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2014 In Review: Top 30

Posted on January 1, 2015

In typical “year-end review” fashion, I have waited until literally the last possible minute to write this. This yearly capstone project has become something I look forward to immensely, not just because I get to show off some cool photos, but because it provides a relatively concise retrospective of my entire year in a sort of “time capsule” that I get to look back on and see what I actually did with the entire 365 days in which I was taking pictures.

Based on the photos, I did quite a lot in 2014.

5 different states (including two separate trips to Utah), tons of camping/hiking/mountain biking (lots of mountain biking), Joshua Tree, my thesis (arguably the highlight of my year), graduating, moving (twice), and actually experiencing my first (and second!) legitimate snowfall. I played in and photographed the largest group of musicians ever assembled on Segerstrom’s stage, hiked the Enchantments in one day (life pro tip: don’t hike the Enchantments in one day), got a job in downtown Seattle, lost it (which turned out to be a blessing in disguise), and then wound up pursuing 100% a career as a film composer. Now I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do for most of my life (which is an incredible feeling), which is writing music and getting paid to do it. It should be noted that an unintended side-effect of that is that I am frequently falling behind on my site updates, and for this I apologize. But at the very least, I do still update it when I can, and as I’ve said for the past three years, I have no intention of stopping (even if I am forced to update two weeks of photos in one night).

When I had originally started this photo of the day, the purpose was to document my college experience. As this project has progressed out of my college career and now well into it’s fourth year of existence, it has become a daily reminder of all of the things I feel thankful to have accomplished, all the places I’ve had the privilege to visit, all the people I’ve met. And it’s made me realize that I lead a pretty great life.

I’m going to try to avoid being incredibly long-winded; there’s no deep retrospective insight to this year like there was last year, but rather a sort of quiet contentedness to all the things I’ve been able to do and the places I’ve been able to go.

Anyways. On to photos.

30) For most of the winter break in 2013, I had planned to take a trip to Yosemite with a few buddies of mine. That plan slowly unraveled over the course of several weeks as commitments got in the way and plans fell through, but Nathan Worden and I planned the following year to make it out to Joshua Tree for a night (which is an awesome quick camping trip). We made it out there on one of the clearest nights of the week (also one of the coldest; around 25F) and stayed up until 3am photographing stars and epic portraits. As is tradition.

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29) My mom hates these types of photos, but at least she can sleep easy knowing that I have the mental fortitude to avoid picking up rattlesnakes at the very least. During a weekend bike epic out to Black Star Canyon, we came across this baby gopher snake about 14 miles in. Was lucky enough to bring my camera with me in my camelback.

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28) Not so much for meaning or significance as this is a technically difficult shot to pull off, and is thus why it’s in the top 30. This photo uses a technique called the “Brenizer Method”, which uses a composite of several different shots at a long focal length to achieve a wide-angle shot with a shallow depth of field. This was shot in downtown Seattle (1st St.) while out on a shoot for Seattle Magazine.

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27) Nearly every day for most of summer, I drove through this little forested tunnel near my house in Snohomish, wishing I would remember to bring my camera down here to take a picture of the sunset through the trees. On a somewhat hazy day during sunset, I managed to remember.

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26) This is probably the first picture on the Top 30 that wasn’t shot with the Canon 7D, but rather with a GoPro. In June I signed up for my first mountain bike race, without bothering to scout out or pre-ride the course before the race day. That was a mistake. Three crashes, tons of near-misses with bushes and rocks, and a ridiculous course in Southern California in the middle of the longest and most severe drought on record (which meant the course was like riding through a beach, which isn’t exactly easy on 2.3-inch wide tires). Also it was close to 95F that day. Still awesome.

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25) In September of this year I was invited back down to California by Chapman University’s Conservatory of Music for a week-long shoot for the instrumental department. At the end of that, I got to photograph my composition instructor for the past two years, Dr. Sean Heim. Anybody who attended my senior recital and read the program notes will likely know that this man helped me through a rough time in my life, and so I want to say once again here (if he happens to read this) that I am immensely appreciative of every bit of advice you have given me, and of everything you have taught me in both music and life over the past four years during my time at Chapman. I am more grateful for your wisdom than you know. (Despite the fact that I “have yet to escape the archaic, desolate prison of tonality”.)

