My Best Images From 2021

Once again, Brent Huntley has invited photographers to participate in his yearly Top Images from the Photography and Travel Community photography project

It is another new year and time for the annual round-up of my favourite previous year’s images. Once again, Brent Huntley has invited photographers to participate in his yearly Top Images from the Photography and Travel Community photography project. It's a year-in-review project, and photographers are encouraged to choose their top "10(ish)" images, publish them to a website, and submit the link to Brent for inclusion in a photography blogroll. You can review all the Best of the Year submissions or just the 2019 and the 2020. It's a fun way to review the year in pictures with far away (and near) photography enthusiasts, and each year I discover interesting photography blogs to add to my RSS reader.

This post also aligns with the Lens-Artists Challenge #180 – Favorite Images of 2021.

Selecting just ten photographs from the thousands I made this year is challenging and even more so by the ongoing global pandemic, limiting travel and public experiences. I spent even less time outdoors in 2021 than I did in 2020. Most of these photographs are not to my usual standards as you would expect. As a friend used to say, these photographs are the cream of the “crap”. My choices below are based on my emotional connection to each image.

Waves | 4 February, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

At the end of 2020, my contract with my last client ended. In June of 2021, I continued to work remotely but for a different client. I had much time to explore the waves of emotions crashing over me. The future continued to feel “unsettled”.

people running in snow while snowing
Winter | 7 February, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7

Winter brought a lot of snow, much more than I have experienced in recent memory. I was still unemployed, there was no vaccine, and I was challenged to assemble the words to express my feelings.

woman smiling
25 years together | 4 May, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8

This year, Bhavna and I celebrated 25 years of marriage, a bright spot in a year that would continue to be the “new normal”.

kids playing
No worries | 23 May, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

After the “new normal” school year that these kids have had, it was great to see the return of some “normal” activities. Given how long I went without employment, I was still feeling out of sorts, but I was happy that I had finally signed a contract. I was still feeling blue but happy for the green.

Sir Alphonso Mango | 8 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

Our cat Sir Alphonso Mango is now almost two years old. My youngest daughter, Kiran, is attempting to complete her studies at Oberlin College sooner. She will be away for all semesters this year and the next. I have set up an office with Alphie as my daytime companion in her room. He enjoys listening in on the Teams conference calls.

Ray's Reserve cocktail
Ray's Reserve | 19 June, 2021 | Apple iPhone 11 Pro | iPhone 11 Pro back dual camera 6mm f/2

With little else to do, Bhavna and I spent the summer outdoors at some of our “safe spaces”, including the Brick Farm Tavern, Flounder Brewing and Sourland Mountain Spirits. These spaces are our "away” from home spaces. I just loved the colour of this cocktail, Ray’s Reserve, named for the distillery’s founder, Ray Disch.

Rahul | 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7

The best thing about being vaccinated is that we could finally hug each other and regain some of the intimacy denied during the lockdown. I had so missed these summer BBQs with family. My nephews were sporting new haircuts, and I had to capture the smiles. When adapted to my Fuji X-T2, the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm F1.7 is an excellent portrait lens. Look at that bokeh!

Dragonfly | 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

In 2019, I started getting into bird photography, photographing warblers with a rented XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. I was smitten and planned to buy this lens to use in 2020. Inspired by Stephen Gingold and local photographer David Mathre, I rented this lens again and went out chasing dragons. I want this lens but struggle with the $1800 price tag.

woman smiling
Bhavna | 10 July, 2021 | Minolta XD-11 | MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2

I continued to relearn 35mm film photography. I had more keepers in 2021. I grew weary of the increasing cost of 35mm film, film developing and scanning. I bought an Epson V600 film scanner and learned how to scan and colour-balance the film myself. I am saving about $8-$10 per roll of film. I have also limited myself to using 35m film stock priced under $10 per 36 exposure roll. My current favourite is Kodak Pro Image 100.

Flounder Brewing at Carriage Farm
Flounder Brewing at Carriage Farm | 16 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7

Some old spaces moved to new locations. After years in a tiny industrial garage, Flounder Brewing finally completed the restoration of the 150-year-old farmhouse at Carriage Farm. The new site in the farm country in Hillsborough is fantastic. The taproom only has a few ales, but Bhavna and I invited our friend Ed Velez as our “plus one” when the brewery had a soft opening weekend for Delta House members only. Having a beer at Flounder Brewing became an almost weekly habit.

Note: I dropped and broke my Fuji X-T2 in August and replaced it with a Fuji X-T3.

ababoned freight car in Lambertville
Look | 10 October, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

This is my favourite image of the year. On a drizzly autumn day in October, I went on a quest. I had read about and heard about an abandoned freight car on some railroad tracks in Lambertville. The freight car has seen better days but has inspired multiple graffiti artists.

Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve | 16 October, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF27mmF2.8

We hiked a lot less than we did last year. Maybe it was some pandemic-fueled ennui, but we lost our motivation. But, one weekend, while exploring Billie Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, Pettoranello Gardens, and Community Park North, I saw a family cross a narrow wooden bridge I had not noticed before. I had promised Bhavna we would go hiking this weekend, so later that day, we returned to Billie Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve and explored one of the loop trails. We had so much fun hiking and exploring this new space.

