My Favorite Shots of 2017

 In Newsletter

Each year I like to look back and see how things went. In 2017, I put a lot on my plate. It was the year that I was on the road the most since back when I was 25. I spent about 120 days on the road and put just under 36,000 miles on my car. Most of that for photography. I also ran over 20 classes or workshops, a large number of 1:1 workshops, took a record number of portrait sessions, continued writing my photography magazine column for Ocean Paddler Magazine, closed in on finishing a basement (and house) remodel on the house we bought a couple of years ago (the basement flooded the week after we moved in), continued work on a book I’ve been writing, wrote and studied haiku and I could go on and on. Somehow, I managed to squeeze in a class with author Jon Turk during which I wrote a short piece about sleeping in the back of my car. I also managed to track down an old used kayak model that I’ve always wanted (Dagger Meridian). That was a great score.

It was a jam-packed year.

On the challenging side, the news cycle got me down and threw me off-balance. So, when I was in the field taking pictures I had to work at getting into the place I need to be mentally to make a good picture. Many mornings I’d get outside and just couldn’t get into a flow state and just said, “Forget it. I’m not feeling it today.” I also didn’t get many new images onto my website. It takes me about 5 to 10 minutes per image to create a new product, so it is a huge investment of time. I would be about 80 to 100 non-stop hours to get just those I posted to Facebook and Instagram onto my website. I need to get better about this (or hire someone to do it) or come up with a new way of making images available. I do think I have the later figured out. When I introduce it, I’ll be curious what you think.

Despite all of that excitement, I ended up with a total of 84 favorite images. That’s up from the 75 from last year and a record number since I started tracking it. During the year, I made 20,443 images that I thought were worth keeping. I suspect that number will go down as I sort through and delete more images. In 2016, I ended with 16,724 that I thought were worth keeping. So, 2017 was slightly more volume or I just haven’t had the time to sort images. I suspect the later is more true, because I’ve been pretty consistent in producing about 16,000 worthwhile images a year.

I also started to think slightly differently about how to approach a subject. I’m going to develop this more this year, but it’s basically starting with the most minimal composition an area offers and then adding compositional elements from that starting point to make the picture instead of starting with the whole scene and eliminating down to just the important elements. I think that I was mainly doing the new approach in my work without understanding what I was doing. This will become a new teaching method, methinks.

Overall, I’m happier with my artistic endeavors in 2017 than I was in 2016. In 2016 — you can see my favorite shots from 2016 here — I felt stagnate, but in 2017, I felt like I was moving the bar ahead just slightly. There weren’t any big breakthroughs and I still haven’t made the time to study, learn and think enough about photography. But, I am thinking slightly differently and have a new direction informed by painting that I’m starting to study. I’m also thinking more about processing styles. I’ve tended to be more realistic and less idealized in my processing. The later approach is gaining popularity, and I need to decide if I am going to head that direction with my work.

And that leads to my favorite pictures from 2017. Like all the past years, I’ve decided to pick my most favorite shot from each month. These aren’t necessarily my best shots from that month; they are the ones that have the most meaning to me from that month.

Last year, I did a second post showing the images that didn’t make the cut. If you are interested in seeing that, let me know in the comments.


Lake Superior tombolo at sunrise

I can’t remember the exact temp on this morning, but you can see the sea smoke and it’s pretty thick near shore which means it was probably 20 below or so. The water level on Lake Superior, the sea smoke, the ice on the rock and the clouds just came together perfectly on this morning. I was by myself and everything clicked. I made several compositions that I love, but this is one that I hadn’t seen before nor since. The perfect water level created a small pool of water that worked great as foreground. With the pool on the right side of the image and a similarly shaped rock on the left it anchored the image and created a triangle with The Tombolo for your eyes to follow. This is my favorite shot of The Tombolo in 2017.


