My Best Twelve Photos from 2020

December 28, 2020  |  Colorado

2020 - What a year! For many, 2020 will always be remembered as the year that we were greeted head-on by COVID-19, which disrupted life as we know it in so many ways, both positive and negative. For me, 2020 was to be a break-out year for my landscape photography career. For 2020, I lined up teaching engagements at several photography conferences in order to propel my landscape photography life into a full-time business venture in the future. That journey started out wonderfully in February, where I attended the Out of Yosemite Conference as an instructor. I hosted a live podcast recording there with some of my favorite landscape photographers and was lucky to partake in a magical event with some incredibly talented instructors and students. It was such an amazing start to the year.

Then, in March, the entire country shut down. By the end of Spring, many future conferences were put on hold, significantly reduced, or cancelled altogether. Like many landscape photographers, I was forced to pivot and focus on other aspects of my life and business in order to survive. I felt lucky to have a full-time job where I was able to still contribute and make a reliable income; however, I was still determined to make the most of my time in 2020 with my eyes focused on the future. I dedicated time to learning Adobe Premiere and began recording videos of my photography adventures. I also took up drone photography, which I have long been firmly against; however, I found the compositional and creative opportunities too great to pass up.

I re-focused my efforts in mountain landscape photography and was lucky to be joined by my son on a few of those trips, which I will never forget. I found enjoyment in smaller scenes in nature, and focused on being surprised by what I found instead of forcing myself into making photos that are pre-planned. The result of these efforts are the following twelve images, which I feel take my artwork in new directions. I hope that you enjoy.

A unique take on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park - the last light of day kisses a granite rib of rock in winter.

El Capitan Kiss of Light (2020)

The very last light of a winter day kisses the very tip of the granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

A single black and white tree in a meadow at sunset in Yosemite National Park.

Evening Trees in Yosemite (2020)

Upon my very first visit to Yosemite National Park, I was able to spend a great deal of time photographing trees. The sky was blue and there was not a cloud in the sky for days at a time; however, these conditions forced me to look for more interesting scenes n the shadows. This pair of trees caught the last light of day at the end of a meadow and absolutely blew me away. This photo was selected out of thousands to be included in the LensWork book "Our Magnificent Planet."

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

The Weminuche Wilderness Area near Durango and Silverton, Colorado showcasing the Grenadier Range at sunset from a northern vantage point.

Grenadier Mountain Sunset (2020)

On the first day of summer in 2020 I took a backpacking trip with my 12-year-old son deep into the Weminuche Wilderness Area near Durango and Silverton, Colorado. At the top of my list was to try to photograph the Grenadier Range at sunset from a northern vantage point at 13,000 ft. This particular vantage point in the San Juan Mountains yielded some of the best views of the Grenadiers and Needle Mountains I have ever seen. From left to right, you can see Middle Trinity, West Trinity, Windom Peak, Sunlight Peak, Vestal Peak, Eolus Peak, Arrow Peak, Turret Peak, and Electric Peak. Small tarns on the hillside below reflected the colorful sky above. Getting views of Colorado 14ers and 13ers like this is what I live for! Of particular note, at center, the impressive stature of Vestal Peak's Wham Ridge rises high and continues to blow my mind every time I see it. Even though this image was made on the first day of summer, lots of snow was still present, which I personally love!

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Corn lilies found in the summer at high elevation in Colorado in the San Juan Mountains.

Corn Lilies in Summer (2020)

Sometimes as nature and landscape photographers we can get tunnel vision. That’s what happened to me when I made this photo- except I allowed my curiosity to guide me to something interesting instead of what I was expecting. I had a whole scene planned out that I had scouted all day- a pristine waterfall, sweeping mountain peaks, and amazing clouds (in my vision) - but on the way to shoot that scene after a day of storms, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this grouping of corn lilies fresh with rain illuminated by the afternoon sun setting behind the San Juan Mountains. I decided to use my jacket to shield the plants from the harsh sunlight which made for a more balanced and diffused look you see here. Five years ago I would have never stopped to take this photo and I would have been really disappointed in the photo that never came to fruition that I had pre-planned. I encourage you to do something similar.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Vestal Peak and Arrow Peak at sunset with a sunstar in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and the Weminuche Wilderness Area.

