08 Jan 2017 Martin’s 2016 Personal Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 556)
Having shared my thought process and selection workflow last week, today I share my personal top ten photographs from 2016. Since I started doing this in 2007 it has become a yearly tradition and although it’s an invaluable learning experience in itself, over the years it becomes a wonderful record of our progress as photographers.
If you are interested in the process of selection including workflow tips for Capture One Pro, please do also check out last week’s episode. For now though, let’s jump in and take a look at my top ten from 2016. Do keep in mind that this isn’t so much about my images, as the thought process behind the making and processing, in the hope that it helps you with your own photography. Note too that I’m going to work through these images in chronological order, so this isn’t a top ten countdown as such.
I started the year with a visit to Hokkaido with my landscape photography tour group. Being the northern-most island of Japan, Hokkaido gets huge amounts of snow from Siberia each winter, making for some beautiful winter scenes. When weather permits, I like to take the group up the mountain roads to Mount Asahi, and we simply have a walk up the ski slopes there, being careful not get in the way of the skiers, and make photographs like this one (below).
The nice thing about this location is that there is a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees which hold the snow in different ways, making for a varied and what I consider to be a quite beautiful scene. If you followed my transition to Capture One Pro from Lightroom, you might remember that this was one of the first images that I tested to see if I could create black and white images that I am happy with. I never really did black and white in Lightroom, rather I was using Silver Efex Pro, but I have not had to use Silver Efex once since switching, and I’ve continued to do a lot of black and white. This image was shot at f/14 with a 1/125 second shutter speed, ISO 100 at 30mm
As I’m now using a 1.92TB SSD to store my Final selects and current years original raw files, I’m also hoping that not having to save lots of TIFF files from Silver Efex is going to help me to keep my entire year of raw files plus my Finals folders in this single drive. For 2016, with lots of TIFF from the first half of the year, I would have been a few hundred gigabytes over.
If I do ended up filling this 1.92TB, hopefully by the time I need to add a second the price will have dropped, but I would still prefer to keep all of this on one drive for traveling. I’ll be talking more about this drive and how much I love it in an update of my traveling photographers digital workflow post, that I have already started to plan.
The next image (below) is also from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour, from a small harbor on the West coast of the northern tip of Hokkaido. I actually had a shot from this spot in last year’s top ten too, so it obviously holds a special place in my heart.
I remember rushing back to this location as the snow was falling, because I think when you can capture something that makes the air more visible it adds atmosphere to an image. This also reminds me much more of the actual feeling of being out in the elements, with the snow crunching under my feet and the brisk air, and often having to blow snow off the front of my lens between shots.
Again I converted this to black and white in Capture One Pro, but I did that just this week, as I prepared for this episode, because I really wanted to complete as much of my 2016 work in Capture One as possible. I was still referencing my old Silver Efex TIFF during the selection process. This version is slightly different, not quite as punchy, but a little more subtle. This image was shot at f/14 with a 1/125 second shutter speed, ISO 100 at 24mm.
My third pick (below) is from a location that I’ve now seen much more on western TV programs. It’s shot from a bridge built specifically for photographers over the river at a town called Tsurui in Hokkaido. The town’s name Tsurui literally means “cranes are here” and the name of the bridge “Otowabashi” means “the sound of wings”. When I think of things like this it makes me feel so happy and fortunate to have been able to adopt Japan and my home.
I called this image Distant Dance 2016, because of course, of the two cranes dancing in the distance, but I added the 2016 to differentiate this from my original Distant Dance shot from this location in 2008. The hoar frost that makes this scene so beautiful doesn’t perform like this every time we go, and some years we aren’t lucky any of the days we visit, so it literally took me eight years before I got something at this spot that I was happy to name the same as my old favorite image from this location.
This was shot at f/11 with a 1/500 second shutter speed, ISO 640 at 420mm. There isn’t really any special processing on this, except a little bit of lightening on the bottom left corner to balance the toning of that foreground bank of snow and take its edge off a little.
The Steller’s Sea Eagle (below) is one of the world’s largest eagles, with a wing span of up to 2.5 meters, so again, I always feel so fortunate to be able to visit and photograph these magnificent birds each year, and the light and the pose of the bird in this image make this a definite favorite from 2016.
