2017 Top Ten Photographs Selection Process (Podcast 602)

by | Jan 1, 2018 | Art Talk, Musings, Podcast | 18 comments

As 2017 drew to an end, I completed my yearly exercise of selecting my personal favorite top ten images from the year, and as has become a tradition, I’m going to share my process with you today.

As usual, I started this exercise by creating a Group in the Library area of my Capture One Pro catalog called “2017 Top Ten”, and then created an album initially called “First Pass” and made that my Selects Collection, so that I can just hit the shortcut I’ve defined, in my case the “Q” key, to add images to my collection. Because I have all of the images I felt were worth a hoot in my 2017 folder in my Finals catalog, it’s easy to go through and select images that I’d like to consider to my First Pass folder.

I like to do this each year because it helps us to be objective as we evaluate our images, making us better at editing down a selection. If we keep in mind that all images in my 2017 folder are there because I like them, it’s actually really easy to just want to drop them all into my First Pass folder, but then I’d just be duplicating my 2017 folder. I know that I have to whittle this down to just ten images, so you start to think about whether or not each image has a chance of staying in the selection even before you hit the shortcut key.

A Productive 2017

By doing one more tour than previous years, I actually finished 2017 with 1,052 images in my Finals folder. Also, having switched to Capture One Pro in June 2016, 2017 was the first year that I processed the entire year exclusively in Capture One Pro, which means that there are now very few images in my finals folder that represent a base raw image that I worked on with a plugin.

When I work on an image in Photoshop or in the past the Nik Collection, I used to save both the original raw file and the edited TIFF or PSD in my Finals folder. In 2016 for example, 78 of my 928 Final selects were duplicates, because I saved both a TIFF and my original raw files, from the first half of the year, before I switched to Capture One Pro. By comparison, this year I have just 8 TIFFs and one PSD file, so 1,043 images are original, meaning that I have approximately 200 more original images to choose from over the previous year. 

I’d like to think that the quality of the work is still increasing gradually too, and this is something that this process helps me to keep tabs on. I also feel that for sure, looking through a full year of Capture One Pro images that Capture One has helped me to raise the bar again image quality-wise. I’m still very happy with my decision to switch from Lightroom and have no intention of switching to any other raw processing software for at least the foreseeable future.

I still have all of my top ten selections as Collections in my Finals catalog, so I can easily go back and review previous years, and it’s always fun to do that, just too see how you’re doing. It’s also interesting to see how my tastes have changed over the years. There are some images that I see in old top ten sets that I wouldn’t include now, even though they may still have merit as a photograph. They just don’t appeal to me like they did when I initially selected them to represent my year’s work.

I also found that work from my Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours is finding its way into my short list much less often. I guess this is a luxury I’m afforded by the fact that I’ve now visited these locations so many times that I’ve pretty much shot everything in previous years, and anything that I add to my list at this point really has to exceed my previous work. That’s partly why I still love going, because I’m constantly challenging myself to better my old work, but that gets more and more difficult each year, especially as I have no control over the conditions and what the animals might do in those conditions.

For example I found myself only selecting a couple of Steller’s Sea Eagle shots in which I’d captured something that I’d not seen or shot before. My Snow Monkey shots were really difficult too, because I didn’t really have anything so special that I felt compelled to drop it into even my first pass. 

I also surprised myself a little with a powerful realization that a lot of my wildlife work from Etosha National Park in Namibia was screaming out to be converted to black and white. I had always thought of that work in color, but when I went back through my images during this exercise I felt that the color in some images was getting in the way, so I converted it to black and white. This worked mostly with my zebra shots, which are already black and white animals, but I found some of the wildebeest shots worked well in black and white as well.

First Pass

After spending a few hours going through my 1000+ images, I had a collection of 97 images, so just under 10% of my images. I guess one in ten from my final selections for the year isn’t too bad. I could have been more brutal, but this was a good start. I also at this point found myself being hit by a deep sense of gratitude to have been able to visit the locations I have in my work. I’ve included here (below) a screenshot showing my initial selection, and it humbles me to see what I’ve been able to photograph this year.

