My Favorite Photos of 2012

It's that time of year again when many photographers around the world pick out their favourite photos from the past twelve months and share them online.

Humpback whales in a heat run, Tonga
One of six male humpback whales in a heat run, Tonga

In between family stuff, (over)eating and catching up on work (sort of), I've been perusing posts as and when I can. I'm always up for marveling at amazing images, but the year-end bounty of online photos affords a unique opportunity to experience many of the world's amazing sights and wonders all at interpreted through the lenses and creativity of dedicated and passionate photographers all over the globe.

It's been a crazy-hectic year for me, with my travels over the past twelve months taking me to Papua New Guinea, Palau (3 times!), Sri Lanka, Australia, Alaska, and Tonga.

To say that I've barely had a moment to catch my breath would be a significant understatement, which of course, means that I haven't made a dent in editing most of the photos I've taken.

Even so, when I started to think about which images from 2012 I like best, a bunch immediately came to mind. I thought about putting together a Top 10 list, which seems to be a popular format, but in the end, I decided just to highlight three pictures.

The first is the one at the beginning of this post, of humpback whales in a heat run.

Of the thousands of times I clicked the shutter button this year, this one time was...without a doubt...the most memorable.

Not because of the awesome subject matter. And not even because of the incredible action that was taking place just inches from my lens.

Nope. The reason this photo stands out in my psyche is because the moment I clicked the shutter represented the cumulative instinct and judgement derived from spending 11 breeding seasons with humpback whales in Tonga.

The back story...before taking this photo, I had been in the water one time with the group of whales concerned. During that first drop, the whale in the foreground (the one doing the loopy-swishy thing) gave me the look as it swam by.

"The Look?"

Yes, "The Look."

It's difficult to describe, but something in the whale's expression/ body language told me that it was a player, that...given the would show off.

So when a second opportunity to get in with the whales came around, I kept my eye on the whale concerned (hundreds of hours spent ID-ing whales finally came in handy!), and made a beeline for it after getting in to the water.

With reasonably good visibility, the whale spotted me relatively quickly, and sure swam toward me. The whale slowed just a little bit as it drew near, then looked me straight in the eye as if to say: "Watch this!"

I got the message.

I framed and clicked on gut instinct.

And wouldn't you know it...the whale showed off.

Had I waited to see what the whale was going to do, or if it was even going to do anything, I would've missed the split-split-second moment.

As it turned out, I knew I had the shot without even hitting the review button. I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right reaction...all based on being able to read an impish look from a frisky humpback whale.

For my second choice, I picked a photo I took above water, the picture below of my friend Ron Leidich with an enormous nest made by a pair of endangered Micronesian megapodes (Megapodius laperouse).

Unusually large Micronesian megapode (Megapodius laperouse) nest, Rock Islands of Palau
My friend Ron lighting up an unusually large nest made by a pair of
endangered Micronesian megapode (Megapodius laperouse) birds
in the Rock Islands of Palau

The reasons I like this photo?

First, the fact that I managed to plan and execute this shot with a hodgepodge of (somewhat functional) makeshift equipment in remote, totally non-ideal conditions, sight unseen (I planned the shot based solely on a verbal description gleaned from a casual conversation in a parking lot) is just short of a miracle. (I owe a big thanks to Nick Martorano for kindly trusting me with some of his gear, without actually knowing where I was going to take it and what I hoping to do with it.)

Second, the fact that I was actually able to get Ron's personalities (yes, plural) to focus for long enough to get the shots I needed was a bona fide miracle.

Third, the fact that I worked out how to layer the individual images together in Photoshop is...well, like winning the lottery in the morning, then heading to Vegas and tripling the winnings by playing a single hand of Blackjack (...those of you who've seen me try to use Photoshop will appreciate the improbability).

I had a mind-dulling head cold while I was fiddling with the images too. One would think that should've hampered my ability to figure out what to do, but who knows? A sinus + mental block may have actually facilitated the entire process.

But most of all, I picked the photo because it has meaning. The birds that built this over-sized mound are representatives of an endangered species.

The odds are stacked against Micronesian megapodes, but the birds here are clearly working as hard as they can to thrive and procreate. Whether the effort and work they've invested in building this huge nest pays off or not is largely up to us.

Habitat loss and poaching are the two biggest threats.

And guess who's responsible for the habitat loss and poaching?

In my mind, this monumental Micronesian megapode mound is like a plea for help, a visual message: "Hey, we're working our behinds off to eek out a living here. Cut us some slack. Will you?"

And finally, I picked this photo of autumn foliage that I took with my iPhone (using Camera+ and edited with Snapseed):

Vestiges of autumn, Japan 2012
Vestiges of autumn

Of all the seasons, autumn is perhaps my favorite. I missed the changing of the foliage this year. I was away in Palau. But even when I got back in early December, there were still signs of autumn, like these three leaves I found during a walk near where I live.

I picked this photo because it's a good reminder of the photographic adage, "The best camera is the one you have with you."

That's it from me for 2012. See you in the new year.