Top Ten Non-Nature Photos from 2012 (Podcast 356)

Following on from last week’s Podcast, in which I showed you my top ten selection from my nature work in 2012, this week, we’re going to take a look at my favorite non-nature photos. This is a mix of street photography, traditional Japan work, and general snap shots. Again, it was a difficult task to whittle these down to just ten, but having gone through the exercise, I thought I’d share the results with you today.

I talked a bit about the statistics, how many photos I chose from etc. last week, so I won’t go into that again, but I did want to mention that the process was as time consuming as selecting from my nature work. I guess this is proof of how my photography is becoming more wide ranging now that this is all that I do. When I had the old day-job, I had to pick and choose my shoots much more strictly, because I had very little time to dedicate to photography, and so when I could go out, I generally chose to shoot what I love the most, which is nature.


Since leaving my job in 2010, to concentrate on photography full time, I have been able to do more varied work, between my nature shoots. I’ve shot things like the Tsukiji Fish Market, that I visited with Scott Jarvie, and the Google+ First Birthday photo walk. I don’t think I could have done these things while in my old job. I was also able to travel the world with my Pixels 2 Pigment workshops, and then spent most of the time between the workshops shooting cityscapes and street photography, as well as meeting family. I was also able to shoot some traditional Japan shots during a private tour that I did in December, and although I obviously gave my customer the best angles, it was still possible to get some images of my own that I quite liked, and a few of them made it in here too.

I haven’t ordered this top ten as I did with my nature work, so in no particular order, let’s take a look, and first up is a shot from inside the Tsukiji Fish Market. I’d been meaning to visit for a around 20 years, and when Scott Jarvie visited in April I figured it was finally time to get down there and see the place for myself. If you listened to Episode 331 you’ll know that I had a great time, and came away with a bunch of photos that I was quite happy with, like this one.

It maybe isn’t the most artistic shot from the series, but I just love the various boxes and people, going about their work, and for the first time in a long time, even the Japanese writing that seems totally natural to me, looked fresh and almost Bladerunneresque. I always knew that I was wasting a huge opportunity living in Japan and not making photographs like this, but time was getting the better of me. I’m really pleased to be able to do this sort of work now though.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

In September when I visited the US to continue my Pixels 2 Pigment workshops tour, I spent the first five days in Fairfield Ohio, for a long overdue visit to my see my Uncle and Aunt, and two of my three cousins that live their. On a guided tour of my cousin Tammy’s lovely house, I was amazed to find the beautiful light in this next photo, entering the attic space from a window behind a lovely old bed, and with lots of other well placed stuff that Tammy collects.

Tammy's Attic

Tammy’s Attic

Having exposed for the highlights behind the bed, the rest of the room fell dark or into silhouette, for this softly lit, and maybe even a little spooky feel. I knew as soon as I saw the shot that I had one of my favorites for the year, and it remained that way. This was shot at ISO 2000 by the way, and thanks to the 1D X, is totally noiseless, even in the shadows. You gotta love the technology that we have now.

I spoke about this next shot a few months ago as well, but one of the things that I really wanted to do while in New York was to shoot the Manhattan skyline. I arranged to meet a couple of friends, Scott Katzenoff and Ron Cunniff, and had a great time doing long exposures of the city. I have a second shot from this location that I really like too, of the Manhattan Bridge through the bottom of the Brooklyn Bridge, but I chose this iconic skyline for the top ten, for that very reason, it’s iconic. It’s a skyline that I would never have thought I’d get a chance to see, never mind photograph in this way.

Manhattan Skyline

Manhattan Skyline

Another iconic subject that I was happy to have shot this year, was the Golden Gate Bridge. The low cloud and mist makes the Golden Gate a very photogenic bridge, along with how they light it of course. September in San Francisco was a lot colder than I’d imagined, but the memory of standing their on the side of a cliff with my friend Jack Andrys will stay with me.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

I think this is a big part of the experience when shooting this sort of photograph that I don’t get so much from my nature work. There are times when I recall who I was with, especially when they are photos from workshops and tours, but I find that I get so wrapped up in the subject with my nature work that I focus much more on the subject, even in my recollection of the shoot. With the sort of work we’re looking at today though, the company I was in at the time I made the photograph is almost as important to me as the photos themselves.

As with any editing process though, none of that is included in the image, so the viewer of course doesn’t see that. This makes it very important to remove that emotion from the selection process, or you could end up with lesser images in your set based on the emotional attachment that you have with the image. It’s important to select images based on their own merit, not how they make us personally feel, and that is often very difficult to do.

Next up are a few photos from the Google+ First Birthday Photo Walk in Tokyo. This is Katsuya Tanaka at the gate of Zoujouji Temple, one of the places we visited. Again, this photo is as much about who I was with on the walk, but I really like this shot, with the contrast between the dark weathered metal, and the red colored gates, and then Katsuya of course, doing what we do. I don’t know about you, but I have hundreds of photos of photographers photographing, and it’s nice when the photo actually appeals to me as a photo, like this one does.

