My Top Ten Images of 2023

 

HELLO and welcome to ‘My Top Ten Images of 2023’ blog, and a brief explanation of the images, and why I took them.

This year has seen me travel with my camera to more places than ever before, culminating in one of my dream destinations, three weeks in the utterly amazing country of Japan. I have also revisited many of the locations that are familiar with me, notably Iceland, Lofoten, Slovenia, Dolomites and Tuscany, as well as discovering and exploring new and exciting locations too such as Brittany and the Faroe Islands.

I often get asked which trip was my highlight of the year and I have to say Japan of course, who wouldn’t, however heading out to Iceland in July on a hunch that a volcanic eruption would occur, only for Litlie Hrutur to erupt and the challenges and adventures I experienced in finally completing a return hike of 20km just to be able to stand close enough to the crater (yet a safe enough distance away) to feel the intense heat of the molten lava as it breached the rim, was a life changing experience that will stay with me forever.

However, as beautiful as places are to witness and photograph, it is the company of those I kept (or those who kept me) that I consider my greatest pleasures this year. I have met some quite incredible people not only on my photography workshops and tours but also on my travels scouting out new locations for future workshops and tours. There are too many to list, but I genuinely cherish all the interactions that I have had this year, the good as well as the challenging moments too that we have all shared together. Life is a constant learning experience and a journey that I love, and I hope it shows in the images that are shown below and those that I capture all year round.

So, onto the images.

As per usual, I have found the entire process of trying to decide which ten images make my top ten list so incredibly difficult but as always, I 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 the image must stand on its own merits to have made the list.

To this end, it is my privilege to present the ten images. I hope you enjoy looking through them, and as always, many thanks for your continued support. Please feel free to leave a comment below. Now on with the show.

Best wishes

Melvin

 

 

Number 10: Winter Wonderland, Jamnik, Slovenia – January 2023

Winter Wonderland, Jamnik, Slovenia


We start with this stunning scene which for me is normally covered in fertile green grass, the Kamnik Alps in the background and of course the iconic Jamnik Church that resides on the edge of a hill located behind this stunning large tree. But it was a wish of mine to return during a gorgeous winter’s morning after a fresh bout of snow and in January 2023, during a ten day recce of Slovenia (after my previous three months living in Slovenia at the end of 2020), my wish came true.

I drove up the hilly harpin road to Jamnik, a short drive from the village of Kropa below and despite the fact that plenty of snow had fallen, my rental Land Rover Discovery Sport was tackling the winter conditions with ease. However, a fallen tree (under the weight of the snow) had blocked the road. Traffic came to a standstill, until a local farmer drove up in his tractor and used his chainsaw to dispose of the tree, before dropping his daughter off at school in Kropa. I have become eternally grateful to the farmers of Slovenia for helping to keep the roads clear of snow, starting often incredibly early in the morning. They are all heroes in my eyes.

I drove on a mile until I came across the small layby by the hill that the church stands on. I quickly used my snow shovel to clear away a space large enough for the Land Rover to pull into (no mean feat with thermals on I can tell you) and before long, I was walking down to the church in freshly fallen snow with not a hint of a footprint in sight. Standing there in front of this magnificent tree, I planned my morning’s photography carefully and diligently, to not step into the scene that I wanted to capture.

I spent all morning at Jamnik, photographing the trees and the church and it was without any doubt, one of the top three most pleasurable shooting sessions I have ever experienced. If Carlsberg created winter scenes……….

Canon R5
Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 @ 24mm
f/8
1/60
ISO100


 

Number 9: Snow on the Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland – March 2023

Snow on the Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland


Here is another winter scene except that it came unexpectedly. I often run my Isle of Skye photo workshop on the island in March/April time and normally, it is mild, rarely dry but most definitely snow free, however in March, according to many a local, the heaviest snow to fall in thirty years arrived with some force. I had never seen Skye covered by so much of the white stuff. In equal measure, the conditions were as beautiful as they were brutal. Simply driving around the island required nerves of steel, a fair bit of planning and some confidence, not least because I had seven clients with me in the minibus.

However, on this morning, we were able to reach the base of the Old Man of Storr and wow, the sight of the 160ft rock that stood majestically above us with its peak being engulfed by the swirling low cloud was quite simply awe inspiring. So, out came the drone and (while following all the legal restrictions regarding flying within 120m of the ground below it), I flew it up to the Storr and captured some video footage and a handful of images.

