2012 Best 12!

Top 10 Nature Photos from 2012 (Podcast 355)

It’s great to be back after the longest break since starting this Podcast back in 2005. Just four days off two months! For those of you that listened to me and stayed subscribed, thanks! For those of you that didn’t, let’s get back into iTunes and hit that subscribe button again. I’ve got some cool stuff on the way in the coming weeks…

With still way too many photos selected from my recent South Georgia and Antarctica expeditions, I’m going to need another week or so to whittle them down to a reasonable amount to upload and talk about the voyages, so this week, I figured I’d start 2013 with a Top 10 list of my best nature photos from 2012. This is my selection of course, and so it’s quite a personal thing, and may not include some images that you might like more. It also contains six new photos from my recent expeditions, and no less than four penguin photos, so I hope you like penguins.

Statistics & Process

I’ve talked about the process of whittling down a selection of images in the past, so I won’t go into much detail today, but to give you some statistics, in 2012 I shot a total just over 29,500 photos and video clips. From these, I selected just under 600 images to post to my web site, stock site and other social media networks. Around 450 of these were nature and wildlife photos, the core of my work, but the other 150 or so were images from photo walks, architecture and cityscapes, which are becoming a bigger part of my photography now, more than ever before.

When I took a scan through my 2012 images to prepare for this Podcast, I ended up with a short-list of 60 images, which is about 10% of my final selection for the year. Picking favorites is the easy part. It then took me almost a day to reduce the images down to just 10. I was originally thinking that I’d try to pick 10 favorites from the entire set, but it soon became obvious that I was going to have to select from just my nature work again. I might do another best 10 next week, to talk a little about my other work, for now, we’ll look at my nature and wildlife selection.

Even having made that decision though, getting rid of favorites images is agonizing. Zack Arias quotes a friend as saying ”It’s like lining up your children and deciding which ones you’re going to shoot”, and he’s right. Once I’d decided to go with just nature work, I got down to about half pretty quickly, but then it took hours to decide on my final 10. It even took me an our to decide which two of the final twelve I had to shoot.

2012 Best 12!

2012 Best 12!

I have mentioned before though, that this is partly why I like to do this each year. It makes you look at your work with a very critical eye. A Top Ten list is pretty final, and although I sometimes sneak in a few special mentions, ten is ten, so the goal is very clear.

The other good thing is that I have actually been back from Antarctica for two and a half weeks now, and was traveling doing a private tour for a client here in Japan, so I had a good buffer between my most recent work, which helps to remove the emotion of the shoot. Even though, I’ve still ended up with more than half of this year’s work from the last two months, but I truly believe it’s some of my best nature work for the year, so here we go.

First up, here’s a little fella that you might remember from my trip to Okinawa in August. This is a simple photo, with a bulls-eyed subject, but this has stuck with me as a favorite for the year. I just like the warm, soft tones of the hermit crab and matching sand, and how we had this little moment of eye contact before he scuttled off down the beach. I’m kind of ordering these in a slightly ordered least to most liked, so this guy will hopefully be happy to have stayed in here.



Next up is the magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagle from last year’s Hokkaido tour and workshop. A few people said they thought it looked like I’d captured this guy flying high above the clouds, and once I heard that, I started to look at it the same way too sometimes, but it’s actually just flying a foot or so above the sea-ice in the channel between Hokkaido and the dispute Kuril Islands to the East. I reckon after the Red-Crowned Crane these incredible eagles are probably my favorite bird, and this year’s only representative Japanese bird in the top ten, as it was hard to beat my crane shots from 2011.



We jump now to South Goergia, for a look at a battle-scared and almost hung-over looking Elephant Seal Beach-master. These guys are around 5 meters long and way up to 3 to 4 tons! They can move pretty quickly though, and you do not want to get in their way, so although this might look like a fun shot, I was more than a little nervous as he reared up and started to bellow at me. They apparently rarely attack, and the baby elephant seals are absolutely adorable, but they are still pretty scary when you are relatively close to them, especially when you are between them and the sea, on a downhill slope.

The Morning After

The Morning After

Back to Okinawa now for a shot that we’ve looked at before, where I spent a little time figuring out the optimal shutter speed to show the water flowing just enough to show the entire wave crashing on the rocks, before it followed through and the effect was lost. The shutter speed was exactly one second, and this has remained on my desktop background for most of the rest of the year since I shot it in August. This year has seen a number of firsts, not just in my first visit to Okinawa, but also the first time for a long time that I’ve spent any quality photography time in warmer climbs. You know that I kind of specialize in shooting in cold places, and I still prefer to be able to rug-up to stay warm, rather than trying to peel my skin off in hot places, but I had a great time, and can see it happening more in the future.