We had moved close to the harbor wall at the end of our two hours on a boat photographing the eagles, and the covering of snow on top of the harbor wall was reflecting light back up onto the underside of the birds, giving them a beautiful glow in addition to the sunlight, but the thing I really like about this shot is the fact that this incredibly powerful bird seems to be making a fist, as though he’s about to swoop down and punch someone.
I’m not a violent person, but I love it when I capture a trait in an animal that is associate with us humans, and that fist and the pensive look makes me think of someone like Client Eastwood as he walks into a bar to lay down the law in his somewhat unorthodox ways. This was shot at f/10 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 second to freeze the action, and the ISO set to 400 at 234mm.
The next photo (below) is from my Greenland Tour in August 2016. As we left the bay at Tasiilaq, this beautiful iceberg was sitting in the channel out to the open ocean, so we sailed around it a few times making detail shots. This is one of my favorites, as it shows the texture of the ice on the tip of the iceberg and the dark sky above.
People often ask if the ice really is this blue, and I have to admit that it isn’t “this” blue, but I don’t change the color of my images, I just enhance it, bringing out the detail that is already there and showing the texture better. I used to do this in Color Efex Pro, but I processed all of my Greenland tour images in Capture One Pro.
It was actually the first time I’d processed a large number of images in Capture One since jumping ship, so I was still learning, but it was really easy to get the results I was looking for. This was shot at f/10, 1/400 second shutter speed, at ISO 500 and a 164mm focal length. Even though the subject wasn’t really moving, it’s important to keep a fast shutter speed when shooting from a moving boat, to avoid camera shake.
The next photograph (below) is a bit of a dream come true for me. I’ve seen whales breaching in the past, but always at a distance, and it happens so quick that so far I’d not been able to photograph them. As we finished a day of shooting in Greenland and we were sailing back to Tasiilaq, we saw a pair of Humpback Whales breaching in the distance.
Our Inuit driver started to speed towards them initially, then stopped the boat as he realized they were heading straight towards us, at speed. We only had to wait a minute or so before they were right in front of our boat, and I got a shot of one heading straight for the camera. Then, a moment later they went right past our boat, breaching as they went. As excited as a kid in a candy store, I was so happy to have captured this photograph too, from the side. These images are now very special to me now.
The settings were f/10, 1/1600 shutter speed, ISO 800 at 400mm. Again, shooting from a boat requires a fast shutter speed, but with an animal this size moving at the speed it was, you need at least 1/1600 of a second, if not faster to get a sharp shot.
Landmannalaugar in Iceland is one of the most beautiful locations on the planet, and I really struggled with my decision not to include a shot of the main valley in this year’s selection, but for me, this shot (below) probably sums up this year’s visit a little better. We had beautiful skies again, and the light was just stunning for most of the day.
As we led my group across the lava fields, I turned back and photographed this scene with the geothermal steam seeping out of the mountain, almost looking as though the mountain was breathing misty breath on this brisk autumn afternoon. Especially when you are climbing with heavy camera gear it’s tempting to just keep your head down and get to the next ridge, but I also think it’s important to look back at the scene behind you from time to time. If I hadn’t I could have missed what I consider to be a beautiful scene.
This was shot at f/14, 1/100 of a second, ISO 200 with a focal length of 28mm. I always think that an image is greatly improved when you find some element that makes the air “visible” as this steam does here, and the snow does in the second shot we looked at today. Here I think the steam adds a little dynamism and life to a still photograph.
As we started to pack up to leave Skógafoss, one of my favorite waterfalls in Iceland, a man walked up to the falls barefooted with an umbrella, and stood in the edge of the water to pose for a photograph. Being a bit of an opportunist, I captured my own version, and this has become one of my favorite photos of the year (below).
I shot this at f/13, a half second exposure, ISO 160 at 24mm. I used an ND filter on the front of my lens to slow down the shutter speed to a half a second so that I could make the water appear silky like this. Luckily the man stood still for this time, so he’s perfectly sharp. When I first started doing black and white conversions in Capture one Pro I didn’t think I was going to be able to get this really dark looming look in my Iceland waterfall images, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s not only possible, but really quite easy to get this look.
Another shot from September 2016 in Iceland made it to my top ten, and that’s this shot that I call Sapphires and Telegraph Lines. Ice carving from the glacier at Jokulsarlon floats out to the open ocean, then tides and sea currents push some bits back on the beach. While we were there this year, the beach was totally strewn with ice, as you can see (below) so I capitalized on the opportunity to show the entire beach, and included the telegraph poles in the distance to add a human element.