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24) Moving on to something decidedly less sentimental, here’s Paul Marcynihser-whatever being awesome at Snow Summit. The only photo I have of myself mountain biking this year is a photo of me dead-sailoring over a jump, taken by someone else, so I figured I’d at least stay with something that looked slightly more badass.

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23) Taken at the start of another massive, calf-crushing ride in the foothills of Trabuco Canyon. Extensive editing to remove two cars and a telephone pole, but worth it. Crazy morning views make these types of things worth it.

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22) This might look like he’s sleeping peacefully the night before Christmas, but that is so not the case at all; he was in the middle of trying to slap the bow off his head while I desperately tried to get a picture of him before he managed to knock it off. We did this for about 15 minutes before I got a usable shot.

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21) I always think its weird how you don’t really know how your interactions with someone you meet will play out in a few months’ time. For example, when I met Rio, he was just the realtor for the house my parents were buying. That quickly grew into an awesome friendship and mountain-biking camaraderie, but if you had told me when we met that in four months I would be listening to his wife, Rhea, play the card “Two midgets shitting in a bucket” in Cards Against Humanity, I would have given pause to the circumstances that arose to allow that to happen. Nevertheless. Two awesome, ambitious, fun-loving people. I’m glad to have met you both.

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20) The rehearsal night for the massive Beethoven 9 concert, which I photographed and performed in. The piece I performed in was called “Frieze” by Mark Anthony Turnage, which was written as a sort of “prequel” to Beethoven 9, filled with tons of small homages and references to the larger work. It’s certainly worth a listen. This shot was taken during the actual Beethoven rehearsals, which saw the largest ensemble ever assembled on the Segerstrom stage (larger by quite a significant margin than even the Britten War Requiem), which I photographed the previous year here. Maestro Wachs looks to be a bit tired here. Understandable; it was 11:30 at night, following a rehearsal which had begun at 6pm.

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19) In October, I was again brought down to California to photograph the piano studio class for headshots. Following that, I drove with my cousins Meghan and Sean out to Utah to visit Mckenna for a week of hiking and doing awesome things at Dixie State and Zion National Park. Shown here is the rather intense part of the Hidden Canyon hike. I hate the phrase “it’s hard to tell in this photograph” because it usually reflects on the photographer’s lack of ability to capture the actual scene, but it actually is hard to tell in this photograph how massive of a drop there was 3 feet to the right (somewhere in the range of about 600-800 feet straight down). We were all pretty attached to the chains. Meghan wasn’t doing well. Neither was I, but I hid it better than she did. I don’t like heights.

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18) Graduation; the culmination of four years of work, and arguably the most important photo in this entire set. This photo essentially puts the capstone on my college career. I have told this story a billion times and everyone probably knows it as well as I do by now, but I’m going to tell it again because it warrants being told again because it’s great.

In May of 2012, I was woken up by my cell phone ringing at 8:23am. I had a music history final that started that morning at 8am, for which the first half an hour was an unrepeatable listening section that had to be played on the stereo system in the classroom. In a complete panic, I tore out of bed, grabbed whatever dirty clothes I could find on the floor, ran out to my car, ran two stop signs and a red light, parked illegally, and sprinted to my classroom to find out that the listening section of the test being postponed until my arrival by the professor, Dr. Amy Graziano. I later found out, after the test, that the person who called my phone at 8:23am was in fact, Dr. Graziano, who was calling me to tell me that she was holding off on the listening section for another 5 minutes for me to get to school, and if there was an emergency I should email or call her.

Therefore, enjoy this awesome selfie with Dr. Graziano. Who is awesome.

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17) I have never experienced weather dipping into the single digits on the Fahrenheit scale before until this frigid night in November. We were forecast snow for a week prior to this, but nothing happened that night, and I was about to fall asleep before I looked out the window one last time and saw a flurry of whiteness outside my window blanketing the entire neighborhood. I jumped up and ran outside with my camera. This is the first time I’ve experienced snowfall that actually stuck around for a few days (almost a week afterward), and I quickly realized why Canada hates it so much. It’s great fun right up until you have to drive a small, rear-wheel drive car up a hill completely coated in black ice, at which point it’s not fun.

