2012 was the best year of my career. I was named a finalist to the Pink Lady International Food Photographer of the Year and the Louis Roederer International Wine Writer of the Year – Emerging Category. My Iraq war memoir, Camera Boy: An Army Journalist’s War in Iraq, made the Wall Street Journal Best-Seller list as an eBook. And, my Tasting Panel American Whiskey column won the APEX award for regular columns. It was also a rewarding year behind the camera. Here are my favorite shoots of 2012.
10. Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Jimmy Russell is a legendary whiskey maker. I’ve met him several times, but this was the first I had him all to myself. Normally, he’s surrounded by fans who want him to sign bottles. In the world of whiskey lovers, Jimmy ranks as our most-cherished celebrity. I once interviewed a newlywed Australian couple that chose Kentucky as its honeymoon destination just so they could meet Jimmy.
9. Heaven Hill Distilleries Master Distiller Craig Beam, Louisville, Kentucky
Craig Beam makes Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and Larceny bourbons. I spent a half day with Craig walking through the Bernheim distillery in Louisville. This is not on the Bourbon Trail and not exactly set up for visitors, so it was fun to get an inside look at a distillery few people see. When I saw the window light in Craig’s office, I just had to get this silhouetted shot. Isn’t bourbon beautiful?
8. 1807 Whiskey Still, Versailles, Kentucky
Located at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, this 1807 still was buried until workers discovered it a few years ago. I love whiskey and rustic stuff. This still was by far my most unique subject of the year, but I only had a little time with the old fella.
7. Bushmills Irish Whiskey, Atrim, Ireland
When I look at these photos, I can’t help but think: If only there was better light. In situations where I have awful, horror-movie skies, I look for moods that contradict the skies. Nothing beats dreary skies like love. These two love birds were staying at the Bushmills Inn, a lovely property, and were just sitting on a bench near the River Bush.
6. 610 Magnolia, Louisville, Kentucky
Any time I work with Ed Lee, it’s a good day. He’s among the most-talented chefs in the world right now. He was a finalist on Top Chef and has appeared on many TV shows. Ed plates his food with color in mind. I’ve never photographed a colorless dish of his. He thinks like a food photographer, always striking a stunning balance of color and contrast.
5. Black Grove Angus, Newberry, South Carolina
I love spending time on farms. This beautiful Angus cow is 14 years old. She looks wonderful for a great, great, great, great, great grandma. We can all hope to age as well as her.
4. Silver Dollar, Louisville, Kentucky
The fried oysters here are like crack cocaine. I would eat several baskets, but that’s not why they’re on my list. Silver Dollar is one of Louisville’s, the Nation’s really, most trendy whiskey bars. Over the past couple years, I’ve received five magazine assignments to photograph them. This year, I worked with Susie, who was extremely nervous for her first magazine shoot. I’d say she did a pretty great job. Wouldn’t you?
3. Junior League Table Settings, Versailles, Kentucky
I photographed the Junior League of Louisville’s cookbook. We did several shoots, including spring, summer, fall and winter table settings. For the fall, the Junior League chose the Ashview Horse farm in Versailles, Kentucky. Ashview has bred 30 stakes winners, including a Breeder’s Cup champion, so my camera was in heaven. This guy was curious about what was going on. Guess who made the cover photo?
2. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida
Full disclosure, nobody paid me for this shoot. This was for fun. Along the bumpy ride in Animal Kingdom’s giant truck, I managed to get some fun shots of the resort’s beautiful animals.
1. The Great Fake Pumpkin vs. the Real Pumpkin, Studio
For the Junior League Cookbook, I shot most of the food in June and July. One of the recipes called for a pumpkin. Guess what? There are no pumpkins anywhere in the summer. So, I bought several fake pumpkins and did my best to hide the fakeness. We cut a hole in the starfoam, stuffed it with newspaper and poured the rice stuffing over top. Using low light, I tried to soften the gleaning orange color from the fake pumpkin. I also used a fall-color tablecloth to mute the colors a little more. Yeah, it didn’t work. No matter what I did, the fake pumpkin was still a fake pumpkin. We reshot the pumpkin recipe in September, and it looked amazing. To all food photographers out there be warned: Nobody carries pumpkins in July.