First Pass 2017 Top Ten

First Pass 2017 Top Ten

To start my second pass, I created another album and added the 97 images from my first pass. I could just continue to whittle down my first selection, but I like to keep tabs on what I selected and how I whittled it down, by keeping my working collections. Once inside my Second Pass album, it’s now a case of hitting delete to remove images from the collection, instead of adding them, as I did on the first pass.

Although it helps to select similar images and identify the best of each group, I find that on my second pass, it’s often easy to remove a chunk of other images now that I have a holistic view of my selection just by going through and feeling my reaction to the images. I start to instinctively know that some images just aren’t going to make it, especially when I consider that I have to remove another 9 out of 10 images. It’s just easier to do this having just gone through the images.

It only took me five minutes to go through and remove another 46 images, getting me down to 51 at the end of my second pass.

Second Pass 2017 Top Ten

Second Pass 2017 Top Ten

So, with another 4 out of 5 to remove, I copied my selection again, to a collection named third pass, and quickly removed another 22 images, but then I was stuck. I was down to 24 images that I absolutely wanted to leave in. This is when it starts to get difficult.

Third Pass 2017 Top Ten

Third Pass 2017 Top Ten

Still having to more than half my selection, the obvious place to look at is the three camel shots. I definitely wanted to keep the photo of the camel handler with his animals against the dunes, and perhaps one of the sunset shots, so I removed the one with the camels bunched up a bit, as I prefer the spacing of the shot with the sunset just in the bottom left corner.

I also don’t need three zebra shots, so I looked at all three together and initially removed the color shot, and continued to deliberate over which of the two black and white shots to keep. I also removed the Namibia silhouette shot from the Quiver Tree Forest. I like that shot a lot but I have to start making some hard choices.

I really like the shot with the cranes in the mist too, but I’ve had a number of those over the years, so that’s gone. I also removed the shot of the Lioness looking out across the plain, as although I love that shot, it’s not as impactful for someone that wasn’t there to look at.

Cutting the Emotional Connection

I then realized that I still had eleven shots from Morocco, and that has to be partly because this is my most recent work, so there is still a strong emotional connection, that is probably preventing me from getting ruthless. As I’ve mentioned in previous years, this is a good illustration of the importance of giving yourself some time to live with your work before making important editing decisions. It’s much harder to cut the chord until you have some time between the shoot and when you edit your selection.

I removed the blue city shot, as I don’t feel it’s as strong as my emotional attachment makes me feel. I removed the other zebra shot, leaving just one, with the zebras at the waterhole. Still having 7 images to remove, I deleted the Namibia dunes with the stormy sky shot, because there is a line of ground in the bottom right foreground that annoys me.

Having three closeup portraits from Namibia I decided to remove the man in the blue turban, and the man with the dark red background. This was a hard decision, but at this point, I’m shooting children. If it comes to this, I guess my mostly orange dune shot from Namibia has to go too. 

Secret Weapon

Down to thirteen, I decided to use my secret weapon; my wife. She’s my trusted critique and although she’s not a photographer, she has a good eye and sense of the aesthetic, so I loaded my selection onto my iPad Pro and went downstairs to solicit her advice. We don’t always agree on the selection, but I trust her opinion more than my own sometimes, and it’s usually the best way forward I find.

For example, I recently shared my Morocco work on Instagram and found that of the two photographs of the camel handlers in the dunes that were still left in my selection, the one with the red of the sunset in the bottom left hand corner got significantly more likes than the one with the dunes in the background. And, as you might imagine, my wife chose the sunset shot over the dunes shot. Personally, I could go either way on this. I think there is a classical appeal in the dunes and camels shot, and but the sunset shot has more impact.

Now, I want to stress that Instagram Likes are not important to me from an ego perspective, but when trying to make a decision as to what to leave in, it can be a good indicator to bear in mind. It’s good information. But, it’s my own personal favorite top ten, so I started to deliberate as to whether or not I should simply leave in both camel train shots. They are different enough for that to be OK, but what else could I remove?

