January 1, 2021. Nobody really knew what to expect, and I feel like most people were very hesitant with their optimism, after what happened in 2020.
I was one of them. I had no idea what could possibly be before me in 2021. 2020 was a year of road trips, big personal photography projects, and uncertainty.
Looking back, how was 2021? Personally, it’s been a struggle. Professionally? I worked my butt off and things are going well.
Photographically? Well, let’s take a look. But first…
2021 Year in Travel
2021 was the year I got back on the road. I was as responsible as I could be and obeyed all local rules. I’m vaccinated, boosted, test regularly, and luckily have avoided Covid-19 to date.
It all started when Iceland opened its borders to vaccinated travelers from America. I was the first American to enter the country under the new program, and then the volcano erupted to welcome me! Only a couple months later I went back to Iceland on a first date (random sentence to write I know), and then another couple of months later I went back to Iceland to see puffins (and get a huge voucher from Delta in the process).
Iceland was great, but I was already familiar with Iceland (here’s a 5-day guide if you want to plan your first visit). I wanted to visit some new places. Finland was the only Nordic country I had never traveled to so I hopped over for a quick trip in September (yes yes I know I still owe you a trip report for it). Shortly after I returned I caught a MASSIVE sale from American Airlines and was able to book a flight from Dallas-Milan for $290 roundtrip! I had always wanted to visit the Dolomites and this was the perfect occasion to do it.
I wrapped up 2021 with a visit to two new countries: Poland and Lithuania! I have a buddy studying in Lithuania so a group of us went out to visit him. I stopped in Warsaw on the way there and then went through London on my way back (to see Ted Lasso filming sites, of course).
All in all? Fantastic year of travel. Let’s take a look at my favorite photos from a great year!
10. Aggies Win! – College Station, Texas
Texas A&M had an up-and-down football season, but boy was the game against Alabama special. A friend and I headed down to College Station for the game (roughly 3 hours away), trying not to get our hopes up since the Aggies were coming off a 2-game losing streak and, well, we were playing the #1 team in the country.
41-38. Aggies won the game! I didn’t have my nice cameras on me so this is the one shot from the top 10 that is from my iPhone.
9. St. Johann – Bulzano, Italy
There are small villages nestled in the valleys of the Italian Dolomites. Much more to come here from my trip there in October, where it quickly became one of my favorite places in the world, but wow the scenery was amazing. This picture had always been on my bucket list, the small onion-domed steeple contrasting with the forest and the mountains behind it, it just looked magical to me! I was really happy to confirm that it felt as magical as it looked when I got to visit for myself. The cows on the right broke up the peaceful meadow perfectly.
I shot this with my Sony A1 and my trusty 24-70mm f2.8 G Master lens with the following settings:
- 1/100 exposure time
- ISO 100
Really for pictures like this you just take the picture, as there wasn’t a variety of compositions to choose from (you’re on a very well-defined wooden platform), but it didn’t need much work in post, it’s just naturally perfect!
8. Mulagljufur Canyon – Southeast Iceland
I had seen pictures and drone videos of this amazing canyon for quite a few years but could never quite pinpoint where it was located. A buddy finally told me the name of it and I was able to find everything I needed to go visit after my visit out to the puffins in July! (I wrote an article about how you can also find it, it’s a relatively easy, although unmarked, hike)
This picture required about 90 minutes of patience before the weather cooperated and gave me a 5-minute window through the clouds where the distant peak was visible. I had my cameras ready to go: the 32-64mm (25-50mm full-frame equivalent) lens on my GFX100S and a 70-200mm on my Sony A1. This specific frame is from the Fuji. Settings were:
- ISO 100
- 1/110 exposure time
I loved editing this one, so many shades of green. I brought out the contrast in the clouds a bit and did some dodging and burning on the undulations lower in the canyon to emphasize just how dramatic the scene was. I want to go back with a drone soon!
7. Northern Lights Harken an Eruption – Godafoss, Iceland
I’m a Northern Lights junkie, everyone knows that. When I entered Iceland in March as one of the first Americans allowed in under the vaccinated traveler exemption from quarantine I immediately went north to Iceland’s “second city” of Akureyri. I got my bags situated as darkness fell and went over to Godafoss. Why Godafoss? Well, I had been to Iceland a few times before and had tried to visit Godafoss but had been turned away because both of the parking lots were full. This time? I had it all to myself…for hours.
I set up my Sony a9II camera with a 12-24mm lens attached as I saw an aurora erupt above the falls. I started an exposure with my camera and then checked my phone, which was going absolutely nuts with texts from friends. Those texts all said the same thing: “DUDE THE ICELAND VOLCANO JUST ERUPTED.” I was laughing at my luck and then looked down at my camera and saw the great aurora image I had just captured! Settings were as follows:
- ISO 3200
- 10-second exposure
I’m not sure what happened with some of the noise in the shadows down below but I still love this image. I had never seen an aurora like this, with the shards of green lights shooting out of the cloud below, so I was stoked and really tried to highlight them in the post-processing for this image.
