2023: Year in Review

2023 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 the first half of this year was very close to normal in terms of travel and assignments. Regardless, I was still able to create some wild images. I can’t say that it was an epic year of creativity but it certainly had its moments–and some of those moments really got me excited to push harder in the future.

This year also brought with it some amazing experiences like working with the Red Bull Air Force again as well as shooting for the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX100 II medium format camera. As you will see below, this year was all over the map in terms of photographic genres and clients. This was also the first year I have traveled internationally since the pandemic began, which was very exciting. Though I have to say that the airlines have managed to make international flying even less fun that it was pre-pandemic. Without further ado, here are what I consider the best images I have created this year.

Winter 2023 Snowpocalype
Wolf Creek Ski Resort, Colorado — USA

In January 2023, a friend of mine, Charlie Pinder from the UK, came over and we set out on a winter adventure to do some skiing and ice climbing in southern Colorado. Charlie used to be the Director of Photography for Red Bull in Austria. Hence, I have known him and worked with him a fair number of times and we became friends through our work together. We had done one prior trip together when he came to visit and stay with me several years before this 2023 adventure. It was a blast to see him again post-Covid. Little did we know that we were in for one epic trip.

Our first stop was to head up to Wolf Creek, a small ski area in the southern Colorado that gets epic amounts of snow. As we were driving up from Santa Fe, New Mexico it was becoming apparent that the snow might actually be insanely deep during our two days in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The ski area was actually shut down the day we arrived because there was too much snow and getting to the ski area was pretty dicey. Luckily, the roads were plowed and open the following day and we ended up with two amazing days of deep powder. In fact, for me, who is only an intermediate skier, the powder was so deep that I had to relearn how to ski in deep powder to some degree. At one point, at the top of the mountain in near white out conditions we stopped and snapped some photos in the otherworldly landscape as shown in the image of Charlie below.

After our epic two days of skiing, we headed to Ouray, Colorado for some ice climbing. At this point in the trip it had already snowed four feet while we were in Pagosa, and it was still snowing so it was dubious if we could even get to Ouray. To get to Ouray, we had to drive over Red Mountain Pass–which is the most dangerous road in North America. I have driven over the pass at least sixty or seventy times in my twenty five years of ice climbing in Ouray. Hence, I knew what we were in for.

The weather forecast was snow all day. When we got closer to the start of the big mountain passes, just north of Durango, I asked some of the locals if they had heard anything about the conditions on the road going north to Silverton and then to Ouray. They said bluntly, “I wouldn’t drive up there in these conditions.” But, the road was still open. We were stopped by a cop on the way up to Molas Pass and asked about the road again and he said that the road was open. So on we went.

Getting to Silverton wasn’t that tough, the road was well plowed. Between Silverton and Ouray, on the actual Red Mountain Pass, we ran into a huge truck jack-knifed on the road but luckily were just able to squeeze by and get around the truck. We ran into a few other cars and trucks having difficulty but there was nothing we could do for them. On we went at 25 mph going slowly so as not to get in trouble. We made it into Ouray and found out the road was closed only twenty minutes after we had gotten into town. Ouray was of course buried with nearly seven feet of new snow in the last four or five days. Even getting around town was pretty slippery. Charlie commented several times how impressed he was with my Subaru Outback (equipped with winter tires). We saw a lot of other larger trucks, including several Toyota Tundras, having some serious issues with traction and they had chains on as well. When we saw other vehicles with traction issues we would just pull out or cruise right on by with no issues. Rock on Subaru! Check out Charlie’s timelapse video below that he posted on Instagram to see the drive from Durango to Ouray. What you might not be able to make out in Charlie’s timelapse are the giant cliffs just next to the road that make this drive pretty exciting.

The ice climbing wasn’t that epic because with the huge amounts of snow you basically had to clean your route off before you could even get on the ice climb. It continued to snow the entire two days we were in Ouray and in the end I think it was over to two meters or more of snow — seven feet at least that fell over the course of our six day trip. The driving was at least as exciting as the skiing and ice climbing. It wasn’t the worst driving conditions I have ever seen on Red Mountain Pass but it was close. All in all, it was a great way to start off 2023.

On a separate note, my twelve year old, tortured 2011 Subaru Outback developed some serious issues a few months after this trip and I purchased my third Subaru Outback largely based on just how well it had done on this epic winter trip. There is not much a Subaru with winter tires can’t handle and that became quite evident on this adventure.

Red Bull Air Force 2023 Training Camp
Eloy, Arizona — USA

In February, I was once again invited to photograph the Red Bull Air Force training camp in Eloy, Arizona. Over the last fifteen or more years working with Red Bull it has been an honor to work with the Red Bull Air Force and their incredible skydivers, BASE jumpers, wingsuit team and the legendary pilots they have as well. I have photographed every training camp the team has had here in the USA since 2010. This one was a little different than the normal training camps in that it was an International version with Red Bull skydivers, paragliders and pilots from all over the world flying in to participate in the training camp.

