The Best of My Year in Daily Photos

The Best of My Year in Daily Photos

The Best of My Year in Daily Photos

The end of the first year, and some changes

This month marks the end of my first year in Today’s Photos. It also marks a significant change in that I’ve switched to an entirely new format, one that’s simpler and better. I dumped Smugmug in favor of Flickr, and I’ve removed all daily photo posts from this site. I want to focus on content here at The Polar Route, and as those of you who subscribe via a feed reader can probably appreciate, I don’t want to flood your inbox every single day.

Of course, anyone who wants to view the daily photo is still welcome at my flickr account. I’ll keep posting a picture every day until I run out of quality photos. My hope is that I can travel enough to take the pictures I need to take, and continue to provide an uninterrupted supply of daily photos for years to come. What I won’t do is post a bad photo just for the sake of posting a photo.

My intention was always to write a lot about each daily photo: how I took the shot, what I like about it, and so on. But life got in the way. Between my job and life at home in Chicago, my frequent travels, and many other commitments, I’ve been maxed out posting a photo a day (as easy as it sounds). With the end of my first year of daily photos, I wanted to highlight my top 20 photos from last year and add a bit more background to each. Here goes, in no particular order:


Top 20 “Today’s Photos”

1. “Utrecht, The Netherlands”


Shot in Utrecht in The Netherlands, this was the first daily photo. It says everything about the style I try to achieve with my photography – simple and uncluttered. There’s lots of negative space by way of water and sky, and the lack of color adds further to the simplicity. The crop is nearly symmetrical but off center in a way that adds a hint of tension and suggests something deeper.

Shot November 2010 in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Today’s Photo on 9 July 2012.
Canon Rebel XTi @ 20 sec, 10mm, f/8, ISO 200.


2. “Vintage Xitang”


This was an obvious early morning shot in Xitang, China. The lines and reflections helped emphasize the bridge which is the focal point of the image. I had to get creative to obtain the angle I wanted, resorting to lowering my camera onto a support structure of the bridge I was standing on. To do this, I put everything in manual mode, set a timer on the camera, and I held onto the camera strap as the camera took the pictures. It took a couple tries to get the composition right.

Editing proved to be difficult as initially I couldn’t find the right combination of colors, details, and realism. I finally gave up on realism entirely, falling back on the low contrast, dreamy look you see here. I’m glad I tried it because I really like the unique edit.

Shot March 2012 in Xitang, China. Today’s Photo on 13 January 2013.
Canon 60D @ 2.5 sec, 20mm, f/10, ISO 100. 3 exposure HDR.


3. “Gates to The Taj”

Taj Mahal

This daily photo shows exactly what I want it to – frustrating inaccessibility.

I woke up well before sunrise in Agra, India to meet my pre arranged tuk tuk driver and head to this spot. The driver didn’t show which set off my search for someone who would take me there at such a horrible hour. I had a very difficult time communicating with the first driver I found,  and several wrong turns later, it became obvious I needed a better option. I thanked him and set off in search of yet another driver, whom I found shortly thereafter.

I eventually arrived just in time for the first morning light, and I was excited to position myself along the river bank like so many photographers have done before me. Inexplicably though, the area was closed off with a large police presence guarding this gate. The police were the only other people awake at that time. They warned me not to go through, and they grew edgy as I got close even after I had agreed not to pass. To me this experience was representative of many of the challenges of traveling in India – you can plan all you want, but plans have a way of repeatedly falling through. It’s vital to be able to go with the flow. Instead of taking the beautiful sunrise pictures I wanted, I shot this instead. I intentionally framed the Taj Mahal with the gate in the foreground. My feelings from that morning are directly conveyed in the gritty inaccessibility of this scene.

Shot July 2012 in Agra, India. Today’s Photo on 25 November 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 10 sec, 24mm, f/8, ISO 200.


4. “The Serene Airport”

Barcelona Airport

Looking at this daily photo from Barcelona’s international airport, it’s hard for me to feel anything but empty. The airport appears abandoned, and what should be a bright and brilliantly golden sunrise is instead subdued and pale. The whole scene has an uncomfortable blue/green tint to it and the lines and reflections suggest being jailed with only a glimpse of the outside world.

Shot May 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. Today’s Photo on 3 January 2013.
Canon Rebel XTi @ 1/320 sec, 10mm, f/6.3, ISO 100.


5. “Horse in Iceland”


This photo is the opposite of the last. It’s warm, welcoming, and beautiful. The lines from the ground, fence posts, and mountains all lead toward the bright setting sun, and the horse adds balance by giving a comfortably centered focal point. The vignette and red lens flare further add to the warmth.

