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2012 In Review: Top 30

Posted on December 29, 2012


As I sit here writing this, it is 12:21AM on December 29th, 2012. It’s approximately 28 degrees outside and yet my room is nice and toasty, with a dish heater sitting a few feet to my right and my dog snoozing softly on the bed behind me. Yesterday I was 6,000 feet atop a mountain with a snowboard clipped to my feet; a week before that I drove 20 hours from Los Angeles to Seattle on a grand total of five hours of sleep. Wind the clocks back further and I was pulling all nighters with one Sam Hemann to finish a film by the deadline the following afternoon; jump back to the first of the month and I was surfing alone in 48 degree water in December. A month before that, I was smuggling my camera onto a roller coaster in Disneyland, and driving out to a hospital at midnight to take photos when the security guards left.


I’ve been atop parking structures and under waterfalls,  speeding through an abandoned Irvine at ungodly hours of the night to escape the stress of school. I’ve driven through Los Angeles in the absolute dead of night (an adventure I’ve no desire to repeat anytime soon), sprinted across the track of motorcycle racers traveling multiple hundreds of miles per hour, and walked 4 miles deep into a slot canyon that shot up 300 feet into sheer sandstone cliffs. I watched Venus cross the face of the sun for the first and last time in my life.

Newport beach, parties, sunburns, cigars, concerts, road trips, midnight photo safaris in Laguna. Radio shows, engagements, symphonies, bowling, a cat that hated me almost as much as I hated it, and the most powerful swell to hit the Wedge in 2 years. The Mantheon.

I don’t have a photographic memory, but I do have a camera. And taking a photo every single day for a year (plus or minus the occasional stressful, homework-filled weekday) has given me a publicly accessible, virtual photographic memory. Given the stimulus of a single photo, I immediately remember where it was taken, what time it was, who was around me, and what I was doing for hours before and after shooting. This is the most profound thing about doing this project for me; I remember everything.

What made the photos of 2011 was the friendships I made in the process, getting to know the people I’d be spending and sharing my life with through college, and documenting that process in a fun and stress-relieving way that we were all a part of. 2011 was an easy year where we’d take a car out to a parking garage at 1am and longboard till 4am, and not think about missing classes the next morning. Unfortunately, a lot of the photos were, to put it bluntly, garbage.

2012 was markedly different. We went out longboarding significantly less, and we all found that upper division university work was a step up from the games we played as freshmen or sophomores (at least I had a few panic attacks along the way, and I noticed my friends paying significantly more attention towards school work, out of both necessity and motivation).

And I’ve come to the realization this year that I will probably be supporting myself out of college with photography for the first five or so years until I somehow figure out a way to wiggle into the music industry, and with that realization comes a much higher effort towards the photos on this website. It legitimately pisses me off when I have to scramble about at 11:45pm for an uninteresting photo of something in the apartment, and I have to sit around trying to find a cool angle so that my photo of the day doesn’t suck. So, as a result, I try to avoid doing that and instead find interesting new things to photograph, although schoolwork/homework has forced me to abandon that prospect on many nights (often in a row, for which I profusely apologize).

With that in mind then, the photos I’ve chosen for the top 30 (and I have put a lot of effort into this post, by the way…. out of a mix of boredom and too much free time up here in Washington over the break) both exemplify my best photography and/or my favorite memories from the year, much as they did last year. So let’s get to it.


30) One of the best things that’s happened to me in college so far has been moving into The Mantheon, an epic three-bedroom apartment a quarter mile from Chapman and populated with the manliest, strongest, most fearless men in the United States of America, and Jacob. Pictured below is not one of my strongest photographic achievements, but it was Christmas at the Mantheon and we all care enough about each other to make that mean something.

No. 30



29) The photo of the day in 2012 is a mix of genuine attempts at breathtaking photography, and documenting the unique and neoteric events in my life that might not necessarily create the most incredible photo, but are interesting to behold nonetheless. As a resident of Southern California for my entire life, I have never seen a snowfall. Having now seen one in the dead of a cold winter night in Washington, I can say that the sight and soundlessness of newly fallen snow on a quiet street in Seattle is one of the most arrestingly beautiful things I’ve seen all year.