We also decided to remove the photo of the Mosque, because although I like it a lot, I find the fact that the rest of the town around the mosque is a little messy sort of reduces my overall satisfaction with the photo, so that was removed. Also, the young musician from the oasis in Morocco is a nice shot, but it’s not as artistic as the other portraits, so we removed that too.

Two Day Contemplation

I started this exercise on Friday the 29th of December and actually sat on the final decision for two days. Sometimes a bit of time is necessary to enable that last decision, but sometimes, especially if you are a working photographer, you don’t always have time. Sometimes we have to whittle down our selections quickly, and that is why I find this exercise so useful, especially if you don’t do tight edits of your work regularly. This gets you accustomed to making tough decisions. 

I had the luxury this time of spending a few more days and decided to keep both camel train shots and remove the black and white zebra shot. Although I like that image, especially now it’s black and white, it’s easier to cut from the selection as I can’t believe it’s better than either of my camel train shots, so it’s gone.

The Final Ten

With that, we now have my final Top Ten selection for 2017. It’s a bit Morocco-heavy, with 6 out of the 10 images from there, but I think that’s really only natural as it was my first visit to Morocco, and I have many images that are new and fresh to me. Of course, part of this is also because Morocco was only just over a month ago, but I have tried to be objective, and base my decisions on the artistic merit of each image, rather than the fact that the memory of the trip is still fresh in my mind. This is another thing that I believe doing this exercise helps with.

2017 Top Ten Final Selection

2017 Top Ten Final Selection

I’ll talk about each image in next week’s Podcast and blog post, so please tune in for that as well, if you’d like to hear a little more about each of them. 

Your Top Ten

As usual, I also invite you to decide on your own Top Ten images for 2017. Don’t make it more if at all possible. Twelve is a nice number, matching the months of the year, and it’s your choice of course, but what you need to avoid is starting out looking for ten, then increasing it to twelve or fifteen, because you find it difficult to whittle down your selection. This is supposed to be difficult, or there isn’t much benefit in doing it.

Also, try to be objective. Don’t keep a shot of grandmother or your cat in your top ten unless it’s an absolutely beautiful photo with great light etc. I’m using grandmothers and cats as a generic example of course. The point is, your family are special to you, but not to anyone else unless it’s a beautiful image, so please do try to be objective and make some difficult decisions.

Share Your Work!

And then when you’ve completed this task, please do share a link in the comments of the blog post.  Some of you have been doing this every year, and I always look forward to seeing your selections, and I absolutely welcome any newcomers too. Try to keep a record of your selections if possible. This enables you to go back and compare your work to previous years over time, and that helps you to check that you are getting better each year. I have all of my previous top ten selections in Capture One Pro still, and they are all available to see as blog posts too.

Of course, there will be years when you’ll visit somewhere amazing, and produce work that stands out more than other work, but remember, that helps us to ratchet up as photographers. It’s important to learn from the highlights and not become bogged down by the feeling that other work closer to home can feel a little mundane. I talked about this in my Evolution of the Photographer post back in 2014.

So, I look forward to seeing your selections, and a Happ New Year to you. I hope 2018 brings everything you hope for and more.

Show Notes

Previous Top Ten posts: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/tag/top-ten/

Music by Martin Bailey


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  1. Lloyd Kasper

    Hi Martin… This is my fourth year at my Top Ten photos from my work in 2017 and I really look forward to this exercise every year!

    This year was dominated by Wildlife images as we traveled through Australia visiting Zoos along the way.


    I have included the previous years, as I’m hoping for improvement of my photography over the last four years since I started doing the Top Ten for the year.



    • Martin Bailey

      Nicely done Lloyd! That cheetah shot is great. Wonderful expression.

      I also like the one of the bird looking up at its face. Very cool.

      I knew you’d be first to post your selection. 🙂 I hope all is well.

      All the best for 2018!

      • Lloyd Kasper

        Thanks Martin, this has really taught me a lot about my selection and a great way of seeing how my photography has improved.

