Now that 2014 draws to a close, I decided to look back on all the things I've done and places I've been this last 12 months and post my personal 20 favorite images I've taken. It has been a pretty good year as I've visited 5 countries not including a layover in Australia.
First though, I'll take you through our year of travel and highlight a few of my fondest memories on the road. Also I'll link back to some of the older posts I wrote this year in the places I talk about. Those links will be highlighted and will open in a new tab.
In April I began in Phenom Penh traveling with my Mom and Tiffany. We traveled Cambodia, exploring the massive Angkor Wat and its sister town Siem Reap. We spent 3 full days walking through and exploring the temples and another few days in Siem Reap. The museum in particular stands out in memory. There was one room which had 1000 buddha statues all mounted on the walls. I could feel the good energy in that room the moment I walked in.
We then traveled by land up through Lao to Luang Prabang, stopping in Vientiane for a few days. The border crossing was in true Lao style in that we were crammed into a 12 seat van with 18 other smelly travelers (plus our luggage) and driven without air conditioning on a dusty unpaved road for about 5 hours. The only thing I remember about that van ride was that I was hoping and hoping that the vans suspension would crack or we'd get a flat and I could get out and just walk the rest of the way. While in Lao, we rode elephants, explored waterfalls and spent two full days floating along the Mekong River. We also spent over a week in Luang Prabang which is probably where I'd choose to live if I was to pick a place in Southeast Asia.
To make our way to Thailand we drifted up the Mekong River for 2 days straight, arriving near the Opium influenced Golden Triangle.That boat ride is one of the best decisions I think I've made as a traveler. The peace and quiet of the river paired with the space I had in comparison to that lovely van ride made it such a relaxing journey. Once in Thailand we experienced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake and took an incredible cooking class with Sexy Sue in Chiang Mai. The main lesson in that class was that sexiness came from how spicy you could eat your food. She ate it with the most spice, so she was the sexiest. I tried to handle the heat, but sadly I"m not as sexy as sexy Sue. :p
We made our way from a week in Chiang Mai to Bangkok for a few days rest on the waterfront before ending up in Phuket. In the south of Thailand we took a Phang Nga Bay cruise exploring the ancient limestone cliffs and James Bond Island. We relaxed more days on the beach than I should probably admit and visited one of the largest Buddhist Statues in South East Asia. Phuket is where my mom had to leave us to return back to the States. Tiffany and I had such a wonderful time traveling with her. I am hoping she will return with my dad to visit us in New Zealand sometime in the next year or so.
After spending a couple more months in Phuket during which I completely rebuilt this website (and blog!!) and started writing a book Tiffany and I went down to Malaysia for a vacation from our vacation to Kuala Lumpur. I feel like we didn't get enough time to see KL or the rest of Malaysia for that matter. I have plans to return maybe on our way to India & Nepal. We visited the very significant Batu Caves (Hindu) and watched sunset from the KL Sky Tower.
After tying up loose ends back in Thailand we decided to come to New Zealand for at least a year after we were approved for the working holiday visa. We began our amazing adventure in New Zealand at the end of July and after some help from Robin from WHS we slowly worked our way down the North Island. We spent some time working on Adams Permaculture farm outside of Otoko learning about smart land design and how to truly live off the land. We also were able to see the Otoko nature reserve in our down time there exploring the quiet streams and forest.
We also spent two weeks working at Lake Aniwhenua Maori Cultural Lodge working with Nades and Carl, Maurice, Tia, their daughter Tylah-Fern and great American couple Jason and Sondra. I will always thank Nades and Carl for welcoming us into their family as the WOLF pack. They are the kindest of people and it's great experiences like that that make all the bumpy parts of travel worth it. We have plans to return to both Kohutapu and Adams place to spend a bit more time before we make it to the south island. :)
We then made our way to Wellington but not before stopping at the very remote Blue Duck Station and Mt. Tongariro National Park. While there I saw the darkest night sky I've ever seen. I could literally see the full band of the milky way across the whole night sky, as well as the LMC and SMC which are dwarf galaxies. Since then we have been living in Wellington which just might be my favorite city (besides Flagstaff of course). While here I've learned the central city like the back of my hand and where some of the best spots to just read a book are. If you'd like to read my post about Wellington and what we've been up to here click THIS link.
So without much more commentary, listed below are my 20 favorite images from the 2014.
1. Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si Falls is located just outside of the World Heritage Site Luang Prabang. Its many tiered waterfall takes a few hours to explore. This is the third main tier and its a miracle I didn't catch more than one tourist in this image as there were hundreds of people there, even in the down season.
2. Forest Temple, Laos
This temple sits just above the Mekong river in northern Laos. The different colored trees and surrounding forest brought back memories of ancient Buddhist temples depicted in ancient drawings and lore. Looking at this its easy to imagine this is exactly what it looked like 500 years ago. When I was in Phuket about two months later I was talking to a local Thai photographer while having this printed at his print shop to hang in our apartment. He recognized the temple in Luang Prabang and pulled up some of his own images he took from the inside as well as a shot pointed directly to where I stood while taking this image. It was so cool getting the different perspective and sharing stories with someone who had been there many times.