Shot September 2012 in Snafellsbaer, Iceland. Today’s Photo on 20 October 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1/500 sec, 112mm, f/7.1, ISO 100.


6. “View Over Main Bazaar”

View Over Main Bazaar

I also like photos that tell a story. This photo tells the story of my personal travel experience more than any of my other shots from India. The chaotic motion is amplified by the long exposure, and every single part of the image is crowded and cluttered. The camera angle and vantage point suggest a vertical escape might be possible, which is exactly what I was doing.

Shot July 2012 in New Delhi, India. Today’s Photo on 30 September 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1  sec, 17mm, f/9, ISO 200.


7. “Women in Japiur, India”

Women in Jaipur

Another from India, this is one of my all time favorite pictures. I had previously driven through this area at night and noticed the brilliant yellow lights illuminating Hawa Mahal. I thought the yellows might play well off the deep blue hues of the sky at dusk, so I returned the next evening in time for blue hour.  A short downpour occurred as I set up my camera which allowed for some really nice reflections. I took pictures for as long as the sky stayed blue; this was the best among them.

Shot July 2012 in Jaipur, India. Today’s Photo on 10 August 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1/20 sec, 20mm, f/4.5, ISO 1600.


8. “Ice on Lake Baikal”

Ice on Lake Baikal

Every now and then I’ll get a shot that sums up my sentiment of a place in one single image. For me this is one of those pictures. Immediately evident is the cold – a big block of solid ice, sitting on top of more ice, with even more ice shattered in all directions. The sharp ice shards surrounding the beautiful yellow glow symbolize the rough, guarded beauty Russia offers those willing to endure the challenges of traveling there.

Shot March 2013 near Listvyanka, Russia. Today’s Photo on 1 April 2013.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1/80 sec, 17mm, f/9, ISO 100. 5 exposure HDR.


9. “Khabarovsk, Russia”

Khabarovsk, Russia

This was originally posted as a color shot. I’m showing the black and white version here because color did nothing for the original, and it’s a stronger picture without it. I like this image because despite the high contrast, obvious cold, and dark feel, every bright line leads directly toward the beautiful church. This gives a surprisingly inviting feel to the otherwise harsh image. Russia, despite it’s hard reputation and harsh climate, can be surprisingly inviting as well.

Shot March 2013 in Khabarovsk, Russia. Today’s Photo on 31 March 2013.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1/15 sec, 105mm, f/9, ISO 1600.


10. “Ice on Lake Baikal at Sunset”

Ice on Lake Baikal at Sunset

I like this shot because it’s one of contrasts. The setting sun gives the image a deep, fiery color that suggests warmth, but the frozen blue ice tells us the scene is in actuality anything but warm. Blues and yellows generally play well off each other so this shot was left in color. Minimal editing was done to this image.

Shot March 2013 near Listvyanka Russia. Today’s Photo on 26 March 2013.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1/400 sec, 105mm, f/4, ISO 100.


11. “Standing Guard Over Hong Kong”

Standing Guard Over Hong Kong

This was one of the last shots I took at the conclusion of my second trip on the Trans Siberian Railway. I wanted to find a unique angle from this commonly photographed spot at The Peak in Hong Kong. Shooting at night helped me avoid the crowds, and using a wide angle lens helped distort the perspective which allowed the stone sculpture to appear quite large against the city. The use of black and white removes distracting tungsten colors from the nighttime lights, and extensive dodging of the sculpture helped balance the image. The narrow aperture kept everything in focus, and the high ISO allowed a relatively short shutter speed which minimized camera shake on that windy night.

Shot March 2013 in Hong Kong. Today’s Photo on 21 March 2013.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 3.2 sec, 17mm, f/13, ISO 1600.


12. “Irkutsk White”

Irkutsk White

You might remember this image if you’ve been following The Polar Route for a while. The morning light was beautiful and the trees, snow, and road all formed lines which led straight into the rising sun. All that I needed to do was find a subject, and these pigeons worked nicely. I set the camera on continuous autofocus, with a high enough ISO to force the fast shutter speed I needed to freeze motion. I ran toward the birds with the camera firing, and this was the best of the many shots I took. Editing involved brightening and reducing the contrast of the background. This helped emphasize the cold, and it made the birds really pop off the picture.

Shot October 2011 in Irkutsk, Russia. Today’s Photo on 27 July 2012.
Canon 60D @ 1/3200 sec, 10mm, f/5, ISO 500.


13. “Startrails Over Chicago”

Startrails Over Chicago

This shot is unique among my daily photos because it’s one of the very few that uses a stacking technique. I combined about 200 images taken over the course of about 2 hours. Each individual picture was 25 seconds long, and combining the shots allowed the stars to appear without over exposing the city’s lights. The time lapse completely smoothed the lake, allowing the colored reflections to show in the water.

