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Celebrating My Best Photos of 2023

Updated: May 30

Looking back at my favorite photos of the year


2023 had its fair share of highs and lows, but I'm all about looking back at the positives, and that includes the (often difficult) task of reviewing the images I made and picking out my top photos of the year.


If you have favorite photos of your own from the past year, feel free to share them in the comments below. I'd love to see them! And be sure to let me know which photos of mine are your favorites, too!


 

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Winter in Southern Utah: My First Big Trip of the Year


The year started out a bit rough for me, but fortunately, the trip went (mostly) well and I came home with a large cache of new photos to review and process. My biggest challenge on this particular trip was physical fitness as I was just getting out of a bout of severe fatigue that had plagued me for several months. As such, a lot of the photos were made from fairly accessible locations.


I was also challenged by the weather conditions, or rather the weather Utah had experienced over the course of winter as a whole. Several of the locations I had hoped to revisit just weren't doable, usually due to lingering snow and ice, or slick-as-ice mud as unpaved roads froze overnight and thawed each day.


I started the trip at Bryce Canyon National Park and checked off a Bucket List item: seeing the park blanketed with heavy snow. Once I wrapped up there, I headed a bit north, camping at various spots along the famous scenic byway, Utah Highway 12, seeking out photographic opportunities along that route and others.


For an extensive look behind the scenes of this trip, check out my trip report series. You can also view all 70+ photos from the trip via my free ebook, Utah: Winter 2023, or in my slideshow gallery.


Sunlit hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park in winter
Fading Day / Bryce Canyon National Park

A lone pine tree standing in a snow drift with a forest in the background
Otherside / Bryce Canyon National Park

A small pine tree atop a snowy ridge at Bryce Canyon National Park
Sending Off the Light / Bryce Canyon National Park

A snowy foreground with bare trees as a winter storm builds over Capitol Reef National Park
Stark Beauty / Along Highway 12

Black and white photo of a round rock in windblow sand
Against the Swell / Along Highway 12

An old cottonwood tree in warm reflected light off canyon walls
Transcendent Light / Burr Trail

A pine tree in deep snow overlooking a snowy Bryce Canyon National Park
The Surveyor / Bryce Canyon National Park

A dramatic sunset at Bryce Canyon National Park
Angel Flight / Bryce Canyon National Park

A black and white photo of Bryce Canyon National Park in winter
Bryce Sketchbook / Bryce Canyon National Park

A rugged landscape of the Utah badlands near Highway 12
Terra Firma Waves / Grand Staircase-Escalante

A sunlit curtain of rain falling in front of mountains along Burr Trail in southern Utah
Light Fall / Burr Trail


 

Suggested Content


If you'd like to enjoy behind the scenes looks of my photography trips and outings, you may also like my in-field videos I've started to produce. Head to my in-field playlist on my YouTube channel to check them out. Here's one I produced recently while photographing fall colors at my local park:



 

Flowers for Lucy: A Special Project


While the health of our German Shepherd, Lucy, rapidly declined during and after my March trip to Utah, north Texas was also experiencing one of the best wildflower seasons I've witnessed since moving here almost 12 years ago. I vividly recall driving around to run errands one afternoon in late April and deciding that the amazing show of color was in Lucy's honor.


In early May, a few days after we said goodbye to our sweet Loo Bear, I packed up my camera gear and visited a patch of flowers in a small copse of trees that I had noticed while driving along one of the local roads in April. I spent nearly an hour in that small area, looking for pleasing compositions and waiting to make photos in between the afternoon winds. As is so often the case, my photography provided a reprieve from the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that were tumbling through my head in those early days of grief.


I have many more wildflower photos - or Flowers for Lucy - from last spring to review and process, but I've found I need to be in the right frame of mind to sit down and work with them. My current plan is to have a fuller collection completed by the first anniversary of her passing but, for now, below are my favorite photos I made on that windy May afternoon.


Wildflowers in Fort Worth, Texas
Flowers for Lucy #1 / Fort Worth, Texas

A field of wildflowers in Fort Worth, Texas
Flowers for Lucy #2 / Fort Worth, Texas

Trees and wildflowers in Fort Worth, Texas
Flowers for Lucy #3 / Fort Worth, Texas

Windswept grasses and wildflowers in Fort Worth, Texas
Flowers for Lucy #4 / Fort Worth, Texas

 

Eagle Mountain Park: Keeping it Local


Although I visited this local park a few times in the spring as part of my Flowers for Lucy project, thanks to another hellacious summer in north Texas I wasn't able to return for several months until we finally got a bit of a break from the brutal heat and drought. Thankfully, we were also treated to another pretty spectacular fall season, and I was able to get to the park a few times to photograph the varied and brilliant foliage.