The views were beyond amazing, the size and scale of the Storr can never been appreciated but having hiked up there many times and in the snow, I know just how special it looked. Mind you, Skye looked spectacular in whichever direction you cared to look. Next time though, I am taking my thermal clothing with me.

DJi Mini 3 Pro

 

Number 8: Gorgeous Sunrise over Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France – January 2023

Gorgeous Sunrise over Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France


Brittany and Normandy have been on my bucket list of places to visit for as long as I can remember and due to a rare free week in early January 2023, I decided at the last minute to fly to Nantes, hire a car and go travelling for a week or so. I flew out January 1st and I thought what a fantastic way to start a new year and I was not wrong.

My first stop was to the iconic and mesmerising Mont Saint Michel. I stayed in a local hotel for a couple of nights and ventured down the Couesnon estuary to get my bearings. All the usual images from the usual vantage points were captured but thanks to the hotel receptionist, who very kindly pointed me in the direction of this wonderful curvy river. I visited it during sunset and ended up chatting to a lovely guy from the Netherlands who also had the same idea that I did.

Thankfully, due to the heavy rain leading up to my visit, the river was full of water whereas in the summer months, it is completely dry. We enjoyed a nice sunset but on revisiting the following morning, and being all alone on location pre-dawn, I was not at all hopeful of any form of colour in the sky however soon enough, the colour started to build, and build and build and before long, the most beautiful sunrise happened. The clouds made for a stunning addition and the reflections of the pink sky in the water was just the cherry on the cake for me. I returned to the hotel for the most enjoyable breakfasts I can remember, smiling ear to ear. This is the effect that landscape photography can have on you. Mornings like these are most certainly magical.

Canon R5
Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 @ 24mm
f/13
30″
ISO50
Kase Armour 6 Stop Filter 

 

Number 7: Heavenly Sunset, St Ana Church, Jezero, Slovenia – October 2023

Heavenly Sunset, St Ana Church, Jezero, Slovenia


Slovenia has over three thousand churches. If you choose to photograph three a day, 365 days a year, it will take you nearly three years to photograph them all yet one of my favourite churches is St Ana near the capital city of Ljubljana. I was first introduced to this gorgeous church back in late 2020 by my good friend Ana (the link between her name and the church was not lost on me) and we enjoyed a lovely sunset however on returning in October with seven clients, the sky lit up in the most beautiful way.

The colour was spectacular, and everyone was in great spirits and capturing ‘gold’ on their memory cards (as my late great friend Tony Higginson used to say). The views from up high are quite commanding and once the sun drops, the lights illuminate the church providing more opportunities to capture some wonderful images post sunset.

The odd local and tourist alike hiked up the long road to the church, but the views are reward enough for their efforts. I fell in love with Slovenia during my three months spent there late 2020 and I have to say that it is one of the most beautiful and captivating countries that I have had the privilege to experience, and it is always a real pleasure whenever I can return. You must add it to your bucket list of countries to visit.  

Nikon Z8
Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 @ 16.5mm
f/16
1.3″
ISO64
Seven exposures merged in Photoshop CC

 

Number 6: Aurora Borealis, Hamnoy, Lofoten, Norway – February 2023

Aurora Borealis, Hamnoy, Lofoten, Norway


Witnessing the aurora borealis, or the northern lights as I prefer to call them, is a truly magical experience and despite having seen them on dozen times or so, I still feel quite giddy whenever I start to see the green lights dance.

Despite having visited Lofoten on several occasions since my first visit back in 2018, I had never seen what I would call a really good aurora display, which was until February 2023. On the evening of the 1st of February 2023, I was keeping an eye out for some magic in the sky to start and at 10pm, the green lights started to appear. I hurriedly packed my clients into the minibus and drove for Hamnoy, which is not the first place I would normally take my clients to (Skagsanden or Haukland are the usual locations) but on this particular evening, I just had a hunch that Hamnoy would deliver some amazing images and true enough, it did.  

I had been waiting years to capture Hamnoy under the northern lights and finally, my wish came true, and I was not only super excited for me but also my clients. To be able to see the joy in the faces of those who have entrusted me to provide such memorable experiences is genuinely one of my greatest pleasures. It is why I love what I do, and why I love to run photo workshops and tours. I consider it a real privilege to be able to do so.