No. 29


28) I’m a sucker for green things, and I’ve been struggling with trying to find some sort of cool angle to shoot the moss that coats the trees in Washington year round. One day I was walking through the backyard when the sun landed on this particular tree trunk and I nearly froze my fingers off trying to get a decent photo of it.


No. 28


27) One of the things I struggle with in photography is trying to resist the urge to grab the widest lens I own and shoot an entire scene without any regard for framing or composition. This photo marks a departure from that urge, and I’m quite proud of that.

No. 27


26) Mid way through last year, Jacob and Troy and I were out skating through random parking structures in the early morning hours, when we happened across this massive waterfall/fountain nestled amid a group of corporate office buildings. We wound up spending the next hour just sitting there, the relaxation is unbelievable. Here’s Jacob in the middle of one of our meditative sessions.

No. 26


25) A massive storm-cell looms over Chapman’s film school.

No. 25


24) Fall in Washington brought with it some of the most beautiful colors I’ve ever seen; I’ve always semi-admired the leaves changing in Orange County; sometimes they turn a light yellow and then brown soon afterwards, and it’s pretty for a week or two. In Washington, entire hillsides turned vibrant pink, red, orange, and yellow before coating the ground in pastel colors of autumn. Oakley seemed to enjoy it too.

No. 24


23) In July I was sitting in my room watching movies late one night when distant thunder started to softly shake the house. I turned off the TV and sat on the edge of my bed, waiting for an inkling of lightning, and it soon came. So I grabbed my camera and snapped frames for an hour or two, saving the best ones, editing, and then going back to sleep to the sound of thunder rolling across the bay. Except it didn’t stop the next day, or the next, or the day after that. The bay saw a thunderstorm that literally lasted 6 days. On the last night, a massive supercell swept across the water and the following photo came about. Nothing but nonstop lightning for 4 hours.

No. 23


22) In July, my cousin David and his roommate Chris invited me to come down to the track and photograph and film their track day. I happened to be in the right place at the right time when Chris laid his bike down on the pavement and got several action shots of his bike sliding off the track while he cartwheeled into the dirt. Suffice to say, I waffled back and forth between using that one here, but ultimately this one won out for sheer awesome.

No. 22


21) In a desolate and arid desert right on the California/Oregon border lies a tiny, unincorporated town aptly named “Weed”. After driving for six hours from San Francisco to here, I climbed a mountain pass and nearly had to put snow-chains on my tires before the road suddenly descended into drier weather, cleared itself of fog, and opened up into the landscape you see below. The wind was blowing at 30 miles an hour and it was 28 degrees outside, but this photo was utterly worth it as a souvenir of the drive from LA to Seattle, and my favorite memory of the drive.

No. 21


20) On September 1st, the Wedge saw the biggest swell in 2 years with wave heights maxing out at 18-20 feet and sets averaging 12-14 feet. I pride myself in my willingness to put myself in exceedingly stupid situations, so I left early in the morning on Saturday right as the swell picked up and found myself dwarfed by waves triple my standing height, and being tossed into the sand with such pressure and ferocity that I frequently had to take breaks and blink the stars out of my eyes. The rush of seeing a standing-room-only crowd of people on the shoreline scream and cheer when I or someone around me decided to take a wave is something I won’t forget soon. On Sunday, the swells had drifted down a bit and sets averaged 8-12 feet. Feeling rather destroyed from the previous day, I spent about half the time in the water and the other half on the beach shooting while others attempted to take the close-out sets that were rolling in. Picture below is professional surfer Jamie O’Brien taking a beating from a 12-footer after falling straight off his board and down the face.

No. 20


19) The interior of the gothically adorned First Presbyterian Church in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, with one of the top three largest pipe-organs in the world inside. I got the opportunity to play a duet with renowned organist Scott Foppiano the next morning, which was met with thunderous applause. Or at least it seemed thunderous, the church was rather echoey.

No. 19


18) I had the opportunity this year to move in to an apartment with my best friend, so I took that opportunity. I consistently subject my roommates to random, late-night photographic experiments, so here’s one of those that turned out rather awesome. I might submit this photo to Nike.