The following images are still technically works-in-progress and haven't been titled yet. Have an idea for a title? Let me know in the comments below!


Vibrant reds and oranges of fall in Fort Worth, Texas at Eagle Mountain Park
Eagle Mountain #1 / Fort Worth, Texas

Fallen leaves at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth, Texas
Eagle Mountain #2 / Fort Worth, Texas

A skeletal tree and fall colors in DFW at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth, Texas
Eagle Mountain #3 / Fort Worth, Texas

Evergreens, bare branches, and lingering fall color in Fort Worth, Texas at Eagle Mountain Park
Eagle Mountain #4 / Fort Worth, Texas

A photo of The Witch, with a sun star, during fall at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth, Texas
Eagle Mountain #5 / Fort Worth, Texas

Deadfall and vibrant fall colors in DFW at Eagle Mountain Park in Fort Worth
Eagle Mountain #6 / Fort Worth, Texas

I also recorded several videos from Eagle Mountain Park last year, which you can find in my new On Location video playlist on my YouTube channel. The focus of the videos is sharing what it's like to work in the field as a photographer, while showing off various locations and the compositions I worked to make new photos. I also sprinkled in some educational tidbits in each of the videos. No thumping music or chaotic sound effects here: just me, in nature, doing what I love.


If you haven't already, you can also download my free ebook, An Explosion of Color, which showcases the amazing fall colors in my local park during the 2022 season. It was truly spectacular!



 

Fall in Southern Utah: An Unexpected Journey


I had no intention of returning to Utah so soon but, come November, I found myself making the day and a half drive back to the southern part of the state, uncertain of what I would find in terms of remaining fall color. My original plan for the season was to head to Colorado at the very end of September to meet up with some other photographers; unfortunately, Covid had other ideas as I got knocked down with the virus less than a week before I was due to hit the road.


Once it was clear that I was not going to recover quickly enough to make it to Colorado, I quickly pivoted and set my sights on Utah. Doing so also gave me an opportunity to make up for the trip I had to cancel in 2022 when Lucy was recovering from her surgery to remove the cancerous mass on her leg.


The trip was unexpected, but quite fruitful. I'll be sharing more work from this outing in the very near future, so be sure to sign up for my newsletter to be notified when the fully gallery is available. My in-field video series is also now live on YouTube. Each video takes you behind the scenes with me as I scouted locations and photographed fall color around southern Utah.


Stay tuned (aka subscribe to my newsletter) for the ebook gallery release of all the images from this trip! Or see them "early" in each episode of my video series linked above: in addition to sharing the images from each day, I also provide commentary on every one of them, explaining what drew me to make each photo.


A skeletal dead tree in front of golden cottonwood leaves along Cottonwood Canyon Road in southern Utah
Stripped Bare / Along Cottonwood Canyon Road

Looking down on a canyon full of golden cottonwood trees in fall along Utah Highway 12
Ribbon of Gold / Along Highway 12

A variety of bushes and evergreen trees in front of a cottonwood tree in fall, along Burr Trail in southern Utah
Garden Party / Burr Trail

A dramatic black and white photo of a cliffside covered in trees in fading sunlight, along Burr Trail in Utah
Looming / Burr Trail

A large, golden cottonwood tree stands in the background of desert foliage with vibrant fall colors along Cottonwood Canyon Road in Utah
The Storyteller / Along Cottonwood Canyon Road

A wildly gnarled old cottonwood tree in fall along Cottonwood Canyon Road in southern Utah
The Breakdancer / Along Cottonwood Canyon Road

Brilliant, gold fall colors along Cottonwood Canyon Road with a shadowed hillside in the background
Embracing the Morn / Along Cottonwood Canyon Road

Beautiful golden cottonwood trees in fall along Cottonwood Canyon Road
New Day Celebration / Along Cottonwood Canyon Road

Golden cottonwood trees line the Paria River at dusk along Cottonwood Canyon Road in Utah
Riverside Glow / Along Cottonwood Canyon Road

Golden trees along Hackberry Creek at the mouth of Hackberry Canyon in Utah
Bounty of Light / Hackberry Canyon

A golden cottonwood tree in fall in Hackberry Canyon with beautiful reflected light
Warm Light, Frozen Toes / Hackberry Canyon


 

Closing Thoughts


2023 was another whirlwind year. Although it had its challenges, I'm excited with how I was able to close it out with some amazing fall photography in both southern Utah and my local park. Between the two trips to Utah alone, I added nearly 100 new photos to my portfolio of work.


If you've followed along via my newsletters, social media posts, trip reports, or videos... I thank you! I cannot wait to get my first trip of 2024 under my belt in March and hope to spend far more time traveling in the field throughout the year.


The best is yet to come!


 

Michael Rung

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