Canon R5
Canon RF 14-35mm f/4 @ 16mm
f/4
3.2″
ISO800

 

Number 5: Fishing Hut, Saint Michel Chef, Brittany, France – September 2023

Fishing Hut, Saint Michel Chef, Brittany, France


One of the subjects that I really wanted to photograph in Brittany that I failed to do on my first recce back in January 2023, was these wonderful, wooden carrelet fishing huts complete with their lift nets. These fishing huts are privately owned but some can be rented at the tide.

As someone who loves long exposure photography, these huts made the perfect subject to shoot and with a stunning, subtle sunrise that offered up colours of pink and orange with a hide tide, I was in the perfect place to capture the perfect view.

Of course, lighthouses are the usual subjects for those meandering along the coastline of Brittany and it is true that I too, love a good lighthouse or two (or eighty that line the coastline of Brittany) but these huts had me stood on the beach, happy as Larry (whoever he is) and thankful that I finally made the effort to go and discover them for myself. I cannot wait to return in September 2024 with clients in tow to show them the joys that Brittany has to offer.

Nikon Z8
Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 @ 87mm
f/8
30″
ISO64
Kase Armour 10 Stop ND Filter

 

Number 4: Christmas Card, St Thomas Church, nr Škofja Loka, Slovenia

Christmas Card, St Thomas Church, nr Škofja Loka, Slovenia


My fourth favourite image that I have captured on camera goes to a church that I have been photographing for over three years now, the stunning St Thomas Church. I would say that this is perhaps the most famous church in Slovenia where photographers are concerned.

Positioned on a hillock in a village called Selca near Škofja Loka, this wonderful church (which dates to around 1500 although it has been rebuilt several times, the last being 1848) offers the landscape photographer many opportunities to capture it using a variety of lenses. From the wide angle shot which allows you to include the stunning Kamnik Alps behind it and most notably Mount Grintovec and the many layers of the alps that provide a wonderful scene, to the long lens shot of between 400mm-500mm which gives you this perspective.

On this early afternoon back in January 2023, the conditions were perfect. The light was soft, the forest backdrop blue in hue with the most beautiful white snow possible, this for me was as good as this scene gets and I had it all to myself. The church is one mile away from the elevated roadside viewpoint, complete with a five car gravel parking area. This location is super popular during the autumn months but in the winter, I hardly saw a soul around. This is the view that gets me all excited and despite the cold temperatures, it was worth every second.

Canon R5
Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 @ 500mm
f/11
1/40
ISO100

 

Number 3: Ethereal Light, Hvíthamar, Faroe Islands – December 2023

Ethereal Light, Hvíthamar, Faroe Islands


My first visit to the Faroe Islands or ‘sheep islands’ as they are referred to, was supposed to be mid 2021 but travel restrictions due to the pandemic put a stop to that and the last couple of years or so, I have been busy visiting and discovering other new places but an opportunity to head to the self-governing islands of the Danish realm became available for the end of November 2023 and I jumped at the chance.

In truth though, I was less enthusiastic to discover the Faroes as I was to let us say Iceland and Lofoten. It seemed a harsh environment, with extremely challenging weather, and quite precarious in parts due to the sheer cliff edges that rise hundreds of metres from the North Atlantic Ocean. All of this is true as I soon discovered not long having landed however, for the following week or so, I was treated to the most incredible experiences I can remember as a landscape photographer.

I was quickly reminded that to capture dramatic images, you needed to be out in dramatic weather and WOW, I felt ecstatic as the storm clouds rolled over me and provided me with the most wonderful scenes I can remember seeing in a long time.

Take this scene here at Hvithamar. A short walk from the vehicle to the edge of a mountain had this view unfold as the light developed in and amongst the low lying cloud. Every second the scene changed, and it simply got better and better and better until I was stood there aghast and almost speechless (I did say almost). I could not remember seeing such an amazing array of conditions in such a short space of time. It had everything and now, so did I on camera.

For a sense of scale, can you see that black dot in the water in the middle of the frame? That is a fishing vessel. The size of these mountains defies belief. They are beyond impressive and for the entire week, I was treated to similar conditions and light and when the northern lights appeared on one evening for hours on end, I felt as though all my Christmases had come all at once. My conclusion on the Faroe Islands? I love the place and I cannot wait to return to discover more of it. A big shout out must go to my tour guide on location James Kelly, who is an expert on all things Faroes related.

