Now into 2014, I thought I’d carry on my tradition of selecting my favorite ten photos from the previous year, and I found the process so difficult this year, that this is what we’ll discuss today, as I believe this is something that we can all learn from, especially if you decide to do this with your own images too.
I know that I’ll be repeating myself to a degree here, as I do this every year, but I always learn so much from the process, that I like to share it with you. Unlike other years though, this time, I’m going to concentrate much more on the selection process, and then just include the top ten for you to look at, rather than explaining about each image, as I’ve already spoken about these images in earlier episodes from 2013.
If you recall from previous episodes, I always copy what I can my Finals, or my final selects, to a new folder for each year, so as the years go by, I can always go back and look at what I thought was my best work for each year. Because I do all of my initial rating in my original RAW file folders, I can also go back to my library and select a year, and show only 5 star images, and automatically get the same set of images. How you do this will depend on how you archive your own images of course.
My New Rating System
I should also clarify that my Finals folder contains images that although aren’t necessarily portfolio class, I consider them good enough to show people or put forward to be considered for inclusion in my Offset stock library now. Until now I’ve marked these images with 5 stars, not because they’re amazing, it’s just been my system so far.
From 2014, I’m going to change this so that my Finals are now four stars, and my portfolio images will be five star. Three stars are now images that I need to keep in my Finals folder, but that are not necessarily images that I want to show people. Two star images are my originals. For example, if I take an image into Silver Efex Pro and create a black and white version, I mark the original RAW file with two stars now, and keep it with the Final copy. One star images are images that I initially selected after my shoot, but then decided not to use.
For example I might have had five or six similar images, and just needed to mark them initially until I drill down to a finer selection, which I do by filtering on the higher star number, and then demoting the images by reducing the star rating removes them from my view. I call this now one star rating my “once great” images, and just like to leave the stars there so that I can go back and see what I though were good enough to at least think about including at one point. All other images have no stars assigned.
Selecting my Top Ten
So, to start the process of selecting my 2013 top ten images, I go to my Finals folder for 2013, I start my first pass. I know that throwing in too many images is going just make the process longer, so I’m very critical as I go through the folder. I create a collection in Lightroom called “2013 Top Ten First Pass”, and make that the Target Selection, so all I have to do is hit the “B” key to add an image to the collection. My 2013 Finals folder contains 359 images that I was happy to show people. From those after my first pass my selection stood at 40 images, which we see here in this screenshot (below).
Once I had this selection of 40 images, the next thing I did was to start to reduce the selection down in groups. For example, I had 2 sand dune shots from Namibia that were similar, so I chose which of the two I preferred. I also decided to remove all three snow monkey shots. I wanted to consider them, so I added them to my initial selection, but with a total of forty in that initial selection, I knew they weren’t going to make the cut, as they definitely aren’t my best snow monkey shots when compared with previous years.
Once you get to this point, and you already have a fresh understanding of what’s in the selection, it’s not hard to reduce the selection to around half based on just knowing that the image you are looking at simply doesn’t excite you as much as some of the others. In two more quick passes I was able to reduce the 40 to the 21 images that we see here (below).
It’s from this point that the process starts to get really hard. For me at least I can get a year of images down to this shortlist relatively quickly, but this last part really takes a lot of time. Every image in this last 21 is very special to me for one reason or another.
I’m still relatively happy with my other selected images, but to be honest, even though I try to be very selective after a trip or shoot to only add the very best shots to my Finals, and I always give it some time for the initial excitement to die down, I find that I really like my images for a month or two after the trip or shoot, but then once a few months have passed I start to think that some of the images aren’t that special after all.
I think the thing is that for me, the gap between the excitement I feel about new work and work that is a few months old is so great that I sometimes even feel as though I dislike some of my images for a while. The strange thing is though that after that dip, I often start to like the images again, so I don’t remove shots from my final selections even if I don’t like them that much for a while. If I don’t come back around, I sometimes remove images after six months or a year or so, but I’m on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster with regards to how I feel about my images until that point.
Reflection on 2013
So, after getting down to my 21 images over the weekend, and not being able to reduce past that after a few more looks through the selection on Sunday evening, I left this final stage until the morning of the day that I have to record and release this Podcast episode.
As I write this I literally just sat at my desk and watched the images in a slideshow on my iMac screen, and suddenly I’m sitting here once again thinking how fortunate I am to be living this life. I was able to visit two of my bucket list countries last year, and now I’m faced with having to cut this 21 images more than half to just 10! It’s a wonderful problem to have, and this reflection on the previous year is another reason that I love to go through this exercise.
Continuing to work in groups, I had three sea-eagle shots, so I removed two, leaving just one. I also had multiple Namibia wildlife shots, so I initially removed the Springbok shot, as although I like it, the Cheetah shot wins out. I left the elephant’s ass shot in for now, as I love the mood of that sepia image. The Milky-Way shot went too. There were two whooper swan shots left, so I removed one of them.
At this point, I still had seven shots from Iceland left, so I got these seven up in Survey view and started to think of which ones of my children I was going to shoot. An obvious first place to look was which of the two similar waterfall shots I’d remove. After that though, I was stumped for a while. As much as I love the Aurora shot too, it was in the selection more because it represents the realization of a childhood dream rather than artistic merit, so it had to go.