Colorado Mountain Glow (2020)

I photographed this scene as part of a 30-mile backpacking / mountain climbing adventure here in Southwest Colorado near my home in Durango. My plans got altered by a swift shift in the clouds after being stuck in a thunderstorm all day -the clouds just evaporated and so I had to scramble (literally) to find a new composition. I decided at the last second to ascend half way up West Trinity Peak on loose boulders to get this vantage of Vestal Peak’s Wham Ridge and Arrow Peak at sunset. I think it worked out well to also include the sunstar. I was fortunately also able to safely climb down in the late evening light back to my campsite in the valley below. The Grenadier Mountains of the Weminuche Wilderness Area are so incredible.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

A rainbow over the Colorado River and Sandstone canyons near Page, Arizona.

Curvaceous Radiance (2020)

The Colorado River snakes through sandstone canyons in this desert grand scenic view at sunset near Page, Arizona. The radiance of the last moments of sun cast an incredible red light on the rocks, all topped off with a rainbow in the distance. One of the most magical scenes I've photographed in the American Southwest.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

The Milky Way over Blue Lakes near Ridgway and Telluride in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Milky Way and Blue Lake (2020)

On a 3-day backpacking trip in the summer of 2020, I wanted to get a photograph of the Milky Way directly above Blue Lake and 13er Dallas Peak. Achieving this image required some meticulous planning and execution. Blue Lakes trail is completely overcrowded these days; however, I was able to find a small little spot for some alone time where I could lay and gaze up at the stars during the Perseid Meteor Shower. This image was created by using a 14mm lens and multiple rows to include a lot of sky and a lot of foreground. I then took a very long exposure (311 seconds) at the exact same time for the lake and mountains in order to get some detail in the photograph since it was pitch black (there was no moon). While I don't do as much night photography as I used to, I still greatly enjoy it and final results like this can feel like icing on the cake for my 'true to experience' methods of capturing the night.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Mount Sneffels at sunset as seen from near the summit of Gilpin Peak and Telluride above Yankee Boy Basin in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Glorious Sunset at Upper Blue Lakes (2020)

Mount Sneffels is by far one of my favorite mountains in Colorado. It is considered a "14er" which means it rises above 14,000 feet in elevation. This 14,158-foot fourteener is located in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness of Uncompahgre National Forest near Telluride, 6.7 miles west by south of the City of Ouray in Ouray County, Colorado, United States and is usually accessed via either the overly popular Blue Lakes trailhead or Yankee Boy Basin. In this particular view of the mountain, I explored several ridges of dangerous terrain to find a unique vantage of Mount Sneffels and Upper Blue Lakes. The boulders in the foreground provide great context as to the type of terrain I found myself in on this adventure. The hike back down to my campsite, well below these lakes and out of sight, was quite an adventure in the dark!

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Colorado Fall Color Photography Print - The white bark and yellow leaves of aspen trees at sunrise in a forest of Colorado near Ridgway in the San Juan Mountain

Ghosts in the Forest (2020)

Early Light catches the white bark of aspen trees in a forest near Ridgway, Colorado. I just loved how only a few trees had yellow leaves left, making for a very intimate scene which I feel like encapsulates the essence of fall in Colorado.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Colorado Fall Color Photography Print - A single vibrant aspen leaf on a wet wood log in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in fall.

Colorado Fall Color Print - Fallen Electricity (2020)

This single aspen leaf caught my attention on a slow walk through the woods in a very remote area of Colorado. The wood I found nearby was an exposed fallen aspen tree with these knotted and curved textures that I grew fascinated with immediately. I wanted to pair the electrical leaf with the textures to create awesome color separation. Autumn in Colorado is one of my favorite events of the year. There's nothing else like it for photography.

Photo © copyright by Matt Payne.

Well, that concludes my selections for my best photographs from 2020. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my choices.

Posted in Articles and tagged Colorado, Arizona, Mountains.