Rocks at Sukuta

Rocks at Sukuta

Back to my element now though, with this photo of some monumental icebergs in Cierva Cove, Antarctica. These are basically huge slabs of ice-shelf that have broken away and become sea-born. Apart from the almost perfectly spherical whole in the back berg, there isn’t much special about the slabs, other than their sheer size. I have lots of other iceberg shots, as you can probably imagine, but I love the way the clouds, and even the sea appear to be flowing from or even towards the main berg here, as though it’s mass is giving it its own gravity or something, like a black hole.

Monumental Icebergs

Monumental Icebergs

A month before the above Antarctica photo, I was in South Georgia for the first time, and had a wonderful time shooting the incredible wildlife there, but without a doubt, one of my favorites was the King Penguins. I got lots of portraits and studies of four different kinds of penguins, and although I ended up removing my second favorite, the Chinstrap portrait from this top ten, we’ll see another King Penguin shot in second place as well. I just love these big penguins, and that beautiful splash or golden-orange around their necks.



Here I just put my trusty 300mm f/2.8 lens on and framed this shot with the aperture wide open, looking for a composition that just showed these guys all hanging out, preening and going about their business. I have another shot that I love after this, where it started to snow, and you know how much I love snow, but in this shot, I just really like the way that one guy just right of center almost looks like a Japanese businessman in a crowd, maybe waiting for a train to arrive, as the guy in front practices his golf swing or something.

The Adelie Penguins are pretty cute too, and these three on top of a small iceberg kept us amused for five minutes or so as we circled the berg in our Zodiac, shooting them from many different angles. Here they almost look like the first three frames of a multiple exposure of a single bird about to dive into the water. Again, a relatively simple shot, but I like the contrast between the foreground snow, the black and white of the penguins, and then the blue-grey sky in the background. This is one that I’m really looking forward to printing and holding in my hand before too long.

The Three Adelies

The Three Adelies

Three more penguins here again, but this time they’re Gentoos. Again, I’ve got some lovely studies of these guys, especially a wide open aperture shot of a Gentoo that came right up to me, all curios as to what I might be doing on his rock at 10:30 at night. They are certainly images we’ll be looking at soon, but for my top ten, I’m trying to include something with a bit more of a twist, such as these three in almost perfect synchronization. They were just hurrying along a penguin path, coming towards me, but they just look so comical here, almost like when dancers or performers hide behind each other, then rotate out and around to form a bit of an optical illusion.

Syncronized Gentoos

Syncronized Gentoos

Here’s that second place shot of the King Penguin pair that I mentioned earlier. The stream in the background was catching the light to give me those perfect little beads of bokeh, even with an aperture of f/9, because I was shooting with the 300mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4X Extender here, so 420mm focal length, which of course gives a very shallow depth-of-field when focusing on something close. I just love the tender moment these guys were sharing though, as the male reaches over from behind the female, and draws her head into his chest with his beak. They actually mated straight after this, which I also photographed, but I was started to feel a little voyeuristic after this display, so I decided to go with the tender moment instead. And of course, I believe this is the better photo. 🙂

King Penguin Tender Moment

King Penguin Tender Moment

And finally, in first place of my 2012 top ten nature shots, is this image of the five Snow Monkeys, from February 2012. This has remained my favorite image through the entire year. The texture in the fur, the authoritative stare of the guy to the right, the shy, almost timid look of the monkey to the far right, and the totally disengaged monkey on the left fascinate me. Of course, the baby monkey being shielded from the cold by the two center monkeys is the main story here, although they are actually warming themselves up with the young one as much as they are protecting him. The way he looks out from his little hiding place though, all safe and warm but with a little apprehension is what makes this for me.

Five Monkeys

Five Monkeys

So, that’s it! My 2012 Top Ten nature shots. I’ve enjoyed the process of deciding on what to include, and learned a few other things about my work at the same time. One thing I haven’t touched on yet is that although I consider both wildlife and landscape shots to be my nature work, I find almost without doubt, however spectacular the landscape, it was very difficult to keep many in my selection. This tells me that although I enjoy landscapes, I’m certainly gravitating towards wildlife more, and I really do enjoy showing animals in their environment, if possible doing something special or showing some characteristic. I still love the simple composition, and will go for a plain white or monotone background over a cluttered one every time. I didn’t really realize that I was gravitating toward wildlife so much though, until I tried to remove these images. Or maybe it’s just that things with eyes are more difficult to distance yourself from.

If you have time, I really recommend doing your own Top Ten set of images too, and if you do so, please do post a link in the comments on this blog post. I’d love to see what you came up with too, and let us know what you learned from the experience as well.

I will probably do that top ten of images from my general work, just to do the exercise and to share that work with you too, but this is certainly what I consider my most representational work from last year, and I hope you enjoyed walking through it with me.

Snow Monkey & Hokkaido Tour Availability

A couple of bits of housekeeping before we finish – today we had a cancellation for the Snow Monkey & Hokkaido Tour and Workshop from February 18 to March 1st, 2013. This is the one that we are honored to be joined by my friend David duChemin, the best selling author and creator of Craft & Vision. It’s a great way to experience the Snow Monkey’s, Red-Crowned Cranes, the majestic sea eagles and swans, and other wildlife and landscape of the Japanese winter. It’s also a great cultural experience, not to mention that you’ll learn a lot about shooting wildlife and working in winter conditions, as well as spending time with David and I in the Winter Wonderland. Details can be found on my Tour and Workshop Web site at mbpworkshops.com.