No. 18


17) Speaking of photographic experiments, in late October I was asked by Chapman Magazine if I would like to drive out to Barstow late one Thursday night and spend the entire night photographing a house perched atop a cinder-cone volcano that Huel Howser had donated to Chapman University. So at 8pm, Jacob, Troy and I set off for Barstow with a car packed with photography equipment and blankets for the night. The house was unbelievable. Along with a few other Chapman students, we spent the entire night, from 10pm to about 4:30am, driving up and down the dirt road to the house while snapping shots from every imaginable angle. At 2am , I setup a tripod to begin this shot: a grand total of 2.5 hours of star-dragging with the house reflecting itself in a frigid lake below the volcano. If these photos were rated in terms of length of preparation, setup, exposure time, and editing time, this would be number one.

No. 17


16) I really wanted to make old-school movie posters for all of our films and put them up in our new apartment; I made them almost as soon as I had formulated this idea, but I still haven’t gotten around to printing them out at Costco, framing them, and hanging them on the walls of the Mantheon. Since MKFAS was a parody on a noir film, I tried to incorporate that as best as I could by ripping off design elements from old noir film posters.

No. 16


15) Another first for the photo of the day that I had actually pretty much wanted to try since day one was steel wool spinning. Here’s Casey giving a fantastic demonstration.

No. 15


14) The most recent addition. On December 27th my mom dragged me out of bed at the unholy hour of 8am and took me with her, my aunt, and my cousin to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Despite my initial grumpiness, I soon found the the zoo was a glorious haven of photographic wonder. We initially walked past an empty jaguar exhibit, to our disappointment. We went through several other exhibits before circling around once more and finding it still empty. We were about ready to give up when this guy suddenly came round a corner and started walking up a long trail while staring directly at my camera. This photo legitimately makes me wonder if I would want to attempt to apply for a job at National Geographic, because I was getting really excited while shooting it.

No. 14


13) In January I flew up to San Francisco for the weekend to accompany my beautiful cousin Erin and her stunningly handsome boyfriend Tom on their engagement shoot around the city. Here’s my favorite from that shoot.

No. 13


12) Sometimes while shooting, I’ll start to get agitated if I haven’t gotten a frame that I really like. On a photo-safari/adventure/whatever you want to call it with Nathan and Troy, exactly this was happening to me when out of frustration I slapped the fisheye lens on my camera, put it in this exact position, and fired off a long exposure. This cured my frustration.

No. 12


11) One of the highlights of my year was getting a new car, and having the car be one of the cars that I had actually been swooning over for quite some time. I have a bad habit of putting way too many photographs of it up on the website, but it is a pretty awesome car and so I suppose it will continue to happen from time to time. This was shot on the way to the river at around 10pm at night. I’m sure the semi driver parked on the offramp just behind the camera was suitably confused as to why a kid driving a BMW suddenly pulled off the freeway in the middle of the desert at night and started waving a flashing erratically around a car for 10 minutes before driving off again.

No. 11


10) Into the top 10 now. I will simply say here that I have a newfound respect for people who frequently shoot in snow. Everything was wet, everything was cold, and the lighting was atrocious and this was basically the best contrast I was able to achieve in the given conditions.

No. 10


9) This one gets a top 10 spot just from sheer setup alone; it took me 30 minutes to set up the black background out of random household items, another 30 minutes to make a blend of coffee and chocolate that wouldn’t look watered down when splashed, and another hour to get a splash pattern that I liked enough to put some effort into editing.

No. 9


8) Remember that midnight excursion to Los Angeles I was talking about? This was that. I gave Sam the wheel on the drive home so I could have a free hand for portraits, and this might actually be the coolest self-portrait I took all year long.

No. 8


7) My first trip to the OC Fair with Speedy McMuffin. This is another one of those photos that is rather unremarkable at face value, but holds a great deal of meaning to me for the events that surrounded it. Those are deep-fried Oreos, by the way.

No. 7

6) The months of September and November saw a lot of great days out at the Wedge, and I decided to take the opportunity to throw myself into underwater photography, to push myself to really get better at it. It’s a difficult art which requires a lot of trust in your instincts and knowledge of the waves around you, and is something I frequently failed at. In this photo, the wave is actually curving away from me due to the shape of the break at the Wedge; what this means is that by the time the barrel has curled over to where I am, there’s a wall of water right behind my right ear that would usually take me out and toss me along the sand, while I rolled up into a ball around my camera to try and protect it from the onslaught of turbulence.

No. 6


5) Of course there are cooler ways to spend midnight on your 20th birthday than at Norm’s eating midnight breakfast with friends. Then again, I don’t remember being this happy in a long time. There’s something to be said about that.

