News and Views from Dave Wilson

Best of 2009

by on Dec.26, 2009, under Photography

As 2009 draws to a close, I thought it would be fun to follow last year’s example and produce a post containing my favourite images of the year. These are in no particular order since I like them all. I’ve included links to each image on my photoblog, ImageKind or ArtMuse just in case anyone feels moved to purchase a print 🙂

Overall, it’s been a good year in pretty much every respect. You can read about the non-photographic stuff in the annual Christmas newsletter but, camera-wise, I’ve added 9076 images to my Lightroom catalog (which is just over 24 images per day, a figure that I find amazing given how little time I think I spend actually taking pictures) exhibited in several galleries and shot images in Scotland, England and New York as well as in and around Austin. Anyway, here are my picks for 2009:

Chevron Tower, Houston, Texas

Chevron Tower, Houston, TX

This black-and-white HDR was taken early on a Sunday morning in March during a family weekend visit to Houston. The streets were deserted so I managed to get right into the middle of the road with the tripod as low as I could make it to get this shot of the building framed by the circular walkway above the junction. I knew I loved the composition but was extremely happy to find the cirrus clouds when I processed the image since these were not visible to me when I took it.

1915 Farmer, Johnson City, Texas

1915 Farmer

This is the earliest image in the set since it was taken on January 3rd during a photo trip I took to Johnson City with 4 or 5 local photography friends. The Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm at LBJ Ranch was a dream location for me and I ended up with many shots I am happy with. I shot mostly HDR that day but this image was a single frame grabbed as the guide/smith/farmer looked out of the smithy building. The furnace was lit and the sun’s rays shining through the smoke were fabulous. In post processing, I wanted to bring out the rays as much as I could and ended up with this almost-monochrome, high contrast version of the image.

Waiting on Congress Bridge, Austin, Texas

Waiting on Congress Bridge

Frequently, I go out to try to shoot something and end up coming home with something else entirely. This is a great example – I spent an evening downtown with 3 fellow photographers from work and we intended shooting pictures of the bats emerging from underneath Congress Avenue Bridge. In the end, the bats left early for some reason but I ended up with one of my favourite shots of the year. I love the minimalist composition and the graduated colour in this image. The colour is pretty much as it was on the evening – I warmed the image very slightly – and the only real retouching I did here was to remove some electrical cables that were visible underneath the bridge.

Tire Sculpture, Austin, Texas

Tire Sculpture, Austin

I’m including this image as a representative of the shots I took during the 2009 Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk in July. This was a really enjoyable morning during which I got to meet a lot of new photographers and had a lot of fun taking a lot of pictures. This particular image won the Austin competition and ended up 7th in the world-wide “People’s Choice” voting which made me rather proud given that the event attracted somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 photographers in 900+ cities.

Saturn V Second Stage, Houston, Texas

Saturn V, Second Stage

This image and the one following were taken about 10 minutes apart during a tour of Johnson Space Center in Houston during a Cub Scout camp (yes, we got to camp in the Space Center!) back in September. I had been hoping to get these shots while there and lugged a tripod around just in case I would be allowed to use it. In the end no-one questioned why I was carrying all this gear while shepherding a bunch of 9 year-olds and I managed to get several good images in the 20 minutes or so we had at the Saturn V. This image actually took a lot longer to capture than the one which follows since I had to wait quite some time for the field of view to be clear of boys climbing on the guardrail right in front of me!

F-1 Engines – Saturn V, Houston, Texas

F-1 Engines, Saturn V

This image probably ties as my favourite of the year (with the Chevron tower image above). I was amazed at the intricacy of the construction of the F-1 engine nozzles. As well as channeling the rocket thrust, they are also heat exchangers and are covered in fine plumbing work. The insides also contain a lot more fine texture that I had expected. To capture and highlight this, I turned the image into a monochrome and tweaked it to accentuate the tones inside the nozzles. I also rotated and cropped it to create a more dramatic effect. If you are interested to compare this with the original colour HDR version, you can find it here.

Flatiron Building, New York

Flatiron Building, New York

I’ve heard seasoned professional photographers state that the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is that amateurs get good shots by “happy accidents” whereas professionals know what they want before they start and make the image by design. I actually think that this has nothing at all to do with professional/amateur status but it does define the difference between a good photographer and a less good one (I’m feeling too charitable to say “bad” here but you get the idea).

So what does this have to do with this image?

In late October, Nikki and I took a trip to New York during which I had 2 full days to shoot in Manhattan. I love wandering around cities and was especially looking forward to New York since I had not been there for about 12 years and had not done any serious photography there for over 20 (last time I was just out of university and shooting a lot of Fujichrome 100 and Ilford FP4 on a couple of Minolta X-700s). I was, therefore, very excited to go back with digital gear and the prospect of capturing some nice architectural HDRs. Right at the top of the list was this particular image.

Although I spent most of the time wandering, the shot at the top of my “must take” list was an image of the Flatiron building showing architectural detail. I had seen lots of wide-angle shots of the building but very few close ups. I planned to shoot this with a particular lens from a particular position, I went there, shot the frames and produced the image I had planned to get.

Several other New York shots I took also fall into this category (Lower Manhattan panorama from Brooklyn, dusk skyline from the Rockefeller Center, Brooklyn Bridge supports, Empire State building) but this is the one I am most happy with.



One of my New Year resolutions for 2009 was to take more pictures with people in them. I’ve been practicing hard, mostly on my family and have definitely improved in this area. I’m getting better at using flash and have actually taken some portraits that I’m pretty happy with (by my standards). This picture of my young niece is one that I am especially proud of. It was taken with a 50mm f1.4 lens at a very wide aperture, the idea being to get her eyes super-sharp and everything else heading out of focus. Lighting was with a single flash pointed directly upwards to bounce off the white ceiling of the room. I processed it to give a high-key result which highlights her eyes and hair.

SECC Walkway, Glasgow

SECC Walkway, Glasgow

This walkway stretches from “Exhibition Centre” station across to the Scottish Exhibition Center complex. I love the strong graphical elements in the composition and was really fortunate to be walking behind someone wearing a blue jacket giving me red, green and blue in the image. I took lots of photographs in Glasgow that morning, many of which are favourites, but this is my choice for the “Best of 2009” set.

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