2015: A Photographic Retrospective

It’s that time of year again, when everyone is looking back at the year that’s about to end, and reflecting on what has happened. For many photographers, it’s also the time to prepare a selection of favourite photos from the year and submit it to Jim Goldstein’s annual project. For myself, it’s the third time I’m doing this: you can also see my earlier selections for 2014 and 2013.

If you just want to see the photos, skip down to the bottom of this post for a gallery or you can see this selection as an album on Flickr. Otherwise, I’ll be taking on my choices one at a time, with a few brief comments on each.

First, though, I thought I’d start with an overview of the year. In terms of shooting it wasn’t great: as I write this we’re almost through the year and I’ve taken less than half the number of frames I did in 2014. This is not really surprising. While in England I was used to going out for solo walks in the countryside I rarely did that here. I did attend a number of organized walks, which were thoroughly enjoyable, but this does not lend itself to photography, at least not to the kind I like to make. I still took my camera with me, and I have many photos from those walks that I’m reasonably happy with. On a very positive note, those walks did serve to introduce me to the countryside in my own backyard. I look forward to exploring their photographic potential.

Another reason why I took less photos is simply that this was the year I started to seriously climb outside. I’ve been into climbing for about seven years, but most of that was indoors. In the UK I was lucky to live close to a good climbing wall (more than one, really), so I was a regular there. My outdoor climbing in the UK was very limited, with the nearest crags about a 3 hour drive away. I became good, but when we came back to Malta I practically had to start all over again, on real rock. It was (as I had anticipated) quite the transition, but at this point I finally consider myself a proper climber. Here I’m lucky to live within half an hour of several crags. So far this year I’ve logged 96 ascents, 48 as lead (both including repeats). With some luck I’ll make it past 100/50 before the year is out. Still, all this takes time away from photography. I’ve recently made some attempts at making the two pursuits work together, and in the coming year I plan to improve on that.

Also, travel this year was rather limited, with a couple of trips to London to visit my brother, and a very short work visit to CERN. So, it should be no surprise that my photos this year are all from the Maltese islands. I’ll present these in chronological order.

Żurrieq Cliffs at Sunset (3236-3246)
Żurrieq cliffs at sunset. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

The earliest photo that made the cut was from a solo walk to the cliffs at Żurrieq in February, in time for sunset. I think this was actually my first solo outing of the year specifically to take photos.

Overlooking Lower Cliffs (3427)
Overlooking lower cliffs. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

The spring solar eclipse was visible from Malta with partial cover. For the occasion, R and I drove up to Dingli to see the event from the cliffside. I also took a very rare selfie after the event, before packing up my gear and heading for lunch.

Pool and Sea Battered Rocks (3594)
Pool and sea battered rocks. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

In May a good friend of ours visited from the UK, and we spent one of the days in Gozo, showing her the highlights. An obligatory first stop was in Dwejra, for the Azure Window (possibly the most popular tourist attraction in Gozo) and Fungus Rock (a.k.a. il-Ġebla tal-Ġeneral). The latter is visible in the photo above. Thankfully both R and our friend (both also photographers) are very patient, so I had the time to take a few long exposures.

Natural Stone Arch and Crashing Waves (3596-3597)
Natural stone arch and crashing waves. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

This is the well-known Azure Window, featured in a number of films and TV series. The arch itself is collapsing, and we’ll soon end up with a sea stack. You can find comparisons on the web from its use in cinema for the past 30-40 years or so. Fun fact: Wikipedia lists this as Tieqa Żerqa, but frankly I’ve never heard anyone call it that. ‘Tieqa’ is the Maltese word for window, so that makes sense, and I guess ‘żerqa’ must be a Maltese translation of azure. I’ve never heard that word in use. At best, it’s referred to as ‘it-Tieqa’ or just the window or ‘it-Tieqa tad-Dwejra’ in reference to its location.

Għajn Tuffieħa Tower (3644)
Għajn Tuffieħa tower. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

Our friend also wanted to see the sunset over the sea, and possibly take a few photos there. So one of the evenings we headed to one of my former go-to places at Għajn Tuffieħa. I always liked this place, which is very accessible with a car park just a couple hundred metres away, two beaches visible, and an uninterrupted horizon. It’s unsurprisingly popular, and there was an engagement or pre-wedding shoot going on when we arrived.

Headlands and Coastal Tower near Lapsi (3688)
Headlands and coastal tower near Lapsi. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

The next few photos were also taken in a single evening session in June. I remember I had been itching to go out to take photos for a while, so when the opportunity came I really wanted to make the most of it. It was a good thing I was there early enough to wind down and soak in the atmosphere before starting to shoot. I had also scouted out this particular view before, so while I did try to find something else, in the end I went with what I already knew and just waited for the right time.

Cliffs and Boulders at Lapsi (3690)
Cliffs and boulders at Lapsi. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

Lapsi quickly became a favourite place for me. At the point I took this photo I had already been there a few times for walks and also for climbing in the cliffs above. Climbers will undoubtedly recognize the twin caves about a third of the way from the left, and further caves to the right.

Filfla (3693)
Filfla. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

As I had the time, I also switched to my telephoto lens for a few detail shots. Filfla is visible from a long section of the west coast of Malta, and is a constant companion while walking the cliffs. Access to the island is restricted, both to safeguard the endemic wildlife and for safety reasons (the island was used for target practice by the British, so there is always risk of unexploded ordnance).

Headland Boat and Rig (3703)
Headland, boat, and rig. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

My final selection from this series was an unexpected shot, as the light fell rather dramatically highlighting the convolutions in the rock strata while a sailing boat provided an almost ideal counterpoint.

Ships on Hurd Bank at Sunrise (3848)
Ships on Hurd bank at sunrise. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

This is the only photo in the selection that I took on an organized walk. On this particular walk the plan was to meet before sunrise, walk down to the coast for a swim, and later head back. I knew I’d have time for a few proper shots so I took my tripod and filters with me. Plus it’s not often I wake before the crack of dawn, and I wanted to make the most of it. While the others were down for a swim, I found a spot at the top of a rocky outcrop and prepped for a few sunrise shots.

Kappella ta' San Pawl Eremita (3996)
Kappella ta’ San Pawl Eremita. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

As I already mentioned, lately I’ve started experimenting with taking my camera with me when I go climbing. I haven’t done this often, and I think this is the only time I actually used it. Mostly, for now, I’ve been concerned with the issues of timing and of how much gear I can comfortably carry. I’ve found this works best when I’m out climbing with my usual climbing partners in a small group, though I still need to figure out the timing bit.

Evening Sail (4284)
Evening sail. (Click on the photo for added detail.)

The final image was only taken just a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to work on more minimalist and detail images this year – it’s a style I’m attracted to, so I want to spend the time improving my skills. Once again, this image was taken on an outing specifically for photography. The viewpoint is literally on the other side of the hill from where we live, so it’s very accessible.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this selection. I have left links to the original posts in the captions. Click on the photos for larger versions; or click on the links for further details. Finally, you can see the selection as a gallery below.

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