Now at 14, I’m still struggling with my Iceland selection. I started to look at the two black and white landscapes, and although I wanted to go with the abandoned farmhouse, the surfboard on the beach shot just grabs me by the heart, so the decision was made. At 13, I decided to remove the Namibia sand dune shot, which took me to 12 images. Jeez this is hard!
At this point, I went back to my slideshow mode. I use the Lightroom Slideshow a lot when trying to whittle down my selection of Final images from a shoot too. At this point, I’m looking for a slight change in how I feel as the slides progress. If the next image comes up and I feel a dip, it’s an indication that the image isn’t as good as the last, and therefore should be considered for removal. Conversely, if I feel more excited about the next image, the previous one may have to go.
With this, I removed the image of the copse of trees on the hill from Hokkaido, and the last one, which was a long exposure of Mount Fuji from Hakone. I love both shots, but I dipped slightly as these came on the screen, compared to the rest, so I now have my 2013 top ten. I’ll add them at the end of this post for you to take a look at.
I hope you enjoy looking at the images, and hearing about my selection process. I know that a lot of listeners have started to do this each year with your own work, and I always enjoy looking at your shots when people let me know that they’ve done this. If you go through this process, do post a link in the comments of the blog post, so that we can all check out each others images. Also let me know if you learned anything by doing this, as it is such a valuable process.
What Did I Learn?
In addition to being incredibly thankful for being able to make these images in the first place, selecting my top ten really helps me to understand which images really work better for me. It also shows me that I seem to have appreciated my Namibia and Iceland work more than my Snow Monkey and Hokkaido work this year. That’s not surprising, as I have been traveling to the Snow Monkeys and Hokkaido for much longer, and I already have in the most part much better shots from previous years. Namibia and Iceland were totally new experiences. That does make me happy too though, that I was able to be productive in totally new environments.
This also tells me though, that I am probably making my Snow Monkey and Hokkaido selections based on this years images, wanting to select something because I made the images, but I’m not really adding to much to my portfolio if I don’t rate the resulting images over my existing work. More images would make say a 40 image portfolio of course, but under these restrictions, they don’t make the grade, and that’s important to know.
What that makes me want to do is not only be more critical with this year’s work, but also to try harder to come home with some images that beat what I already have. This of course depends very much on weather conditions and the wildlife that we encounter, but there’s a fire in my heart now, so I want to see what I can do with that.
OK, so here are my top ten images for 2013–remember to click on the images to view them larger than the embedded images, and you can navigate around with your mouse or keyboard arrow keys.
My 2013 Top Ten!
Before we finish I wanted to quickly mention that if you missed our old Podcasts page that I took down over Christmas and the New Year, it’s now back. I’ve created a redirect so your old link will work, but the new page, now under the Links menu above, has much of the functionality of the old one, but I’ve added a few different new views, and it’s all under this WordPress blog, so the look and feel is much more consistent now too.
The new Podcasts archive page with a number of new views:
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Beautiful Martin! (UGH…It hurt me when you killed off the abandoned farmhouse. THAT pulled at my heartstrings.) I’ve decided to use your system for final 2013 TOP 10 Portraits. I’ll be sure to link it up here when I’m done. Thanks for the tips!
Thanks Omar! It was a very difficult decision, believe me. 🙂
I look forward to seeing your own selection.
Striking set of photographs, Martin! Seven Swans is a great shot… an ethereal quality to it like the boundary between a dream and reality. Conjured up thoughts of the old Irish myth of the Children of Lir. Apart from your fine photographic talent, Martin, you must be a very organised and disciplined person…. I tend to be finding pictures in the most unexpected files and folders on my computer – all my fault of course^^
Enjoy your blogs greatly, thanks, Eamon
Thanks Eamon! I was there again photographing the swans just last week. Great fun!
I’m mostly organized, although I have the odd drawer full of stuff that needs sorting out. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words!
Thanks for showing how you go through the process of “shooting your babies”. I found it very usfull. It is funny what we gravitate to and what we keep given that we have the context of the image. To other people they have no context, they don’t know how hard it is to get to the location of the shot, for example. They see the image without anything influencing it other than like or don’t like. I think as time passes and context is lost we too can approach our images with the same impartial eye.
Thanks John! I’m pleased this was useful, and I couldn’t agree more with your observation. That’s exactly how we are. 🙂
I’m Leo from Brazil.
Unlike most people on your website, I know practically nothing about photography. After coming across your work though, I have become more and more interested in the subject and I hope to be soon sharing with you all my endevours in this fascinating new world of photography.
Leo, you’ve come to the right place. I learned so much from Martin and the work he has shared. Enjoy your newfound hobby!
That’s great to hear Leo! Thanks for stopping by and for letting me know you’re finding this useful. Good luck, and I look forward to seeing your work!
Hey Omar! Thanks for the comment and kind words. I hope all is well!
Many thanks guys. Martin, the welcoming atmosphere on your forum you speak of in some of your podcasts is really true. Thanks Omar!