My Top Ten Images of 2021

View my best photos of 2021

Melvin Nicholson - Coumeenoole Beach, Ireland
Melvin Nicholson - Coumeenoole Beach, Ireland

HELLO and welcome to ‘My Top Ten Images of 2021’ blog, and a brief explanation of the images, and why I took them.

This year, due to the Coronavirus, I cancelled all international travel (other than for Ireland in December), and as such, I ended up visiting, and photographing a whole lot more of the UK than normal. This has been an interesting experience as I revisited many of the locations that I know well, as well as discovering a lot of new locations too. Back in May, I undertook a five week coastal tour of the southern half of the UK, and up the east coast as far as Newcastle, which I really enjoyed due to meeting some wonderful people en-route and seeing some incredibly beautiful places.

Then in September I completed a two week tour of Assynt, and Sutherland in Scotland, again, discovering some wonderful new locations, and meeting a couple of new faces en-route. To finish the year out, I am touring around Dingle, and the Copper Coast part of Ireland for two weeks over the Christmas, and New Year period. This has proved very enjoyable too, and great to have met a few familiar and not so familiar faces along the way as well as experiencing some stunning coastal scenery too.     

So, onto the images.

I have found the whole process of trying to decide which ten images make my top ten list so incredibly difficult as per usual, but I have whittled down a couple of dozen images into just ten and ranked them in order of what has ended up as being my favourites. Each image has a story attached to them, naturally, but it is the final image that stands on its own merits that have made the grade.

To this end, it would be my privilege to show you the ten images. I hope you enjoy looking through them, and as always, many thanks for your continued support, especially during what has been another difficult year in the travel, and leisure industry. Please feel free to leave a comment below. Now on with the show.

Best wishes Melvin

P.S. All of the following images are available for sale as prints. A3 £100, A2 £150 plus postage, Please contact me if you are interested.

Number 10: Bluebells in Micheldever Wood, Hampshire – May 2021

Bluebells in Micheldever Wood, Hampshire
Bluebells in Micheldever Wood, Hampshire

A throwback to mid-May for this image of the well known Micheldever Wood in Hampshire. Arriving pre-dawn for the first time I ambled around trying to find a decent section of bluebells. I was coming up short, and after some advice from several photographers on Facebook, we made our way to the rear of the woods where I happened to bump into another photographer, Rob Dove, who just happened to be there with the same idea

I had noticed that this section of the woodland had a gorgeous dominant tree that was waiting to be captured on camera. Its shape dictated a portrait orientation format with a gorgeous carpet of vibrant purple bluebells at its base. The colours of the leaves were so lush, so colourful, so beautiful, that they really made the image what it is. Woodland images without mist rarely look as good as Micheldever did on that particular morning.   

It goes without saying that I all stuck to the paths in the woods, and that no bluebells were harmed in the making of this image.

Canon R5
Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 @ 112mm
f/6.3
1/30
ISO800

Number 9: Sunrise Over Whitby Pier, Yorkshire Coast – May 2021

Number 9: Sunrise Over Whitby Pier, Yorkshire Coast – May 2021
Number 9: Sunrise Over Whitby Pier, Yorkshire Coast – May 2021

This image was taken during my five week tour of the south coast and the east coast of the UK. While I often stayed over in Premier Inn hotels, I did on occasion, sleep in my car, and one the evening before I took this particular photo, I slept in the back of my then Mercedes E Class estate. While I have slept in worse vehicles in my time, it was still a rather uncomfortable few hours, and so when I did finally surface to wander down to the pier, I was in desperate need of coffee, a heart breakfast, and more coffee. As it was, I had to make do with a chocolate croissant, and an orange juice.  

I mention this because quite often, how you feel on location is in direct relation to how you slept. On this particular morning, I did not have high hopes for a stunning sunrise but alas, within thirty minutes, the colour started to grow, and grow, and grow. My mood lifted, and suddenly I found myself energised, complete with a spring in my step.  

I continued to shoot the pier, spending a glorious couple of hours walking around the pier watching this magical sunrise taking place. Considering that it was just three weeks from the longest day of the year (June 21st), I was surprised at the long period of time I had to photograph the sun in its various positions. This particular image had me predict where the position of the sun was likely to be thirty seconds ahead of me wanting to actually take the photo for the sun rises diagonally to the right. Thankfully I positioned the tripod perfectly because the sun rose centrally under the tower.