On one evening the crew set up an array of pyrotechnics for the team to swoop through on an evening skydive. The image below of Sean MacCormac busting through a wall of pyrotechnics was one of the surprising images that came from that evening. We both paid for this image because of my poor choice in positioning myself right in the firing line. For the full story on this image read my blog post entitled The Wall of Pyro. This was an incredibly difficult image to capture and it is a small miracle that my camera could autofocus this fast in such low light at f/1.2.

During the few days I was documenting the aerial training camp I also had the opportunity to go up in a hot air balloon and photograph skydivers, paragliders and some wingsuit skydivers blasting past our balloon. In the image below, Miles Daisher flew his wingsuit past our hot air balloon at 120 mph (193 kph) and you can see the plane he jumped from above him in the background. Again, I am blown away that the camera could track him so accurately, especially on a cloudy overcast day. This is a very unusual image in that it is very rare to see a wingsuit pilot flying in the air from this vantage point.

In another cool setup, the team set up some huge smoke bombs and the then they skydived through the smoke. In the image below Mike Swanson is swooping over the pond and through the smoke just before landing right next to me. There were a lot of really cool images that came from this setup including a few where the skydiver was so low that they could hardly be seen because of all the smoke–and then they popped out and landed blind.

Overall, the 2023 Red Bull International Aerial Camp offered up a wild array of image opportunities that were quite different than those I have created of the team in the past. It was great to be part of the crew and to be able to work with the incredible athletes at this training camp. It was also great to meet all of the international athletes that attended as well. Fingers crossed I can photograph future International Aerial Camps for Red Bull.

New Mexico Tourism
Taos Gorge, Taos, New Mexico — USA

During the course of my year, I have a few local assignments sprinkled in with my other more normal action and adventure gigs. The client I work with locally most often is New Mexico Tourism and every once in a while these assignments result in amazing images. On one such gig, I was driving back from Taos and saw this stormy sunset over the Taos Gorge and had to stop to photograph it. I had my 102 megapixel FUJIFILM GFX100S with me and that gave me a lot of resolution to play with. I think I like the panoramic version of this image better than this one, but I thought I would share the full resolution (uncropped image here).

Lower Mesa Falls, Idaho — USA

It has been a huge honor to work with Fujifilm the last five years, since my first assignment with them creating images for the launch of the original GFX100 in 2019. Once again this last summer I was on an assignment to create images for the launch of the GFX100 II. This time around we chose the sport of whitewater kayaking and after a few delays decided to go to Lower Mesa Falls in Idaho. The kayakers were James Shimizu, JT Hartman and Darby McAdams. Over the course of three days we created a variety of images but there were a few that stood out. Below are some of my favorites from that assignment. For the full story, check out Fall 2023 Newsletter. There is also a gallery of the best images on my website here, which includes a behind the scenes video as well.

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As you might expect, the GFX100 II is a stellar camera. In my mind it is the best camera Fujifilm has ever created in the history of the company. I wrote up a full preview of the camera here. My thanks to Fujifilm for bringing me back once again to help launch one of their exceptional GFX cameras.

Fujifilm GFX100 II Announcement
Stockholm — Sweden

In September 2023, as part of the launch of the new FUJIFILM GFX100 II, Fujifilm flew me out to Sweden for the actual launch event in Stockholm. As usual with these Fujikina launch events, there are a lot of press attending, some fancy diners and in-depth seminars for folks to find out more of the technical details of the new products. There was also some hands on time for people to try out the new gear as well. Since I created images for the launch I already knew the camera decently well but it was a great time to celebrate with the Fujifilm crew and meet the larger photography community that came to the event.

While I was in Stockholm for six days, I had time to explore the city and run around photographing a variety of city scenes. The image below is of Sergels Torg in central Stockholm. This location was literally a few hundred yards from my Hotel. I met up with Elia Locardi, who had been to Sweden before, at the launch and we went out together to photograph this location after the festivities. Even though it was just September, the wind it was quite chilly standing out on a bridge to get this image as the sun set. It was a blast to see Elia again, talk shop and catch up.

I also spent a considerable amount of time riding and exploring the amazing subway system in Stockholm. The metro there is one of the easiest to use I have seen anywhere. And almost all of the major subway stations have these elaborate cave corridors painted with wild colors and epic scenes as can be seen below. For a photographer, it felt like being a kid in a candy store running all over town to check out the various subway stations.

Skydiving the Annular Eclipse
Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA

A few months before the annular eclipse Jeff Provenzano contacted me. Jeff is a member of the Red Bull Air Force, who I have worked with on numerous assignments over the last 15 years. He is also one of the world’s elite sky divers. Jeff wanted to do a personal project skydiving with the eclipse. When he first called I was dubious as to how we would pull this off. Red Bull has over the years contacted me several times to photograph some of their athletes during an eclipse–and each time the logistics of getting the shot were pretty much impossible. This time around I thought through the options and told Jeff the only way to pull off any images would be a double exposure–either in camera or in photoshop after the fact.

