• Alyce Bender

Best of 2017


Wow! The last month has flown by with so much travel - four countries in three different regions of the world. Its been amazing, but now that I'm home I am swamped with trying to develop the images to share with you all.

As it is almost the end of another year, I thought it appropriate to review my work, choosing some of the best images from 2018. Many you may have seen already but I want to go a bit more in-depth on why these particular ones are my favorites and give a bit of a background story to them. Also, I have sorted through my social media accounts and put together a bit of a collage with the twelve most popular of my images from both Instagram and Facebook.

So without further ado, we will kick off with one of my favorite location finds of the year.

"Oiwa on the Sea" Aomori Prefecture, Japan

Some days are too nice to just stay inside, and yet, with no firm plans, I typically will just grab my gear bag and head out somewhere. On this day, I decided I needed to explore an area a bit further afield then my normal range of within two hours of home. At about three hours and some change, the Fukaura Coastline on the Sea of Japan was new territory for me. Google searches had shown me there were small fishing villages dotting the ragged shores and that there might be some sea stacks. So I headed out mid morning to make some stops and enjoy the drive which still having enough time to scout the area before sunset, what I really wanted to capture.

Due to my dislike of toll roads, I actually arrived on the Sea of Japan coast a bit north of this spot. The whole coastline was just teaming with little alcoves and really rugged shores. I stopped many times and made notes for the next time I go back out that direction (which I will do) of all the places that could make for good shooting depending on light and weather.

However when I arrived at Oiwa, I knew this was going to be my sunset location. Driving by this spot on the main road, I got really excited to see railings at the top of the island as that meant, theoretically, one could get out there to climb it. Making a U-turn (one of the most valuable tools in a traveling photographer's box in my opinion), I found a place to park and started to explore the area. Already it was getting to that golden hour and I started working all sorts of angles from both on and off the island.

Without any clouds though, sunset was just a really bright sky and shadowed islands. But patience and persistence paid off in the end. By waiting until after the sun had officially set, and knowing that, without clouds to reflect the disappearing light, the blue hour would set in quickly, I was able to capture the last bit of sunlight at the horizon to the left while showing the blue twilight creeping in on the right.

Using a long exposure to smooth the water and a polarizer to take the glare off the surface so the rocks could be seen were critical to the composition of the final image. Luck also played a part as I could not have asked for a better separation of the warm and cool tones. Working on a path only a few feet wide, I didnt have a lot of room to change the shooting angle. So, luck does play a part, especially in some of my best images.

Speaking of luck, that brings us to my next favorite image of the year. Truly, luck favors the prepared!

"Iwate Serow in Coastal Forest" Iwate Prefecture, Japan

All I can say is thank goodness I travel in rural and often little used roadways. This creature had me stopped in the middle of an tiny road, uphill, in a blind corner. Good times right?

On another driving adventure, my friend and I headed south from home to see what we could see along the sea. The cliff lines in this area are beautiful, bold, and are home to a multitude of Japanese wildlife from Asiatic black bears to nesting Japanese peregrine falcons. Serows, a member of the bovine family, look to be a cross between a deer, goat and bear. They are super elusive and can climb up almost any incline.

Returning from a tiny marina when the locals harvest and process seaweed, we came around the corner to this one just standing in the middle of the road, I lost every thought in my head other then I needed a photo. Luckily, when on these drive-by scouting trips, I leave one camera or the other sitting on the center console within easy reach. Keeping my eyes on the serow, I carefully reached over with one hand for the camera and rolled down the window with the other while creeping the car forward with my knee. As we inched closer the serow leapt up the embankment, paused just long enough for me to take three frames before disappearing into the forest, silent as a shadow. Thank you Nikon for quick, low light auto focusing! When I reviewed the images and saw the serow was in focus, I simply laughed out loud I was so elated to have captured this regionally unique creature in its home habitat, completely on chance.

There was one image that I had wanted to capture since before I even learned we would be moving to Japan. When we did move, I made a promise to myself I would visit the Snow Monkey Park in Nagano each year we were in country for my birthday.

