Top Ten for 2014

It is always difficult to ask ten pictures to define a year, a challenge made more so since my judging criteria includes other factors besides something as ill-defined and subjective as "quality." My choices reflect the diversity of subjects that interested me this year, moments that excited me, or ideas that for one reason or another - worked. So here are at least some of my favorite images from this year, in no particular order.

Kaimondake Volcano and Japanese Pines, Kyushu, Japan
Kaimondake Volcano and Japanese Pines, Kyushu, Japan

I begin my list with one of the final pictures of the year, a simple shot taken in challenging light (hence the B&W choice) of a striking mountain at the southwestern tip of Japan. I finished the year on a family trip to Japan and Korea, documented almost entirely with my iPhone. It was liberating, and exquisitely convenient - and only a few times would I have killed for some big glass.

Cozumel Coati (Nasua nelsoni)  Endemic, Critically endangered, Cozumel
Cozumel Coati (Nasua nelsoni) Endemic, Critically endangered, Cozumel

This year, I continued my work with endangered species, trying to shoot stories on animals people have never heard of rather than chasing the more familiar and often-photographed icons. This fall had me back on Cozumel Island, off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, trying to get pictures of one of the most endangered carnivores on the planet - the Cozumel Coati. Here a young animal jumped onto the back of its cousins, amid a forest of vertical tails.

Sea Palms (Postelsia palmaeformis) in surf, Cape Flattery, NW Point of 48 States, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Sea Palms (Postelsia palmaeformis) in surf, Cape Flattery, NW Point of 48 States, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

As with many photographers I spend a lot of my time in the field waiting for the light to improve. At the NW point of the continental US, I was waiting for the sun to go down over the ocean. With time on my hands, I felt experimental. I have always loved watching Sea Palms thrive in the pounding surf, bending and whipping in the waves. It suddenly occurred to me to "play" with the scene, and I took over a hundred shots to get this one, with the waves dancing over the rocks.

Golden Rocket Frog Kaieteur Falls, Kaieteur National Park, Guyana
Golden Rocket Frog Kaieteur Falls, Kaieteur National Park, Guyana

This frog is no larger than your little fingernail. It lives inside the water pools between the leaves of one species of Giant Bromeliad, and nowhere else in the world. And although I had no difficulty finding them, as soon as they saw me, they hopped to safety (and invisibility) back into the protection of the leaves. Then I met this one, who seemed to not know the meaning of "predator" and happily posed for me. Hard to believe, but my macro lens was less than an inch away from this fearless frog - and I got one of the best shots of the trip.

Adelie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) in snow, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
Adelie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) in snow, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

One of the charms of penguins (and there are many) is that, in Antarctica, they can appear almost anywhere, anytime. We were miles from land, having stopped the ship in the ice for a spontaneous walk on the (frozen) ocean. It was snowing heavily and visibility was minimal. Then, two Adelie Penguins showed up and crashed the party. Believe it or not, I had never gotten shots of penguins in falling snow before, and I was delighted to have two such perfect, cooperative models. Then, after 10 minutes or so, they lost interest and disappeared into the fog.

Painted Dunes below Cinder Cone, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Painted Dunes below Cinder Cone, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Park in Northern California is a favorite side trip when I drive down to San Francisco every year. This year, I spent several days camping in this remarkable area. One of my favorite corners of the park is around Cinder Cone and the Painted Dunes, where this was taken.

Yucatan Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi yucatanensis), Wild,  Yucatan Peninsula, MEXICO - ENDANGERED
Yucatan Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi yucatanensis), Wild, Yucatan Peninsula, MEXICO - ENDANGERED

I had noticed that these spider monkeys used a particular route every day during the course of their rounds, a gap in the canopy where they had to leap across an open space to get to the next tree. With that in mind, I staked out a vantage point, pre-focused and waited. In time, the group came and performed on cue. This frame was my favorite because it captured the chaos of arms of an animal that jumps with the utter confidence of knowing it will find somewhere to land.

Oak trees (Quercus sp.) and grassland, Mt. Diablo State Park, California.
Oak trees (Quercus sp.) and grassland, Mt. Diablo State Park, California.

I grew up in California and it has always troubled me that I did not have a single shot of the "classic" California landscape that I grew up with. So when I was down there for a wedding in the summer, I went in search of the perfect oak tree in the perfect golden grass. Is it a brilliant picture? No, but it was one that I have always wanted to take - so it makes my Top Ten. And I don't care what anyone says!

Sunrise on the Andes, Southeast Peru
Sunrise on the Andes, Southeast Peru

There are few more dramatic landscapes in the world than the eastern slope of the Andes, which drop from the high peaks to the vast lowlands of the Amazon in just a handful of miles. We were there for the wildlife, but I noticed one morning that the dawn was breaking clear - a rarity on the edge of the rain forest. We quickly raced up the mountain to a location I had scouted and for 3 or 4 breathless minutes I shot the dawn striking the Andean Wall. Then a rising cloud over the Amazon blocked the light and the show was done. It was the only time we saw this in two weeks in the field.

Photographer Kevin Schafer,
Photographer Kevin Schafer, "pulling" the National Geographic Explorer, 66 degrees S. Antarctica

Nope, not a selfie, and a complete fake to boot (I could no more pull that ship than I could lasso the moon) Fun, nonetheless. Have a great 2015!

6 Comments

    Hey there muscle-man! Nice to see your work featured in OP! The Coati and Rocket Frog are stellar shots! Certainly my two favorite wildlife images. And your shot from Lassen, that really fires me up to get back there. Thanks for the images and nice to see you made it back to the Explorer. Sorry I missed you!

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