2021 has been a bit of a mixed bag. Parts of the year were nearly as busy as before the Covid pandemic began and other parts felt more like 2020 with long stints here in the office. Regardless, I was still able to create some wild images. A huge thank you to my clients who have continued on with assignments in a tough year and many of whom put in place very strict Covid practices. I very much appreciate my clients approaching any gathering with caution and reasoned practices to keep all of us as safe as possible.
This year also brought with it some amazing experiences–like getting to fly upside down in a helicopter–and some amazing assignments. In February, Fujifilm launched the GFX 100S–their latest 102 megapixel GFX medium format camera–and it was great to see all of the downhill skateboarding images we created for that campaign appear all over the place with the release of the camera. I couldn’t share those images in last years 2020 Year in Review post because the camera had not been announced yet. You can see the best images from that campaign here on my website. Below is a screen shot of the main image Fujifilm used to promote the new GFX camera here in the USA.
Since working with the new FUJIFILM GFX 100S, its has been my main camera and the GFX 100, it’s big brother, has taken the backseat for many assignments in deference to the smaller, more portable 100S. Many of the images shown here in this year-end summary were created with these astounding GFX 102 megapixel cameras. A sincere thanks to Fujifilm for their continued support of my work and for helping me to have the best possible tools I could ever dream of.
I know that these “Year in Review” blog posts are a dime a dozen – and I have seen a lot of them over the last few weeks – but I hope you find this blog post at least entertaining. Without further ado, here are what I consider to be the best images I have created this past year.
Red Bull Air Force
Los Alamos, California — USA
Early this spring, after the epic boom in Covid cases over the last winter, I received a great assignment from Red Bull to once again photograph the Red Bull Air Force training camp. I have photographed the last four training camps for Red Bull, which has helped me to establish quite a good relationship with the team and also a very well rounded portfolio of BASE Jumping, wingsuit BASE jumping and aerial acrobatics images. This years training camp was held in Los Alamos, California and offered a completely new landscape to work with as can be seen in the images below.
My sincere thanks to the entire Red Bull Air Force and to Red Bull for allowing me to be a part of this years training camp. I am already looking forward to the next time I get to work with this incredible crew. For the full story on this assignment check out my Summer 2021 Newsletter.
Red Rocks, Nevada — USA
Right after the Red Bull assignment shown above I had another assignment with SanDisk and DPReview to show off their latest solid state travel hard drives (SSDs). For this assignment, I chose to create some rock climbing images using my brand-new FUJIFILM GFX 100S and a variety of GFX lenses. Eric Becker, working with DPReview, created a behind the scenes video showing how the images were created and working with the SanDisk SSDs. My thanks to Eric and the DPReview team, as well as SanDisk of course, for this assignment and also to the climbers, Joey and Yulia Cohn and Keoni Onsaga, for coming out on two frosty cold days.
Highlight Skydiving Team
Tucson, Arizona — USA
While photographing the Red Bull Air Force team training camp, Amy Chmelecki asked if I would come out and photograph the Highlight Skydiving team, which is an elite female skydiving team. While working with the Highlight crew, they wanted to swoop through a wall of fire as they came in for a landing. I had not seen anything like this in my fifteen years of photographing various skydiving sports but it seemed like a goldmine photographically. As can be seen below, Kaz Sheekey swooped through a wall of blazing fire and smoke (the smoke came from a flare set off in front of the fire line) and these two images might be my best images from 2021. I couldn’t decide which image is better, the one with her in the midst of the flames or the second one where she has just busted through the flames. Hence, I have posted both here. My thanks to the entire Highlight Skydiving team for their incredible hospitality and for having such a cool team training camp.
Rocky Mountain School of Photography
Missoula, Montana — USA
For the last five years, I have spent one week each year teaching a workshop for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP), which is a nine month intensive professional school for those looking to become professional photographers. I have taught a course on Adventure Photogrpahy and during that week, I try to capture a few images here and there to show the students what I would do in those scenarios. On the day we worked with a few whitewater kayakers this past year, I got the image below of Sebastian Johnson whitewater kayaking on the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula, Montana. As this location had a very busy background I thought using a slow shutter speed to create a motion blur would lead to an interesting image–and well, it turned out pretty well. My thanks to RMSP and the kayakers for working with us in seriously cold kayaking conditions.
