2022 has been the busiest year yet since the pandemic began in 2020. With that said there were still some blank spaces on the assignment calendar but this past fall was very close to normal in terms of travel and assignments. Regardless of some holes on the calendar this past year, I was still able to create some wild images. I am hoping 2023 is a lot like this past fall with more travel and even grander adventures.
This year also brought with it some amazing experiences like witnessing the launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 as it started it’s journey to the Moon and beyond as well as diving into the world of professional bull riding with a new client. As you will see below, this year was all over the map in terms of photographic genres and clients–maybe more so than any previous year I can think of. Without further ado, here are what I consider the best images I have created this year.
Alamos Vista Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA
Right at the start of the year, I went back up on the Alamos Vista Trail above Santa Fe, New Mexico to recreate a motion blur image I created in 2021. In fact, that image of Golden Aspens was in my 2021 Year in Review blog post as well. This new winter version of that image (shown below) has a totally different feel and the actual sun in the image.
It seems looking back over my career I have photographed a lot of forests and trees–and some of those images are among my best known images. At this point I could do a whole book on various trees around the World. There was no plan to create so many images of trees but it just kind of happened. Hence, perhaps it is not that surprising that another image aspens shows up in my latest Year in Review post.
Red Bull Air Force — Plane Swap
Arizona — USA
Sadly, due to the way this assignment played out I cannot show you the epic images captured while documenting this incredible endeavor. This image (shown below) was the one shot of mine that seemed to lead all of the newspaper stories around the world after the Plane Swap broadcast. Perhaps one day I will be able to show some more images from this event but I would not hold my breath on that one. Let’s just say it was the biggest project of the year that I was a part of–and it was incredible to be right there hovering in a helicopter to document it. The images I can’t show are absolutely breathtaking and are probably hands-down the best images I created this year.
Above is an aerial shot of Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington on the Plane Swap run in Eloy, Arizona, USA, on April 24, 2022. Congrats to Luke and Andy for dreaming big and going after it. I hope they get to try this again at some point.
This assignment involved a team of photographers to capture images from all different angles. It was a total blast to hang out with Keith Ladzinski and Predrag Vučković for a few days while we worked out the best way to document this intense undertaking. I had never met Predrag before but both Keith and I were blown away by his incredible photography–and his amazing work with GoPro cameras as well. It isn’t that often that I get to hang out, compare notes and swap stories with my peers so when it does happen it is a lot of fun.
Frank Wilczek — The Templeton Foundation
Tempe, Arizona — USA
Having done a bit of portrait work here locally in Santa Fe, New Mexico with the renowned Santa Fe Institute, it was nice to get an assignment with another powerhouse in the science world when The Templeton Foundation called. Renown physicist Frank Wilczek, who has received just about every other award there is–including the Nobel Prize–was slated to receive the Templeton Prize for his work on the fundamental laws of nature in both cosmology and at the atomic scale. I was sent out to create a series of portraits at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona in March 2022 before the announcement later in May 2022.
Frank was incredibly accommodating and easy going. And he was even up for getting creative and heading outside under the full moon later that evening. Likewise, the Templeton Foundation was very receptive to various ideas for creating a wide variety of images over the course of a full day. The images shown here are a just two of the many we created together.
From the Templeton Foundation website, “Wilczek joins a list of 51 prize recipients, including St. Teresa of Kolkata (the inaugural award in 1973), the Dalai Lama (2012), and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2013). The 2021 Templeton Prize went to ethologist and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall. The Templeton Prize, valued at more than $1.3 million, is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards.” You can also watch a video produced by Templeton on Frank as well on YouTube.
It was an honor to spend a day with a world-class mind and one of the heroes of the physics world. Frank has worked closely with the likes of Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, and many other illuminaries of the physics elite. Amazingly, late in my career I am meeting and photographing some of the elite physicists that I looked up to when I studied physics way back in the day at the University of Texas at Austin. Congrats again to Frank for yet another well-deserved award!
Fly-Fishing — Aquatech Water Housings
Missoula, Montana — USA
Earlier this year, I received an Aquatech water housing from Fujifilm for the venerable FUJIFILM GFX 100S camera system. Shortly thereafter I was slated to teach up in Missoula, Montana at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography and took the water housing along to see if I could create something with it while teaching the workshop. As part of the workshop we typically do a fly-fishing photo shoot on the Bitterroot River, just south of Missoula. While the students were photographing around me I captured the image below of Hudson Ruiz as he was fly-fishing.
While this image isn’t ground-breaking in any way, it is just fun to create something out of the norm something different that what you normally see. With the strong current the water was bubbling up on the front of the lens port creating the refraction as seen in this image. The color balance difference between the bottom and the top of the image is due to the minerals in the river water. It took thirty minutes or more and snapping hundreds of shots to get the composition right in the shallow river. I showed this image to the students later that day to show how thinking outside the box can help to create something unusual and different than the obvious types of images.
