WELCOME to my Top Ten Images of 2018 and a brief explanation of the images and why I took them.
This year I have decided to include the images that not only stand out as being some of the best work that I have had the pleasure to photograph but also base my choices on how I felt at the time when I clicked the shutter button. As I get older (47 next May), I find myself wanting to feel even more of a connection with the places that I visit and to have the experiences and memories live on far longer than ever before.
In an effort to experience more, I decided at the start of the year to visit several international locations, some old, some new. Lofoten and the Dolomites were new to me and were amazing in their own way, especially the Dolomites with awe-inspiring mountains and stunning lakes. Iceland had two visits from me this year too, once in February during one of the fiercest winters in recent times and again in October for the gorgeous autumn colours. Iceland never, ever disappoints, it truly is a remarkable country.
But my heart and soul must go to New Zealand and my two weeks spent there in September. Having visited twice before (2003 & 2008), I knew what to expect but revisiting the South Island as a pro landscape photographer with all the relevant equipment had me immersed so much more in its outstanding scenery. I genuinely find spending time in New Zealand is a life changing experience, memories made last forever and there is not a day goes by when I do not think of the country and I miss it terribly. That probably explains why four of the ten images featured are from New Zealand. I cannot wait to return in May to run my ten day workshop.
To this end, it would be my privilege to show you the ten images that moved me in one way or another. I hope you enjoy looking through them and many thanks for your support as always. Please feel free to leave a comment below
Best wishes Melvin
Number 10: Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK – November 2018
The Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides is world famous for its Luskentyre Beach and with its gorgeous golden sand and aqua coloured water, I can see why.
In the distance is Taransay, the island that became famous for starring in the BBC hit TV show Castaway which aired for a whole year in 2000 and featured the now famous TV presenter/adventurer Ben Fogle. I have seen this place as quiet as it comes, last January in fact when I spent the new year on the island on my own. I found out that Harris and Lewis were to become my ‘safe place’ to visit. You know the kind of place that once you’re there, the weight of the world lifts from your shoulders and has you feel completely at ease. The kind of place that can have you connect not only with the landscape in front of you but with yourself. I find the Outer Hebrides allows me to ‘reset’ myself and that’s a pretty powerful feeling.
On this morning however back in November, I took my six clients for a sunrise shoot there despite the weather forecast predicting clouds and possible showers. Now I know most workshop leaders seek to take their clients to this stunning beach during a glorious sunset, but I wanted to try something a little different. We arrived on location and walked around half a mile or so to get into position. I wanted the pre-dawn colours in the sky ahead of me to reflect in the water with the waves moving in and out but on turning around with the brighter part of the sky behind me, I saw this wonderful drama unfolding in the sky. I just had to compose a shot and capture it.
I love the dark, foreboding sky as it rolled by menacingly while the beautiful but uninviting white water drifted in and out around my feet. I decided to shoot the scene in portrait mode, something I like to do often in the landscape and using a shutter speed of just 1/3 of a second, I knew that the water would be smooth enough to look soft yet still retain an awful lot of its detail. I love this image because it really encapsulates the mood and feeling Luskentyre showed us that morning plus it is quite unlike most of the images you see from Luskentyre at that suits me just fine.
Number 9: Layers, Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Italy – October 2018
The scene below greeted me back in October when walking in and around the quite amazing Tre Cime di Lavaredo national park in the Italian Dolomites. I had spent the day with five of my clients walking up to the Rifugio Locatelli hut, otherwise known as the Dreizinnen Hut, which is a strategically placed 128 bed rifugio hut positioned halfway around the six-mile circular walk.
I took the path high up on the edge of the Monte Paterno and before I arrived at the Rifugio Locatelli hut, this view opened before me. I was alone as my clients had walked on ahead arriving at the hut a few minutes before me. I remember standing there and thinking what an extraordinary view I was witnessing. I lost count of the number of layers that stood in front of me but the different contrast tones from the darkest at the front to the brightest at the rear really took my breath away. I felt compelled to set up the camera and tripod and take a shot.
I could very happily print a scene like this off, frame it and hang it on my office wall at home but the issue in doing so would be a reduced lack of productivity as I would spend all day looking at it. Still I have the image on file and on social media whenever I require a pick me up or a bout of inspiration. Isn’t it just so beautiful?