Shot May 2012 in Chicago, USA. Today’s Photo on 11 July 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 25 sec, 17mm, f/8, ISO 500 + reverse graduated ND. Composite of approx. 200 shots.


14. “Goðafoss”


Enroute to Myvatn from Akuryeri in Iceland, my girlfriend and I passed Godafoss right at sunset by sheer luck. The sky was too bright against the dark, backlit waterfall, so I set up my camera and tripod to shoot the scene as an HDR. I used a 10 stop ND filter to force long exposures and smooth the water. Instead of varying the shutter speed as most HDRs are done, I used manual mode and varied the ISO to maintain approximate a 30 second exposure for each of the 5 HDR photos. This unusual technique helped further smooth the water and sky, and it gives the finished photograph a real yet uncommon sense of motion.

Shot September 2012 in Iceland. Today’s Photo on 10 October 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 30 sec, 17mm, f/11, ISO 400 + 10 stop ND. 5 exposure manual HDR.


15. “The Mean Mountains of Iceland”

The Mean Mountains of Iceland

This is another one of my personal all time favorites. I set up my tripod and used a 10 stop ND filter for the long exposure. Using a 30 second shutter speed, I was able to use f/11 and ISO 100 which is ideal for sharpness and dynamic range with many DSLRs including mine. This gave me a lot to work with in Photoshop, so I really went to town on the brights and darks while trying to maintain detail in each. The vignette is common when using a 10 stop filter. Sometimes it’s unwanted, but in this case I think the light falloff really adds to the grand, imposing look.

Shot September 2012 near Snafellsbaer, Iceland. Today’s Photo on 30 October 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 30 sec, 17mm, f/11, ISO 100.


16. “Bikes in Amsterdam”

Bikes in Amsterdam

This shot lacks the immediate visual impact of my other favorite daily photos; it’s earned it’s right to be here for less obvious reasons. It’s the first daily photo shot on film, and it’s the first shot with the Canon AE-1 Program, a 30 year old SLR camera that costs less than $100 today.

More than that, I chose this picture because it tells the story of Amsterdam: bikes, canals, open spaces and good walking areas. The film choice of Fuji Velvia 50 and minimal editing lends a nostalgic look to this classic European city.

Shot May 2012 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Today’s Photo on 9 May 2013.
Canon AE1-Program on 35mm Fuji Velvia 50 film.


17. “Walking in Istanbul”

Walking in Istanbul

This shot demonstrates the rewards of waiting for the right moment. I knew the light was good, but the first shot I took was flat and boring because the shadows and subjects weren’t very good. I waited for another group to pass by, and I took the shot when all the shadows and people lined up. I like this photo because it’s simple yet powerful.

Shot May 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. Today’s Photo on 14 May 2013.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1/320 sec, 28mm, f/7.1, ISO 100.


18. “Happy New Year’s Eve!!”

Happy New Year's Eve!!

This is one of the most unique and arguably one of the most beautiful shots I’ve ever taken. It was also one of the simplest. I put my camera’s lens into a damp glass, and I got right up to my Christmas tree and took several pictures through the glass. I then added a bit of a zoom blur around the edges in Photoshop to give a greater sense of motion. This is the result of that experiment, and I like it a lot.

Shot December 2012 in Chicago, USA. Today’s Photo on 31 December 2012.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1/40 sec, 28mm, f/1.8, ISO 400.


19. “Trees and Towers in Istanbul”

Istanbul Morning

I knew I wanted this shot the second I looked up to this scene in Istanbul. Unfortunately the daytime sky was too bright and the area was far too crowded for me to make a meaningful picture. I returned the following morning before sunrise to beat the crowds and harsh daytime light, and I captured the picture I wanted. I really like how the lines of the trees play off the tall towers of the mosque in this composition.

Shot May 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. Today’s Photo on 16 May 2013.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 1.6 sec, 19mm, f/8, ISO 800. 5 exposure HDR.


20. “Sunset in Vik, Iceland”

Sunset in Vik, Iceland

This shot took some effort. I climbed onto some rocks as the tide came in to get the vantage point I wanted. I set up my camera and tripod with my 10 stop ND filter to capture a long exposure, and I took several pictures as the waves crashed around me with the setting sun off camera to the right. I like this shot because the elongated rock on the right seems to point toward the focal point of the image. This provides balance and a subtle, natural framing that I really like.

Shot October 2012 in Vik, Iceland. Today’s Photo on 7 June.
Canon 5D Mark III @ 40.2 sec, 17mm, f/11, ISO 400 + 10 stop ND. Multiple exposure HDR.

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