Jack Nichols Photography
Night sky and landscape photographer in Seattle, Washington


Best of 2015

What a year! I was reflecting on all the things we've done this year and it's really staggering. Lauren and I have really had an action-packed year. Some random stats about the year that I thought were interesting:

  • 23,476 air miles flown
  • 22,615 raw pictures taken
  • 9 national parks visited (North Cascades, Cape Otway (Australia), Uluru/Kata Tjuta (Australia), Olympic, Mammoth Cave, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rainier)
  • 4 aurora sightings from three states (May and August in Washington, September in Wyoming, and November in Montana)
  • 1 random package of goodies from the Queensland Tourism Board
  • 1 baby on the way :)
  • Lots and lots of kind words and comments from web site visitors and social media followers - thank you!

So yeah, it's been a good year, and a lot to look forward to in 2016! But before we go there, I wanted to collect my Top 15 of 2015 and share those with you one more time. Obviously I took and published a lot of photos in 2015, and it was pretty hard to whittle them down to just my 15 favorites. In the end, I picked the 15 photos that had the most impact and meaning for me, not necessarily the ones that had the best response on social media or what not. I was also biased towards pictures that had a fun backstory, because in the end I think that's what pictures are all about - telling stories.

So, let's get to the pictures in descending order, starting with #15!

#15: Date Night

Date Night

This pictures was one of the more fun pictures to take, with only a moderate amount of suffering. I took it all the way back on Valentine's Day at Gold Creek Pond. Lauren and I usually keep it low key for Valentine's Day, as neither of us like the idea of being in a crowded restaurant. So we made dinner at home, and after dinner, headed up to Snoqualmie Pass for dessert. We actually hauled the cooler, both lawn chairs, all the camera gear, and all the rest of the props out to the shore of Gold Creek Pond, and I'm sure looked ridiculous in the process. Besides that it was cold and moist (as Gold Creek always is) so it was all we could do to stay still and not shiver for the 30 seconds required for this exposure. Technically this isn't the best picture I've taken, but it sure was fun to shoot!

#14: Ghost


Our big fall trip this year was to Yellowstone and I was able to make a bunch of really cool images from there, a couple of which made this list. This one in particular I like because we had woken up early to try to find the buffalo in Hayden Valley, but there were only a handful. Instead, the elk were rutting, and I spotted this elk crossing the Yellowstone River right at sunrise. As a lifelong hunter I have a strong connection to elk and I really enjoyed seeing them in such a cool setting!

#13: Is There Anybody Out There?

Is There Anybody Out There?

Of course our big trip this year was to Australia, which was a lifelong dream of Lauren's. We visited a ton of great places, but one of the more unique was Uluru (Ayers Rock). Besides the scenery and fascinating culture, they also have some dark skies out there. I had originally intended to focus on compositions that included the rock, and I certainly got some, but this simple shot was definitely my favorite. The core of the Milky Way is right overhead down under in the springtime, and the night sky is so strikingly beautiful, I spent a lot of time just looking up. Plus, it helped that it was 75 degrees at 3am. :)

#12: Still


Number 12 is a relatively recent photo, taken during a period of heavy rain around here. On this particular weekend I think we were forecasted for an inch or two of rain at our house, but a quick check of the weather showed that Deception Pass would be dry due to the rainshadow from the Olympic Mountains. Turns out the forecast was correct! For this picture I used a neutral density filter to smooth out the water and make the clouds streak across the sky to show the passage of time.

#11: Time


One of the more interesting trips Lauren and I took this year was an overnight backpack at Mt. St. Helens. We decided to do the Plains of Abraham which are amazingly barren, and as it turns out dry. Click through the link to read the whole story, but we had a lot of fun and almost ran out of water due to a low snowpack from the winter before. Despite that challenge, I managed to get a rare photo of the northern lights over our tent, and this photo of the stars over Mt. St. Helens. I let the trails run into civil twilight which gives the image the beautiful blue glow that I love so much.

#10: Last But Not Least

Last But Not Least

Just a couple of weeks after Mt. St. Helens Lauren and I joined our friends Nate and Kyra on the Ozette Coast for a backpack. We actually went over 4th of July weekend but started the weekend early to avoid the crowds. We had stunningly beautiful weather the two nights we were there, and in particular this sunset from the first night was awesome. I think my favorite thing about this photo is how the light from the sun hits the rock at lower right.

