When we start out in photography, we photograph things. Flowers. Buildings. People. But there comes a point for most of us when doing that isn't enough, and the really exciting stuff happens when we start photographing ideas.
If 2020 was an unusual year, this year was perhaps more so. With the continued pandemic resulting in cancelled international travel plans, almost all of my photography was done within a mile of my front door: at the park, in the local cemetery, or in my garden. Whilst in some ways this has been restrictive, this has challenged me to focus much deeper on ideas, and on finding fresh ways to give the things I photograph their best expression.
Here are my Top 10 Photos Of 2021. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed making them.
Mallard - London, UK
A hummingbird? A glittering snake? No, a mallard on my local pond! A truly stunning bird and proof that, in times when we might be craving the exotic, we should never overlook the commonplace. The light was perfect in the late afternoon, as the low sun filtered through the trees across the water. As the duck surfaced, water droplets hung off its bejewelled neck. Under-exposing and spot-metering bring out the details and gives this a dark 'studio' background.
Atlantic Grey Seals - Norfolk, UK
I call this 'Magic in the Moonlight'! At the start of my week in Norfolk this past November guiding for NaturesLens Photo Tours, I observed a pair of grey seals sharing an intimate moment at low tide. A little after sunset, the milky evening light reflected in the wet sand and highlighted the shapes of the seals, locked in their embrace. Horsey Beach holds the UK's largest grey seal colony, with several thousand adults overwintering there to breed. The morning after this photo was taken, the number of newborn pups on the beach had tripled from 300 to just over 1000.
Meadow Cress - London, UK
This spring, I found myself drawn to a side of the natural world I rarely spend much time looking at: flowers. In the local cemetery, much of the longer grass had not yet been cut back, allowing Meadow Cress (aka Lady's Smock or Cuckoo's Flower) to flourish. I isolated one specimen by making tiny adjustments to my position and shooting through a curtain of grass, which gave a pleasing effect of texture, movement and harmonious colour.
Red Fox - London, UK
Snow days are a rare treat in London, so when I saw freshly fallen snow outside my window, there was only one place for me to be - at the local cemetery, with the tamest of red foxes I've ever met. I'd been photographing this fox on and off for several months and, knowing how close I could get, I really wanted a striking side-on portrait of red on white, similar to fox photos I've seen from Hokkaido and Yellowstone. I got a couple of versions of this picture, one much wider, but I think I prefer this tighter crop which focusses on the fox's intent gaze and sweeping fur.
Little Owl - London, UK
In early March, on the first springlike walk of the year, with daffodils in bloom and bees on the wing, I heard a vaguely familiar call from an oak tree alongside the path. Looking up, I saw a pair of yellow eyes glaring down at me - a little owl! I returned over many mornings and evenings with my camera, sometimes spotting it and its partner out hunting, and on one occasion even mating and checking out a nest cavity. Occasionally, passers-by would stop to see what I was doing, and were delighted to see these owls making a home. Two weeks into my visits, I was treated to this bubblegum pink sunset, a lovely backdrop as the owl awoke from a nap.
Plum Blossom - London, UK
A happy and intriguing accident created in camera. As I photographed one plum blossom (on the left), with the intensely bright setting sun in the background, the shape of another flower (not in shot) is refracted onto the sun's orb. Don't ask me how the camera achieves this, but I assume it works a bit like a camera obscura - as bright sunlight enters the camera's lens aperture, an image of the scene is projected onto the sensor. This photo is a good example in my opinion of something that only photography, as an artist's medium, can achieve.
Atlantic Grey Seal - Norfolk, UK
In cold conditions, grey seals keep warm by digging holes in the sand for themselves and their pups. I saw an opportunity to get creative when this large bull dug out one such wind shelter, kicking sand over itself in the process. A slow shutter speed of 1/30sec captures the behaviour in a visual way, whilst capturing the scene in black and white emphasises the seal's spotty patterning. The white sand, made brighter by the midday sun, lent itself well to 'high-key photography' (deliberately overexposing the image to lose detail in the brighter areas). I took many photos in this series, some with water splashing and some as the bulls were fighting, but this stood out for me.
Chalkhill Blue - Hampshire, UK
August is peak season for "blue" butterflies, with six of the UK's nine breeding species on the wing. I spent a couple of sunny afternoons on Hampshire's chalk-hill downlands, looking for the aptly named Chalkhill Blue, as well as the Brown Argus and much scarcer Adonis Blue. I don't normally go out at midday with my camera, as the overhead sun frequently casts harsh bleachy light on everything. However, the butterfly activity was too good to ignore; so I waited for a spell of cloud cover and composed my shot, looking through the wildflowers with a wide aperture, to immortalise the lovely colours and tranquillity of this late summer scene.
Snowdrops - London, UK
My wildcard favourite, as it's another lucky accident and you'll either love it or hate it. After my snow day session with the local fox, my attention was drawn to a small cluster of snowdrops. These white, bell-shaped flowers are one of the first to welcome the coming spring, and are long overdue on my photography wish list. My camera had other ideas, as I somehow knocked it into autofocus and ended up with this impressionist view instead. I must have captured several hundred photos of snowdrops that cold morning, but when I look at this one, I'm instantly transported back to the cemetery. For me it captures something of the snowdrop's mournful character and the last days of winter.
Atlantic Grey Seal - Norfolk, UK
Your favourite, as voted on Instagram. During the NaturesLens seal workshop, newborn pups were the stars of the show and pose well for portraits. This well-fed pup was at least one week old - newborns have yellowish fur, which turns to glossy shades of white over seven to ten days. With its alert puppy-dog eyes and poised expression, it made
a good subject, and a long telephoto lens captures the details. It will stick close to mum's side for the first two months of its life, putting on an average of 2kg a day in suckling.