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  • Writer's pictureJustin Key

Top 10 Favorite Photos of All Time

This list debuted in the first-ever 10 lists of 10 back in 2018. In the two years since my photographic eye has developed dramatically. My work has begun a transformation toward the abstract and contemporary side of photography. Due to the maturing that has been made since 2018, I thought it would be a good time to update the list. The advancement of my work put a lot of new members on the list but the way certain photos have aged has also led to a rearranging of the few remaining photos from 2018. Only 4 members of that original 2018 list remain in my top 10 entering 2020. If you would like to reference the 2018 list you can do so here, but to show how much things have changed, 2018’s #1 is down to #7.

10. Solar Eclipse

Four progressive stages of the solar eclipse.

Photographing the solar eclipse in 2017 was a highlight of my career. I researched as much as I could leading up to the event but still wasn't confident I would succeed in capturing it. I set up a couple of time-lapse videos and had my main camera to shoot with, hoping that one would record the memorable event. When the sky started to get dark there wasn't much time to think and my intuition took control. In order to capture the fleeting moment, my fingers were flying from button to button adjusting for the rapidly changing light. The real challenge was finding a moment to enjoy the spectacle. The experience of a solar eclipse in the line of totality was truly remarkable. It was highlighted even more by the photos that came from it.

9. #4

Abstract landscape photograph taken at Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park.

In 2019 I released the "Sands Study" as part of the Long Shutter Project. A number of those photos made the list and the first one comes in at #9. This shot epitomizes the future of my work, an organic, abstract composition. The photo is fairly minimal but still has a brilliant elegance from the contrast and color scheme. The shape of the top yellow streak reminds me of a quill pen writing a temporary letter in the ever-shifting sands as if recording the magnificence of the sun setting on the dunes. This was a photo I knew was destined to make the series as soon as I saw it in the camera.

8. Something Good Coming

The sun sets through a grove of mangrove trees on the beach in Aruba

A lot of my favorite images go beyond the photo itself. This shot from Aruba makes the list as much for the composition as the memory that accompanies it. This was one of those perfect moments in life where time and place sync up to create an everlasting memory. The stop at Mangel Halto Beach was serendipitous to begin with and our stay lasted longer than expected. As the sun began to set, Sarah and I found the perfect place to sit and watch the mangroves glow. The public beach was a hidden gem and this lagoon of mangroves distanced us even further from reality. It became a rare moment where I had to set the camera aside because living it was more important than capturing it.

7. Hallelujah

Fog rolls through the mountains on Maui in black and white

The #1 from the 2018 list, Hallelujah slid down to #7 for this edition. There's been no love lost for this misty mountain photograph but as my tastes have progressed over the last two years, other photos have surpassed it. While I rarely shoot in black and white it can be helpful to showcase certain textures when the natural colors fail to do so. The gradient created by the fog from black to white through each ridge is far more dramatic than the color version. There is something haunting and cold about the obscure details in the foreground and the looming peak behind the fog that pairs nicely with the metallic tones of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".

6. A Winter's Tale

White abstract photograph of snow taken in the Michigan landscape.

This photo could easily be a part of the "Sands Study" if the smooth white curves were made of gypsum instead of snow. The recently promoted White Sands National Park has numerous photos in the "Sands Study" with similar purity but this shot came from the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan. Even the beach where this was taken isn't made of sand either but rather a collection of large rocks that have been smoothed over by the crashing waves. Fresh snow collected on the rocks during last year's winter road trip which caught my eye and gently observe the scene looking for this composition. The subtle changes in tone mixed with the natural curves make for a minimal and abstract photo. Combine that with one of my favorite locations and A Winter's Tale comes in at #6 on this year's list.

5. Unfair Weather Friend

A snow storm covers two mountains in the height of the fall colors just outside of Aspen, Colorado.

Falling two spots from 2018's list, Unfair Weather Friend remains one of my favorite photos of all time. I firmly believe this photo is underappreciated. After two years hanging in galleries and my festival booth, I don't feel it has received the attention it deserves. While the day itself will forever hold importance for me, even without that memory this photo ranks high. I've always loved shooting in fog and this remains the only time I've photographed the fall colors in the fog. The peak fall foliage couldn't have been brighter and not a minute after the photo was taken, the left peak was consumed by the clouds. While the day itself was filled with sorrow, from a photographic standpoint it was some of the best conditions I've ever shot in and produced one of my all-time favorite photos.

4. #2

Abstract landscape photograph taken at Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Sometimes simple just works. The composition of this photo is perhaps the most minimal photo on my website. What I think really makes this photo is the gradient in the background. The sun found its way through a valley to shine bright of the rear side of the foreground dune enough to reflect some light onto the dune behind it. The front side of the first dune remained shrouded in darkness which gives minimal photo depth. The sliver of illuminated sand draws the eye through the scene but only because of how the light fell on the rest of the scene. Take that slight reflection away and the photo is flat and not on the list.

3. #16

Panoramic landscape photograph taken at New Mexico's White Sands National Park.

When the sun sets over White Sands National Park a pastel world emerges. The white gypsum dunes turn blue under a pale blue sky that fades into a pink and purple horizon. The soft colors pair nicely with the smooth surfaces of the dunes. While the iconic waves that line the dunes are flattened by the soft light, White Sands has had rough patches carved through its valleys that resemble tire treads. The curves of those threads in this photo help draw the eye through the otherwise soft scene to the distant peak. It's a soothing image from a studded "Sands Study" that always makes me pause and appreciate it.

2. Gallows Pole

Four tree trunks in front of a weathered beige wall in the Maldives

The final remaining member of the 2018 list actually moves up into the #2 spot. Like a fine wine, this photo aged well over the years. In fact, this was the photograph that started the shift toward contemporary photography. Taken in the Maldives, clever cropping limited the palate to brown tones in a country overflowing with bright, saturated colors. This was was also the photograph that tipped me off on my love of textures. It’s impossible to know what the future holds for my photography but Gallows Pole has cemented its position for future editions of this list.

1. Into the Mystic

A minimalist composition of pencil reeds reflecting on a calm lake in Ontario.

Lake Abamasagi is my heaven on Earth. Of everywhere I’ve traveled, I've never had an easier time capturing a location's emotion than on this Ontario lake. The still morning water has always been therapeutic for me and looking at this photo creates a feeling of peace. While the photo has a soothing effect, it doesn't come close to the relaxed state a week on the water without service brings. If I could live on the shores of Lake Abamasagi I would, but until then this photo keeps that feeling close.

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