Retrospective 2013

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” – Ansel Adams

Looking back on the work you have done over the last year isn’t much different than harvesting.   Some apples are better than others, some have some worms, some perhaps helped us learn something about the orchard, and some are just downright rotten and discarded.   Some things are just beyond your control – weather, environment, life, moods, inspiration.   We all have to learn to accept and adapt, take care of what is most important.

Since 2007 I have been doing posts about looking back on the photographs I made during the year – some crops harder to harvest than others.   You can find previous years under these links: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012  or all together under the tag of Yearly Favorites.   I tend to stick with 10 – so I consider the harvest close enough.  :-)

For 2013, I found myself taking sabbaticals in between various spurts of activity.   I think it showed a bit in my lower activity on my blog compared to other years.  I didn’t take any major trips this year and shot locally, discovering some new places and revisiting old ones.  I did manage to accumulate some favorites though.  You may have seen some of these before as I may have posted them to my Facebook page or on this blog after the excitement that comes when you develop a photograph that turns out as you had hoped.

I would like to thank again Jim Goldstein for publishing his annual list of all the various favorites lists that get submitted.   I am extremely thankful for all of you who have commented, shared, liked, and supported my work this year, and over the years. I know what a huge competition it is for people’s time and attention these days, click here, click there, watch this, share, follow, like  – it can be quite overwhelming.   I have a hard time keeping up myself obviously.  For anyone to give one of my photographs or posts some of that time is quite a generous gift and it is acknowledged.

This tends to be one of my longer posts as I write a little about the images within and what was going through my head at the time, so I hope you enjoy my retrospective on 2013…

 Icy Sheets at Twilight (Jan 2013)


Photographed at my favorite ice spot here close to home, it was one of my first successes of 2013.  This image also received quite a bit more post-exposure exposure when shared on the Pure Michigan Facebook page, which had about 450,000 followers at the time.   Not that it went out to 450,000 people, it is not like George Takei  but it was a small, short-lived spotlight online Michigan moment.   If you would like to contribute to that and keep it alive, I just found out how to embed that FB post above.  ;-)

I ended up going out quite a few times through the season after this particular day, and never again saw a moment like this where everything just seemed to be in the right place at the right time.   Within days the sheets were gone.  Given this lake area is a highly dynamic place depending on winds, temperatures, and upriver conditions, it makes me appreciate how fortunate I was that particular morning to be out there.




Ice Bubble Sunrise (Jan 2013)

Lake St. Clair, Michigan during winter

Ice bubble sunrise, Lake St. Clair, Michigan | Nikon D800, 14-24mm # WI-9701

I think this image illustrates just how dramatically things can change on this icy lake in a matter of a few days, and it became another favorite of the year.   I made this photograph just 8 days later than the previous image, and traded ice sheets for bubbles now as more of the lake began to freeze over.

I remember being a bit disappointed the sheets were gone, and hunted around a bit to find these bubbles to replace them.  Again I was fortunate to have some beautiful light to accompany it, which can be rare in Michigan where we get very used to seeing grey skies during the winter.




Last Ice (March 2013)

ice picture

Ice cluster and rocks on Lake St. Clair, Michigan | Nikon D800, 14-24mm #SL-9725

As the seasons progress, so do the changes in the landscape of Lake St. Clair.   I visited again just a few days into the official start of Spring to see if any ice remained on the shorelines.   It can last well into late March, delivering more sheets as Lake Huron breaks up and ice floats down.  This photo was made in the same area as the Ice Bubble one above, again showing how things change.   I titled it “Last Ice” as I was pretty sure this was going to be the last of what I would see of it for the year, at least until December.

I also was well into one of my year goals to play more with long exposures beyond the camera meter limit of 30 seconds.   This image was exposed at 65 seconds, contributing to feeling of time (and seasons) changing.






Twisted Tulip (May 2013)

abstract flower photo

“Twisted Tulip” Nikon D800, 200m macro #FL-9746

This image was the result of just playing around in my yard, and then I thought to myself “Twisted Tulip” is a pretty great name for a band.   I have done multiple exposures with leaves mostly, and started doing the same with this flower.   I liked that what I did didn’t look much like a flower at all, and ultimately it didn’t matter if it was a flower or not – the flower simply acted as a paintbrush.










 Lake Huron Beach Grass at Dawn (Aug 2013)

lake huron beach picture

Lake Huron dune grass at dawn | Nikon D800, 24mm PC-E tilt shift # SL-9767

August is a tough time typically for me in Michigan.   I generally dislike hot weather, mosquitoes are usually awful in the wooded areas, and when everything is fairly green and static, I tend to close down as far as finding subject matter that appeals to me.   But, the explorer in me is hard to keep down, and it had me seeking refuge near the cooler shores of Lake Huron.   I went out in the darkness of very early morning hoping to find some shoreline areas I hadn’t been to before, and I discovered this one behind a trailer park.   I nearly missed the sign at the trailer park entrance that said public beach.

