The Best of 2016 Herb wilburn

I'm trying a different format this year, using Adobe's Spark web program. I am a big user of the Lightroom and Photoshop portions of the Creative Cloud. Since this integrates so well in that work flow, I'd give it a shot. I am a pretty ruthless editor of my photos, going back monthly to delete the garbage, the so-so, and the near misses. That said, at the end of the year I still have over fifteen hundred images from 2016 on my hard drive. That includes hundreds from school, which I will delete at year's end (school year). Looking back, I usually end up keeping approximately three hundred images per year. I would guess that's one in ten, perhaps one in fifteen, that I take during the year. I think my hit rate has gone up, probably due to more selective clicks rather than better photography. I find that I don't "spray and pray" much anymore.

I am going to present these in the order I took them, taking us both through the calendar year. These are the photographs I would be happy to show to anyone. I think most of them are pretty good, let's drop the humble act, I'm sending out a "best of" list for goodness' sake.

Drying Grasses in the Backyard, from February
Old Rag Summit Panorama, looking north, late March

In March I hiked up Old Rag, an iconic hike in the central section of Shenandoah National Park. I had planned for 2016 to be a year that I worked on my landscape photography. It's so hard to photograph a really beautiful scene and have your photograph convey the sense of wonder that you felt at the time. The rules for landscape photography are pretty unforgiving. You have to be out early or late, have to be methodical, and you have to stand in front of beautiful landscapes. It's harder than you think. Here on the east coast, you have to work to not have power lines, clear cuts, or cars on blocks in your scene. What I've learned, at least one thing I've learned, is that your mind is great at editing out those blemishes when you are looking at the scene. The view from an overlook can be breathtaking when you step from the car. The camera then invites you to really look at the place. It freezes the time and place. You can't ignore the scars that we've cut into our lands. Some days it makes me sad.

Mom, at the Mill Pond in Narrows, early April

I came close to writing that I shot my mom in early April, let that sink in for a moment. This was a portrait I had wanted to do for some time. We went to the mill pond and the creek bank trying to get a location that would set in the place. I wanted my family to be able to look at this in ten years and know exactly where it was and pull back all those memories and associations we have with Narrows and Wolf Creek. Technically speaking there are some good things here. I used a flash in a soft box to separate her from the purposefully underexposed background.

Bloodroot, mid April in Shenandoah National Park

I know wildflowers are so 2015. I can't help it. When I'm hiking in the spring, nothing catches my eye like wildflowers. This bloodroot pushing up through the leaf clutter speaks of spring to me.

Black Bear, mid May, Shenandoah National Park

If you can get in the woods in May, go! It's never more alive than spring. Everything is green, there is usually still enough water to go around, and the animal life is showing off for each other and you.

Natalie with watermelon, Poppies in the late afternoon sun, mid May

What I find interesting about these two pictures is the feeling of summer in both. Of course, summer was still six weeks away at the time of the photographs. Did I say I was going to do landscapes this year? I told you it was hard.

Hogback Overlook, Shenandoah National Park, mid June

Finally! There's a lot to like here, for me as a photographer. It's the right time of day, good lines, some depth to the image, a good day for me. This one isn't from the overlook on the drive. I was in the beginning of a longer hike and was on the hilltop that overlooks the overlook. I think the additional forty or fifty feet in altitude helped the photograph. I always laugh at people holding their cell phones over their heads at the overlooks, but if you can really get higher (or really get lower), it sometimes makes a big difference.

Looking west at Overall Run Falls, Shenandoah National Park, late June

This is a classic case of the photographers' advice to look behind you. I had hiked down to the falls, hoping for a nice waterfall picture. In late June the falls were already just a trickle. I was sitting on the cliffs looking west when it occurred to me that this looked pretty good too! You just don't get the good clouds very often. The other hikers there were puzzled by my shooting in the other direction, but they were listening to music while hiking in a wilderness area. That puzzles me!

Black Bear, Jeremy's Run Trail, late June

This is not a great photograph, but it has a pretty good story. I was hiking pretty far in the back country, foraging for and eating blueberries when I startled this bear about ten feet away from me. It scared both of us! He started to run, but then stopped. I think he must have thought "I'm not the one that's leaving these berries". He was right. I took a couple of snaps, thanked him, and eased down the trail as calmly as I could.

Old Rag, From Stoney Man, Range View Overlook, July

Three landscapes from July. You can click on any to see them larger and it does help. I'm grouping them to make this project a bit more manageable for me and you.

Hummingbird, mid July

I sold my canoe this summer and turned the cash into a used Tamron 70-200 2.8 lens. The 70-200 2.8 is a sort of must have for photographers and I had wanted one for ages. My older zooms had broken so I was without a focal length over 100. That won't cut it when you're in the woods. This is one of the first images I took with the Tamron. I could not be happier. I miss the canoe but this lens is great!

Evanlyn, late July

I danced with Evanlyn the day after she was born and I've been stricken since. This came from an afternoon photo session for her approaching tenth birthday. I think it shows her growing up, but retains the little girl spirit that is still at her center.

Thorton Hollow Overlook, Shenandoah National Park, late July

You have to get up early, especially in summer, to get these shots. I probably left the house around four a.m. to get up the drive (35 mph), find the right overlook and set up for this shot. I tried lots of angles and views, but settled on the low perspective. For me the wall and wild grass make the shot. An hour and a half later, while hiking I came across this scene. It's said that for wildlife photography, you want to get behavior in the shot. What could be better than a mama bear bedding down her cubs. I was really close, probably too close, when I saw them below the trail. She heard the camera click and sat up to give me a look, one cub woke to see what was the matter. I thanked her as respectfully as I could and moved on down the trail. You never know when cubs are involved.

Black Bears, Shenandoah National Park, late July
Zinnia, backyard, late July

Playing around with the 70-200, so sharp with such a great blurred background.

Range View Overlook, Shenandoah National Park, late October

In the fall, sunrise comes a little later in the morning, making it a little easier. Of course, catching the leaves at peak is the challenge now. I missed the leaves, but the way the early morning sun is defining the land makes for a good photograph.

Low water bridge, Deer Rapids, early November

This is a case of having an idea, a goal, before going out the door and working it. I have been looking at a lot of long exposure work and really like the way it looks. I went over the bank, sat in the mud, and worked this scene for a while to get this one. Yep, it would have been nicer two weeks or so earlier, more leaves, more oranges to go with the blue, but I'll take it.

Windswept Tree, Old Rag Overlook, Shenandoah National Park, mid November

This tree caught my attention as I was trying to frame up Old Rag in the distance. It's not what you go out looking for, but is a great find. If I was to guess, and I have inside sources, I think this is where I'll be heading with my photography in 2017.

Susie, Tang, and Sadie, Laughing Orange Studio, early December

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that dog to hold still?

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Herb Wilburn

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