Top 10 of 2018

I cannot believe that 2018 is almost over! This year was an amazing one for me, especially as a photographer, and it was filled with unforgettable memories, as well as some unforgettable mistakes.

I started off my photographic year with a trip to Monterey in February, where I photographed sea otters for several days. My favorite image of the trip was when a sea otter pup and its mother surfaced only 10-15 feet from our kayak. They drifted around our kayak for the next several minutes, the mother occasionally diving for food. This image is special to me, as it conveys a wonderful memory of sitting in the kayak with my mom, just getting to experience the wondrous beauty of this world.

Sea Otter Pup |  Enhydra lutris

Sea Otter Pup | Enhydra lutris

My next photography trip was in June, when my family and I traveled to Alaska and spent a week sightseeing and photographing. We flew to Lake Clark National Park, where I had perhaps the most special moments of my photographic career. Locking eyes with a brown bear is an unforgettable experience, and I captured some of my all-time favorite images out on the mudflats of Lake Clark.

Brown Bear |  Ursus arctos horribilis

Brown Bear | Ursus arctos horribilis

Brown Bear |  Ursus arctos horribilis

Brown Bear | Ursus arctos horribilis

On our return from Alaska, I discovered something that would really transform my summer: we had two families of foxes living at the back of our property! I spent most of my summer photographing the gray foxes that lived in our barn, and by early fall when they had dispersed, I had spent countless hours and nights photographing and watching them, to the point that the adult grays would trot within a few feet of me, totally undisturbed by my presence! However, the gray foxes on my property (unfortunately) heeded their crepuscular nature, and I wasn’t able to get any photographs I truly loved.

In July, I flew out to the Great Smoky Mountains for the NANPA 2018 High School Scholarship, where I had been chosen as one of ten young nature photographers from North America for the program. The program was incredible, and I had an amazing time photographing the flora and fauna of the Smokies, everything from macro portraits to wide-angle landscapes. I had so much fun learning from the instructors (Kika, Morgan, and Steven: if you’re reading this, you’re awesome!) and getting to experiment with macro photography, an area of nature photography I hadn’t really explored before. I also made some awesome friends, who also taught me lots about astrophotography and just photography in general!

And then, the hard drive failure. Like a complete and total idiot, I had saved all my raw files on an external hard drive. One day, I bumped it. The hard drive clattered to the floor, and just like that every raw file of 2018 vanished. We took it to five different drive recovery operations, and they gave a unanimous verdict that the drive had suffered unrecoverable and irreparable physical damage. At first, I was incredibly disheartened. Many of my photos I had never saved to my computer, and were lost forever. More than anything, the raw files weren’t just ones and zeroes to me. Every time I edited those photos, I relived a piece of that experience. Raw files were my canvas, and now I was faced with an overwhelmingly blank one. However, with lots of encouragement, that disheartenment began to transform itself into determination.

In late October, on our way to Kauai, we stayed a night in northern California and I was able to capture some really intimate photographs of urban foxes. One fox in particular was incredibly comfortable with my presence, and I was able to capture one of my favorite images of all time:

Red Fox |  Vulpes vulpes

Red Fox | Vulpes vulpes

Red Fox |  Vulpes vulpes

Red Fox | Vulpes vulpes

After that, we flew to Kauai, and I spent the next three weeks enjoying the sun and the beach, and also photographing the Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles that would come up on shore throughout the day. One of the highlights of every trip is helping out with the “seal watch,” setting up rope barriers to protect the seals from the tourists streaming up and down the beach. One of my favorite images of the trip was an early-morning portrait of 4CX, a young male seal who, like clockwork, would haul himself out every morning at the exact same spot and sleep away most of the day!

Hawaiian Monk Seal |  Monachus schauinslandi

Hawaiian Monk Seal | Monachus schauinslandi

I also spent lots of time photographing Hawaiian geese - known mostly as the nēnē. These birds closely resemble their Canadian cousins, but unlike Canada geese, nēnē are classified as “vulnerable.” They are very fun to photograph and I converted this portrait into black-and-white to accentuate its textures.

Hawaiian Goose (Nene) |  Branta sandvicensis

Hawaiian Goose (Nene) | Branta sandvicensis

Once we returned from Kauai, most of my time was occupied by Thanksgiving, but the week after Thanksgiving I took a trip down to Point Reyes with Daniel Dietrich and Amy Shutt. I saw my first bobcat, which was amazing, and I also photographed my first barn owl! Daniel and Amy are both incredible photographers and conservationists, but they’re also just amazing people! I had so much fun getting to talk, photograph, and learn from them, and Point Reyes was one of my greatest highlights of 2018.

Barn Owl |  Tyto alba

Barn Owl | Tyto alba

Coyote |  Canis latrans

Coyote | Canis latrans

Great Horned Owl |  Bubo virginianus

Great Horned Owl | Bubo virginianus

Most of December has been occupied by school and finals, but as of last week I am now totally free! I plan to spend most of winter break photographing as much as I can, and hopefully be able to start following the lives of our local foxes again! I am incredibly excited for 2019, and I have many photography trips stacked up, including my first-ever time visiting Iceland!

All in all, 2018 has been an amazing year. But while photography is incredibly fun, and while these photos are very special to me, this year—and my life—wouldn’t be what it is without the people in it. Mom and Dad, you are both amazing! You are so supportive of me and my passions, so thank you! To my mentors and friends, your support and wisdom is really crucial to me and my photography. Here’s to 2019!

Max NicholsComment