I almost left because it looked somewhat like a typical groomed public beach of sand.   I like it more natural with a lot of big rocks and plants.   It was only after walking a bit further down that I found these beach grasses.  The sun had just come up and was starting to illuminate the various stalks.  The entire scene just came together, and it is nice to get these moments when you get up at 4 a.m. and have no idea where you are going to end up.




 Savanna Frost (Oct 2013)

Frosty Oak savanna

Frosty Oak savanna, Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 | Washington Township, MI #LA-9784

Even though Fall Colors had started coming in, I found myself wanting to photograph something different again instead of the typical colorful tree scenes.   I encountered this open area while hiking the trails at Stoney Creek Metropark.   I hadn’t hiked this area in years.

There were various educational signs describing how they were restoring this area to how it once was before so much development and agriculture settled into the area.   It was quite cold, my fingers already a bit numb, and frost had accumulated on these seed heads.  I thought they made for a nice graphical element to contrast the textured background of savanna grasses.





Big tooth Aspen leaves after Fall rain (Nov 2013)

colorful leaf photos with rain drops

Big Tooth Aspen leaves with rain drops | Nikon D800, 200mm

I was exploring another new area this fall that is about 45 minutes away from where I live – Highland Recreation Area.   I am not sure why it has taken me so long to explore this place so close to home, but this year was a start.

It is a really nice, secluded, large tract of forest, lakes, and ponds not far away from major sprawl along a significant highway.   During that hike, I entered an area that seemed to consist solely of big tooth aspen trees.    And I am a sucker for raindrops on colorful leaves, especially in this abundance and variety, no matter how much it has been done before.




Haven Hill Lake Trees in Fall (Nov 2013)

Haven Hill fall color photo

Late fall tones at Haven Hill Lake, Highland Recreation Area, Michigan

I made 3 trips in total to Highland Recreation area this fall, each time exploring a different segment of it.  It is a very large area, so I think there is plenty to keep someone busy for years to come.   The Haven Hill area has a nice, peaceful lake, with trails going around it.

I selected this particular scene because I really liked the subdued late fall tones, and the tranquil reflection of them.   The lone yellow tree provided a nice visual anchor.  I see it as an appreciation of the other side of the “in your face” explosive color of peak fall.  I used this image to highlight a recent post on Appreciation of Subtlety.





Aspen Impressions (Nov 2013)

abstract tree photo

Aspen Impressions | Nikon D800, 70-200 VRII #TR-9792

I am a fan of impressionistic painters, which I obviously drew upon for inspiration in this image.   These tree blurs are fun yet a bit frustrating to do.  I find it very hard to get consistent results and getting something you like really just comes from a lot of experimentation.   And thinking about it, it is the inconsistency and mystery that holds my attraction to them.    You end up deleting a lot of them, but the keepers tend to be a bit special as they are hard to replicate exactly.

This just happened to be a small cluster of aspen trees in a cluster right off the road, again in Highland Recreation Area.




The Opal Coast (Dec 2013)

opal pictures

Sand island in Opal Bay is often used as a romantic getaway island.

Stonescapes have been making it into my top 10 nearly every year since I have been doing them, and this year is no exception.   Although I set a yearly goal to catch up on a backlog I have been accumulating, I started getting into that late in the year.   It can be hard to pick a “favorite” because all of them have very unique characteristics.   I still look for these ancient landscapes in stone that have strikingly similar appearances to images taken of the various regions on Earth from space.

It is a constant reminder to me of how much is connected on this planet, from the very large to the very small.  The physics, chemistry, and geology only changing in a matter of scale.   Going out further into the universe, sections of other planets are not that different either.   They enable my imagination to roam these landscapes and activate a child-like wonder of exploring other worlds.







I wish you all a safe, healthy, and inspired 2014!


  1. Excellent stuff as usual Mark with a lot of depth. I like how the familiarity with your surroundings led you in this direction. Happy holidays.