6. Prada Marfa but with a huge telephoto lens – Valentine, Texas
I’ve been out to Prada Marfa once before and got what I felt was a pretty great shot, with the Milky Way in the background. I was driving back from Tucson, Arizona, and was passing relatively close to Prada Marfa and decided to head south to see it, especially because the sunset timing was looking good. As I drove down south to the art installation I thought about how I’ve seen other people shoot the building and figure out if I could do anything different. I happened to have my enormous 400mm f2.8 G Master lens with me and thought it might be cool to try and use the telephoto lens to compress the background and foreground together. I ended up really loving the image! I actually took two images, one for the sunset and one for the building itself. Settings were:
- 1/50 exposure time
- ISO 100
It was easy to blend the images in Photoshop (and the only reason I did that was the difference in exposure when the camera was focused on something near and something far. Other than that the image didn’t need much post-processing, I was just really glad that I got the windmill in the background as well!
5. The Wave – Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona
This was a bucket lister for me. I had tried to get a permit to hike to this incredible place for years but was never successful. Last August, a friend was successful and she invited me to be a part of her group to go out there! It was overwhelming when we were there but at the same time it was incredibly relaxing. I wrote up a post about our journey and it was a nearly perfect day for a hike! I made sure to take the scene in with my eyes first before getting out the camera.
I had my trust Sony a1 and put on the 12-24mm G Master lens to really exaggerate the scene and the curves in the sandstone. There were infinite compositions at The Wave, but the sunlight limited things a bit. I felt like this was the most obvious spot that summed up the scene for me. Settings:
- 1/500 exposure time
- ISO 100
Post processing was basically nil for this one. It’s a pretty literal scene, although I guess you could go to down dodging and burning the gradations between light sand and dark sand.
4. Bluebonnet Sunrise – Ennis, Texas
I love bluebonnets, and springtime in Texas is replete with them. The Texas Bluebonnet Trail runs through Ennis, Texas, south of the DFW area. There’s a specific field I love returning to every year, sometimes for Milky Way shots and other times for just the standard bluebonnet shot. My 400mm lens though, gave me a different opportunity. I wanted to compress the sunrise and the bluebonnets. I found a great spot in a field of bluebonnets and the sun rose in the perfect spot to appear as a massive orb of light in the background. Sony a1 and 400mm again!
- 1/2000 exposure time
- ISO 200 (don’t know why this wasn’t 100)
This image was all about the dynamic range of the Sony a1, there was so much information stored in the shadows and made it possible to shoot this in one frame instead of trying to composite together multiple frames.
3. Frozen Dallas – Dallas, Texas
February 2021 brought some devastating weather to Texas. A five-day freeze brought things to a halt and caused pipes to explode everywhere. In fact, it was the single-largest insurance loss event in the history of the great state of Texas. My Tesla Model 3 I had at the time was nimble and trusty in the snow, so I made my way down to a familiar photo spot to see what I could find.
What I ended up with was a composite image of how that image would normally look (an image I took back in 2016) on the left and the current reality on the right.
The freeze was expensive, inconvenient, and pretty brutal for most of Texas. I tried to illustrate the reality on the ground for people elsewhere to understand what was going on and I’m very proud of this one.
2. Puffin Extravaganza – Latrabjarg, Iceland
My day with the puffins was one of my favorite travel days ever. The more I’ve discovered about puffins the more I’m amazed with them. I’m actually planning a big trip back to Iceland in 2022 to see even more puffins and put together a really cool piece of content about them.
For this picture I used, you guessed it, my Sony a1 and the 400mm f2.8 G Master lens. I was laying about 14 feet away from these puffins as they started “kissing”. I know it’s not technically kissing but puffin mating pairs will rub their beaks against each other’s beak to strengthen their bond. This was one of 30 pictures I could’ve chose from Puffin Day but I think this is my favorite.
- 1/400 exposure time
- ISO 500
I went with a smaller aperture to make sure I had sufficient depth of field to capture a lot of detail. This caused me to raise the ISO a little more than I would like but I’d rather get the shot and have it be a little grainy than not get the shot at all. This didn’t need much post-processing at all.
1. Lava Flow – Fagradalsfjall, Iceland
Remember when I was watching the Northern Lights at Godafoss and got texts saying the eruption happened? It turned out that the eruption was relatively mild and people started trekking their way out there almost immediately! I drove back to Reykjavik to meet up with my Icelandic buddy Petur so we could hike out to the volcano, but on the way he received a call from a friend who said there was space on a monster truck to go out there if we wanted. Of course we wanted, and the ride out to the volcano was just wonderful. Here’s the link to my post, replete with plenty of other pictures of the volcano.
Once we were out there, I was shocked how we could get so close to the volcano! Granted, I should’ve had protective gear on (I still remember the coughs for the next two weeks from inhaling a bit too much sulfur dioxide) but it still worked out really well. This was surprisingly not shot with the a1 and 400mm lens for once! I used my Fuji GFX100S with the 32-64mm lens, set a couple of meters away from where the lava flow was slowly taking over the rocks at the bottom of the picture.
- 32mm (25mm full-frame equivalent)
- 1/5 exposure time
- ISO 100
This shot is all about the lava flow. The flow was slow, hot, and relentless. I held my breath, ran down to the lava flow, my tripod was already set up how I wanted it, grabbed a picture, and ran back away from it for a breath of fresher air. I did this 3-4 times and got this image on my last “photo sprint”.
Wrapping up 2021
There were hard times in 2021 but there were sweet times as well. Sometimes you have to look for the sweet times but I promise they are there. Here’s to everyone who has traveled along with me on this blog, and Happy New Year to everyone!
Which photo was your favorite? Tell me in the comments below!