The colours were rich, as a couple of people walked along, and watched this side of the world waking up at 4.30am. These are the kind of mornings that I cherish.

Canon R5
Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 @ 100mm
f/13
30″
ISO50
Kase 10 Stop ND Filter

Number 8: Clichéd, St Anne's Pier, Lancashire – March 2021

Number 8: Clichéd, St Anne's Pier, Lancashire – March 2021
Number 8: Clichéd, St Anne's Pier, Lancashire – March 2021

One of the main challenges that I have faced this year, is trying to be imaginative with familiar locations. I live about twenty minutes from the coast, and Lytham, and St Anne’s are my local seascape locations. The iconic pier at St Anne’s is a haven for those wanting to capture long exposure images of the pier surrounded by water. However, the tide very rarely gets up high enough, so to capture a shot like this, you have to wait for an exceptionally high tide in the springtime and be ready to shoot it.

It was a 10 metre tide as it turns out, and I had been after this image for a number of years now.

The main issue was however that the beach was exceptionally busy as everyone enjoyed the mini heatwave, and glorious conditions that we had, but in shooting long exposure images, everybody disappeared from shot. I managed to purchase this used deck chair from a local Facebook seller, and I collected it en-route to St Anne’s. It promptly fell apart minutes later when placing it in the boot of my car. That was £10 well spent obviously, ha, ha.

By the way, I always envisaged the final image would be in black and white, which is why I picked that particular deck chair. I knew that the stripes would show up well in black and white.

Canon R5
Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm
f/14
13″
ISO50
Kase 10 Stop ND Filter

Number 7: Haunting, The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland – December 2021

Number 7: Haunting, The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland – December 2021
Number 7: Haunting, The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland – December 2021

I last visited this wonderful, and iconic location (it apparently featured in the Games of Thrones TV show, although I’ve never watched it) back in May 2017, and it was during the daytime. It was so busy, with people everywhere, cars being driven up and down the road. It was almost impossible to take a decent photo and in truth, the time of day, and lighting conditions were just not right. I vowed to return one day. Well, that day came when I rolled off the ferry at Larne mid-December.

The ferry terminal was within an hour of these wonderful trees, and so I decided to venture north to visit them. I would also arrive at dusk, perhaps the perfect time to capture them, however low lying mist started rolling in within a few miles of my arrival, and I just hoped that it would find itself wafting through the trees. On arrival, I noticed that it was. I was so excited.

It was 4.30pm when I arrived, and I had a Fuji GFX100S camera on loan from Fuji for a couple of weeks (hence my two week spell in Ireland). It was almost dark at the point that I took this image, but the Fuji seemed not to worry about things like that, as the amount of detail that it pulled out from the shadows was spellbinding. I was seriously impressed.

Once I had set up the tripod, and camera, I noticed that there were only a couple of people milling around but essentially, when I needed to get the shot, I was completely on my own and I don’t mind admitting that it is quite a haunting place to be when you are all alone in the dark, especially when the mist rolls in. Talk about atmospheric. IT was worth all the effort though as I captured the shot that I wanted. Talk about being lucky.

Fuji GFX100S
Fuji GF 100-190mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 190mm
f/11
30″
ISO100

Number 6: Stuck In Paradise, Crosby Beach, Merseyside – July 2021

Number 6: Stuck In Paradise, Crosby Beach, Merseyside – July 2021
Number 6: Stuck In Paradise, Crosby Beach, Merseyside – July 2021
I have visited these wonderful life sized cast iron statues on the beach at Crosby for a number of years now and every time I go, I aim to capture something different but I generally don’t, and on this particular visit back in July 2021, I shot a familiar scene the way I always do but on this occasion, I found the tide at just the perfect height to get the shot I was happy with plus there was some wonderful soft light from the setting sun off to my right.  

These life sized Antony Gormley statues, modelled after Antony’s actual body, had Antony recently visit to oversee the repositioning of ten of the one hundred statues installed.

