Zac Mills' Top Photos of 2016

Following the lead of managing editor Ian Plant and his recent year in review post highlighting his best photos from 2016, I wanted to share my own top 16 photos from 2016. I know it’s a bit late, but I was out in the field for several weeks to start the year – more on this soon!

2016 was a great year which allowed me to travel to 25 countries across five continents. It also was a period of significant change as I left my former day job to focus more exclusively on photography. It was a year in which I was able to push my artistic creativity to new levels and discovered a love for ultra-wide perspectives.

Related course: The Ultra-Wide Landscape

Scroll through to view my top photos and learn more about each.

“Nature’s Pastel” – Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya


Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 3200, f/4, 1/640 second.

We were following Luluka, a newly independent leopard in Masai Mara. As the sun was setting, she jumped up into the tree in front of us to scan the horizon for prey. I gave plenty of space on both sides to accentuate the “V” shaped pattern and underexposed to capture the soft pastel colors of the evening sky.

“Venezia by Night” – Venice, Italy


Canon 1DXII, Canon 24-70 f/2.8II lens, ISO 100, f/11, 15 seconds.

To capture a different perspective on the famous Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, I used a long exposure during the last light of day to capture the movement of the silhouetted gondolas, which were rocking back and forth from the waves.

“Sulamani Temple” – Old Bagan, Myanmar


Canon 1DXII, Canon 24-70 f/2.8II lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 0.6 second.

The Sulamani Temple was built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu. Although it was devastated by the 1975 earthquake, it was restored to its original splendor in the 1990s. The golden aura from the night light provides a sense of wonderment.

“Strong. Proud. The Maasai” – Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya


Canon 1DXII, Canon 11-24 f/4 lens, ISO 8,000, f/4, 6 seconds.

I used a long exposure with flash to capture this powerful pose of two good friends under the night sky.

“Mara View” – Masai Mara, Kenya


Canon 5DIII, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8II lens, ISO 800, f/8, 1/800 second.

During the rainy season in Masai Mara the grass can grow to over six feet, which makes it difficult to find prey. One morning we found this cheetah who climbed the tree in front of us to look for her next meal.

“Golden Light” – Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska


Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 200, f/8, 1/1600 second.

There was a strong, radiant sunset which provided a great opportunity to photograph the silhouettes of this backlit mother polar bear and her playful cub.

“Fontaines de la Concorde” – Paris, France


Canon 1DXII, Canon 11-24 f/4 lens, ISO 100, f/16, 13 seconds.

Completed in 1840 during the reign of King Louis-Philippe, the Fountaines de la Concorde remains an iconic Paris landmark. I opted for a long exposure just after sunset to smooth the sprouting water and capture the moving lights from the cars driving past in the background. The Eiffel tower spotted through the streams provides an additional sense of place.

“Golden Air” – Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya


Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 800, f/4, 1/2000 second.

A backlit shot during a cold early morning in the Masai Mara. The golden breath of the lion provides a golden background.

“Blue Fire” – Ijen Volcano, Java, Indonesia


Canon 5DIII, Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Lens, ISO 3200, f/2, 1/8 second.

As part of one of the world’s most difficult jobs, three sulfur miners survey their next extraction. Hot steam is piped in to liquefy the sulfur so it can be removed and hauled out of the volcanic crater. At night, the ignited sulfuric gas is visible as a deep blue color.

“Streaking Lights” – Venice, Italy


Canon 1DXII, Canon 24-70 f/2.8II lens, ISO 100, f/11, 15 seconds.

I used a long exposure over the famous Accadmeia Bridge in Venice to capture the headlights of the water taxis as they made their way down the canal.

“Regality” – Masai Mara, Kenya


Canon 1DXII, Canon 24-70 f/2.8II lens, ISO 3200, f/3.5, 1/80 second.

A male lion displays a regal pose during the last twilight of day. I used a spotlight to balance the exposure between the lion and the fading light.

“Stamina” – Ijen Volcano, Java, Indonesia


Canon 1DXII, Canon 24-70 f/2.8II lens, ISO 800, f/4, 1/500 second.

Sulfur miners routinely carry their own bodyweight in sulfur as they scale the 45-minute hike out of the volcanic crater, followed by the two mile hike down the volcano. They repeat this task several times per day, six days per week, and 52 weeks per year.

“Twilight Zone” – Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya


Canon 1DXII, Canon 24-70 f/2.8II lens, ISO 3200, f/3.2, 1/125 second.

A cheetah searches for her next meal under cover of twilight. The last light of day illuminated the sky with a deep blue hue, patterned by the rolling clouds.

“Purmamarca Under the Stars” – Purmamarca, Argentina


Canon 1DXII, Canon 11-24 f/4 lens, ISO 3200, f/4, 45 seconds.

Purma (desert) marca (city) is a small town that sits at 8,000 feet and is well-known for its multi-colored hills. Just behind the town sat several red hills that were partially illuminated by the town lights. I used a long exposure to capture this scene under the night stars.

“King Agashya” – Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda


Canon 5DIII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 800, f/8, 1/2000 second.

A portrait of Agasya, the dominant silverback of the Agashya group.

“Three Beaches” – Pulau Padar, Komodo National Park, Indonesia


Canon 1DXII, Canon 11-24 f/4 lens, ISO 100, f/8, 0.3 second.

I hiked to the top of Pulau (Island) Padar in Komodo National Park for sunrise. The ultra-wide angle shot reveals the curvature of the island and its three beaches. A small negative exposure compensation helped to bring out the colors from the morning glow.

With 2016 in the rearview mirror, 2017 promises to be even better. I’ll be spending more time on location in some of my favorite places such as Indonesia, Kenya, and Rwanda, and will also visit Ethiopia, India, Malaysia, and several more countries for the first time. So stay tuned and let’s make 2017 a year where we push the boundaries of our creativity to new levels.


About the author: A former World Bank economist, Zac Mills has traveled to more than 70 countries. His photography invites us to experience the incredible beauty, diversity, and fragility of our planet. You can see his images and follow his adventures at

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2 Responses to “Zac Mills' Top Photos of 2016”

  1. Dale Graves

    On my visits to the Masai Mara, our guides have always been required to leave the park or be back to camp well before dark. What is your secret?

  2. Jessie

    Amazing photos! Just out of curiosity, did you travel with Ian? The Indonesia miners' photos remind me of Ian's photos taken there. Also, how do you usually post process your photos?