Best of 2021: A Year in 12 Photos

I probably take thousands of photos in a year (I take photos every day–and some days I know I take hundreds of photos). Even though I post one each day, the photos build up in my camera roll, on my computer, and get a bit muddled in my mind. It’s sometimes hard to remember photos from last week, let alone last month. Last year after a battle with Instagram’s best 9, I curated a photo from each month of the year and wrote a “best of” post featuring 13 favorites from 2020.

So as 2021 was coming to an end, I sorted through my camera roll and picked out a favorite from each month. Some months this was an excruciatingly hard process–I had more than one that was my favorite. Other months it was a struggle to find a photo that I loved enough to be called favorite. But with some help from my hubby and some pretty strict criteria that I self-imposed, I narrowed my choices down to 12.

I probably could have done a best of in 12 birds or a best of in 12 seascapes, but I tried to include images from a variety of contexts–although you will notice that my images are heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean.

Like 2020, last year was also heavily influenced by the worldwide pandemic. The year began with most of us hunkered down, staying close to home. Vaccines were not yet available, we were still masked most of the time, and travel was limited (if it existed at all).

Finding interesting places to walk is an ongoing quest for us. Some days the tides at the beach simply don’t cooperate and there is no beach to walk at all. In January 2021 we found ourselves at our alma mater, UCSD, exploring old haunts and new construction, including the vending machines with COVID test kits that you swipe with your ID card to access. While we walked I couldn’t help but notice this gorgeous red leaf hanging on for dear life. Fall colors are neither dramatic nor timely in these parts, so this January gem seemed special and made for a beautiful harbinger for a new year.

Valentine’s Day happened to fall on the first weekend of our February break in 2021, so to celebrate we decided to be tourists in our own town! We drove downtown, masked up, and took the ferry across the bay to Coronado. The Coronado Bay Bridge is an iconic landmark here and I couldn’t resist photographing from below, especially since the third graders in my class happened to be studying bridges at that time. I love the perspective that shows some of the under-supports along with the sweeping curve of the roadway with the boats, bay, and clouds on view too.

Giant kelp, macrocystis pyrifera, is a common sight on our beaches. But bull kelp, with enormous floats the size of softballs or larger is less common. This amber algae is native to our shoreline and is home to many fish and other sea life. And when it washes up on the shore, it becomes a favorite subject for a still life photo. There are no bad months for beach walking and March just happened to be the month when I came across a bull kelp still life opportunity on my favorite walking beach.

Art takes all forms and can take you back in time. In April a short road trip to Palm Springs took us back to the time of the dinosaurs and brought us face-to-face with a life sized T-Rex. The Cabazon dinosaurs is a throwback roadside attraction with huge cement dinosaurs–some realistic like the one above and some less so, like the pepto-pink brontosaurus that also houses a gift shop. Sometimes photos feel like art and at other times they are a documentation of life experiences. What funky roadside attractions can you find nearby?

In May I headed up, climbing the stairs of another nearby beach. This place offers a vantage to watch seabirds above sea level. From this perch, pelicans come close, soaring by at eye level, bringing details into focus. The challenge is clicking that shutter at just the right time to freeze the image in sharp focus. I continue to work to achieve that ideal photo of a pelican in flight!

To celebrate our wedding anniversary in June we headed up the coast to San Clemente. If you know Southern CA, you know that June can be spectacular–sunny, clear and warm–or plagued with the infamous “June gloom” that grays out the coast, washing away color and cooling temperatures. Watching the Surfliner emerge from the foggy gloom around the bend with lights on created a mystical image. I love when the light is right and my camera is poised. You never know what may come out of the gloom!

As I write and reflect, I realize that 2021 was a year of many short road trips. July was a rough month for me and my family. After my dad died mid-month, I needed to get away. So we headed to Santa Barbara, three hours up the coast. We walked beach after beach, not thinking or planning, just feeling cool sea air, watching sherbet colored sunsets, and noticing… This family of ducks caught my eye. Mama mallard and her ducklings out for a swim in the surf was fascinating to watch. Mama urged her babies out, they tumbled in the white water then regained their footing and tried it again. I don’t know if this is normal duck behavior, but it was fun to watch and photograph.

In August we made that long, seemingly endless trek up I-5 through the central valley to visit family in the Bay Area. In the summer tomato trucks are a usual sight. These trucks always remind me of my dad–a person who loved big equipment, driving, agriculture and farming, and had this weird wish to drive tomato trucks. I have gotten in the habit of taking photos of these trucks through the window as we drive up the 5, sometimes sending them to my dad, just for fun. This year, just a few weeks after his death, taking these photos made me feel close to my dad. I would notice the rich red of the tomato haul visible in the northbound trucks, bring them into focus as we approached, and then try again as we passed truck after truck after truck. Southbound trucks were empty, heading back to pick up another load and make that round trip again.

September meant back to school and fewer crowds on our local beaches. September is a perfect month for Southern CA beach going–and I think the shore birds agree. The skies are clear, the weather and the water warm, and the parking–while not exactly plentiful–is not like searching for a needle in a haystack! I like to station myself close to the birds, waiting quietly and creeping close to capture an interesting and (hopefully) different image. If you look closely, you’ll notice this bird is standing on one leg.

A Halloween birthday means my husband has spent much of his life celebrating with costumes and trick or treaters. This year we decided to make a trip to the Channel Islands on Halloween. We boarded a boat in Ventura and were treated to an amazing play session with a humpback whale on our way out and to hundreds and hundreds of dolphins dancing around our boat on our way back near sunset. While photos do not even begin to represent the phenomenal experience, this image does capture some of the beauty and grace of these amazing mammals and takes me back to my memories of the day.

You’ve probably noticed that I seldom take photos of people, instead focusing mostly on nature with my photography. This November shot is a rare exception to my posting habit. I do take photos of some people–mostly family members and often my grandsons. But I tend not to post those on social media. We were lucky enough to have family gather with us during Thanksgiving week in 2021 and the week ended with a sunset visit to my favorite beach. I couldn’t resist this shot of my grandson mesmerized by the colorful sky as the sun sank into the sea.

And could I really tell the tale of a year without including a photo of an egret? This shot features an egret in flight above the sun cracked waters on a cloudy December day. You have to look closely to notice the egret in silhouette in the distance. I love their distinctive shape, both in flight and when they are standing.

Twelve months, twelve photos, a year in review. I selected the photos before Christmas–before we explored the redwoods at the John Muir Forest and before we visited the monarchs wintering in Santa Cruz. But I’ll still stick to these twelve–they are my “best of” for the time frame when I did the selecting.

How might you go about selecting a best of collection to represent last year or last month or even last week? I’d love to know about your curation process.

2 thoughts on “Best of 2021: A Year in 12 Photos

  1. mbhmaine

    What a wonderful photographic collection, Kim! I did this once and found the experience of selecting and curating very rewarding. I really appreciate the range of photographs you’ve selected and love the backstories. You have such an eye! Your photos have always been an inspiration to me. Now, I think I’m going to look back at my own photos from this past year and create my top 12 list. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. margaretsmn

    Your photography is so inspiring. I collected photos and started working on a calendar but didn’t get it finished. I may still do it. But if not, I could at least do a blog post top 12. Thanks for sharing your year of travel. My top 3 favorites are your grandson, the flying egret, and the mallard with ducklings. Thanks!

    Reply

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