12 Photos Defining My 2021

My year, both personally and professionally, has been dictated by the ongoing pandemic.  Indeed, many of the images featured in this photographic review of 2021 may not have been taken without the Covid-related changes to our everyday life.  As photography is both my profession and hobby, I take a lot of photos and I thought it would be good to look back at 2021 through the lens of my camera.  I have chosen one photograph for each month and all twelve tell my story of the year.  I hope you like them.

January – Snow

The snow coated hillside of Garth Hill.

January was cold.  The icy weather included frequent snowfalls interspersed with bouts of heavy rain.  But it didn’t stop me walking.  Throughout 2021, walking has been a saviour.  Even in the snow and rain, I laced up my boots, put on some warm clothes and waterproofs, and walked.  As travel was restricted, I was confined to exploring local routes up and around the Garth Hill and even the overgrown slag heaps of the Cwm Coke Works near Beddau.  And, whenever I contemplated staying in the warm and dry, I remembered how much training was needed to successfully take on the 10nTaff challenge for Tŷ Hafan, climbing 10 mountains and cycling over 50 miles in 55 hours.

February – Winter

Illuminated washing machines on a garage forecourt in Llantwit Fardre

The battle between Winter and Spring often starts in February.  Morning walks meant starting out in the dark and watching the colour of the sky change as dawn slowly and, seemingly reluctantly, broke.  The bitter cold of January and early February melted away as the month progressed.  With the ongoing Covid restrictions limiting professional photography opportunities, I turned to photographing my local area whilst walking.  And there was so much to see.

March – Blossom

The Japanese Cherry Blossom in our garden

Spring is one of my favourite times of the year, with life returning to the garden.  The Japanese Cherry Blossom, with its beautiful pink flowers, is always one of the first to wake from Winter slumber.  With so much time being spent at home, I turned to photographing the wonderful garden cared for and created by my wife, Jackie.  Not only did I record the evolution of the garden through the seasons, but also the abundance of wildlife.  With feeders dotted around the garden, there were always birds to watch and photograph.

April – Tommy Cooper

The Tommy Cooper Statue with Caerphilly Castle in the background

On the 24th April 2021, my father passed away.  He had been in hospital since the end of February and my Mum and I visited him every day.  We all miss him terribly.  I was driving home that night, when I saw the sunset behind the statue and Caerphilly Castle.  Dad would have loved it.

May – Bluebells

Bluebells in old woods near Craig-yr-Allt

By May, the world was awakening from the pandemic nightmare and there was a slow return to professional photograph assignments.  I could have chosen a photograph taken during one of my very early photoshoots with Rich from A & R Cleaning Services, but instead I went for bluebells.  On a walk over and around Craig-yr-Allt, on the outskirts of Caerphilly, I discovered a trail through an old wood where the floor was littered with bluebells.  Simply beautiful.

June – Wedding

The bride and her Dad running to the Cathedral from their broken-down wedding car

The wedding of Gareth and Rhianon was my first photography event of any kind in 2021.  I must admit I was nervous due to the ongoing Covid restrictions and the responsibility of photographing a wedding.  However, from the moment I had a camera in my hand it was business as usual.  The wedding took place at the St David’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Cardiff, with the reception across the road in the wonderful Cornerstone.  I could have chosen one of a number of photos of the day, but Rhianon running up Charles Street with her Dad after their wedding car broke down near the Motorpoint Arena is my favourite.  I just love the smile on Rhiannon’s face, one of so many that I photographed on the day.

July – Pen-y-Fan

Low cloud over Pen-y-Fan

This year I have walked more with my daughter, Meg, that ever before.  It is wonderful that she shares my enthusiasm for walking mountains and, with her new camera, I am looking forward to more walks in 2022.  In early July, we headed up Pen-y-Fan and across to Cribyn, before settling down on Corn Du to see the sunset.  But the Brecon Beacons had other ideas.  As the sun started to drop, so the low cloud rolled in, obscuring the view.  We still managed to get a few photos before Pen-y-Fan disappeared in the clouds.

August – The Bee

A bee just leaving a lavender flower

After months of deliberation, I finally bought another camera.  I wanted something that was lighter than my 5D and 6D, specifically for walking and the 10nTaff challenge, and chose a Canon 90D.  Then I spent my time ‘playing’ with my new camera in the garden.  Photographing bees is a real challenge.  Your shutter speed needs to be very high as they move so quickly.  Also, my aim was to photograph a bee as it leaves a flower, which is easier than it sounds.  Simply catching a bee sitting on a flower was not good enough.  I won’t say how many photographs were taken before I finally got this shot.