Number 8: Fiery Sunset, Kirkjufell, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland – October 2018
Perhaps one of the most iconic locations in Iceland is Kirkjufell, otherwise known as the Witch’s Hat. Its popularity is due largely down to starring in series six of the Game of Thrones TV show. I have visited this mountain on numerous occasions but had yet to capture it during a stunning sunset and on this day, I thought once again I would go away empty handed. However, with perhaps fifteen minutes to go before sunset, the sky started to slightly turn a shade of pink. The clouds rolled by and caught hold of some of that colour. I immediately shouted for my clients to follow me down from the Kirkjufellness waterfalls to the small lake that offers some amazing reflections of the mountain.
We quickly walked down and within minutes were set up by the water’s edge. I stood there looking at the direction of the clouds and the colour that grew in intensity with each passing minute. I knew right there and then that this was going to be my moment and I willed the water to remain calm and in the main it did so. The clouds to the left of the mountain held firm and did not move while the last throws of colour projected into the sky with all it was worth and everything in its path lit up like a Christmas tree. It was one of the most wonderful scenes that I had ever witnessed in Iceland and that’s saying something. I was so incredibly happy to have finally caught on camera a stunning sunset of the iconic Kirkjufell. Iceland had amazed once again.
Number 7: Þjóðvegur, Iceland – October 2018
Iceland features for the second time in my list and this location came as a complete surprise to me. Despite having visited Iceland on numerous occasions, including February 2018 too, I had never ventured through the tunnel on the other side of Vestrahorn. On the workshop I ran back in October, the weather was awful at Vestrahorn, so I made the decision to go and discover what was on the south east coast. Well I am so pleased that I did because what I saw was a truly beautiful array of coastal mountains that rose and dominated the region between Vestrahorn and Vhalnes Lighthouse.
This view here near Reydhara looked gorgeous when the sun hit the orange grasses and the way the clouds concealed part of the mountains with their shadows really gave the scene added depth for me. We simply had to stop and shoot. Parking up by the entrance to the park and walking through the gates, we walked eastwards along the vehicle tracks. As I walked around looking for the best position to capture the view from, I eventually settled on the tracks themselves as I decided to use them to lead the viewer through the frame and into the scene beyond.
Once set up, the working relationship between the clouds and the sun excited me and when the blue sky finally arrived, the scene was set. A few clicks of my shutter release cable and I started to pack up feeling extremely happy with what I saw, felt and shot. Landscape photography days like these are few and far between so when the weather plays ball and produces stunning scenes, take advantage all you can to capture them on camera and do them justice.
Number 6: Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland – January 2018
I captured this amazing view at sunrise New Year’s Day 2018. I was on Harris and Lewis for a period of eight days from the end of December 2017 to the first week of January. I was mainly sleeping in the back of my nine-seater Ford Tourneo minibus which had been stripped out and converted into a makeshift campervan complete with mattress, a computer desk and chair and a camping stove. Parking in the nearby car park, I was well set up to be on location first thing after seeing the new year in at midnight amongst the standing stones. That’s a New Year’s Eve that I will never forget. I even filmed a YouTube video of me photographing the stones at night in the dark. You can see it HERE.
However, this location is very popular at sunrise due to the sun rising between the standing stones, all that is required is a decent sunrise and the magic will happen. On this morning I remember standing there, camera set up on the tripod but ready to be moved by a few inches depending on where exactly the sun rises. I wanted the sun to be partially hidden by one of the stones to give me the ‘sunburst’ look when the sun flares up. A few minutes before however the clouds rolled in and they were really threatening to dump a lot of water on me. Thankfully they held onto what water they had for a few minutes and certainly long enough for me to capture this stunning scene.
The one huge advantage in having the clouds roll in is that they lit up a gorgeous orange colour from the rising sun so whilst looking threatening, they helped create a dramatic image. Minutes later hailstones rained down on me which when mixed with sub-zero freezing temperatures, made for a very uncomfortable few minutes but a rainbow then appeared directly over the stones (click HERE to see the photo). What a sight. The Outer Hebrides is an incredibly special place to experience hence why I run a couple of workshops here a year (spring and winter). Those who join me feel the same way.
Number 5: Sunset over Glenorchy from Bennett’s Bluff, nr Queenstown, New Zealand – September 2018
I make no apologies whatsoever for three of the final five images to be from New Zealand. This is an outstanding country with the south island taking the honours for dramatic scenery. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies were all shot on location in and around the Queenstown, among other locations too.
