Best Photos of 2018: My Favorites of the Year by Todd Henson

It’s that time of year again. Time to go back through everything you’ve created this year looking for the best, or at least the favorites. This isn’t an easy task, but it helps teach us to be ruthless with our work. I’m far from an expert in this, so I continue to practice each year.

This process was inspired by Jim Goldstein, who each year gathers together best of collections from many different photographers. Thanks to Jim for the inspiration and for continuing to put together these lists each year. Your work is appreciated.

Below are my favorite photos created during 2018, listed in chronological order:

If you’d like to see more, I also have a collection of my favorite photos created in previous years but first, or newly, processed in 2018. And if you enjoy reading books and watching movies I’ve put together a list of the books and movies I most enjoyed in 2018.

Merry Christmas! And here’s to a great 2019! I wish you all the best.

Waiting for Spring by Todd Henson

Waiting for Spring, April 2018

I write these words in December. It’s winter, there’s a cold breeze blowing outside. We’ve seen the first snowfall of the season, with who knows how many more to come. I do enjoy this time of year. The fresh feeling of the cold air. The pure, glistening white of snow and ice. The interesting sensation of feeling warm and relaxed under the layers of clothing, while the cold wind leaves a tingling sensation on the cheeks.

But I also look forward (or back) to spring, when the air begins to warm, the sun stays up longer, and plant life prepares to spring back to life. I look to mid-April, along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The trees atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia are still devoid of leaves, though that will change before long. The sun backlights a couple of trees in a field, lights up a few clouds in the sky, and creates a soft glow with the haze around the mountains in the distance. I imagine warmth, but that is just my imagination; it’s still fairly cool outside, especially atop the mountains.

I do enjoy the winter. But I’m also waiting for spring.

Waiting for Spring is available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products in my Pixels online store.

Wildlife Photography as Education or Wildlife Photography as Art? by Todd Henson

I’ve mentioned before how I have multiple purposes when out photographing wildlife. I have always been interested in wildlife and love learning about all the different species out there in the world. I also have an artistic side that loves creating beautiful photographs of interesting subjects.

Wildlife Photography as Education

I love wildlife. I would go hiking in search of wildlife even if I weren’t a photographer. I collect field guides and books about nature and wildlife of all kinds. So from this perspective photography is a means to an end, allowing me to better appreciate and study wildlife.

My first priority when photographing from this perspective is capturing images that are clear enough to identify the species. To do this I make a conscious effort to photograph as many different views of the species as I can. Sometimes two bird species will look almost exactly the same save for one small area on their body. If you don’t photograph that part of their body you may not be able to tell which species you just photographed.

Artistic? No, but together these photos allowed me to identify this as a Striped Skunk.

Photographing different parts of an animal can help with identification, as it did with this Striped Skunk.

There is nothing artistic about this photo of a Pileated Woodpecker, but it is good enough to identify the species.

When photographing for education I often create what would be considered bad photographs from an artistic perspective. They are cluttered or blurry, the subject is too far away, or turned in an unflattering direction. You can see some of these in my Field Notes sections. But I consider them good photographs if they identify a species or show an interesting behavior. There is value in this, at least to me.

Wildlife Photography as Art

I also love photography as an art form. I enjoy trying to create pleasing, artistic photographs, images that show emotion or have a message, even if it might be interpreted completely differently by different viewers.

Photographing wildlife from this perspective entails a slight shift in priorities. I no longer worry quite so much about photographing the animal from all the different perspectives. I’m now far more aware of the environment, of the background. A good background can make a shot, a bad background can kill it.

A portrait of an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Most of my photography in this category might be considered animal portraiture. I zoom in on the animal, trying to keep the background to a minimum. I most often choose lenses and settings that allow me to blur the background, drawing attention to the subject. This often requires long telephoto lenses and larger apertures, as well as finding locations where the subject is at a great enough distance from the background to allow a pleasant blur, perhaps completely obscuring the background.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler preparing to fly. I deliberately positioned myself to take advantage of the out of focus green background.

A cloud sheltered this Eastern Bluebird from the sun, yet its light illuminated the autumn colors in the background.

But it’s also possible to create environmental portraits, or even landscapes with wildlife, photographs that show the animal in its environment. The animal is still a subject of the photograph, but no longer the only subject. The environment, itself, becomes a subject, showing where the animal lives, hunts, eats, nests. These can often be wide, sweeping landscape images that showcase a species as part of the landscape. I don’t often shoot these but I do have a great desire to try more of them.

So Which Is It?

I enjoy photographing wildlife as part of furthering my or others education. I enjoy photographing wildlife in an artistic manner. These perspectives sometimes require different tactics. So which do I choose when going out shooting? Which takes priority?

Honestly, I don’t put a lot of thought into it while in the field. I think both are worthwhile perspectives, shooting wildlife photography as a means of education or as a form of art. And thankfully I don’t have to choose one or the other. I can pursue both.

If I find a species that is new to me I will naturally try to create as many photographs of it as possible. I want to be able to successfully identify it, and I’m naturally interested in animal behavior, so I try to capture that. I also am always looking for pleasing backgrounds, interesting compositions. But in the case of a new species I do tend more towards the photography as education perspective.

If I’m photographing a species I’ve photographed many times before I know I don’t need extra images to help identify it, so my focus is on creating the most pleasing image I can. I might skip some potential images in pursuit of something more interesting, something where the light hits the animal just so, or the animal’s position lines up perfectly with some element of the scene. Without putting much conscious thought into it I jump right into the artistic perspective.

These perspectives remind me of a recent conversation with a friend, talking about birding and photography. Some birders develop an interest in photography through their existing interest in birding. And some photographers develop an interest in birding through their photography. There is enough overlap between the two to draw some people to both.

What about you? Do you prefer one or the other, or do you also enjoy both perspectives? Or do you, perhaps, have another goal separate from these two?

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