"Winter Wonder" Nagano Prefecture, Japan

Now, planning is part of a great many shots. Watching the weather, booking extra days in certain locations to help ensure perfect conditions, studying animal behavior, and location scouting are all key preparatory actions taken by the best photographers.

With all the images I had seen from the Snow Monkey Park, I knew my first time there was going to be all about watching and getting familiar with the area. Knowing that, and the fact I was going in late February, I wanted to make sure I had several days to take it all in and hopefully get one day with falling snow.

Two full days I spent in the park watching, shooting, and learning. During that time, I did not have any snowfall. It was bright blue skies with temperatures right at freezing all day. However, on the third morning, before I was scheduled to leave the valley homeward, I awoke to the lightest sprinkle of snow. In all haste, I made the 4km hike to the park. Arriving just as the ticket window opened, I had less than 30 minutes in the park before the flurries stopped. In that time, everything came together to form my favorite image from that trip and one of my favorites of the year: a young Japanese macaque in the hot spring gazing up at a falling snowflake with steam rising off the water providing an amazing atmosphere.

Scouting for locations is a regular occurrence for me, especially this past year. As I grow as a photographer, I want to bring new and original images to life. But to do that, in a country I have only been living in for a year and change, requires me to get out and learn the lay of the land and what changes each season brings. One constant throughout Japan is the presence of Shinto shrines and the torii gates that frame the entrances.

"Tazawako Torii" Akita Prefecture, Japan

On the shores of the deepest lake in Japan, stands one of several torii gates leading to Gozanoishi Shrine. With no real signage and not really near much else in the way of 'tourist' attractions, this location is only really visited by the locals and random traveler who happens to stop when driving to this or that campground in the area.

I was one of those random travelers. Performing a U-turn, I quickly decided I could find my car camp spot in the dark, but that I must photography sunset here. Using my ultra-wide lens, I was able to capture the afterglow of sunset over this serine scene. This also became the scene of one of my favorite selfie images as well.

Now I know all these favorites have been from Japan, which is to be expected I suppose since I do live here after all. But, I do want to share one image that is fast growing on me from my latest adventures scouting in Germany. Please note you may see this image again some time in the future as I develop it further. However, I am just too excited by it to keep it out of my Best of lineup for images of 2017.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

The famous Neushwanstein Castle, one of the most popular palaces/castles in all of Europe. Funny enough, I was not actually looking for this icon when my friend and I rounded the corner on our way to our sunset location. Of course, with the light moving across the hills the way it was, I couldn't take the chance of missing such a shot. I had my friend drop me right there on the side of the road with my cameras while she went to find a place to park legally.

As the light rolled through I just kept shooting like a mad woman, trying different compositions, focal lengths, and exposures. Taken with my brand new Tamron 150-600mm lens, this was an amazing opportunity to show how a super telephoto lens can be utilized in landscape photography.

Each time I look at this image, I just love it a bit more. Still think I will be tweaking it just a bit to get the shadows just a hair closer to how I saw them in person, but overall this is the scene as it was presented to me by Nature.

A bit more background about the area, not but 48 hours earlier, another of our friends had visited Neushwanstein and there was not a single snowflake to be found. This blanket had been put down in the last 24 hours before our arrival. How fortuitous was that?

Anyway, those are my top picks for the 2017 calendar year. While there are many others I really love and could ramble on about, these five really are special to me. Now, I will share the top twelve images you, my amazing supporters, have enjoyed the most based on likes and comments left.

Several were cross-platform favorites while others were favored by only those on Instagram or on Facebook. If you havent checked these out in their original format on the various social media sites, please take the time to do so as you are able to view them in larger format then presented here.

So this closes another year of adventure and excitement. I hope you will continue to join me on my various travels as I capture the beauty of this great planet. Until next time, cheers!

#Bestof #2017 #landscapes #wildlife #Japan #Germany #travel #photographytips #naturephotography #photography #Neushwanstein #castle #torii #snowmonkeys

     A Bender Photography LLC      |     Las Vegas, NV    |     bender@abenderphotography.com