Zoujouji Fish Market Gate

Zoujouji Fish Market Gate

Here is another photo from the Google Plus First Birthday photo walk, a shot through the main temple building at Zoujouji, with a family sitting in silhouette, listening to the priest’s sermon. Here of course I was attracted to this scene first by the beautiful green through the doorway and also reflected in the highly polished temple floor. I then shot a number of frames trying to get the composition right, with the people’s heads in a good position as well.



On the way out from the Zoujouji Temple, this young monk came along to ring the five o’clock bell, so a group of us quickly scurried around trying to get a good angle. When I first shot this, my favorite was a view from the front, where you could see the monk’s face, but as the year went by, and I reviewed my photos a few times, I found myself gravitating to the back view, as I think this shows the swinging action and intent of the monk more dynamically. Also note that this is not another shot of Katsuya, from the red gate shot earlier.

Zoujouji Souryo (Monk)

Zoujouji Souryo (Monk)

These next three shots are images that I really like from that private tour in December that I mentioned. I spent 12 days with a gentlemen and his two sons traveling around Kyoto, Takayama and then Nagano for three days with the Snow Monkeys. We had a great time and I ended up with a handful of images that I quite like too, starting with this one, of the Buddha statue at Kiyomizu Temple, in Kyoto.

Here I plugged up the blacks a little in Lightroom, and increased the saturation of the gold color a little, to make the statue pop more against the dark background, and I’m quite happy with how this turned out. The danger here again though is that this is a recent photo, and they are always more likely to end up in a selection than older ones. I’m hoping that this and the next two shots remain favorites as time distances me from the experience of the shoot.

Kiyomizu Temple Dainichinyorai

Kiyomizu Temple Dainichinyorai

This next shot is a dragon gargoyle on the corner of the roof over the incense burning pot in front of the Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto. We were too late for the autumn color, but a few places still had some golden leaves on the trees, and here I thought they kind of look like fire, aptly surrounding the dragon. I ran this through Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 to enhance that fiery color, and bring out the detail in the dragon a little more too.

Nanzenji Dragon Gargoyle

Nanzenji Dragon Gargoyle

Finally, here’s a photo from the Fushimi-Inari Shrine, where there are hundreds of these vermilion Torii gates, forming tunnels that I’m sure you’ve seen photos of already. I got a few shots of the gate tunnels, but liked this shot of the writing on the gates more for this selection. From the front, the gates are unmarked, but from the back, you can see the name of the person or company that paid for each gate. The gate in the center of this shot was actually gifted by Kitamura Motors, probably a car dealership, which might not be quite as traditional as you might have hoped, but I still like the overall feel of the shot, with the clean pillar here surrounded by slightly more worn pillars.

Kitamura Motors

Kitamura Motors

On a technical note, had I left the exposure to the camera for this shot, the main, center pillar would have been severely overexposed, because of the darker areas either side fooling the meter to brighten the entire scene up too much. Even for shots like this, I find using manual exposure easier, and just exposing to the right, meaning that the data on my histogram is almost but not quite touching the right shoulder of the graph. If you keep that under control, you rarely have to worry about anything else, and this shot is straight out of the camera.

So, that’s it. My 2012 Top Ten non-nature shots. As I looked back through the year, for both these and my nature shot top ten, I see just how productive 2012 was for me, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to visit the places that I did, meet the people that I met, and to be able to make a living doing what I love.

Regardless of the sort of images that you shoot, if you put together a top ten of your own work from 2012, do share a link in the comments of this blog post, or on Google+ etc. I saw some beautiful work posted by listeners following last week’s nature top ten, and I look forward to seeing more of your work following this episode too.

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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.
  • Tom Cooper
    Posted at 13:11h, 19 January Reply

    Hi Martin: you suggested podcast listeners post a link to their own top ten of 2012 lists.

    It is surprising how difficult it is to select just ten, and many photos belong to a group so it’s strange to have them stand alone. Here’s my desultory assortment:

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 14:25h, 20 January Reply

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for sharing your best ten! They’re great!

      The ladybird shot is classic, and I love the colors in “Susan Izzy Gemeos”. The tones in Wilted Orchid are very special too, and Kenedy Library is a lovely study of light and shadow. Very nice indeed!


  • Robert DeRobertis
    Posted at 10:18h, 29 January Reply

    Hello Martin:

    Finally catching up on you podcasts. I love your annual top photos. You always inspire me!

    Here was my Jan 1 post of my top images…


    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 18:10h, 29 January Reply

      Thanks for the kind words Robert!

      Thanks for sharing your top ten too. Very nice indeed! I love the explosion shot. Crazy good!


  • Jono
    Posted at 03:32h, 01 April Reply

    I enjoyed the podcast and seeing a photo with the photographer’s thoughts is really good. Lovely images.

    I tried doing the same

    My current top ten are

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 12:21h, 01 April Reply

      Great shots Jono! I love the angle of the jet fighters, and the banking bike racer shot is classic.

      Thanks for sharing!


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