Autumn Macro | 17 October, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF27mmF2.8 + Fujinon MCEX-16

"It's for you", Bhavna yelled from the kitchen. I opened the package, saw the [Fujinon MCEX-16]] macro extension tube, and was upset and excited. I was upset because had I checked the mail sooner, I could have used the extension tube to photograph the fall berries and wildflowers I saw during the previous day’s hike. But I was excited because, with winter arriving, I had the means to transform ordinary things into extraordinary photographs. I experimented on some autumn leaves.

Aunt Chubbie's at Christmas
Aunt Chubbie's at Christmas | 7 December, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T3 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

Before the pandemic, before taking to a nearby trail for a hike., I had a semi-regular habit of breakfast at Aunt Chubby’s. The restaurant re-opened for indoor dining earlier in the year, but Bhavna and I did not feel comfortable dining indoors until after our Pfizer vaccine booster. We started to feel almost normal.

Tuesday Photo Challenge - Abandoned

Along the trail were some abandoned buildings.

The Tuesday Photo Challenge is a weekly theme-based challenge for photographers of all kinds to share both new and old photography. This week's theme is abadoned.

I had been thinking about what I might do for the weekly challenge all week. Because of my workday time constraints, I do most of my photography during the weekend. Initially, I had thought to photograph an abandoned barn along Route 206 in Skillman. I have passed the dilapidated barn many times over the last sixteen years. I am always curious about it but have never stopped for a photo. I guess I am afraid of being called out for trespassing.

I woke up on Saturday morning, made breakfast, and performed my daily coffee routine. I sat down at the computer, opened Google Maps in a browser and typed in "abandoned places". Google found a handful of places "nearby" if by nearby, you mean driving one hour or more. I found an abandoned high school building forty-five minutes away in Lambertville, but further research showed that it had been demolished in 2012. Frustrated, I tried again, using the keywords "abandoned building near Princeton".

I got exactly one result for Princeton. From Google Maps entry, I could see that Herrontown Woods Arboretum had a hiking trail. Along the trail were some abandoned buildings. I found a trail map on the New Jersey Trail Association website and prepared my camera bag.

My wife, Bhavna, awoke just as I was about to leave. We chatted about our plans for the day, and she offered to go out with me; soon after, she had a quick breakfast. I was happy for the company. Herrontown Woods Arboretum is less than two miles from our home, but because of my illness, I always feel better when I have someone with me when I am out in the woods.

We took the red trail to a fork from the parking lot in the trail and walked through an opening in the fence. We followed what appeared to be a new "green-white" path and found the abandoned property quite quickly.

An active farm, deeded to Mercer County by Princeton University mathematician Oswald Veblen and his wife Elizabeth in 1957, occupied the southeastern part of the woods, including the cottage clearing with its now-abandoned house and barn. Wood-cutting for timber sales continued through the 1920s. The Levine tract, additional land on the eastern side of the woods acquired in the early 1970s, had seen traprock quarrying around the beginning of the 20th century. ~ New Jersey Trail Association

We walked around, exploring the property. Bhavna was quite patient while I kneeled in the grass, composing one shot after another. I wasn't happy with the photos I was getting. The buildings were abandoned, but my compositions were not capturing the feeling.

I also felt that the Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX-II 11-16mm f/2.8 was not the right lens. I bought the lens for landscape photography; at the time, I wanted a wide DX lens. But I now regret the purchase. I think a 16mm f/2.8 DX lens (24mm full-frame equivalent) would have been a better choice. I am starting to regret the purchase.

We walked the path over to the abandoned barn and barn house. While I tried compositions with the barn house, Bhavna explored the barn. She peeked through an opening in the door and spotted an abandoned bathtub. I took some photos from outside, with the door ajar and part of the tub visible. I planned to create an HDR. I could also see the bathtub through a small hole in the side of the barn. I took a few more shots using the hole to frame what I could see of the bathtub. Eventually, I ventured inside. Someone had placed the tub in the middle of the room with two rocks inside.

Who placed a bathtub inside a barn? Why right in the middle? Who put the rocks inside the tub? What was the purpose of the rocks? How long had the bathtub sat here? I looked around, but I saw no signs of any plumbing. All I saw were leaves and other debris. I realised I had found my "abandoned" photograph.

I captured three bracketed exposures and combined them in Photomatix. I then applied a Kodak Ektachrome 100 film emulation preset.

After a few more experimental portrait shots with my Bhavana as my model, we decided to head back to the car. Bhavana was feeling cold, some snow flurries were coming down, and we were concerned about losing the trail path if the snowfall was heavy.

With more than three miles of hiking trails, Herrontown Woods Arboretum is on the eastern end of Princeton Ridge. We got "lost" on our way back. We were on the green trail but somehow ended up on the white trail before finding the red path back to the parking area. It was like having a mini-adventure. We encountered intermittent streams that wound along our return trip to the parking lot.

I want to return to the Herrontown Woods Arboretum in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.