St. Paul city lights during the blue hour

I don’t shoot cityscapes often, so it is always a treat when I can. I love the St. Paul skyline and on this night was joined by a bunch of friends and former workshop participants. It was so much fun seeing everyone and shooting together that it made for one of the best photography experiences I had in 2017. So even though I’ve seen some stunning sunset images from this spot and probably better images, this is my favorite February images because of the memories it invokes.


upside down cedar on Black Beach, Silver Bay

How can you pick a single favorite image from an entire year? Impossible. But, if I had to pick it would be this one. We were heading to Duluth to pick up the necessities of life and decided to stop at Black Beach in Silver Bay. I shot sunrise and then wandered the beach until I saw this upside down cedar. The juxtaposition of the upside down tree leading to the black beach and the sunlight on the wave in the background make this shot for me. I must have stood here for 30 minutes taking shots until I got the perfect wave. This image has been a popular seller since I added it to my online store. I recommend metal for this one.


sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway

It seemed that I had the entire Blue Ridge Parkway to myself on this April day. The leaves weren’t out on the trees at the high elevations yet, but for this type of Blue Ridge shot it doesn’t matter. It was really hard to pick a favorite shot from April, because I had visited Iowa, the Smokies, Tybee, Savanna and the Blue Ridge. I got favorite shots from each location, including a killer silo at sunrise shot in Iowa, a sand dollar on the beach on Tybee and a killer moon behind a tree on the top of Clingmans Dome. But, in the end, I love how the layers of darkness fit together in this image. It’s almost like I can feel them taking over the sun during the sunset. That and the experience of having the Blue Ridge to myself made this my favorite from April.

p.s. if you have never been to the Smokies or the Blue Ridge. You MUST go. The Smokies in the fall are unreal. I offer a  Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fall Photography Workshop. Sign up. It’s always a blast.


Portage Brook Falls in spring with snow

May was another hard month to choose from. I photographed the lakes as they were melting. Tried new spots. Taught my Spring in Theodore Roosevelt National Park Photography Workshop during which I made some killer infrared images and took a few of my favorite landscape shots from there. But, it was this shot of Portage Brook Falls during thaw that was my favorite. I shared this moment with my spring waterfall class. Fresh snow, great water levels and a completely calm day. Perfect.


sturgeon bay lighthouse and the full moon

I love shooting pictures of the full moon behind lighthouses and lucked out that my macro class in Door County aligned with the full moon. A few people from the class and I shot the moon rising over Lake Michigan and the Sturgeon Bay light. While this month had stiff competition, the full moon and lighthouse was my favorite because of subject matter. I think some of my landscape shots were much better images though.


infrared lily pads

July and this picture is exactly when infrared photography clicked for me. You can read about the process I developed to create black and white infrared images in my Infrared Photography in Canoe County article. But, basically I got a camera that was converted to shoot infrared and then I bucked the processing trend by not using Silver Efex Pro. Instead I used an inexpensive masking tool in Photoshop and used Lightroom using my normal methods. When you can pinpoint the moment everything clicks, it has to be a favorite, right?


Northstar Polaris canoe at sunset on Devil Track

This was a brand new boat when I took this picture and it is one of my favorite hull designs. It’s the Northstar Polaris. It does about everything exactly as I want it to and if I could only own one tandem canoe this would be it. It goes fast enough to cover miles in the BWCA. It turns well enough on rivers and to have fun in. It’s stable. It carries a load big enough for two adults and a kid for a week-long trip. It has sweeping lines and the carbon fiber layup makes the pure black sexy. This location is my favorite sunset spot in the summer. Favorite tandem canoe + favorite sunset spot = favorite image.


northstar canoe at sunrise on Cherokee Lake

I took this during a week-long canoe trip with my wife and son. This is my favorite campsite on Cherokee Lake, which is one of my favorite lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Any trip in the BWCAW is a way to connect with the earth, experience a clean break from the workaday life and have a valuable wilderness experience. To be able to share that with my son while the BWCAW remains in a pristine state feels like that best gift I could give him and he gives me. And it is even better that my wife could come. I took this picture with a new filter that Singh-Ray and I are developing. It’s not exactly as I want it, yet, but it is getting close. Could life get anymore perfect than during sunrise in the BWCA?