Still, it’s pretty.

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16) In July, my cousin David, myself, and a group of his buddies drove out to Leavenworth for the Enchantments hike we had been planning for months. As the Enchantments hike is permit-based and we didn’t manage to get one, we had to do the entire 18 mile hike in one day (which wound up being closer to 23 with all of our meandering once we got up into the alpine basin).

Still. Probably one of the most incredible sights in Washington so far.

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15)  I’ve done this sort of stuff before, but never with such a picturesque backdrop. Here’s Thousand Steps in Laguna Beach.

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14) With the end of college came the last undie-run I would ever partake in, which was a bittersweet experience. Bitter because of the fact that I won’t ever do it again as a college student, sweet because of all the naked people.

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13) Following our trip to Lake Powell this summer, I got a pretty awesome photo of my dad with more facial hair than normal. This is about a week of growth for him, and also a pretty clear depiction of where I get my crappy bear-growing-genes from. Thanks dad.

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12) Christmas night in Snohomish, with the street once again absolutely encased in fog. I took a similar shot at our old house before moving, on almost the exact same day of the year. This is a horizontal panoramic stitch of 6 or 7 shots.

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11) Shot on January 4th almost the day after the previous Top 30 was released, this was one of those shots I had in mind for this years top 30 for the entire year. Shot on a rare bluebird day at Steven’s Pass with John and David being awesome as usual. This photo went on to be one of my most popular submissions at 500px.

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10) Into the top 10 now. I’ve noticed that the photos this year are more generally “cool photographs” than they are meaningful shots from the year, and that’s at the very least a nice change from the previous year where everything had to have some sort of meaning behind it as to why it was picked for the top 30. Fourth of July in Snohomish, where fireworks are completely legal and brush fires don’t exist.

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9) The number 9 post marks one of my life goals as now complete; visiting Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ just outside of Lake Powell. There are two possible tours to take in Antelope Canyon: the standard tour, which costs $25 per person, and the “photographer’s tour”, which costs $80. If you take the standard tour, they don’t let you bring a tripod or monopod, because they apparently believe that completely prevents you from taking a good photograph. I set out to prove them wrong, along with my cousin and Isaac who were with me on the tour. Honestly, this little leg, at the very end of our entire Lake Powell trip, made everything else look pretty lame, the Grand Canyon included. Massive, endless, twisting sandstone reaching up as far as you can see and ending in clear blue sky. We managed to pick the perfect “standard” tour to go on, as we got the sunbeams they normally reserve for the photography tours.

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8) This photo represents not just a misguided attempt at humor, but also the culmination of nearly 8 months of work to reach my senior recital (basically my thesis as a composition undergrad at Chapman University, which you are all welcome and encouraged to have a look at here). While writing the piano concerto, I was essentially spending every spare minute of my life locked in my room working on the piece, and then after December, every spare minute organizing 73 people into rehearsals for the largest performance of a student work at Chapman thus far.

I had this idea for a recital poster in mind for quite a while; many thanks are owed to Krystal and Amber for cooperating with my being a large, misogynistic pain in the ass while we were shooting this.

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7) With the snow comes awesome clouds, and with awesome clouds (sometimes) come awesome sunsets. This was one of my favorites; as the sun was setting over new-fallen snow and between cloud layers, the underside of the clouds lit up vibrant orange and I scrambled out to the roof to grab this.

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6) Another from Lake Powell; I have wanted to get a panoramic shot of the Milky Way for a long time now. I distinctly remember the minutes leading up to capturing this shot; David and I were about to head to sleep on the roof of the houseboat next to each other with our cameras ready, and I had mine set up on a tripod just over me so I could reach up and out of my sleeping bag to trigger the shutter. It was about 10pm. I dozed off for an hour or two and woke up sometime around midnight, and I actually remember opening my eyes because something outside was bright enough to wake me up. Upon opening my eyes and realizing that that light source was, in fact, the Milky Way, I shot out of my sleeping bag to a better vantage point at the front of the houseboat, and spend the next 20 minutes shooting a 360 degree panorama of the entire thing. All in all, this photo represents nearly 8 minutes worth of shutter time to capture the entire thing.

