Following on from last week, when I walked you through my selection process, this week I’m going to tell you a bit about the 10 photographs that I selected as my 2014 Top Ten.
Before we jump in and start to walk through my top ten, I’d like to thank all of you that posted a link to your own top selection for the year against last week’s podcast about the select process. It was great seeing your selections, and I encourage anyone else that is thinking of going through this process to post your link too, either against this, or last week’s post. I look forward to seeing more of your work.
OK, so here are my 2014 Top Ten images. Remember these are my selections based on the process I explained last week. You might not think they’re my best photos, or even any good at all, but that’s not really what this is about. This retrospective is really about putting a stake in the ground at the end of each year, and building a baseline from which to judge our progress each year.
I’ll go through these in chronological order, starting with this photo that I called Waiting for Clearance (below). I shot this and the next few photographs during my winter wildlife tours in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan. On this day we were having a wonderful snow storm, and the wind was high, so the cranes seemed to just float above the crowd for a while as they looked for a spot to touch down.
I had been panning with the crane in flight, and not really paying much attention to the cranes below, so I actually had a bit more room above the crane which I cropped off making this a 16:9 ratio. I could have probably moved the camera down some to include more of the cranes below, but something about the end result here just appeals to me. I guess this is one case when, for me at least, the appeal of the photograph overrides the need for any perceived requirement for compositional conformity.
My next selection is this tightly cropped photo of a Steller’s Sea Eagle from the start of February. Again, technically there are a few reasons why people might not like this. The face being in shadow is one, and some people are probably going to complain about cropping off the tip of the wings, or the entire right wing in this instance. Personally, I’m finding more and more that I prefer a really tight crop like this, and often go in much tighter on eagles and birds in flight, aiming for just this look.
I like this particular image also because of the background. I have lots of eagle shots with vivid blue skies, which I actually don’t really like very much in normal photography, but here, the dappled texture of the mountains over the fishing town of Rausu where we photograph these eagles makes a nice background in my opinion.
I called my third selected image Angel Wings (below), because these wings remind me of the wings that you often see on angels in the movies. I have fond memories of laying on the snow at the edge of the Kussharo Lake with some of the other photographers on my tour, just waiting for swans to rise up and flap their wings like this.
Although I wasn’t impressed with the 5D Mark III auto-focus on the 200-400mm lens for birds in flight, it’s still very capable of snapping focus quickly onto a target like this when there is really not a lot of time to focus and grab a few frames while the action lasts.
Again, the swans in the foreground bug me just a little bit, but I find the image appealing all the same, and so went for my feeling about the image over technical accuracy. After all, the swans are all in this water together, and my photo depicts that accurately.
This next photograph is a Steller’s Sea Eagle sitting on a pinnacle of sea-ice with the rising sun behind it (right). This was towards the end of Tour #2 for 2014, and again, I recall the excitement as the skipper of our boat moved us slowly back and forth so that all of my group got a chance to shoot this while the eagle remained perched up there.
I decided not to adjust the white balance on this, I generally shoot in the Daylight preset, and that helped me to maintain some of the blue feel of the cold dawn ice, because this is really how it feels.
This is also one of the few times that I actually use Aperture Priority shooting mode. Although I usually shoot Manual, at this location at dawn, we sometimes shoot away from the sun, but because we also sometimes shoot directly into it, it makes more sense to allow the camera to adjust exposure. I generally dial in about +2/3 of a stop, and run with that for about 20 minutes as the day starts, then go back to Manual as I feel much more comfortable in Manual mode.
Next we jump seven months of the year, from the end of February to the end of September, and this photo called Jewel on the Shore, from my Iceland tour (below). It doesn’t seem like that long ago when I talked about this, but I was really happy with this photo. I was set up with an ND filter on, doing multiple second photos of the sea water as it washed up the beach, sometimes coming up to my ankles as I worked this scene.
This was a 4 second exposure too, but I ended up shooting this while the sea water wasn’t high up the beach, as the sun shone perfectly through a gap in the larger growlers, which is actually a technical term for icebergs about the size of a car. The name comes from the sound they make as they roll along the hull of a ship. I couldn’t believe my luck as the light hit the small piece of clear ice, which then focussed the light down onto the beach like a prism. Sometimes everything just comes together to create something special, and I believe this was one of those times.
