My Best Photos of 2014

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I think it's been a while since I've done this, but here are some of my best photos of 2014. I think these all have something generally interesting about these. There were many other photos I didn't include that I liked because they have meaning to me personally (e.g. travel/family stuff) or looked good only because the subject was so good looking (e.g. photos of the amazing Crater Lake).

I didn't apply any special effects filters to the images, although they're all pretty heavily edited for color, contrast, and composition.

Anyway, I'd love to hear what you think!

Gallery of my best photos of 2014

Rafting on the Grande Ronde River

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After our amazingly fun rafting trip on the Deschutes River last year, Andrew (15) and I decided to go rafting with some friends again this year. Even better, Michael (12) decided to join us this time.

Our friend and trip planner Don chose the Grande Ronde River for this year's trip. This river is in the north-eastern part of Oregon. Like the previous trips, we used the awesome Oregon Whitewater Adventures guys. We drove down to La Grande the day before and enjoyed the comforts of the Rodeway Inn motel there (a little different from the resorts we normally frequent.) The next morning, we drove to Minam and set out on our three day, two night adventure.

The Grande Ronde River was a nice change from the Deschutes. It was a little less exciting from a rafting perspective; it had fewer big rapids (it's rated 2-3 vs. the Deschutes at 3-4) and dropped more consistently (vs. the pool-and-drop Deschutes). However, the scenery and camping were more picturesque -- more green than the high desert Deschutes valley. The additional moisture meant we could have fires in the evening too - a big advantage! Plus, there were no trains to interrupt our sleep and fewer other people on the river. We went around 50 miles over the three days -- pretty easy.

Like last year, we had two boats with our friends plus two gear boats. The staff did all of the work; we only had to set up our tents. We had great water fights and nice rafting, although we swam less since the water was more shallow this late in the season. On the Grande Ronde, there were no Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, so we camped in more primitive sites; in particular, there were no outhouses, so the staff set up a tent and porta-potty (really a seat on top of a big ammo can). Our guides were excellent again, with Colby and Jeff returning from last year and the crazy and wonderful Pamela plus the owner Dave joining us this year.

We all enjoyed the trip greatly and are already looking forward to next year.

The boys and I on the river.
Andrew, Michael, and me on the river

The kids playing cards (BS) in camp. It got pretty hardcore!
Kids playing cards in camp

Our camp site the second night.
Our campsite the second night

One day at lunch, we hiked up the nearby hill for a better view. It was quite steep, actually, but well worth it.
View of the Grande Ronde River from the top of a nearby hill

The views along the river were lovely. The hill in the background is the one we climbed. We made it about 2/3 the way up.

Michael enjoying a swim.

Michael enjoying some quiet time in camp, reading by the river. One of the best parts of the trip was having no electronics and no cellular signal.

An Evening with an Astronaut

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As part of our trip to the Museum of Flight today, the boys and I attended a talk by astronaut Barbara Morgan. She's quite a remarkable person. After she graduated from Stanford, Barbara taught in a variety of elementary schools from an Indian reservation to Ecuador. She was selected as the backup to Christa McAuliffe as the Teacher in Space, picked from over 11000 applicants. After the Challenger disaster and McAuliffe's death, Barbara took on the role of Teacher in Space. She later was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and became a full-time astronaut, NASA's first "Educator Astronaut". After years of delays due to the Challenger and Columbia accidents, she flew on STS-118 on the Endeavor in 2007, bringing parts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). She's now on the board for the Challenger Center and teaches at Boise State University.

She took the Stanford Alumni Association audience through her flight, from launch to docking with ISS to landing. It was fun to hear her stories about what it was like, especially the little things like how they put strips of duct tape in convenient positions ahead of time so they could use them quickly to keep things from drifting around the zero-g cabin.

It was especially neat to have her give the talk in front of the real Full Fuselage Trainer - a full sized mockup of the Space Shuttle that the astronauts like Barbara trained on. She kept gesturing at different parts of the FFT as she talked. We're fortunate to have gotten it in Seattle (although a real shuttle would have been nice too...)

It was a real treat to meet a true American hero. I hope America returns to manned space exploration again soon -- on American launch vehicles.


Goofy boys in front of the new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight
Charles Simonyi Space Gallery

The Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer
The Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer

Another view of the FFT
The rear view of the Full Fuselage Trainer

The cargo bay in the FFT. It's reasonably long but surprisingly narrow.
The cargo bay in the FFT

Astronaut Barbara Morgan presenting in front of the FFT
Astronaut Barbara Morgan presenting in front of the FFT

Barbara answering a little girl's question about the hardest thing she had to learn to be an astronaut.
Barbara answering a little girl's question about the hardest thing she had to learn to be an astronaut.