3. Angkor Wat Sunrise, Cambodia
To get where we needed to be to witness sunrise over Angkor Wat, we had to get up at 4:30 am and hire a tuk-tuk to drive us the 30 minutes from Siem Reap to Angkor. From the parking lot it was a short walk in the dark to the edge of this pond where we had to push our way past all the other people crazy enough to get up so early. From a technical standpoint, this is probably my most successful panorama. It consists of more than 50 different images all stitched in photoshop. When I blended the lighter exposure from the darker I was still new to exposure blending and spent so many hours blending the edge of the temple towers and trees against the sky. Knowing what I've learned this past year I could probably do a better blend in less than 30 minutes. Still, the view from left to right is more than 180 degrees and shows minor distortion and for that I am happy. Besides, thats the only way to learn, right?
4. Mekong Fishing
While floating along the Mekong river towards our destination of Pak Beng, we passed this group of children fishing in the late afternoon sun. It was so striking to me how they seemed so at ease yet were sitting on this jagged rocky cliff. What a different life these boys live. They are out there catching dinner for their whole family yet most of us just drive to the market and spend a few dollars for a processed bag of chips or packaged meat without a clue where it came from.
This was taken at the Chaofa Weekend Market in Phuket Town. Its a well known attraction in Phuket where you can find anything from knockoff makeup to clothes, and even weapons or animals. Most tourists head there for the cheap food stalls and gift shopping for friends back home. One more unnoticed aspect of the market are the countless beggars. This man has lost his legs due to accident or possibly a more darker aspect of the tourism industry in Asia. Some are maimed on purpose by others. The money they collect from tourists feeling as if they are helping a poor fellow is instead taken by this captor. That POS human being gets money for enacting violence to others and continues to do it. Its heartbreaking every time you witness it. I have seen children as young as 3 or 4 with missing limbs and disfigured faces begging in places such as this. If you give them money you know you are in effect supporting what is happening. If you don't, you feel absolutely terrible for ignoring someone obviously in need.
6. Malaysian Macaques in Kuala Lumpur Batu Caves
While visiting the famous and highly sacred Batu Caves I was distracted by the staggering amounts of macaques in the area. They were running up the walls, getting food from tourists, and fighting amongst themselves. This baby in particular kept staring at me from a distance and when I finally got up close and he let me take his picture in the middle of a bite of banana.
7. Temple Workers, Cambodia
While in Angkor Wat for the second time around (Tiffany and I were there in early 2012) I tried to pay more attention to the people surrounding the temples instead of just the magnificence of the stone constructions. Some families live in the temple compound running shops and small restaurants. This family was taking a break, enjoying the marvel of Angkor Wat even though they had likely seen a sunrise over its towers hundreds of times.
8. Petronas Towers in KL City, Malaysia
While in Kuala Lumpur I had plans to surprise Tiffany and take her to the Petronas Towers but couldn't get a ticket as they were sold out. What started as a let down turned into a better night as we were able to eat at KL Skytower and then spend a few hours above the city in its observation deck. We soon realized it was the highest Skytower in Malaysia and offered a stunning view of the surrounding city, far better than that of the Petronas Towers. We were also allowed onto the open air service deck which only had a thin glass railing separating you from the city. Even in the middle of such a busy city, at that height it was completely silent. Calm silence like that in the middle of such a metropolis was not something I'd expected to find.
9. Buddhist Monk, Thailand
This image was one of the first that came to mind when I began this list as it still gives me shivers when I see it. In our first week back in Phuket when my mom was still with us we all rode up to the top of "Big Buddha Hill" in Chalong. We didn't know it at the time but it was Vesak Day which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. That of course meant there were hundreds of monks making their way to the top of the hill for a day of group chanting and prayer. This man was one of those leading the group in the chanting underneath the 50+ meter statue of Buddha. When I took this shot I was sitting cross legged in the center of about 50 lifelong Buddhist Monks all chanting in unison. For some reason this man opened his eyes and looked directly at me for the shortest moment in which I could swear I saw a smile before he returned to the chant. It was as if he was saying something to me directly. I will never forget that moment.
10. Waitaha Cove, New Zealand
South of Wellington city by just a few kilometers is Waitaha Cove. Its the first place you can park your car after driving along Lyall Bay on the way to Owhiro Bay. The rocks here were just asking for me to come over and take a picture to which I kindly obliged. This was actually one of the first frames I took using my new Benro 10 stop Neutral Density Filter. I was impressed with how it showed nearly zero color cast. To read my review of the Benro ND-1000 and FH-100 Filter Kit click HERE.
11. Moa Point, New Zealand
Also just south of Wellington is Moa Point. The waves crashing violently against the rocks allowed me to create an otherworldly effect using a long exposure. Sunrise here is truly beautiful. If you are in the area its worth a visit but it is one of the places you won't likely find in Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor.