Nikon Z8
Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 @ 42mm
f/14
1/13
ISO64

 

Number 2: Molten Lava, Litli-Hrutur Volcanic Eruption, Iceland – July 2023

Molten Lava, Litli-Hrutur Volcanic Eruption, Iceland


I have sat at my computer for many hours deliberating as to whether this should be my number one image of 2023. For those of you who know me well, you know this statement is true, however, my number one image has a lot more of ‘me’ and my influences, experience, and style in it, so this photo taken from my DJi Mini 3 pro drone comes in at number two.

However, as an image (which was taken from some video footage I shot), this capture of the 1200°c molten lava river that flowed out of Litli-Hrutur volcano takes me right back to me standing there on location, full of anxiety and awe. You see, the brief back story to this image and others that accompany the set is this.

During the week commencing the 3rd of July 2023, talk of a possible imminent eruption (the third on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland since 2021) filled social media groups and pages. I kept an eye out on events and by Friday the 7th of July, with less than an hour’s notice, I decided to book a flight, pre-book a campervan and a taxi to take me to Manchester Airport. The next hour packing my suitcase was frantic but before long, I was on a flight to Keflavik. All I was thinking was that I must be mad for visiting Iceland during the summer months.

It is near 24 hours daylight during summer, everything is expensive (rental vehicles, hotels etc) and all on a hunch that something might happen and even if it does, would I be able to gain access and furthermore, capture anything on camera. Having landed, I collected the keys to the campervan and drove to the town of Grindavik on the south coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula. This town became an oasis in a desert for me as it provided me with food, fuel, and a supermarket. I was seriously grateful to have Grindavik within reach.

I took the rest of Friday to orientate myself to the area and Saturday saw me park up in the Skali P2 car park (one of the three car parks create near to the previous two eruptions of 2021 and 2022). I wandered twenty minutes up and over a hill and down to some solidified lava from the Meradalur volcano from 2022. It was such a surreal experience to see so much lava present and the path that it took downhill. It was a remarkable sight.

The Sunday was spent hiking up to the summit of Stóri Hrútur, a 357m (1,171ft) hill that offers commanding views of the two lava fields of the 2021 Geldingadalur and 2022 Meradalur eruptions within the Fagradalsfjalla region of the Reykjanes Peninsula. I sat for a while on the summit, by the webcam cameras, looking down on what mother nature had produced and it looked incredible but after several hours, I returned to the campervan for the night. One notable moment of mild panic for me occurred when I was hiking up the side of Stóri Hrútur around 10am. As I was taking the path up, I felt an almighty thud underfoot, as though Godzilla had just stomped his foot right next to me. I stopped and realised that it was a sizeable earthquake, a 4.2 in fact but it was the sound more than anything that stopped me in my tracks. It felt guttural, and all encompassing. I was a little nervous but later that evening, a 5.2 earthquake happened, and I did not feel it from the comforts of my campervan.  

Monday arrived and I was restless. It was my fourth day in Iceland and there appeared to be nothing happening. By 3pm, I decided to drive 28km down the road to the Reykjanes Lighthouse, a place I knew well and have visited many, many times since early 2016. I thought I would take a few images of the sea stacks, if only to occupy my mind for a while.

Then it happened, videos on the live YouTube webcam feeds showing snoke rising from a 200m series of fissures from a crack that opened. I drove to Vogar to gain access to a small car park from which I could walk from, but the Police had closed off the road. I returned to the car park I had parked in earlier and started off on the 20km return hike to the eruption. There were quite a few people making their way to the eruption and everything was orderly with the legendary search and rescue crews on hand to ensure that safety was being adhered to. At 10pm, I arrived at the 6km point only to be turned back by rescue crew, due to extremely elevated levels of toxic gases, which are deadly. Being so close yet so far was very disappointing and frustrating but what can you do but to comply.

Tuesday was a rest day after two tough, physical days. Wednesday saw my friend Dave Nelson fly out to Iceland to join me in the 20km return hike to the eruption as the trail was open. We bought gas masks, goggles, and snacks before embarking on the long hike in. The trail was heaving with people, Police, and rescue crews everywhere, it was amazingly well run. I was extremely impressed but not half as impressed as seeing the eruption with my own eyes on arriving at 10pm. WOW, is all I remember saying to myself. We still had a mile to cover over rough ground comprising mossy boulders and jagged lava and rocks. It was tough going but eventually we arrived at the crater and what a magnificent sight it was.