Scenes from the Museum of Flight

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I took the boys to the Museum of Flight here in Seattle today for a Stanford Alumni event (more on that later). It was the first time we've been there in a while. As I mentioned on a previous visit, I really love planes. This was a fun visit because Andrew (15) and I got to try one of the motion flight simulators; Michael (12) wasn't interested. On previous visits, the boys weren't old enough or I couldn't leave one alone while I flew with the other one. It was fun rolling upside-down. (We shot down two Zeroes too...)

I managed to get a few photos I liked while we were there too.

Zoom zoom: M-21 Blackbird engine intake
M-21 Blackbird engine intake

Don't tread on me: 20mm gun pod slung below a F-4C Phantom II
20mm gun pod slung below a F-4 Phantom II

Pride in craftsmanship: Pratt & Whitney FG-1D Corsair engine
Pratt & Whitney FG-1D Corsair engine

A big engine needs a big blade: FG-1D Corsair prop
FG-1D Corsair prop

Don't forget me!
Remove Before Flight tag on F-4 Phantom II

The salmon come home...

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Salmon are such an iconic part of life in the Pacific Northwest. I went to the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery this morning to see the mature salmon returning to spawn.

Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and Issaquah Creek


Issaquah Creek was packed with salmon going upstream.

Close-up of salmon packed side-by-side in Issaquah Creek


The gates to the hatchery were closed, apparently because the dissolved oxygen level in the pools above were too low to admit more fish. That didn't stop the salmon from continuing to try to jump upstream. You can see the other fish waiting below.

Salmon jumping up a waterfall into a closed gate with lots of other salmon waiting below.


It was pretty amazing to see the fish continually beating themselves to get upstream despite the gates. Their need to keep moving must be incredibly powerful. The red Coho salmon were especially beautiful and jumped a lot. Apparently, this is just the beginning of their run, so there will be even more coming through the end of November. I learned the best run days are right after it rains; the water is cooler which make the salmon happy. I really love living in the Pacific Northwest with these amazing fish.

Close-up of a red-sided Coho salmon jumping into the gate.

Surfing in Hawaii

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We were in Kauai for the first time a few weeks ago. I slipped away from the pool for a few minutes to take pictures of surfers at the beach by our hotel. (It was a heck of a lot warmer shooting these guys than it was shooting the kiteboarders at Whidbey Island a few months ago...)

The surfers would all race toward the water, throw their board in, and then jump onto them to get going.

The best guys would carve up and down the wave faces, plowing in and above the curling water.


But almost invariably, they'd wipe out and then do it again.

I'd love to learn to surf sometime, but taking photos of them was pretty cool. There was a guy in the water with them shooting with a GoPro. That looks like fun too.

Composing Effective Images with Art Wolfe

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I took my first photography class in recent memory this weekend. It was the "Composing Effective Images - Field Edition" by the renown Seattle photographer Art Wolfe. He hosted a reception Friday night for the fifty-or-so students at his incredible home in West Seattle -- stunning rock and water landscaping, insane west-facing view of Puget Sound, and an art-filled interior. It was a nice way to get ready for the weekend.

Art Wolfe pointing out some potentially interesting shots.

We were at the Washington Arboretum Saturday and Sunday for lecture and shooting. Art started by talking about his sources of inspiration. As a trained painter, his influences were famous painters. He talked about bringing elements of line, motion, and gesture into our photos, to tell a story or lead the viewer through the photo. Art kept emphasizing that we should be intentional making photos. It's definitely true that I usually am a little careless in my photography, at best having only a notional idea of what I really want.

After lunch, we went into the Arboretum to shoot. Art and his assistants were on hand to give us advice and help us out. I was a bit stymied at first. Art rescued me and helped me find something good to shoot. There were a few key lessons I got from the brief 1:1. He was scanning rapidly for a few things -- interesting subject, interesting light, with a suitable background. He found some backlit plants and then got me down on the ground with my tripod (which I rarely shoot with, but Art seems to rarely shoot without) and close to the subject. Since I was shooting into the sun, he also helped block the light (which I never think of since I never have an assistant). It was a good reminder that the best vantage to shoot things isn't usually eye level and that you need to have a lot of interesting elements right to make an interesting shot. I followed Art and the group clustered with him for a while, picking up the tips I could and then went off again on my own to shoot a while. I admit, I didn't think I had much in the way of interesting shots and was a little bummed by the end of shooting.

That night, I picked and edited three images for critique the next day. Using some of the ideas Art introduced in class, I managed to come up with three images I really liked that I thought were more graphic and abstract than my usual photos.

This is a tree trunk with a sawn off end. It's the only shot of the three where I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted when I shot the picture. I really liked the thick white line and the contrasting textures and colors on either side of it.

I saw these backlit leaves and liked the glow. I didn't have a macro lens or extension tubes with me, so I shot a much broader scene with a lot more leaves. I cropped it down to these two, mostly the get the shape against the lovely background. Besides cropping the image, I only messed with the levels to do this.

