Happy New Year!! 2010 has begun, and today to start a new year of podcasts and photography, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a great year! And to kick off, now in its third iteration, today I’m going to take you through my own personal selection of my top ten images from 2009.
I really enjoy going through the exercise of looking back through my last year’s images, and trying to decide which ten really are my favorites. It gives you a view of your progression, and when I compare this to my list from 2008, I certainly feel happier with this year’s work, although I do still very much like my selection from 2008 as well.
The good thing about going back through your images from an entire year is that many weeks and sometimes months has passed, since we made most of the photographs, and so you can be a little bit more subjective. As we’ve mentioned many times, when you have just shot something, you can be a little more influenced by the experience and excitement of the shoot, and therefore favor some images that you might not quite like as much later on.
I like to give my images at least two or three days to simmer before I make my final selection of what images I am going to take further in my work-flow, and upload to my gallery etc. When possible, I like to give them a week or so. After many months have passed though, when you look back at the images, they have to really stand on their own merits for you to still really like them. This gives me confidence that anything that makes this list really is my best work from 2009. Well, actually, to really do this properly, I should probably do this around February or March time, but the start of the year just seems a better time to do this.
Here are some quick stats on my selection process before we look at the top ten. On my first pass through my 380 or so best shots from 2009, I was left with a shortlist of 50 images initially. That’s around 13%, which I’m pleased with. Even though I felt like dropping a few more into the favorites bucket, I left many out because I knew that they’d be trumped by other images. The 50 were ones that I knew I was going to have to compare side by side before making a decision.
A second pass go me down to 26 images, and now it started to get really difficult to remove further images. You kind of switch into a different mode and feel more like an assassin than a photographer at this point. I got down to 15, and had to take a break for a while. In the end, I had to turn to my art director (read wife) for advice. She has a different eye to me, and a different sense of the aesthetic to a degree, but she can also be that little bit more subjective than I can, and is always a great help in these final culling stages. Let’s take a look at what was left after my final ruthless cull down to 10 images. Note that we’re going to look at these in chronological order, and not the in priority of how much I like each image or anything like that.
First up is image number 2103 (above) from early February, the weekend before last year’s Hokkaido Workshop. This is a White Eye bird, shot in the early blossoming Kan-zakura flower. These little birds are native to Japan and here all year round, but they come to feed on the nectar in the blossom early every spring, and although they move very fast, there are enough of them to be able to get a few shots if you visit a park with the trees in them. This was shot in the Shinjuku Gyoen park, in Tokyo. I particularly like this shot because of that sea of pink in which the bird is situated. This particular tree is often so full of blossom that you can create the entire background with pink, making a beautiful setting for your subject. This is also one of those few occasions when I think that bulls-eyeing the image worked, as we can see the White Eye is smack in the middle of the frame, though the eye is slightly off-center, which does help to reduce the bulls-eye effect a little.
Eleven days later I was in the middle of the Hokkaido Workshop and shot image number 2161 (above). This is probably my favorite Steller’s Sea Eagle shots to date. I just love the way the wings are spread open, but the flight feathers pointing down, and the snow being kicked up by the bird and frozen by the fast shutter speed really work for me. The shadow of the bird top it off though, and this image kind of reminds me of a native American dance of some sort. Also, this image is a tribute to the quality of the 300mm F2.8 lens, even with the 1.4X extender attached, it’s sharp as tacks. The eye on this beautiful eagle is totally sharp, and you can pick out incredible detail in the feathers. Definitely one of my favorite wildlife images from last years trip.
Three days later still, and we’d finished the wildlife leg of the workshop, and had moved on to the beautiful town of Biei, for some Winter Landscape photography, and without doubt, my favourite image from this leg of the trip is image number 2183 (above). Here we see a lone tree, standing on a hill, in a snow storm. It’s not easy to see in the web sized image, but the reason for the almost totally whited-out scene here is heavy snow being driven directly towards us. I remember having just a few seconds to shoot each time after wiping the snow off the front element of the 300mm F2.8 lens. Every time I cleaned the lens and pointed it back towards the tree, I was able to get literally just three or four frames off, before having to clean the lens again. Incredible fun though, and this tree, complimented by the curve of the top of the hill were beautiful. Of course, I was shooting with the exposure set to around 1 stop more than the camera’s meter thought I should be shooting at, to compensate for the frame being filled almost totally with white.
Almost straight after the 2009 Hokkaido Workshop, I went on a reconnaissance trip to Jigokudani, to photograph the Snow Monkey’s, and my favorite shot from this trip has to be image number 2230 (right). The love and affection captured in the pose and the closed eyes of this macaque monkey as she cuddled her child to keep warm still captures my heard every time I look at it. I have two others that I really like too, with the mother’s eyes open, but to me this one captures the moment better than any other. This was shot from a kneeling position, very much like my kneeling photographer logo that you’ve probably seen on the Web site, literally just a few meters from the monkeys. I used the 70-200mm F2.8 lens at 200mm, so you can probably tell how close I was. I could have gotten closer, and indeed we do get very close to the monkeys that bathe in the hot spring here, but I didn’t want to scare these two away, and lose my shot. Once I was sure that I’d nailed it though, I let them be, and moved on.