Jeff lined up a helicopter for the sky dive, but he could not get a permit in any of the three locations he could get a helicopter. In the end, I told him not to worry, I already had thousands of photos of him skydiving and I could photograph the eclipse in my own backyard since Santa Fe was in line with the eclipse. On October 14, 2023, I spent an hour photographing the eclipse, then came back into the office and got to work. Combining the photos in photoshop resulted in the images you see below. It worked out phenomenally well. As can be seen in the last image, I even managed to capture a solar flare during the eclipse.

My sincere thanks to Jeff Provenzano for coming up with the idea for these images. This was by far the most exciting set of images I created in 2023. When I saw the first composite image come together on my computer I just about fell out of my chair I was so blown away. I wrote a full blog post about this personal project which you can find here. And there is also a web gallery of the best resulting images on my main website as well.

Fall Colors in Japan
Shinshu and Hida Prefectures — Japan

This past fall, I led a photography tour entitled “The Fall Colors of Shinshu and Hida” with George Nobechi and Nobechi Creative in Japan. This photo trek set out to explore the central mountains of Japan and follow the fall colors as the trees changed colors all along the mountain chain. First off, I didn’t know that central Japan had such incredible mountains–rising to over 12,000 feet in elevation. One of the highlights for me personally was Kamikochi National Park, which lies due west of Tokyo. As shown in the first few images below these mountains are not unlike the Alps in Europe and they are the steepest, most impressive mountains (at least for climbing) in all of Japan from what I have seen.

Through out the ten day trip, we visited a variety of different villages and towns as well as set up a few impromptu photo opportunities for the participants. On one such stop we photographed Murozaki Tadahiko, who is a tenth level iaido master (swordsman). George took us to a local waterfall and we used my Elinchrom strobes to light Murozaki up as he practiced his craft. I photographed him with the strobes first to dial in the lighting and find a decent composition for the participants. In that brief time I was able to create a few memorable images, but the best images I got that day was without the lights. The image below is just of him standing in front of the waterfall at the end of our session.

Earlier on the trip we also visited the Jigokudani Monkey Park, which is one of the most famous tourist sites in Japan (outside of the cities). It was fantastic fun photographing the monkeys and watching them interact with all of the tourists but for me the really stunning part of that adventure was the incredible Cryptomeria Forrest we walked through to get to the Monkey park. I spent a considerable amount of time photographing the forrest on the hike in and then found a perfect spot on the way out to try some motion blur images (as I have done with Aspens in the past). Working with my brand new FUJIFILM GFX100 II, I shot a few hundred motion blur images of the forrest and there were a few gems as shown below.

Fujifilm Factory Visit
Taiwa — Japan

On my fall trip to Japan, I was also able to go visit the Fujifilm Taiwa factory in the Miyagi Prefecture north of Sendai, Japan. This factory is where the GFX cameras and lenses, as well as the X100 and X-Pro line of cameras and lenses, are manufactured. Years ago, when I went to Japan for the launch of the original GFX100 I was told that Fujifilm would set up a private tour on my next visit. Then of course, Covid happened and well, I didn’t make it back to Japan until this fall (nearly five years later). Hence, I am grateful that Fujifilm set up this factory visit. It was incredible to see what goes into making the cameras and lenses I rely on for my work. I wrote an entire blog post about the factory visit. Hence you can read all about it there in that post. But, once of the major highlights was walking in and seeing my image from the GFX100 assignment in 2019 hanging in the main lobby of the factory as shown below. My thanks to everyone at Fujifilm for the exceptionally warm welcome and the great hospitality during my trip to Japan.

U2 at the Sphere
Las Vegas, Nevada — USA

On September 30th, I was one of the lucky ones to go see U2 on their opening night at The Sphere in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am not sure how I got tickets for this concert as it was a lottery system but it was pretty epic to see an entirely new type of concert experience with such a huge screen. Since it was opening night, none of us knew what to expect. There had been no YouTube videos showing the experience so we all had no idea what was about to happen. As can be seen in my Instagram post below, by the third song we were already blown away. The entire concert was sensory overload, and it took a few days to really take in what we saw and experienced. They only have a dozen or shows left in their residency at the Sphere but if you can go see the show I would highly recommend it. I have been a massive U2 fan since I first saw their videos on MTV way back in 1981 and I have seen them several times over the years but this concert stands out from all of the others–and also set the bar incredibly high for all other concerts going forward. This is going to be very difficult to top!

So long 2023. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, National Geographic, New Mexico Tourism, Teton Ridge, Nobechi Creative 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 2024 is filled with even more adventurous travels and amazing experiences!

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