Santa Fe Institute
Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA
Every once in a while I have a local assignment, i.e. one here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Usually, local assignments involve a portrait of some type and this was one of those gigs. I have worked with the Santa Fe Institute several times over the last few years and as one of the most elite science institutions in the world it is always fun working with SFI. For this assignment I was tasked with creating a few different portraits of renown physicist and cosmologist Sean Carroll. As someone who studied physics in university and got a B.S. in physics, it was pretty cool to meet one of the icons of the science world. To create something unique and show the power of Sean’s mind, I created a double exposure image melded from a black and white portrait and a photo of a 3D art installation at the institute. We also had Sean write out some of the equations he is working with at the institute for a more “standard” portrait. I thought both images are pretty cool and it was great to hear Sean liked them as well. My thanks to Sean Carroll and SFI for working with me on this assignment.
And if there is any doubt about the importance of science and scientists, the last few years have proven quite effectively how important science is to our modern society and how incredible the new vaccines are in protecting us. Please get vaccinated to protect yourself and others.
Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA
I seem to have been on a motion blur kick this year as I created a wide variety of motion blur images–two of which are show here in this year end post. While on a hike this fall, a patch of glowing golden Aspens along the Alamos Vista Trail above Santa Fe, New Mexico caught my eye and I spent five minutes or more moving the camera and my body to make motion blur images of this forest wall. It probably looked pretty hilarious as I bent my knees in a pumping motion up and down. That seemed to be the best technique for holding the camera steady at slow shutter speeds and not moving it any closer or farther from the scene. The result was the image below. While this technique is nothing new, and many, many photographers have created this type of image, I found this one image (out of hundreds I created that day) to be “The One.” It has already become one of my most asked for images as a fine art print.
New Mexico Tourism
White Sands National Park, New Mexico — USA
This fall, I had a very fun assignment working with New Mexico Tourism, the City of Alamogordo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History. The assignment was to create a series of images of Mike Shinabery (an employee of the Space Museum) in an Astronaut suit in and around Alamogordo, New Mexico. The Space History Museum had a $60,000 USD replica space suit based on Neil Armstrong’s suit used for the Moon landing in 1969. This is the suit you see here in these images. The images we created in White Sands National Park in particular were the best images from the assignment and some of the more unusual images I created this year. Below are two of my favorites.
For the full story on this assignment check out my Fall 2021 Newsletter. My thanks to Bill Stengel who brought me in for this assignment!
New Mexico Tourism
Wild Rivers Recreation Area, New Mexico — USA
On another New Mexico Tourism assignment this fall I photographed fly-fishing on the Rio Grande river in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area near Questa, New Mexico. While hiking down to the river I saw this pretty amazing overhead view with phenomenal colors and textures. Our fly-fisherman Toner Mitchell was gracious enough to hike downriver so I could get a series of images of him in various spots on the river. This image below is one of my favorites from that assignment and seemed worthy of this year end summary.
California — USA
While this image isn’t from 2021, after two years I am just now able to share it. This image is from a major ad campaign I shot for Eylea, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical giant Bayer, way back in 2019. Eylea is a drug for those suffering with Macular Degeneration. On this gig, we created three heavily composited images for the campaign. [Note: It is extremely rare that I use compositing in my work and if an image is composited then I am very clear about how the image was created.] In the image brief the ad agency had a mountain scene from Austria and wanted to create something similar here in the USA without snow in early April. While working with my producer for this assignment, we chose a road in central California for the cyclist to ride on–and which had the right foothills surrounding the road. The mountains in the background are from Colorado, the sky is from another image and all of the daisies you see below were added in post-production. While we produced four different composited images for this assignment this one is by far my favorite.
So long 2021. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, SanDisk, National Geographic, New Mexico Tourism, SFI and all of my other clients with whom I worked this year. Thank you for taking the time to check out some of this years highlights. Feel free to comment on any of these images and tell me which one you think is the best of the best from this year. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all. Here’s hoping your 2022 gets us all back to fully normal and is filled with adventurous travels and amazing experiences!
I WOULD have to say my favorite Set WOULD be the astronaut. The concept is brilliant, along with the execution. Great Work, Michael.
This could be a lifetime of highlights– hard to believe it’s only one year! Thank you for sharing it with us.