The next image, number 2256 (below) was shot in April, when the full moon coincided with a Saturday, and the azimuth at which the moon would rise was going to be good to capture this Shinto Gate or Torii, on the rocks in the sea at a place called Ooarai, in the Ibaraki Prefecture, a couple of hours drive from Tokyo. This was a four minute exposure, to render the waves on the sea as a smooth silky sheet, almost like in a valley mist rather than sea. It had actually been cloudy as the moon rose above the horizon behind the gate, and having waited an hour or so, I’d given up, and gone into the hotel near here. I’d eaten dinner, had a beer and was in the hot spring bath looking out of the window when the moon broke through the clouds. I took another minute or so in the bath to warm up, and then went back to my room to grab my gear, and went out for another hour or so, during which time I captured this image. I was very pleased that the bath had big windows, and that I was able to go back out, having initially failed to capture anything.
We jump exactly three months next, from April the 11th, to July the 11th, and it’s another long exposure, in image 2319 (below). This was a two and a half minute exposure of a jetty, from behind a café on the lake Towada, in Aomori, the prefecture at the northern most part of mainland Japan, before you cross the sea to Hokkaido. The long exposure here again helped to smooth the relatively choppy lake to make a smooth silky surface, almost as though the lake was frozen over. It was pretty much dark when I shot this, but there was just enough light to give some texture in the mountains and clouds in the distance. There was also enough light that I had to use an ND400 neutral density filter to reach this long exposure.
I also recall that as I was photographing this jetty, the lady that owns the café turned the lights on inside, illuminating the jetty with warm light, that really didn’t match the cold feel outside, and that is another reason why I went with black and white for this shot, but from the start, I was thinking it would look much better in black and white, and I’d just bought Silver Effex Pro, so was looking forward to seeing what I could do with this. This I guess is a really good example of making a photograph, as opposed to a taking it, as we discussed a few weeks ago in Episode 222.
Another absolute favorite for the year is image number 2352 (above). This is a good example of what I call flowerscapes, as it was shot with a long lens, again, the 300mm F2.8 with a 1.4X extender fitted. Keeping the foreground bokeh in mind at all times, and selecting a position to shoot from that renders the background almost black helped to give a dramatic yet beautiful feel, really making the red cosmos flower stand out. This image is actually included in my Flowerscapes Folio that you can buy from www.mbpfolios.com. It’s a wonderful collection of images if I do say so myself, so check that out if you are interested.
Next up is image 2372 (right), which is one of the first shots I made with the new 100mm F2.8 Hybrid IS Macro lens that Canon released in October 2009. This was shot stopped down just two clicks from wide open, at F3.5, which is pretty wide for a macro shot, which inherently have very shallow depth-of-field. That’s what I was after though, as you can see the beautiful dreamlike bokeh along the front and back edges of the flower, with really just a few millimeters in sharp focus. The V shape cutting into the flower with the green background to the right is almost mirrored by the pink V formed by the left side of the flower, as well as the fact that really none of the outer edge of the flower petals are sharp here, are also things that attract me to this shot. I also just really like the contrast between the pink and the yellow and the green. This shallow a depth-of-field is not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but I really like this one from last year.
Just two more to go, and the next image in my top ten from 2009 is number 2413 (below). This is just the top section of the Kirifuri Falls in the Nikko area of Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. I visited three times on the same day, and the first two it was two misty to see anything. Not surprising really though, as the name of the falls, Kirifuri, basically means “mist falling”, or “raining”. On the third visit though, shortly after I got there the mist cleared for about 10 minutes so I had a bit of a photography frenzy. I shot everything from very wide, to the 300mm and this shot, at 150mm, was my favorite. The colors are nice, with the yellows, some greens left, and the red and orange leaves smattered throughout the scene, but the think I like most of all is that the leaves from the tree in front of the falls had all fallen just at the right time. If you imagine this shot with that tree fully leaved, you’ll realize that you literally would not be able to see the majority of the falls, so this really is perfect timing, with a big dose of luck to help out.
Finally, let’s look at the tenth image in my list, which is number 2417 (right). This is one that we looked at just a few weeks ago, shot at the end of November, 2009 at the Jindai Botanical Park. Possibly because it’s one of my most recent shots, but I’d say that right now, this is possibly my favorite shot of 2009. I just love this image. The multiple colors, with the splash of green in the foreground and then the red leaves slightly further into the shot, and then the orange then yellow leaves all totally complement each other, and I really like how I positioned the tree trunk along the right side of the image, with the Y shape as the trunk branches out just at the right place in the top right, everything just comes together perfectly for me here.
I should tell you that although there are a couple of portrait photos that I really wanted to include, I decided once again, as with last year, that I was going to concentrate only on my nature photography for my top ten selection. I do value my portrait work, but I’m decided to leave that out, as I do think of it as kind of a side business compared to my nature and wildlife work.
So there you have it — my selection from my last year of photography. A little self-centered again, as with the other recent achievements and goals episode that I did. My aim in bringing you this sort of Podcast is really to get you thinking about doing similar activities, if you don’t already do so. Setting goals and tracking achievements is very important to your success. Also looking back at the fruits of your labor, as I did in preparation for this episode, really helps you to see how well you’ve done over the year. When I compare my 2009 list to my 2008 list, which we discussed in Episode 170, I definitely feel as though my photography as improved over the last year. Likewise, when I compare these images and my 2008 images to my 2007 top ten, that we looked at in episode 119, again, I feel as though on the whole I’ve improved. There are favorites from previous years that I might rank higher than 2009, but on the whole, the quality is going up in my opinion.
Try to select just 10 of your own photos that would best represent your own 2009. If you don’t shoot very much, you could try selecting just 5 or even three images, but doing the exercise forces you to take a critical look at your year, which I feel has value and in itself may help you to improve in your photography as we start again in 2010.
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