These wonderful life size statues of Antony Gormley’s permanent exhibition ‘Another Place’ are a big hit with photographers, and visitors alike. They make fantastic subjects to shoot during an incoming tide as you can perfect your long exposure techniques.

The conditions were perfect for what I had in mind, and it was great to have met fellow photographer Dominic Darvell on the beach too.

Canon R5
Sigma 100-400mm @ 186mm
f/8
2″
ISO50
Kase 6 Stop ND Filter

Number 5: Black Nore Lighthouse, Portishead, Somerset – May 2021

Number 5: Black Nore Lighthouse, Portishead, Somerset – May 2021
Number 5: Black Nore Lighthouse, Portishead, Somerset – May 2021
Here is another image that I captured on my five-week tour of the UK back in May 2021. It was a real pleasure returning to this fabulous little lighthouse in Portishead. I first visited and photographed this location four years ago, back in 2017, and have been wanting to return ever since.

So, at the start of May, I ventured down pre-sunrise to see what I could find. On arriving, the pre-dawn colour was starting to build beautifully, and I did not have long to find a subject to shoot and compose an image.

I noticed these wonderful wooden tree trunks had been tossed up onto the beach from a recent storm, and they were perfectly placed to use them as a great lead into the lighthouse, which I wanted to be positioned in the middle of the frame. I was fairly close to the trees so I knew that I would have to focus stack three images to ensure that I had full sharpness from front to back. I then merged all three images together in Photoshop CC to give me a wonderfully sharp image right the way through.

The light and colour were subtly stunning, casting a gorgeous glow onto the right side of the lighthouse. Overall, I am delighted with this finished photo.

Canon R5
Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm
f/11
1/4
ISO100
Kase 0.6 Soft Grad ND Filter
Three Images Focus Stacked in Photoshop CC

Number 4: The Sound of Raasay & the Skye Skyline, Isle of Skye, Scotland – November 2021

I returned to the Isle of Skye mid-November on my own for three days before running my five day workshop there, my first since February 2019, and I had forgotten just how spectacular this place is.

Number 4: The Sound of Raasay & the Skye Skyline, Isle of Skye, Scotland – November 2021
Number 4: The Sound of Raasay & the Skye Skyline, Isle of Skye, Scotland – November 2021
This truly stunning scene was shot at mid-morning from the Rigg Viewpoint on the east coast, just ten miles north of Portree. I was driving by en-route to Portree when I spotted this sublime light, and I just had to stop, and spend half an hour there capturing this magnificent view.

I decided to shoot the image in a square aspect ratio in-camera as that is exactly how I wanted to capture the image. The diagonal lines are dominating but they work perfectly to my eyes. There is so much in this image that pleases me, from the layers that make up the ocean, and the sky, to the small clouds that intersperse the mountains in the background. The various layers of contrast of the foreground mountains, to that gorgeous lone rock in the ocean. The colour palette is also divine, and so soft in its tones. This image really speaks to me in a way that had me very fondly remember my few days spent on Skye.

Canon R5
Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 @ 165mm
f/14
1/60
ISO100

Number 3: Sunrise Over Owler Tor, Peak District – August 2021

Number 3: Sunrise Over Owler Tor, Peak District – August 2021
Number 3: Sunrise Over Owler Tor, Peak District – August 2021
Despite living only a couple of hours away from the Peak District, I am ashamed to admit that until August, I had only visited it on two occasions with my camera. That is a poor effort really. So, 2021 was to be the year that I made it three times. In fact, I removed the six rear seats, packed up the minibus with a mattress, a double camping stove, and I ventured off into the Peak District for four nights, and joining me for company during the daytime, was local resident landscape photographer Demi Oral.

Demi knows the area like the back of his hand, and I was so pleased to have him show me around. In truth, it is not particularly easy photographing the Peak District, or at least I did not think so. To my mind, it is a place that requires a lot of your time, effort, and patience getting to know it intimately, before it gives you anything in return. This frustrated me, but I was saved with an unusually wonderful amount of purple heather that dominated the landscape.

This image was captured on the final day of my four days. This image was taken at 5.38am, so it was an early start, and the brisk 15 minute yomp up to the amazing 350 million year old gritstones of Over Owler Tor paid off when the pre-dawn colours started intensifying with each passing minute.