12. Otoko Farmland, New Zealand
This was taken at the end of one of our long work days at Adams Permaculture farm in the north east part of the North Island. I remember we were in the middle of chopping down a tree and to get this view I climbed up one of the remaining branches and captured this unbelievable light on the nearby farmland. I think one thing that makes this look so different is the fact that the sun follows the northern part of the sky instead of the southern part while in winter. Think of the southern facing winter light you would get at your home in the northern hemisphere. Here, in the southern hemisphere its instead north facing light in the winter that makes all the snow melt, etc. Something about that change makes it appealing for photography in my opinion.
13. Galactic Core, New Zealand
While working at Kohutapu Lodge at Lake Aniwhenua (pronounced Ani-fen-ua) I saw my first truly dark sky. Even growing up in Flagstaff with our famous dark sky nothing prepared me for this. With my naked eye I could see the full band of the milky way and both the LMC & SMC shining near the horizon. I could even see the Coal Sack without the aid of a telescope. Using my 14mm ultra-wide Samyang lens I picked up in Auckland for the specific purpose if astro-photography, I took two exposures and merged them into a panorama which covers the majority of the night sky. The image below is the updated 2016 version of my Milky Way project that began at Kohutapu. Another blog post I wrote in September on Astrophotography and the night sky can be found HERE.
14. Lake Aniwhenua, New Zealand
A morning light shot taken from the seating area at Kohutapu Lodge. The forest in this image no longer stands tall as it was chopped down just a week after we left. It is the largest handplanted forest in the southern hemisphere and takes 40+ years to grow back. Now the hillside is barren and awaiting to be replanted. I"m so glad I was able to witness Lake Aniwhenua in all its beauty before the harvest.
15. Close Up of Milky Way, Blue Duck Station, New Zealand
This was taken at 40mm which allowed me to get a fairly good crop of the night sky. Knowing what I could see while standing out there taking this photo made me realize how we are just a speck orbiting a speck, in an endless ocean of specks and how all our daily troubles are so minor in the grand scheme of things. Now that is truly humbling.
16. Brides Veil Fall, New Zealand
This was one of our first stops on Stray Bus just a few hours after leaving Auckland. Our driver only let us off for about 30 minutes but it was all I needed to run down the 2km of steps to the bottom the see the full fall. This was taken about halfway down the steps. I was worried about the damage the heavy mist would do to my camera but decided it was worth it.
17. Owhiro Fire, North Island of New Zealand
This is a 400mm close up of the distant islands that dot the edge of the sea leading towards the south island from Owhiro Bay. At sunset it becomes a place like no other. The horizon blends into the sky, shadows become finely edged and you start to forget you stand on earth. While I don't feel this image truly does it justice, it is still one of my favorites from this past year. I am planning to return here many times in the next months as I am working on a study of the jagged shorelines and ever changing ocean.
18. Owhiro Bay, New Zealand
This is a shot pointed in the same place as the shot above, but taken on a different day about one hour before sunset. The clouds were moving up from the south creating a wall of darkness against the sunlight. I started this long exposure just seconds before the sun went behind the clouds. After it did the colors started to change from warm sunlight to a subtle purple cast.
19. Owhiro Islands, New Zealand
If you haven't noticed, Owhiro Bay may be my new favorite place since three images from there made this list. It is one of those places that always feels just a little bit different each time you visit it. This shot was captured on the same day as shot #18, but after the sun had passed behind the wall of clouds moving northward. In the left of this image you can see part of the Arapawa Mountain Range peeking through the clouds. On the technical side of things, this image was rather tricky to capture. At 400mm even the slightest breeze can cause massive camera shake which will in turn blur the image. I was lucky for a break in the winds and snapped this multiple exposure off before they picked up again. I used the concept of exposure blending to bring back the blown out hightlights of the sun.
20. I don't think this list would be complete without one more wildlife shot. This here is a rather curious New Zealand fur seal who I happened to catch relaxing on the rocks just south of Wellington. In the winter there is a full colony of more than 500 fur seals but at this time of year (summer) there are only a handful who remain. He would look at me and Tiffany for a moment, and then fall asleep for a moment, only to wake up, turn his head and stare at us and repeat. We were a good 20+ meters away but I was able to get closer with the Canon 2x Teleconverter I picked up from Wellington Photographic Supplies. I'm looking forward to finding some Penguins next year. Maybe one of those will make the 2015 end of year list.
There are so many other images I want to add to this post as its so hard to choose just 20 out of the 16,000+ images I've taken this calendar year. While many of them will never see the light of day, I think this has been my most successful year as a photographer in terms of shooting what to me are succesful images and building my portfolo. That being said, I still feel as if I'm at the beginning which is probably a good thing. Going forward I plan to improve not only in terms of snapping better photos, but also venturing more out into the wild. I do call myself a landscape photographer after all and I feel like I should live up to that more. Looking back the past few years I realize how lucky I am to be able to see the world capturing images I can always look back on, especially with my traveling partner Tiffany being there to share it all with me.
Wishing you all the best, see you in 2015!!