Red Bull Air Force — Columbus Pride Parade
Columbus, Ohio — USA
On yet another Red Bull Air Force assignment, I was tasked with creating images of the team members sky diving with various members of the LGBTQIA+ community as part of the Pride Parade in Columbus, Ohio. It was a challenging assignment to capture the exact image we wanted because it happened in just a split second–after five tries we finally got it by using a camera that fires at 20 fps continuously and has no buffer. During the course of that remote camera photo shoot, we also captured the whacky image shown below of Andy Farrington. You can see the other wingsuit skydivers in the background but this image just has a wild feel to it that challenges the minds perception. Hence, it’s inclusion here.
Paradise Beach — FUJIFILM GF20-35mm lens
Melbourne, Florida — USA
In late July, I received the then top-secret FUJIFILM GF20-35mm f/4 lens from my good friends at Fujifilm USA. I didn’t necessarily have an assignment or anything specific but they sent it to me to get my feedback and to see what I would do with it. Shortly thereafter I left for the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida and had a few extra days before the Artemis 1 launch was slated to proceed. I took my Aquatech water housing as well as a wide variety of gear on that trip–and tested out the lens in a variety of scenarios.
One afternoon, I went down the street from my hotel to Paradise Beach in Melbourne, Florida and decided to do some whip-pan blur images of the ocean and the late afternoon sky. To create these I set up my tripod in the shifting sand, stabilized it as best I could and leveled the ball head. I then proceeded to whip the camera left and right with a long exposure for close to thirty minutes while watching the light and the waves. I got quite a few wild images but only a few retained a crisp, sharp horizon line when I zoomed into 100%. The image below is the best of the images I captured that afternoon and it was an instant classic in my mind as it just has a painterly, dreamy feel to it.
FUJIFILM — FUJIKINA 2022
New York City, New York — USA
While attending the Fujikina event in New York City in September 2022 for the launch of the FUJIFILM X-H2, I took along my GFX 100S and the new GF20-35mm lens. I had an extra day to run around town and photograph a variety of cityscapes, which was a ton of fun as that is rare for me in general. My first stop was the World Trade Center PATH Station, which as can be seen below, has some incredible architecture. I then walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge and took the old classic image of all the guy wires supporting the bridge. In all, I walked for about five hours straight, taking in the city, and snapping images of anything that I found interesting.
This street style of photography is a completely foreign to me since I live in a tiny city in northern New Mexico, but it was fun to indulge in just a pure photographic exercise. Thanks again to Fujifilm for bringing me out for the festivities. I was able to meet and hang out with true legends in the photo industry like Greg Gorman, Sam Abell, Victor Ha, Justin Stailey and my good friend George Nobechi. We had a lot of fancy late night dinners with great wine and phenomenal stories. I count myself incredibly lucky just to have been with that group and to be a part of the mix.
NASA Artemis 1 Launch
Kennedy Space Center, Florida — USA
Early in 2022, I made a concerted effort to get a press pass for the NASA Artemis 1 launch. Sadly, I was not able to get a press pass at that time as the application period had ended a year prior. But, a few months later I was notified of another option, the NASA Social program, which brings in social media influencers to view the launch. I thought to my self this isn’t exactly where I should be but it might be the only option if I wanted to get out there and photograph the launch so I applied. As you might suspect, I got in and that is the program that allowed me to be at the press site–and to be as close as anyone can actually get to the launch pad.
The Artemis project was described to me years ago when I visited NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and gave a talk to the photography group there. I was aware that NASA planned to head back to the moon and establish a base there as part of their quest to go to Mars, and since the Artemis project was finally getting off the ground I wanted to be there to see it and also to create images. I have been a space nerd for many years so documenting this return to the moon seemed like a perfect personal project. NASA and my fascination with space travel was the reason I studied physics. Hence, when the first launch window opened I flew out and spent a few days photographing the rocket on the pad from all different angles and doing the NASA Social tour, which allowed us to gain entrance into quite a few places not shown to the general public.
As many will know, the first few launches were scrubbed so I ended up spending a week or more in Cape Canaveral, Florida (as can be seen in some of the other images in this blog post). Below are a smattering of images of the Artemis 1 Rocket on Launch Pad 39b at Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral near Titusville, Florida.
The actual launch date of NASA Artemis 1 launch took place months later at 1:47 AM on Wednesday November 16, 2022 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. I was initially disappointed with the night launch because I knew it would be extremely difficult photographically to capture the extreme contrast of the rocket’s exhaust and the rocket itself. But in the end, it made for a wild and different type of image.
I used a few different cameras to document the launch including my FUJIFILM GFX 100S and the Nikon Z9 (since it can capture images at 20 fps in full resolution raw file formats). At the beginning of this project it was just a personal project but by the end I had talked with a few other colleagues that were there photographing the launch and my images ended up being used by Amazon who had Alexa working full-time in the Orion space capsule.