  2. This is a finely seen and crafted group, Mark. I enjoy your attention to detail and your photography of small objects and scenes that lean toward the abstract. I like the first one, Icy Sheets, and Savanna Frost best.
    David Leland Hyde (@PhilipHydePhoto) recently posted..Best Photographs Of 2013My Profile

  3. I always look forward to you yearly selection/recap, Mark, and I certainly was disappointed this year. A beautiful and skillful collection of work my friend! I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite as I like each of them for their own unique reasons.
    Earl recently posted..1st YearMy Profile

  4. Super collection of images Mark! I especially love your abstract nature work! All the best in 2014! :)

  5. Beautiful selection. Interesting that orange tones play a part in most of these photos. Interestingly also, my own favourite of your (posted) shots for 2013 is not part of this selection (namely the photo from your “Back in the quarry” post 12/12/13).
    In any case, well done selecting twelve. With your stellar portfolio this would not have been an easy task.
    All the best in 2014 Mark.
    Cedric Canard recently posted..Enhanced by limitationsMy Profile

    • Cedric – it was tough picking a favorite for the rocks – so many of them resonate with me. I suppose I picked the Opal Coast image because it looked like an actual coastline, a closer resemblance to a realistic vs. an abstract view. But I enjoy the other better artistically for an abstract. It comes down to a coin toss at the end sometimes. :-)

  6. Sorry, I meant well done selecting 10. I typed “12” too many times for the date :)
    Cedric Canard recently posted..Enhanced by limitationsMy Profile

  7. Beautiful work this year, and a nice write up of your adventures in 2013! The twisted tulip and aspen impressions were especially unique. Look forward to seeing what you capture in 2014!
    Alanna St. Laurent recently posted..Best Images of 2013My Profile

  8. Wonderful work, Mark! Great to see such excellent images from the Midwest (my ol’ stomping grounds:) – especially like ‘The Opal Coast’ and the images from Lake St. Clair. Cheers & all the best for 2014:)

  9. Awesome, Mark. I pick August as my favorite!!! Looking forward to the images 2014 gives to you.
    Monte Stevens recently posted..A quick post….My Profile

  10. Wonderful images, Mark. Every single one of them is unique and thoughtful. What I really like is that you make your own neck of the woods really come alive in a way that I don’t normally think about the Great Lakes Region, so thank you for helping me to see it in a new way.

    Always a fan of subtlety, I really love the Savannah Frost, but the Aspen Impression is right up there. Don’t get me wrong though–they’re all fantastic, and you’ve picked an excellent 10 images…

  11. All beautiful, I’m particularly attracted to the pastels in the frosty oak savannah. And I always love your winter Lake St Clair images. I have my list made for 2013, but I’m holding out in case I capture something worthwhile in the last few days…
    Tom Whelan recently posted..Tree ornamentMy Profile

  12. Wonderful set of images Mark!
    Michael Russell recently posted..Merry Christmas and Happy HolidaysMy Profile

  13. Wonderful retrospective, Mark. You’ve had a very beautiful and creative year! –Ed

  14. Hi Mark,
    beautiful images, love them all. Great work you have done 2013 :)
    Wish you all the best for 2014


  15. Great collection of image Mark. Happy New Year!

  16. Congrats on a great year Mark! I admire your tenacity to dig deep into your local area and keep finding something new. I wish my year would have allowed me more time to have checked in on your blog as the year progressed…

    I’m in awe with ” spen Impressions”! Very unique aspen composition that grabs you. Happy 2014 and may it be filled with photographic light!
    latoga recently posted..My Favorite Photos of 2013My Profile

  17. Congrats on a great year Mark! I admire your tenacity to dig deep into your local area and keep finding something new. I wish my year would have allowed me more time to have checked in on your blog as the year progressed…

    I’m in awe with “Aspen Impressions”! Very unique aspen composition that grabs you. Happy 2014 and may it be filled with photographic light!
    latoga recently posted..My Favorite Photos of 2013My Profile

  18. Super-Awesome images, Mark. Love the opal, aspens (trees & leaves) and the Savannah Frost. You had a great year! Wishing you the best for 2014!

  19. Hey Mark

    Wonderful collection; the flower abstract and the frosted grasses are really superb.

    killin’ it.


    Carl recently posted..Polar Bear Sleeping in a SnowstormMy Profile

  20. Thank you very much for the thoughts and comments everyone.
    Mark recently posted..Winter IcescapeMy Profile

  21. Hei Mark, i’m reading all of your post on this blog, and this post about Retrospective 2013 are the best post for me.

    I like 2 pictures in here, “Lake Huron Beach Grass at Dawn” and “Haven Hill Lake Trees in Fall” are the best picture that i’ve seen in grafphoto.

    Keep your good work for 2014 :)


  1. My favorite 13 of 2013. | Paul Lester Photo - […] Mark Graf ‘highly encouraged’ me to do this list, so here it is. I went back through the …
  2. Best Photos of 2013 by JMG-Galleries Blog Readers » JMG-Galleries - Landscape, Nature & Travel Photography - […] Retrospective 2013 Graf Nature Photography – Mark Graf […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge

Previous post: • Next post: 395 views