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5) Speaking of incredible Milky Way shots, at the end of Summer David, Chris, Drew, and I hiked up to the top of Mt. Pilchuck for an overnight camping trip at the fire lookout at the summit, and were treated to an incredible view of the entire sound as well as the Milky Way on a balmy, 70 degree night.

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4) Ooooh boy. Those of you who follow my activity on reddit (and I sincerely hope you don’t) will know about this fiasco. I posted this shot on a subreddit for cute animal photos called “aww”, with the title “I shoot self-portraits of my dog and I when I’m home from college. It was raining this weekend.” I posted that from my phone as I was getting on a plane to California from Seattle at around 6am, got on the plane, and turned my cell off. When I landed, I opened my phone to check and see if it had gotten any attention, and it had; around 2000 up-votes, and about 50 angry comments telling me how absolutely shitacular my egregious use of the Photoshop rain filter was. I have no idea why I’m still defending this nearly a year later, but nevertheless; IN MY DEFENSE, the image was never meant to be photorealistic, but I still caught a horrible amount of flak on the thread and anything I posted pretty much got downvoted immediately. Nevertheless, I really like this picture, and therefore it makes the #4 spot. I don’t care what you all think.

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3) Crankworx is generally regarded as the pinnacle of mountain biking competitions, and Whistler is generally regarded as the pinnacle of mountain biking destinations; nearly 50,000 people flock to Whistler over one insane weekend to watch the most talented riders in the world compete for huge prizes on massive jumps. Thanks are owed to Clayton here for picking me up at 5am to drive 4 hours up to Canada for an incredible day of riding and watching the competition. The atmosphere here is absolutely infectious, and I will absolutely be going back next year to do it again.

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2) Zion National Park makes the top 30 twice this year, for different reasons. I mentioned before that I’m not a fan of heights; this hike tested that limit. I’m legitimately getting sweaty palms as I type this. Angels Landing is a hike up a narrow spine of Zion National park with nothing but a tiny, swinging chain to hold on to. At one point up the spire, the path narrows to about 14 inches wide, with a purely vertical drop of 1200 feet to the left, and a purely vertical drop of 1400 feet to the right. As the sun was setting here, we wisely chickened out on the insane part of this hike (we being Kenna and I), but the views were still incredible from Scout’s Landing (where this photo was taken from). Add that to the fact that Angels Landing is something I’ve been looking forward to for nearly four months since planning this trip, and this is easily one of my favorites of the year. Plus, I got tons of likes on Instagram with this one. That’s gotta count for something.

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1) On our first night on Lake Powell, the winds whipped up to absurd speeds and prevented us from leaving the marina. So instead of sitting on the boat and doing nothing for the entire evening, Isaac, David, and I grabbed our camera gear, jumped in the car, and drove to Horseshoe Bend as the sun was setting. It’s not surprising that Utah manages to take 4 of the 30 photos I’ve chosen here; the entire place is full of spectacular views with massive cliffs and blood-orange sandstone. It’s photography heaven. This shot is a panoramic stitch of 9 vertical shots, processed on my laptop at some ungodly hour of the night.

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Well. I’ll keep it short and sweet here; that’s all I’ve got for tonight. It’s 1am on the morning of January 1st and despite my best efforts, this will be the first post of 2015. As always, a hearty thank you if you’ve managed to read through this far; I will certainly be continuing the photo of the day through 2015 and the foreseeable future, so I hope that brings happiness and joy to somebody. It certainly makes me happy to do it. I’m mildly inebriated on champagne and wine at the moment, and as such I’m tired and I’m heading to bed.

At any rate. Cheers. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Julie Beith January 1, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    What a great composite of pictures – along with their great stories!
    – I hate #29 – or anything that has to do with snakes – LOL.
    – #13 – your dad looks like a thug (sorry Bruce)
    – #4 – loved this when I saw it and again now
    – #2 – beautiful. I so appreciate your fear of heights!

    Would love to follow your picture a day. How do I do that? I’m challenged at all this stuff you know!

    Happy New Year Scott – to you and your family.

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