I was so concentrated on photographing the launch that I am not sure I got the full launch experience. Through my viewfinder, which was stopped down by about five or six stops all I saw was a black screen and then a burst of light flying through the camera’s EVF. It appeared as if the sun came out below me as I saw the light from the rocket light up my feet and the ground around me but the exposure on the camera was tuned for the launch. The sound took literally fourteen seconds to get to us since we were three miles away from the launch pad. The first fourteen seconds of the launch were silent, which made for a weird experience with your eyes seeing one thing and your ears experiencing another.
Luckily, through Jared Polin of FroKnowsPhoto YouTube fame, I met some photographers that had photographed hundreds of launches. They clued us both into the exposure settings they used for night launches, which were vastly different than how I had my cameras set up. The settings they recommended were 1/2,500th second, f/8 at ISO 100. When they first said these settings I thought surely they were pulling our leg and I asked two or three more times if they were serious. They went on to explain the scenario to a newbie such as myself–and luckily I followed their advice. With my GFX 100S I set my ISO to 200 instead of 100 just knowing it is hard to blow out highlights with that camera.
While sitting at the airport with Jared at 3 AM, we were both going through our images and at one point I just hit the right arrow key in Lightroom and zipped through all of my Z9 images captured at 20 fps. The Z9 has no buffer even at 20 fps so I had over 700 images from the launch all shot at 20 fps and whizzing through them like this showed me a pretty epic time-lapse option I hadn’t considered beforehand. Hence, I exported a full 20 fps time-lapse and uploaded that to Instagram before catching my flight. You can find it on Instagram here. The producers working with Amazon saw this and included it into their show reels, which I will be able to share here at some point.
Stay tuned for more info on this existing project documenting the Artemis 1 launch as I will have a full report in the Winter 2023 issue of my Newsletter coming out in January 2023.
Arizona Ridge Riders
Glendale, Arizona — USA
This fall I got a call to photograph professional bull riding, which might seem way out in left field for an adventure photographer but it was seriously adventurous and seem to fit right in with some of the wild stuff I photograph. This assignment had me spending five days with the Arizona Ridge Riders at a PBR (Professional Bull Riding) team event in Glendale, Arizona. This team bull riding event was a new concept for PBR and this was the first year it came together. I was given all access to the event and basically shot from just about every angle imaginable. While the action was wild to photograph, it was the preparation in the locker room that generated some really amazing images. Shown here are just a few images from this assignment. For the whole story, check out my Fall 2022 Newsletter which includes a much larger selection of images put together as a photo story.
Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA
As a long time collaborator with the Swiss company Elinchrom, one of the top studio and location flash manufacturers in the world, I was lucky to get a few of their new location strobes to play with this fall before they launched. The new strobe named “FIVE” is a 500 Ws battery-powered strobe that is an all in one “monobloc” style unit. The unit has a built-in TTL mode, which makes it very easy to use for those not aquainted with off-camera flash. While 500 Ws is typically not enough power for some of the long distance flash work I normally do, the FIVE proved itself quite a bit more powerful than I was expecting. For this assignment, the turnaround was very quick so we set up the photo shoots locally here in Santa Fe.
For the first part of this assignment I photographed rock climbing with my good friends Amy Jordan And Aaron Miller here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Amy jumped on a route she had recently sent named Las Golondrinas (5.13-) at a new crag near Santa Fe. I used two of the FIVEs to light her up from about 100-feet away–and I was mighty impressed this worked using the High Speed Sync mode. Below are two different images created using a FUJIFILM GFX 100S medium format camera.
For the second part of this assignment, I photographed motocross with Daniel Coriz at the Santa Fe Motocross Track in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Having worked with Daniel at this exact track several times in the past I had a good idea of what we were going for. We only had a few hours to create a wide variety of images including a portrait, some motion blur images as well as stopping the motion completely using High Speed Sync. Again the FIVE was up to the task. I used two FIVE mono blocs to create these images, and in some cases placed them right next to each other for more power.
My thanks to Elinchrom for sending me the new FIVEs to work with. They will definitely be a tool I reach for going forward along with the ELB 1200. Also, my thanks to Amy, Aaron and Daniel for going out with me on such short notice.
Communication Arts Photo Annual 2022
White Sands National Park, New Mexico — USA
In the Summer of 2022, I was honored to have my images of the Astronaut on Planet White Sands included in the 2022 Communication Arts Photo Annual (as shown below). This was the fourth time my images were included in the photo annual, which contains the best images created that year by a wide swath of the advertising photography world. These images were originally created for New Mexico True, the New Mexico Tourism Board, so it was great to see them get a wide audience in the CA Photo Annual.
So long 2022. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, Amazon, National Geographic, Elinchrom, Aquatech, New Mexico Tourism, Teton Ridge, The Templeton Foundation 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 2023 gets us all fully back to normal and is filled with adventurous travels and amazing experiences!
Fabulous Michael. Glad to see your assignments are returning to your epic normal