On this day, I drove the hour or so to Glenorchy with a friend of mine Ed as we sought out to photograph the little town and its beautiful surroundings. However, on the way back, I had planned to stop off at the famous Bennett’s Bluff to capture sunset. This is an elevated section of the highway that affords you views of some of the most beautiful scenery in New Zealand. The roadside layby only accommodated half a dozen cars and thankfully one of them was ours.
All set up, camera and tripod finally in position, all that was required was to stand and wait. Over the course of the next hour or so, the sky started to fill with the most amazing and wonderful colours. Reds, pinks, oranges, blues and the most gorgeous last throws of soft light on the snow-capped mountains ahead of us, which brought the peaks to life before being transformed into darkness. Standing there witnessing this and the most amazing colours filling the sky to my left over Mount Turnbull and the Round Peaks literally filled my heart with joy. There are moments that us landscape photographers strive to experience, we endure the harshest of weathers, seriously unsociable hours and the most damn frustrating days ever all in the pursuit of hopefully one day standing in front of a sunset so stunning that it almost takes your breath away. This was one of those moments.
Number 4: Sailing Boat, Misty Morning, Waterhead, Windermere, Lake District – October 2018
There are mornings that fail to deliver anything other than misery and frustration through either a decent sunrise, a lack of colour or worse still, rain but this stunning morning mid-October 2018 in the Lake District was not to be one of them.
I was running a one-day workshop with just three people and en-route to Rydal Water, I saw this amazing view of the low lying mist that hovered over the water and taking a hunch that we might not make Rydal before the colour would arrive and leave, I pulled up at Waterhead and had us walk a few minutes along the shoreline to a several wonderful little sailing boats. Time was of the essence because the colour started building and building with the most beautiful pink illuminating the sky as day break was happening.
Witnessing such conditions on mornings like these are a rarity and even more so if you do not happen to live in the Lake District. I advised my clients to ‘fill your boots’ and take as many photos from as many different locations as you could while the mist rolled in over the lake, especially during the colourful period. The water so amazingly still and perfect reflections could be seen and shot. I could not believe it and I was standing there with my camera beaming like a child on Christmas morning. Everybody was stood waiting for their exact moment to click the shutter button. Here is my favourite image from the hour or so spent at Waterhead. This has been my most popular image of 2018 and perhaps the most talked about. I have sold more prints and canvases of this image than any other, but I completely understand why. Mornings like these do not come around all that often but when they do, I remember exactly why I became a professional landscape photographer. Isn’t this just the best job /lifestyle in the world?
Number 3: Sunrise over Mitre Peak, Milford Sound Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand – September 2018
Finally, we hit my top three images of 2018 and what an image it is too. Milford Sound Fiordland National Park is arguably New Zealand’s most iconic location and with very good reason, it is stunning. In fact, Tom Cruise filmed part of the latest Mission Impossible: Fallout movie here.
Despite having visited back in 2008 and experienced a nice sunrise, I really, really wanted to return to capture a stunning one instead and despite the TV weather man the night before claiming copious amounts of rain will fall, quite the opposite happened. Rising from my bed at 5am and looking outside the door did not look promising. The stars were barely visible, and it appeared that the weather man might just have called it right but by 5.25am, the clouds started to dissipate leaving behind a million stars that shone like polished diamonds. Suddenly I felt happy, so happy in fact that it could be described as giddy.
I knocked on Ed’s chalet door and beckoned him to get ready, we had a sunrise to shoot. A brief drive down to the car park and a five-minute walk had us set up in good time for it would be a while after when the sun would rise high enough for it to light up the peaks. We were ready for the warm lit peaks but when the low-lying mist started to roll in as well, I was almost delirious. Before arriving in New Zealand, there were two images that I wanted to capture in prime conditions and light and Milford Sound was one of them.
Standing there watching the world on that side of the planet slowly come alive and the 5,000ft mountain peaks ahead lighting up in those soft warm orange colours made travelling nearly 24 hours plus on three planes worth it. The boat cruise out on the water later that morning after breakfast was fantastic. We saw seals sunbathing on rocks, 151 metre waterfalls reign down by the front of boat from above and the huge mountains towering above us all around. Awe-inspiring seems a well-used phrase these days but this was one of those occasions when it was perfectly suited. New Zealand never looked so good.