Art turned me onto this kind of pointy, backlit leaf. The leaves themselves were green with brown spots, which I thought was distracting. I loved how the edges and veins glowed, so I decided to focus on those and minimize the color distractions by going black and white. I haven't decided yet whether I like this image better this way or vertically.

The second day started with a great lecture on the different lenses he uses and more importantly, how he uses them. Interestingly, he seems to use only a small number of lenses on a regular basis, bringing in others as needed. The 16-35 and 70-200 are his primary lenses. He uses others such as the fish-eye and 500mm+ in special cases. He also uses a 24-105 as a walking-around lens as well as for some aerial shots. I was a bit surprised to hear that he uses the Canon 70-200 f4 instead of the 2.8; the quality is still very good and it weighs less. Since he's shooting on a tripod most of the time and since digital cameras have usably go to higher ISOs, the weight is a good tradeoff against the extra speed. He also doesn't seem to shoot much with normal lenses (50mm range). Since they produce photos like we normally see them, his contention is they make for uninteresting shots.

We also had a talk from his assistant on how to use Adobe Lightroom. Although I've been using Lightroom for a while, I picked up some good tips even from this section.

Finally, we went through everyone's photos. Art and his assistant critiqued the photos, making quick edits in Lightroom to try to make the images more interesting. It was great to see how they looked at each image and what kinds of things they did with them. There were some really powerful images in the group (and some not so good ones). The feedback on my images was good. Art cropped and rotated them a bit to try some different things, but he had nice things to say. I also got a little "ooh" from the other students when the first image came up, which was nice. I only wish I had named the folder "Anthony C" instead of "Tony C"; as it was, I was one of the last students to be critiqued.

Throughout the three days, we saw a lot of stunning images Art had made. He's a good lecturer - clear, entertaining, and informative. The class wasn't cheap, but it was well worth it. It was especially fun since my friends Chris and Imran were there too. Art hosts photo expeditions all over the world. I think I'd love to take one of these some day. As it is, I'm re-energized to start doing more than taking snapshots again.

Kiteboarding at Double Bluff Beach

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Chris Evans and I went to take photos of the crazy kiteboarders who were ripping it up on a very windy, chilly January day at Double Bluff Beach on Whidbey Island.

When we first arrived, there were only a few kiteboarders out, but there were a lot of guys setting up. The kites have inflatable leading edge and slats, so they were pumping up their kites and dealing with their lines.

Pretty quickly there was a whole squadron out there, sailing in a big oval, maybe 45 degrees to the wind (close reach up, broad reach down).

The wind was blowing steadily and hard, so they were getting a lot of speed.


I was amazed how much air they were able to get using this speed.


We were out there for about 45 minutes until we were too cold to keep shooting (even with gloves on). Although the kiteboarders were in dry suits and working hard, I have to believe they were pretty cold too. Still, it was awesome.

Microsoft Campus After 9/11

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Like many of us, I think, it's hard to believe it's been ten years since the attacks of 9/11. We got a frantic wake-up call from our friend Steph to go turn on our TV and watch the news because some "crazy shit was going on". We saw the first tower billowing smoke and then watched in horror to see the second plane crash into the other tower. It's still stunning to think about.

I went into the office to make sure all of my team was accounted for (we had people travelling to the East Coast at the time). It was really scary since no one knew if there were other attacks coming, and Microsoft was a relatively high profile US target. Michelle didn't want me to go, and in introspect, I probably should have stayed home with my family. Fortunately, of course, we were OK, and all of the Microsoft employees were safe.

Security on campus changed after 9/11. We've always had cardkeys, but after 9/11 it was mandatory that we wear them visibly, and we stopped being able to receive personal packages at work. These have relaxed a little in the intervening years. However, we still have the required parking permits on our cars that started after 9/11.

Pretty quickly after 9/11, flags went up everywhere, including at our Redmond West campus. Hopefully, we never have occasion to fly the flag like this again.





Mount Rainier

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Despite having grown up in Seattle, our kids had never been to Mount Rainier; even Michelle and I hadn't been since before we were dating. It was such a nice day today that I dragged everyone on the long drive to Paradise to check out the mountain. (I had planned to go to Sunrise, but that was an even longer drive.)

Not surprisingly, the mountain was stunning. The wildflowers were in bloom and the sky was clear. Also not surprisingly, it was pretty crowded with a long line of cars trying to get into the parking lot. Note to self: go earlier in the day vs. waiting until afternoon.

The drive was a bit long for a day trip, but I'd love to check out some of the other areas of the park as well as the lovely lakes nearby.

Wildflowers dotted the hillside on the cloudless day:

Michael (11) checking out the summit from the visitor center:

The big crowds were the only downer.

Michelle, Michael, and Andrew (14) in Paradise.