Once again, we’ve toured the world, had some fabulous adventures, made some new found friends and taken some images we never thought we could take. Thanks once again to all of you for your continued support, your great humour, adventurous spirit and presence that has made each Creative Escape in 2016 truly one to remember.

Before we start on our annual Staff Picks – our fave shots of the year from all our trips in 2016 – first we just wanted to make a special mention to Alan O’Riordan, who scooped first prize in the 2016 National Geographic Traveller Photography Competition. His portfolio of images taken on one of our trips to Cuba scythed through thousands of other entries to attain top spot – his reward, an exhibition with his images on show, features in National Geographic Magazine and an all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam to boot. Huge congratulations again.

“Alan’s outstanding series of portraits are as much about the backdrop as the subject being photographed, but in a good way. As a group, the photographs immediately let us know we’re in Cuba. The striking, colourful settings and revealing details enhance the photographs rather than distracting from the subject. Each image invites you to study the surroundings — a shop with old radios, a market with meagre supplies, and intricate window grates on deteriorating buildings. With a straightforward style, the photographer’s subjects are conscious of the camera but appear natural and relaxed in their environment.”

Carol Enquist, Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Traveler (US)

Staff Pick No 1 – Irrm Sattar

Back in March, Irrm’s black-and-white shot of an artisan deep in the souks of Marrakech had more views on our Facebook page than any other shot we’ve ever shown. And for a good reason; one of the hardest things to do in a portrait is to get that connection between subject and photographer – Irrm’s patient, gracious style achieved that perfectly, don’t you think?

And the best bit? She took delivery of her first digital SLR the night before the trip started. From complete beginner to accomplished portrait photographer. Now, that’s something to celebrate.

Staff Pick No 2 – Media Eghbal

A month later, we were back in Cuba, still one of the best shooting locations on the planet, and actually quite untouched by the US invasion, despite the reporting by the Daily Mail. The beauty of this shot is not just it’s execution; it’s the fact we were on our way out of town, and Media spotted this retro carwash through the window, and charmed the driver into stopping on a near-freeway to get out.

Shooting into the light is really tricky; you’ve got to get everything spot on to balance off the flare with enough detail; this is truly perfect. In fact, you could easily see this image gracing the inner pages of a high-end travel magazine. Great positioning, top colours, and plenty of patience to wait for just the right moment. A cracker.

Staff Pick No 3 – Nat Hayden

Still in Cuba, we ducked out of bustling Havana for the day, to take a trip into the rolling tobacco fields in Vinales, first a spectacular lunch in an eco-lodge, before a guided tour to meet some farmers. We bypassed the tourist farm and headed to a hilltop casa, where a bunch of young artisans were growing oh-so-wonderful coffee, so we stopped for a cup. Whilst the black liquor brewed, Nat ducked out and found this guy on his break, sitting on the verandah akin to ‘Little House on the Prairie’.

Great position, intense connection to the subject and great decision to pull back and reveal other elements which strengthens the story (and the shot).

Staff Pick No 4 – Shakira Cassidy

June we headed out to California, for our quintessential photography road trip, a tour through art-deco Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Pioneer – a Wild West film set, then Death Valley and Yosemite.

So on one of our secret add-on locations we like to throw in every now and again, Shakira pulled his fab documentary portrait out of the bag. Like all the best shots, Shakira has left something to our imagination, which only strengthens the impact of the shot. Lovely work.

Staff Pick No 5 – Eve Watson

Mid-summer, we were out in Sri Lanka, touring the cultural centre of Kandy, taking shots on board of the world’s finest train journeys, and drinking the world’s most expensive tea in Galle.

This shot, by Eve, taken on the 2nd day at a local fish market close to Colombo, is staggeringly beautiful; perfect exposure, lovely positioning and a connection that just lights up the photograph. It has an almost timeless feel to it – stunning black and white image Eve, you should be truly proud of that one.

Staff Pick No 6 – Camilla Field

When this was first shown, projected on our cinema screen on the review after the second day shooting of our Kerala trip – everyone gasped. Our tour took us out of town, to a locals village, who have barely seen any tourists there. We were warmly welcomed, and headed down to the beach, where the whole village seemed to be, to watch the catch come in.

Camilla had other ideas, she skipped the market looking for scenes that stood out, and after quickly taking a few test shots on her new (and prized X-Pro 2) took this beauty. Again, it’s quite timeless, cinematically lit with a stillness that characterises it’s feeling. Be good to see this in the 2017 Nat Geo comp no?

Staff Pick No 6 – Sara Cooksley

After shooting tea pickers in the world’s highest tea plantation, we took some rest aboard our luxe houseboat for a few days, cruising the backwaters, and getting treated like kings and queens. Our trip goes beyond the normal tourist route, deeper into the backwaters for a more authentic experience.

So each morning, we’d get up early to catch the life around the waterways in soft light, fabulous chance to meet some locals and immerse yourself in their way of life. This one from Sara really encapsulates how it feels out there; the high amount of coconut in Keralan’s diet means their skin and eyes glow; they are also the most calm and welcoming people we’ve ever come across and their simplicity of life is truly something to admire.

Knocking off another great shot with her new nifty fifty, the Canon 50mm lens we recommend in the other blog post, Sara captured a great moment, lovely connection, fabulous aperture blur and colours to die for. This is right out of the camera; no retouching has been done.

Staff Pick No 7 – Lynne Owen

Lynne was literally grinning from ear to ear when she came back with this one. Shot in the final days of our trip to Kerala, this cinematic documentary portrait reminds you of a time gone by, and the presence of the girl shines through to create enormous impact.

From the framing, to the lighting, to the positioning of the subject and herself, it’s all perfectly done and what a fabulous image to end the trip on. Super super well done.

Staff Pick No 8 – Lynne Honour

The light was going, and the nature of the nomads living deep in the Sahara desert, is, well, nomadic. They are hard to find. We turned up to our final camp just as this beautiful soft light was laying itself over the desert landscape – and Lynne worked quickly to craft this shot.

Like many of the people we shoot, the guy was nervous. He wasn’t used to a troupe of photographers turning up in 4×4’s asking for models. Just as the light started to fade, she picked up his binoculars, handed them to him and he modelled them perfectly.

Classic shot, beautifully framed. An absolute stunner.

Staff Pick No 9 – Anabel Barker

Anabel’s third trip and her confidence behind the camera had grown and grown each time. Our Sahara trip was time to step it up a level – to leave behind the comfort of her (incredible) still life work, and look for pastures new.

In the desert, she found her rhythm, so by the time she’d gotten back to the souks of Marrakech, confidence was high. On the last day of our journey, she shot this classic black-and-white, steps from the Madersa. It has everything a classic B&W image should have, strong blacks and whites, and mid-tones to deliver the story.

It is inch perfect in every way.

Staff Pick No 10 – Sandy Wood

Despite being still in the process of recovering from a debilitating injury, Sandy was back on the photography trail with a bang. This one, in the backstreets, was cleverly constructed – shot made easier by her buying a packet of pellets for the willing shooters.

Lovely composition, great placement and strong narrative, this is a lovely lovely shot.