Don’t Touch That Dial!

Also, a quick word on the Podcast schedule for the next few months. I intend to release at least four episodes in January, and maybe even more if I can make time, as I really want to make up for the very light release schedule since I started all my traveling in September last year. Of course, I will be away for two weeks at a time for the two Hokkaido tours in February, but am going to try my best to release two episodes in the 9 days I have at home between the two tours. Then in March and April I will again be releasing at least one episode per week, if not more as time allows, so please do keep that subscription live, as I have no intention of stopping doing this Podcast. If ever I did decide to stop, I’ll go out with a bang, not just fizzle out, so you’ll know about it.

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
  • Nick Nieto
    Posted at 00:35h, 05 January Reply

    Martin – fantastic work this past year. I think my favorite 2 images are the King Penguin Tender Moment and the Monumental Iceberg

    I too did a top ten of the year – and was amazed at my selection and what it revealed about my development as a photographer over 2012. This year I embraced landscapes and nature more than ever before and that is probably why I’m drawn very much to the Monumental Iceberg image. I love darkness in the sea and how that contrast so strongly to the soft blues in the iceberg. I think that gravitational feeling of movement you mentioned in the image really helps convey the massiveness of these slabs of ice. Again great work this year.

    Here’s a link to my top 10 if you would like to check it out http://nicknieto.com/blog/photos/favorite-images-of-2012/

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 00:51h, 05 January Reply

      Thanks for the kind words Nick!

      Thanks for the link to your top ten too. I love that first shot with the orange leaves. Spectacular! The rest are beautiful too of course.


  • Ray
    Posted at 06:51h, 06 January Reply

    Just recently discovered your podcast so I’ve been listening 2 hours a day to and from work so I could catch up. Monumental Icebergs is fabulous. It’s got this 3D “you are there” look to it and the “black hole” effect especially in the ripples of the ocean just adds to the fun. Since I’ve heard so many podcasts recently it seems like in this one you really made a conscious effort to avoid adding “ya-knows” to the dialog and the result was a more polished, professional sounding podcast. Keep up the good work!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 10:26h, 06 January Reply

      Thanks for listening to the Podcast and for the kind words Ray!

      Hee hee, you must still be on the early episodes, when I would speak from rough notes. The “ya-knows” as I think used to bug the hell out of me too. I actually started to right out the entire script before I record many years ago, and that helps a lot.


  • Tony
    Posted at 10:31h, 06 January Reply

    Martin, so great to hear you again. Welcome back.

    After a 15 year hiatus I returned to my roots February 2012. Not exactly like getting back on a bike for me. I just don’t know what it is, yet I hope that 2013 is lucky for me and things start to click again.

    All your images are incredible and seeing ones like the Monumental Icebergs give me a place to reach, very inspiring, thanks so much for sharing.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 10:34h, 06 January Reply

      Thanks Tony! It’s great to be back. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words too, and good luck with your own photography in 2013!

      All the best,

  • Glenn Walker
    Posted at 07:03h, 07 January Reply

    Great to see your shots Martin. After your workshop in Antarctica I’ve been trawling your website – loads of excellent stuff here, thanks for all the effort.

    You inspired me to do my top 10 – you can check them out here: http://walkerphotoblog.blogspot.com

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:43h, 07 January Reply

      Hi Glenn,

      Great to see you here!! I have been busy with a private tour until the end of 2012, so am really just getting settled to whittle that horde of shots down to a reasonable number before posting.

      That’s a beautiful set of images from 2012 Glenn! I’m happy to have been sitting beside you when you shot the last one. 🙂

      Have a great 2013, and I’m looking forward to meeting again at some point.


  • Leslie Granda-Hill
    Posted at 14:26h, 12 January Reply

    Beautiful work Martin. It is obvious that you are living every day to its fullest-bravo! My top 10 images are an extreme contrast to yours.

    All the best in 2013 to you!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 17:21h, 12 January Reply

      Thanks Leslie!

      It’s lovely to hear from you, and I love your top ten! Beautiful images, and quality work as usual. Thanks so much for sharing!

      All the best in 2013 for you too.


  • Sparky
    Posted at 08:35h, 05 February Reply

    Hi Martin,
    Big fan of your podcast…Thanks for all your efforts!
    My favorites of yours are Surveillance (love the head-on view and the sharp face and blurred wings), Monumental Iceberg (simply awesome!), and Synchronized Gentoos (fun and funny).
    Every year I do a Top Ten. This year I did a Top Twenty and combined my wildlife with my other stuff. Like you say, it is always a tough winnowing process…but a blast reviewing the year. I’m based in northern Minnesota.
    Here is the link:

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