We stayed three hours before hiking back to the car at 4am. The memories of that evening shall stay with me forever. As the molten lava shot into the air, well clearing the rim of the crater, the heat warming my face, it was like a carnival atmosphere. There were hundreds of people, some sitting there taking in the sight of one of mother natures most amazing shows, while others brought children, some played musical instruments, a couple were flame throwing artists. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life and one that I found difficult to comprehend while there on location and in truth, even now, six months on, I still find it difficult to compute.

I have visited Iceland eighteen times now since early 2016 and the country still excites me. You just never know the joy it is going to give you and this image of the fast moving lava and the faint glow of the molten lava beneath the surface hiding in the cracks is my favourite of those I captured that night. The little Mini 3 Pro drone struggled in the 20mph+ winds but it performed amazingly well. I am forever grateful that I had the drone to capture on camera this amazing experience.

You can read a blog that I wrote on my experience HERE

And watch a video of my drone footage on YouTube HERE       

DJi Mini 3 Pro 

 

Number 1: Ukimido, Mangetsu-ji Temple’s Floating Pavilion, Lake Biwa, Japan

Ukimido, Mangetsu-ji Temple’s Floating Pavilion, Lake Biwa, Japan


Japan, the land of the rising sun has long fascinated me, ever since I used to watch the world rally cars flying through the spectacular scenery many years ago (and they still do). To me, Japan is a country quite unlike any other, its traditions, way of life and its people are quite remarkable. I was intrigued and I desperately wanted to travel there and earlier this year, I got to do just that.

With a travel partner in tow, Viv and I spent an incredible three weeks there, travelling with our amazing tour guide Francis for ten days and left to our own devices for the remainder of the time, we experienced the amazing city of Tokyo, with its population of 14 million people as it successfully mixes the ultramodern with traditional living, to the charm and beauty of Kyoto, Japan’s most traditional city famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. 

Japan was most definitely a land of beauty, not just the scenery but also the people too. I have never met such a welcoming, friendly bunch of people as the Japanese. Their desire to appease and assist you is quite unlike anywhere else, and I just fell in love with the country. If you get the opportunity to visit, please do. It is quite unlike anywhere else on earth and that is a good thing.

Regarding the scenery, wow, I experienced some quite incredible views, from the mountains of Hida Valley near Takayama to the awe-inspiring3,776m (12,389ft) snow-capped Mt Fuji and the five lakes that surround it, Japan completely blew me away with its beauty and scale.

However, this image of the Mangetsu-ji Temple floating Pavilion at Lake Biwa came out on top of images that I captured on camera this year and it is surprisingly one of my more understated captures, which surprises no-one more than me.

On the afternoon of the 7th of April 2023, Francis, Viv and I arrived at this effortlessly charming temple and the weather was as the Scots would say, dreich (miserable and wet) and as I wandered around looking for compositions, I took my time as we were going to be here for a good hour or so. Do I go for a horizontal or vertical shot, what do I include, and more importantly, what do I exclude. In the end, I took my time in the rain to compose this scene. The rain had almost muted the background from view. No mountains for sure and only the faint outline of the buildings on the far shoreline, just a simple grey backdrop which suited me perfectly for I just wanted to photograph the scene as clean and simple as possible.

I used a polariser filter to cut down on the white light that was reflected in the pools of water on the ground and allow the stones to be seen more clearly. This gave the image a much cleaner look. Careful placement of the overhead branches from the surrounding trees added interest, detail and framing to the scene. I also love the muted colour tones in the image, resulting in an almost timeless look and feel.

I cannot wait to return to Japan next April for a whole month running two back to back tours with my expert guide Francis Ansing but first, I have a nine night stay in Hokkaido, Japan to squeeze in between my Iceland and Lofoten tours. It looks as though 2024 is going to be another busy year and that is fine by me.

Canon R5
Canon RF 24-70mm f/4 @ 24mm
f/5
1/200
ISO100
Kase Armour Polariser Filter



Well, I hope that you enjoyed reading about my experiences and viewing my images captured throughout 2023. Here is looking forward to another successful and hugely enjoyable year of travel ahead. Keep smiling, keep shooting everyone.

Warmest wishes 

Melvin 

      

 

 

 




Leave a comment


The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.