I used to try and avoid the human element in my landscape work, but sometimes I think it adds to the story, showing our effects on this beautiful planet we call home. This was shot at f/14, with a shutter speed of 40 seconds, ISO 100 at 24mm. I used a 10 stop ND filter to get a 40 second exposure, which caused the rough sea to smooth over a lot, and allows a bit of movement in the clouds.
The final image of my 2016 top ten is from a December visit to England to spend Christmas with family for the first time in four years. While there I visited this beautiful lighthouse in the sea at Dovercourt, near Harwich in Essex. I learned of this subject from an incredibly talented photographer and member of my Arcanum cohort, Phil Newberry. Phil has a stunning photograph of this lighthouse, so I’d wanted to visit for a long time.
The problem with photographing something that you’ve already seen in a photograph is that you have a very strong visual seed planted in you mind that you have to try to dismiss when shooting, and Phil’s image is so strong it was very difficult to do that. But, what I always do in this situation is I don’t search out or look at photos of places that I’ll visit once I’ve decided to go. This way you have a better chance of clearing your memory and allowing your own creativity to get to work.
This goes for any location that I shoot. Once I know where I’m going, the only other research I might do is the sunrise and sunset time, and roughly where the sun will be in the sky in relation to the scene while I expect to be there. If you go online and look for lots of images from your upcoming location you will arrive and spend your whole time searching for those shots, and your own creativity gets stifled, even paralyzed by this, so I just don’t do it.
With something as iconic as this lighthouse on stilts out on the sea it’s difficult to make a photograph that isn’t similar, but I chose this color version from dawn, as I like the colors and the glow of the sun reflected on the sea under the lighthouse. I have some black and white shots from the previous day that I also like a lot, but they are much more like Phil’s photo and quite rarely for me, I actually really like this warm, color version. It was shot at f/14, with a two minute exposure, ISO 100 at 95mm. I used a 10 stop ND and I think also a 3 stop ND filter for a two minute exposure to smooth over the water and clouds to for this somewhat surreal look. I was also pretty happy that two seagulls decided to sit on the lighthouse and were almost totally still for two minutes, which was great.
Learn from the Process
I really enjoy going through this exercise each year, as I mentioned last week, because it really helps us to build our image editing skills. I don’t mean the editing of each image, I’m talking about the skill of editing a large number of images down to a finite number.
We become attached to images for various reasons, and generally include a lot for irrational, emotion based reasons, but as you start to drill down and remove lesser images you are always faced with hard decisions about what to leave in. If you are totally honest with yourself and try to keep images in your selection based on their merit as a photograph, it should end up being a very authentic record of your very best work for the year.
The Evolution of the Photographer
What’s more, it builds into a yearly record of our work, that will hopefully show how we grow as photographers. I have done this almost every year since 2007, missing only 2010 as I left my old job and incorporated Martin Bailey Photography, and I sat down with my wife earlier today and we went through nine of the last ten years. We came to the conclusion that my work took a few leaps forward with my visits to Antarctica and most of all with my first visit to Iceland in 2013.
As I mentioned a couple of years ago in my Evolution of the Photographer post, I believe that our experiences become part of us. People sometimes get discouraged because it’s hard to beat work that we do at amazing locations, but these amazing places and opportunities elevate us as photographers, and we don’t lose that. We get ratcheted up, and take our new self to future shoots, and the effects should be visible in all of our work. It’s not automatic. You have to work at it of course, but the opportunity to level up like this is a very real one when visiting beautiful places, especially in a workshop environment like my Iceland Tours.
Our Work-in-Progress Legacy
So, even if this is the first year that you try this process, keep in mind that it will build into a legacy of your work. I was so proud to be able to go back and look through nine of the last ten year’s of images, that I’ve decided that as soon as I can make time, I’m going to go back and select my 2010 top ten as well, just to complete the decade.
I know I’m not the best photographer in the world by a very long shot, and as I mentioned, this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, and we certainly aren’t comparing ourselves to each other here. Your worst image might be as good as my best, but I still truly believe that you’ll learn from this exercise, and enjoy building on it over the years.
Share Your Top Ten!
And please do drop a link to your own top ten into the comments below if you do this. I love to see what you came up with for the year, and really enjoy seeing new work from those of you that post a link each year.
Previous Top Ten posts: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/tag/top-ten/
Check out my tours and workshops here: https://mbp.ac/workshops
Music by Martin Bailey
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