Number 2: Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Italy – October 2018
Those in the know asked me why I quit my three-year university diploma nurse training course six weeks from finishing and qualifying as a nurse back in early 2012? I told them that I wanted to become a professional landscape photographer. Many an eyebrow was raised I can tell you.
I had fallen so in love with the thought of travelling around the world with a camera in my hand, that I did not take into consideration exactly how I would feel when confronted with the views that you see below. The business side of being a self-employed photographer with all of its demands, the uncertainty of an irregular income, the deadlines you work towards with clients, hotels, car rental companies, the accountant, the tax man and occasionally the bank manager all has you sometimes lose sight of the fact that when all said and done, all you really want to do is to discover some of the most amazing places on earth and capture them on camera for all to see.
This was one such moment.
I have been wanting to visit the Dolomites in Italy for some years now and at the start of 2018, I made the decision that this was going to be my year. I spent over two weeks solid, researching all that I could about the Dolomites and what was required to run a successful photography tour there. October arrived, and I finally had the chance to find out if all my efforts for me and my five clients, would have us experience a journey of epic proportions. I am beyond delighted to confirm that they were.
The Dolomites surpassed all my expectations, all my dreams, all my efforts. The jewel of the Dolomites is the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. A national park that houses three near 10,000 ft stone pillars that dominant the entire region. There is a six-mile circular walk that takes you from the car park to the Rifugio Locatelli hut and back to the car park. The hut is located at the halfway point and is the large white building you see below. It houses 128 beds and offers some of the most spectacular views in the world from its windows. On arriving a while before sunset, I had the chance to look around and decide on the best vantage point.
From down below, the rocky ledge that I eventually scrambled up to from which I took the scene below, is difficult to navigate, especially with a tripod and camera bag in tow. However, the views are beyond outstanding. As I stood there with Ricky (one of my clients), we both looked on at the surrounding mountains as the sun slowly set to our right. I was entranced, I could hardly absorb everything that I wanted to feel as the landscape wowed me that much. As the sky turned pink and the light dropped behind the mountains, I remember standing there and in a moment, I understood the sacrifice I had made in quitting nursing, the risks, the challenges, the frustrations not only in business but also in landscape photography itself but all that just ebbed away while I stood there trying to comprehend what it was that I was seeing.
The Dolomites are on a scale that is hard to visualise, the scenery so spellbinding that the memories live on far longer than you can ever imagine, but this is a part of the world that well and truly has a hold of my heart and I do not see it letting go anytime soon.
Number 1: Fiery Sunrise, Moeraki Boulders, South Island, New Zealand – September 2018
WOW, WOW WOW!!!!! This is a phrase that hardly ever utters from my lips but on this morning, it did and on more than one occasion. I was so happy, I almost cried but decided to do an Irish jig instead. It is moments like these that have me feel completely alive and in sync with mother nature. Let me explain.
April 2008. My second visit to New Zealand but my first with a DSLR camera. I had upgraded from my bridge camera the year before in early 2007 in the pursuit of taking this ‘landscape photography’ malarkey more seriously. I arrived in Moeraki’s neighbouring town Oamaru the night before with the intention of rising well before sunrise to drive the thirty minute journey to Moeraki to photograph the world famous boulders however I unfortunately slept in and awoke to find the sky on fire from a stunning sunrise and I no chance on getting to Moeraki in time. I was distraught. That might sound to you a tad over dramatic but when you have travelled so far to photograph something so unique, it is fine to feel so incredibly disappointed but when it is your own fault, it is understandable to feel distraught.
So, ever since April 2008, I have held an unhealthy obsession in wanting to right a wrong and to return and finally photograph the four million year old spherical boulders set against a stunning fiery sky at near high tide. So, when Ed and I walked out onto Koekohe Beach pre-sunrise to find nobody there and the sky starting to glow yellow, then orange then red, believe me when I say I was so excited, that it took all my efforts to remain calm and think with a clear head. It did not help that I was trying to set up a two and a half foot metal Edelkrone slider bar to capture some video footage for a three minute video that you can watch HERE on YouTube.
On the click of a shutter cable release, with the images on camera, excitement eventually turned into relief as I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I must confess to never having felt like that before, never have I felt the importance in taking a photograph of a certain subject like this before, but it felt almost overwhelming to do so, in fact therapeutic. So, when you look at the image below of those two rocks, please be assured just how much of me has gone into that shot for sometimes it means more to me than just a photograph. Memories of that morning will stay with me until the end, just how it should be.