I had spotted this viewpoint the night before when shooting the sunset and sleeping in my stripped out minibus/ makeshift campervan was a great idea as it ensured that I was on location straight away. Once I had sized up my exact position among the gritstones, it was just a matter of standing and waiting for the magic to happen.

Canon R5
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 @ 16mm
f/16
1″
ISO250

Number 2: Fiery Sunrise, Sango Bay, Durness, Scotland – September 2021

Number 2: Fiery Sunrise, Sango Bay, Durness, Scotland – September 2021
Number 2: Fiery Sunrise, Sango Bay, Durness, Scotland – September 2021

WOW!!!

There are some mornings that are so beautiful, so mesmerising, so extraordinary, that they remain in the depths of your memory for years to come. I already knew by the time the colour arrived that gorgeous morning back in mid-September, that this would be one of those mornings that will stay with me forever.

I was sleeping in my stripped out minibus/makeshift campervan during a two week trip to Scotland when I peered out of the window through blurry eyes at 6am to see the most vibrant band of orange on the horizon that I can remember seeing for years. I immediately jumped out of bed, hurriedly got dressed, and grabbed the tripod, and set up the camera outside of the bus for a dozen shots before driving two miles to the car park at Sango Bay beach.

I hop, skipped, and jumped my way down to the beach only to find the colour in the sky was intensifying with every passing minute. I loved that excited feeling of anticipation knowing that I was going to have to make the most of the time That I had in order to capture as many different images as possible for conditions, light, and colour rarely present themselves like this.

I spent a joyous hour running around capturing different compositions of different subjects, and I cannot remember being as happy as I was right there and then. What a morning to be a seascape photographer. I loved it.    

Canon R5
Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm
f/8
4“
ISO100
Kase 0.9 Hard Grad ND Filter

Number 1: Sunrise Sea Fret at Steetley Pier, Hartlepool – May 2021

Number 1: Sunrise Sea Fret at Steetley Pier, Hartlepool – May 2021
Number 1: Sunrise Sea Fret at Steetley Pier, Hartlepool – May 2021
And finally, my number one image of 2021 goes to one of my favourite locations on the east coast, Steetley Pier, in Hartlepool.

On the final day of my 33 day road trip around the UK back in May, I dragged myself out of bed at 3.45am and ventured down to the hugely photogenic (not to mention mammoth in size), Steetley Pier in Hartlepool for sunrise.

On arrival, the colours on the horizon were wonderful, and vibrant, and a decent sunrise was promised. However, with just ten minutes to go before the sun was due to rise at the end of the pier, mass amounts of sea fret rolled in to completely obscure the view of any detail.

I stood there, and looked at Lee, my photography buddy I met down there, and said, “What the hell just happened? Where’s the sunrise gone?” Lee laughed, and I eventually did as I realised that it is rarer to photograph the pier in heavy sea fret (sea fog) than it is during a decent sunrise. There was also a high tide, which allowed the pier to be completely isolated from everything. 

So, Lee and I decided to climb up onto the first section of the pier, and walk along to the end in order to photograph the main section. This is a common vantage point for those able to climb up, and on this particular morning, it looked incredibly ethereal. I actually grew to love the sea fret as it presented me with a view that would turn out to be much stronger, and interesting than it would have been with a rising sun. This reminded me that sometimes, being adaptable, and going with the flow can be far more satisfying that you originally think.    

In this image, nothing has been cloned out, and I especially love the inclusion of the slightly blurred birds that sat on top of the large circular tubes on either side of the pier. However, all I can see really is a shape reminiscent of a praying mantis.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.  

Canon R5
Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm
f/8
30″
ISO100
Kase 10 Stop ND Filter

Happy New Year 2022

So that’s my ten best photos of 2021. Despite having experienced some gorgeous new places in the UK during 2021, I am longing to return to international shores to photograph Norway, Iceland, Italy, and Slovenia again in 2022. All in all, I hope you enjoyed reading about my top ten images of 2021, and if it inspires you to visit some of the locations listed, do let me know. Here’s looking forward to another great year of travel, and photography. Stay safe, and sane my lovely readers.

Warmest wishes 

Melvin 

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