Linn Cove Viaduct at night

In October, I was back out in the Smokies and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I shot sunset over the mountains and decided to race towards the Linn Cove Viaduct to see if I could get there while there was still good light. I arrived in the nick of time. I climbed a rock that gives a nice vantage point of the viaduct and waited for a row of cars to drive by. The fall color was just past peak and because the wind was blowing the twigs on the right side of the shot moved, but I still love the shot. The experience was great and the road is a perfect “S” curve. Instant fav. There was no real competition for this month. I always knew it would be this image.


Kadunce River covered in snow

I love this section of the Kadunce River. Several years ago, I was hired by a canoe company to shoot images of their canoes and I shot a few images here. The conditions were exactly the same. Fresh snow, calm water and no wind. I always wanted to get back and do a landscape shot in the same place without a canoe. Finally, I managed to do it. There was an image of a waterfall at Cascade River State Park that was also a favorite and it was a coin toss to pick which one I liked the best.


The sky turns pink and purple against the blues of the ice and Lake Superior at sunrise.

I visited the Badlands in December to teach a workshop, and, WOW!, did we have great conditions. So, I almost picked a shot from the Badlands to round out my favorite shots of the year, but I went with this one. Sunrise was great, but I wasn’t feeling it. My mind was running at 100 mph and all over the place. The colors were fading. Every single shot I took to this point sucked. I just couldn’t get things to work right. I packed up most of my gear and then said, “The heck with it” but using the f-bomb instead of “the heck with.” I plopped my camera down in front of the frozen wave pool, my mind completely cleared and I was in the flow. A few clicks and I went home. I didn’t realize that I took this good of a shot until I got back to my office and loaded the images onto the computer. It’s a favorite image, because it demonstrates the importance of being present and in the flow for art to work. It was a good lesson for the end of the  year.

Bonus Haiku

Here are three haiku that I wrote in 2017 that I actually like. I’m not sure if they are good, but I like them anyway.

what’s this?
just another thing

just one new car
how to get it
back on the shelf



billboard Jesus gambling on the flip side


I hope you enjoyed this and, please, pass it along to others who you think might as well. I wrote it quickly so there are probably spelling mistakes, and at 2200+ words it is longer than the 1000 I was aiming for. I apologize. If you would like to see the shots that didn’t make the cut let me know and I’ll do another post with those in it. It won’t be a novel. I promise.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Holly

    I enjoyed both the photos and the story behind why each photo was picked. Beautiful work. I would like to see the ones that didn’t make the cut.

  • Diane

    Bryan – I love seeing your favorites. I would like to see the next best, too. I appreciate all the background story and frankly even knowing that you sometimes have difficulty getting into the right mental state to get the best shots/flow is also refreshing and somehow inspiring to continue to push through and keep working and learning. Thanks!

  • Stan Kotecki

    Brian, you never cease to amaze with new exiting images.

  • Pat Laybourn

    I would like to see those that didn’t make the cut. I read everything you wrote, didn’t know you had a child…how time flies. Your Daddy haiku speaks volumes…keep doing what you’re doing.

    Glad you can get into that creative space, something we all need to do when negative things beyond our control are staring us in the face every day.

  • Josh Driver

    I love January’s image. So much going on that I enjoy there. Thanks for sharing your favorite moments and why. Personally, I don’t mind longer posts. Social media reduces so much interaction to one-liners, especially on Instagram and even Facebook, not to mention the appreciative, encouraging comments. A hope of mine is that along with developing photography, I develop writing. I enjoy letting photographers more about how the image struck me. Anyway…that being said, I find this post and others like it refreshing. I’d like to read/hear more about you starting with the most minimal element and creating composition around it. Composition is a huge reason I am attending your workshop next month. Good stuff Bryan.

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sunrise in the badlands