#9: In the Nick of Time

In the Nick of Time

Number 9 is a very recent photo from just last week. Once again, the weather has been cloudy and rainy, but I saw a weather window on Saturday and decided to head out to Snoqualmie Point Park. The sunrise didn't disappoint! It was refreshing to see the beautiful pinks, purples, and oranges on the cloud deck above me. This shot was particularly fun to take as it's actually a panorama, composed of around 10 shots. I chose to shoot a panorama instead of wide as I wanted the perspective offered by a longer focal length.

#8: Happy Trees

Happy Trees

This shot is definitely one of the most unusual shots I've done this year but I really love how it turned out. Nate and I went out to Carkeek Park on a really, really wet fall day. Besides some interesting shots on the beach and of a passing train, there were still a few fall colors left, so I played with dragging the shutter on my 70-200 and got this result. I certainly can't claim to have done this on the first try - I think this was try number 50 or something like that, as getting the shutter speed and amount of movement right took a lot of trial and error!

#7: Hi There

Hi There

One of the more fun and exhausting days I've had this year was the day we visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane. We had an all-day, behind-the-scenes tour that was really interesting, but one of the more fun things we did was sitting and watching the koalas in the "koala cafe". I think I took around 2,000 pictures that day, including plenty of the cafe's inhabitants. This one is my favorite for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it looks like she's sitting for a portrait!

#6: First Light

First Light

The first place we went when we arrived in Australia was Byron Bay, and our early morning visit to the Byron Bay Lighthouse was one of the more memorable. Of course as you can see the view was great, but it was the extremely large spider that we encountered shortly after waking up that made it a day we won't soon forget! Back to the picture - I really like how the light from the lighthouse interacts with the Milky Way arching across the sky, and how the whole scene is shot at a low angle to give the lighthouse a rather imposing look!

#5: The Edge

The Edge

Yellowstone is a big place with lots of interesting things to see, but my favorite is probably Grand Prismatic Spring. It's the largest spring in the park, and probably the most colorful. For this view, I grabbed the new 100-400 that I brought and trekked up to one of the nearby hills. I really like how the overhead perspective gives a sense of scale - the people look (and are) tiny next to the huge spring. I also like how there's a number of layers in the shot, something I noticed as a recurring theme in most of my photos from Yellowstone.

#4: Watching the Paint Dry

Watching the Paint Dry

This photo is #4 on my list for a couple of reasons, but mostly because it was taken around the same time as my grandfather passed away, so it's a photo of his last sunrise. Growing up my grandfather and I had a thing we called "watching the paint dry" which was essentially sitting and waiting for the girls to finish shopping. Mostly we chatted and observed the world going by, which I think is a good way to live life and how I like to approach taking photos.

#3: What to Expect

What to Expect

The most exciting thing that's happened this year has been learning that Lauren and I are about to become parents! We decided to shoot our own announcement photos and did so over about five days in three different locations. This one was probably the hardest to get, for a few reasons. Of course, the cat didn't want to cooperate, so it took a lot of repositioning and encouragement to get him into the right pose. As well, we shot this in our dining room where we have hardwood floors, and I had to lay down on the very hard floor for quite a while, which was uncomfortable to say the least. But in the end I think the result was worth it as it's a super fun photo and both of us love how it turned out!

#2: Star Child

Star Child

Naturally my favorite baby announcement photo was the one we shot under the night sky in Yellowstone! We intentionally shot two versions of this photo, the one you see above and another that wasn't baby-focused. Getting this shot was made way harder than it should have been because of all the traffic in Hayden Valley. We were set up right alongside the road and car headlights kept lighting up the scene too much! Eventually there was a long enough pause that we were able to get the shot we wanted.

#1: Achievement Unlocked

Achievement Unlocked

My number one is probably not a surprise - Achievement Unlocked is easily my favorite photo of the year. Getting it was a combination of luck and planning, but I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and also really pleased with how well it's been received. It's done well on social media and prints, and was even on the local morning news, but probably the best thing has been the kind words I've received from folks about it. Lots of people emailed me just to say they enjoyed seeing the photo, which was a surprise and very cool!

I hope you have enjoyed this rundown of 2015! Thanks to everyone that provided kind words, feedback, and everything else this year - it's been inspiring! I can't wait to show you what I have planned in 2016!

Jack Nichols