Mike Wardynski’s Best of 2016

Silk Dunes – Southern California has a vast array of sand dunes that photographers often overlook. The dunes are some of my favorite places to shoot because they are ever changing, resulting in a unique shot every time I revisit them. The best time to shoot these beautiful creations is in the morning when the low sun cast long shadows upon the sand.


Nature’s Cathedral – The Cathedral Lakes region is one of the most beautiful locations in all of Yosemite’s high country. I’ve traveled on nearly half of Yosemite’s back country trails and this spot is defiantly in the top five places I’ve seen there. This photo was taken last year when Phil Nicholas and I were teaching Aperture Academy’s “Yosemite Extreme” workshop. That workshop was one of my favorite workshops of the entire year because it allowed us to escape the crowds and truly get into the spirit of Yosemite. Going to cathedral peak is going to nature’s church.


Golden Hour Over the Golden Gateway – There are literally millions of photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge, and for a good reason too…  The Golden Gate is one of the most iconic bridges in the word, connecting San Francisco with the Marin Headlands and north bay. It’s called the Golden Gate because it crosses the mouth of the San Francisco bay which became know as The Golden Gateway into California during the California gold rush that brought hundreds of thousands of people to the state starting in 1849. There are countless angles to shoot the bridge from, the key is finding the right day where the sky is not too clear or too foggy. Although she is beautiful she sure can be finicky.


Double Arch by Night – What’s a top ten list without a night shot? This one was taken in Arches National Park which was one of the first parks I ever visited and also happens to be one of my favorites due to the other worldly landscape found within it. I love night photography because it allows me to escape the crowds that can be found in the day time. It is also a great time to play with light. These arches were painted with a high-power flashlight and color correcting gels.


American Bison – The American bison used to roam the US in numbers of as many as 30 million. The magnificent beasts were nearly wiped out to as few as 1,000. Today the herds have made a significant comeback with roughly 500,000 American Bison in the US.This image was taken head on with a 100 – 400mm in Yellowstone last fall. I love the intimacy of this photo because it allows the view to look face to face with an animal that you do not necessarily want to be face to face with.


Evening Fog – This image was captured from high up on the Yosemite Valley walls. It portrays the absolute peace that can be found in the mountains. Quiet, calm, and simple… Sometimes the simplest images are the most powerful images.


Nasty Women Rise Up – As some of you may know, I started a photographic documentary project last year called “A Sign of the Times” – Images of an American Revolution “Nasty Women Rise Up” was one of the first images captured for the series which continues to be an ongoing project. I’m very worried about the social and environmental injustice that is occurring in the United States today and decided that I could no longer take a back seat in the current atmosphere. This image is powerful because it is poetic. The woman holding the sign appears to be drowning in a sea of people yet she is persistent and her message is clear. Visit www.assott.org to see more images from the series.


Bury my Heart at Standing Rock – I spent ten very cold days at the Oceti Sakowin camp in early December. I don’t think the temperature rose above zero the entire time that I was there. The conditions were extreme yet the community was strong, open hearted and peaceful. I was uplifted from the faith and prayer that the Native Americans are committed too, but I was also deeply disturbed by the circumstances that amassed this community. The indigenous people of this land were once again being taken advantage of. It’s a story that seems to be stuck on repeat.

In the image “Bury my Heart at Standing Rock” we see Tropix Knight, a Navajo Native American as well as an eight-year Marine Corps veteran. She traveled from Hard Rock Arizona with her teenage daughter to stand with the veterans fighting for clean water and Native American rights. She stayed in the same communal tent that I had stayed a few nights in. I asked her to write a message for me and she created this beautiful sign.


Dan Namakin – I met Dan after a prayer ceremony in the Oceti Sakowin camp at the Standing Rock reservation. He was dressed in only a little more than what you see in the photo. The temperature was about zero degrees outside and my toes were freezing in my heavily insulated winter boots. Meanwhile, Dan had on a thin pair of moccasins. After the ceremony was finished, I asked him if I could take his photo. He kindly agreed and invited me back to his yurt so he could warm up. His yurt was warmed by a wood stove and we were graced by wonderful company who wanted to talk with Dan after the ceremony. Once his company left I was ready to get down to business. There was one problem though. I had been shooting earlier in the morning and my battery was completely dead. I did not have a spare with me but luckily I had my Canon V1 35mm film camera in my vehicle. I quickly ran back to grab it and headed back to the yurt. With a serious but wise look upon his face Dan posed for this photograph. The experience really touched me and gave me a window into a culture that most of the world has simply forgotten about.


North Coast Bliss – I’ll end the list with one more landscape photograph and some poetry. Waves comb the shore with relentless force. Crashing, tumbling, churning… I watch the earth slowly sculpt itself into the masterpiece that it is and I am calmed by the distant sound of ocean meeting land. The ocean brings gifts from within and whispers goodbye as she takes another layer of sand and rock. The sun is setting and I’m getting tired, but not the ocean. The ocean has too much work left to do.

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