No. 5


4) I have a bad habit of brutally overdoing HDR. When Orange County experienced its first storm of the year (and, by extension I think, first clouds of the year….), I immediately sped up to the top of the dorm parking structure and spent a while attempting to do another one of those “Deep HDR” images where the entire dynamic range is captured (basically, an exposure at every setting from lowest to highest shutter speed). Speaking on the results, I think I should do that more often instead of killing the image with bad editing. Look at that storm cell in the background. It’s insane.

No. 4


3) Meeting Hannah McDonald was a fun and rather amusing/interesting part of this year as well. 24 hours before this picture was taken, she had a vibrant mane of long hair. Then, this happened. And she was so popular on Facebook for 24 hours that we made it into a drinking game.

No. 3


2) In June, my family and I drove out to Lake Powell for our biannual houseboat trip, accompanied by one Casey Bruce. The entire week was a blast, we did lots of fun stuff. But this trip below will be forever engrained into my mind as one of the most breathtakingly beautiful experiences I’ve had. Late in the afternoon on the third day on the lake, the adults were floating behind the houseboat while we (myself, Casey, Sean, Brandon, Kaitlyn, and Courtney) drove down to the water’s end in Witherill Canyon, anchored the boat, and then got out and walked with camera gear in hand until we were in completely dry sand. And then we walked. And walked. We walked until the sun no longer penetrated into the canyon and the ground faded from sand to rocks, until we came upon a 10-foot rockfall blocking the canyon. And then we scaled that and walked some more. We walked until the canyon walls met under our feet and we had to stand braced stiff-legged, between slanted sandstone with nothing but sheer cliff rising 300 feet straight up and out of view. We shouldered our way through slots barely wide enough for a single person, and underneath a colossal fallen boulder wedged in between the walls 6 feet above the canyon floor. At the end, we hit an impasse of stagnant water and were forced to turn around and head back out the way we came, but not before we stopped and took this epic picture. And on the way back, with Casey standing tall between purple rocks three feet apart in a sliver of a canyon, I grabbed this frame.  It stands as one of my favorite images of the entire year.

No. 2



1) Starting in November, I began a small project where I took a different, unique self-portrait of Oakley and I every day. That project originated from this photo, which I took earlier in July. It is my absolute favorite photo with him and, by extension, my favorite photo of the year. And as the years go by, I do realize that Oakley is getting older. He’s almost 13 now (will be on December 30th), which would put him at a ripe old age of 91 as dogs go. I’m spending every waking moment with him and trying to put in as much time as I can while I’ve still got the time left, which I suppose is the best I can do for him.

No. 1


Now that I’ve gotten overly sentimental about my dog, I shall bring forth my closing words. 2012 has been ridiculously fun. We survived the Mayan apocalypse and another reelection, and what more can you honestly expect from us. I get such an immense amount of satisfaction from doing this project, I wouldn’t dream of dropping it for the new year. I am of course obligated at this point to thank the brilliant and talented Nathan Worden; two years ago I was sitting at home while my dad recovered in an ICU bed two states away, and with nothing to ease my anxiety, I picked up my camera, registered the domain name scottstedman.com, and started a photo of the day. I am certain that if it weren’t for you, Nathan, I would not be the photographer I am today. You influence people more than you can imagine with your positivity and enthusiasm for what you do.

Mom and Dad: I love you, thank you for the camera and the college. Both of those things mean more to me than you know. Your enthusiasm and support for what I’m doing in university mean the world to me, even if I am disowning my family name by being a liberal arts major.

I’m not sure how this devolved into the Academy Awards Night Acknowledgements section, but I digress. If you’re still with me here at the bottom of the page, then go you. I’m glad this was interesting/engaging enough for you to stick around. If you’ve stuck with the photo of the day from the beginning, then don’t go anywhere, because it’s not going anywhere either. I made the commitment in last year’s top 30/retrospective that I would be continuing the photo of the day through for the next two years; I’ll be one of the few students, I believe, who has chronicled every day of his life in college. And then there’s the possibility of graduate school too. So it could be like…. another 5 years of the photo of the day. 6 actually, depending on how hard I want to work for a Ph.D.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. More photos coming sometime after I wake up tomorrow. It never stops.

With love.

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