September – Wayne Pivac

Wayne Pivac at The Events Room Six Nations Celebration Dinner

Against all pundits’ and many fans predictions, Wales won the 2021 Six Nations.  However, the pandemic meant that celebrations were initially put on ice.  Finally, in September, The Events Room held a celebratory dinner with Welsh-coach Wayne Pivac at Cornerstone in Cardiff.  This was their first event for some time and my first non-wedding event.  Listening to Wayne Pivac was well worth the wait.  He gave a great insight into life as an international rugby coach.  I even got the opportunity to explain what watching Wales win the Six Nations had meant to my Dad.  He had watched nearly every game in hospital and I even got to be with him for the game against Italy.  My Dad was a massive rugby fan and seeing Wales win one last Six Nations before he passed away was special.

October – Wet Walkers

With fellow walkers on the Trek for Tomorrow Brecon Beacons challenge for Cancer Research Wales

The only selfie in the twelve-photo selection and one that fails to do justice to one of the toughest walks I have done in a very long time.  As the event photographer, there was no option but to join the fundraisers from Cancer Research Wales as they hiked 15 miles across three peaks in the Brecon Beacons – Fan-y-Big, Cribyn and Pen-y-Fan.  Rain started to fall as we left Brecon and didn’t stop for 7 hours until we were down off the mountains.  A fantastic day with some amazing people.

November – Autumn

An Autumnal view from the woods on the side of Rudry Mountain

After or before visiting my Mum, I often walked up through the woods to the top of Rudry Mountain.  The walk takes me back to when I was a teenager playing in the woods and riding my green racing bike up and then back down the road taking you onto the village of Rudry.  Walking makes you appreciate how the seasons change the landscape.  By November, the green colours of Summer were giving way to the wonderful Autumnal oranges and browns.  This photograph was taken through the trees in the direction of Caerphilly as I descended through an old wood on the side of the mountain.

December – Christmas

Greg and Meg dressed the Christmas tree

I could have just had twelve photos of Greg, but resisted the temptation.  With Greg’s heart and lung condition, we have had to be extremely careful in 2020 and 2021.  This has meant isolating ourselves from family, friends and care support.  Through the year, I estimate that I’ve personally isolated in my own home for over three months, following photograph assignments or hospital visits, and during that time my wife, Jackie, takes responsibility for everything.  Meg and Tom, my daughter and son, have also had to keep their distance, especially with Meg working as a paediatric nurse at Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital in Cardiff and Tom in the film industry.  In late November, Meg went into self-imposed isolation so that she could come home to decorate the Christmas tree with Greg.  After 10 days and multiple lateral flow tests, she came home to stay for a few days.  It was magic.

What Lies Ahead in 2022

With the new Covid variant spreading like wildfire through the population [December 2021], the outlook for 2022 is, once again, uncertain.  Unsurprisingly, several photoshoots were either cancelled or postponed at the end of 2021 and I am not expecting a rush of assignments in January.

As a family with a vulnerable adult, we have no choice but to continue the restrictions recommended by Greg’s consultants and the Welsh Government.  Keeping Greg safe and healthy is paramount.

Despite the background noise of a pandemic, there is so much to look forward to in 2022.  Being a photographer is the best job in the world and I continue to work with so many wonderful people.  I am sure that there will be many inspirational stories to photograph next year.

At the end of June, I join an amazing group of men to take on the 10nTaff challenge, raising money for and awareness of Tŷ Hafan, the children’s hospice in South Wales.  Everyone taking part has had a family member cared for by the incredible people at Tŷ Hafan.  Climbing 10 mountains and then cycling over 50 miles, all in 55 hours, requires a huge amount of training and planning.

Every New Year brings exciting opportunities.  It’s a time of change, leaving behind the past and looking forward to the future.  And I wish everyone a very happy and healthy 2022.

“Stop being a prisoner of your past.  Become the architect of your future.”  Robin Sharma.

Paul Fears is a professional photographer based near Cardiff in South Wales, UK.  To discuss a photography assignment, please contact Paul on paul@paulfearsphoto.co.uk