My next selected image is of the iconic Skógafoss waterfall in Iceland (below). I have scores of similar images of these falls now, but I really like the light on this one. The light above the falls seems to be spilling into the photograph, and there was so much spray that it caused highlighted the rock formation along the right side of the frame, which I also like.
This was a one second exposure with an ND8 filter on. I sometimes go a bit faster for waterfalls, but one second registers a lot of movement and the mist around the basin of the falls is really nice at this shutter speed, so this is probably my favorite Skógafoss photo to date.
My next selection is this photograph of the Choshi Ohtaki falls in the Oirase mountain stream area of Aomori, the northern-most prefecture of Honshu, the main island of Japan (below). When I first spoke about this image along with the other shot of these falls a few months ago, I think I preferred the other version from a lower angle, but now, this one seems to appeal to me more, probably because there is more fall color in the image than the other version.
This is a 0.8 of a second exposure, again, a little longer than you need for a waterfall image, but what you need isn’t always what you want. I just like the really ethereal feel of flowing water like this, and there’s still a little bit of texture left. Just the balance I like for my waterfall photographs.
You might also remember this shot from that recent episode, of the wooden jetty out the back of a little cafe on the Towada Lake near the Oirase mountain stream. Another long exposure, this time at 3 minutes 40 seconds. The cloud on the other side of the lake was snow cloud, and the wind picked up buffeting my camera and leaving water droplets on my lens during this exposure, but I was able to remove most of them in Lightroom, and this became my favorite of a handful of long exposure from this evening (below).
As I mentioned last week, when I submitted this and another version to Offset, the stock agency that I work with, they rejected this one for the other version, but that just makes me like this one all the more. Really, the more I shoot, the more I want my own sensibilities to govern my likes and dislikes. I see no reason to change how I feel about an image based on what other people think. It’s my art, and it should stay that way. I really want to be true to myself, and my heart.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should make all of your editing decisions in a vacuum. The roll of your trusted critic is vitally important. When editing down sets of images, part of my finalisation process, is to get my wife to look through them. She’s not a photographer but she has a great eye, and she’s close enough to me that she knows she can give me some harsh feedback, and because I trust what she says, I generally listen.
You might recall this next image too, from episode 450 about productive respites, when I mentioned that this image ended up being kind of an homage image, as it reminds me very respectfully of Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30. I have had an incredibly busy year, and really haven’t had a chance to get out with my camera much other than when I’m on tour, and I shot this on a well-earned break afternoon in my local park. Black and white flowers aren’t something that necessarily spring to mind, but I’ve been doing more and more over the last few years, and really enjoy this ongoing project of mine.
Finally, here’s a photograph of a mother snow monkey nursing her baby, from a recent visit to the snow monkeys on a private tour that I ran for four great clients from Singapore in December (right).
On our third day, the snow really set in, and this mother and child were sat on the wall of the hot spring bath for quite a while. I ended up with scores of images of this pair, but this is one of my favorites.
The baby didn’t look up that often, so having this eye contact here was nice, and I just love that look in the mother’s eyes as she seems to be just bearing the cold, and you can almost feel the love for the child. I have no idea how much these snow monkeys feel. I doubt that anyone does, but when you see them like this, it’s incredibly special. I love every moment that I’m able to spend with these very special animals.
In fact, I simply love every moment that I’m able to spend making my living with a camera in my hand. Looking back on the year, I spent a lot of time doing other work.
It’s all good of course and I’m happy with how I prioritized my time, but it really makes me grateful even more for the time that I’m able to actually make photographs rather than being behind my desk.
Next year, I’m hoping to hire an assistant, that can help not only with photography activities, but with back office tasks as well. I’m at the point now where I am becoming my own bottleneck, and it’s now a high priority task, to bring someone else on board, although that task itself is going to be pretty time consuming, I’m sure.
Anyway, that’s it. My 2014 Top Ten photographs. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking through them with me. I’m starting my first winter tour of 2015 tomorrow, my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure. Unless something miraculous happens during the first week, I will probably be skipping an episode next week, but I’ll be back in two weeks time with an update. If I am able to post a few photos from the tour in a blog post, I will, so do check in, or subscribe to the RSS feed if you use an RSS reader.
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