so I needed to keep the shutter speed up and still shoot at f/16. However, the photo was dark – very underexposed.¬† I either misread the meter’s suggestion or ignored it, or the camera erred, and underexposed the image.¬† The problem probably was not the camera.¬† So, I adjusted exposure and made another photo, then moved on to another composition.

Later, in post-processing, when I looked on the computer, that second photo was blurred – that pesky breeze. ¬†My first thought was that I had blown the shot; one was blurry, and the other was underexposed.¬† And, I had only¬†made 2¬†photos…

unedited-00842

original image, unedited

I¬†opened the first image, the dark one, in PaintShop Pro¬†and increased overall exposure of the RAW file by two stops.¬† It was amazing – the¬†Sony .ARW¬†image was beautiful!¬† It held up really well to being lightened.¬† (For comparison, I tried the same adjustment on the camera’s jpeg version, and it was not pretty…)¬† I have always shot RAW ever since.

Over the years, I have made a good number of water drop photos like this, but ‚ÄúPaintbrush Reflections‚ÄĚ is still one of my favorites.¬† Just the same, I look forward to wildflower season, and more attempts to make the perfect image.

May we all continue to look for great light!