        Thanks for all your help

  2. Steven

    Hi Martin,

    This has become an annual tradition for me too thanks to your podcast. Here are my top ten from 2017 – including a visit to awe-inspiring Petra and a multi-country Balkan dash. Can’t wait to visit Japan in March this year!


    • Martin Bailey

      Great year Steven! I’m starting to see a cohesive style across all of your work, pulling your selection together. Great stuff!

      My favorites are the Petra shot and the boat on the Bay of Kotor. Beautiful work!

      All the best for 2018!

  3. Glenn Smith

    G’day Martin, wow another year comes to an end so fast doesn’t seem like that long ago I was creating last years top ten, Well again not an easy task cutting it down to just ten, but again a worthy exercise, and one to learn for each time. Heres this year top ten from Down under.

    Great to see everyone else’s top tens as well.


    With links the previous years for those that want to see my journey to improvement. I’m happy I’m still improving each year and still have further to go yet.


    • Martin Bailey

      G’day Glenn! It’s great to see your top ten. Thanks for the mention in your post. 🙂

      I love your white-eye shot. Beautiful composition and posture in the bird. The rainbow bee-eater is incredible too.

      I’d love to see a high contrast black and white version of your cliffs shot from Kalbarri. It’s nice in color but I reckon it would be cracking in black and white. Just a thought.

      All the best for 2018!

  4. Joshua Kuhn

    I had a fun year of photography in the bitter cold of North Dakota and traveling with the family on few camper trips. I enjoy doing this exercise of picking my top ten. I think I can really see my improvement in one year. I am not sure if my best photo from 2016 would have made it into 2017.
    I am looking foward to 2018. I know my gear in and out, and I won’t have to spend the time going through the learning curve of learning to print. So hopefully I can just take more photos.

    Thank you for the education Martin, and providing a place for this community to share photos.


    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Josh,

      Wow! It sure does look like you had a great year! The Harem shot is stunning, as it the grizzly image.

      Is that a piece of grass in the foreground under your watermark on the grizzly shot? You might consider cloning that out if so, it catches the eye quite a lot, in a negative sense. It’s a beautiful photo though. They all are.

      Congratulations on such a great year, and a Happy New Year to you.

  5. Fred Kotler

    Beautiful and compelling photographs as usual. I especially like the man in the red cloak gazing upward. It makes me wonder what he is looking at. I’m also impressed by the other two portraits and their “Rembrandt” look of a dark background with bright focused highlights. I’ve been doing a top ten since 2013 when you introduced me to the concept. This year’s top ten is at

    • Martin Bailey

      Thanks for the kind words on my work Fred! That man in the red cloak is one of my favorites, obviously, but even within the ten. I was actually watching The Queen of the Desert with Nicole Kidman last night with my wife, and instantly recognized the town of Ait Ben-Haddou in the movie. This is where we made these photographs. Beautiful film if you haven’t already watched it.

      I love your top ten. It’s great how we can see the beautiful town in the glass of the lamp in the first image. The fibers in the second shot are very nice too. Great graphical elements. And the guy peeling the prawns is nice.

      All the best for 2018!

  6. Craig Stampfli

    Hi Martin, this is my first year putting together my Top Ten and something I have recently shared with a photography page I co-manage. It is quite the task to select ten images that either summed up my year or that I felt were worthy of sharing, however, the effort was quite therapeutic. Thanks for all of your efforts with your Podcast, I have been a longtime listener and find it very inspirational.

    My Top Ten.

    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Craig,

      I’m really pleased you have taken up this challenge and found it worthwhile.

      Thanks for sharing your top ten link. The shot of the lady underwater is stunning! I love the color palette in that image. Also, the Alice St black and white shot is beautiful. They all are of course. It looks like you had a great year, and a wonderful first top ten. I hope you continue to do this in the future. I look forward to seeing your work again next year.

      Thanks for continuing to listen to the podcast, and all the best for 2018!


  7. David Recht

    Hi Martin:

    You inspired me a few years ago to start trying to cull down to a Top 10. As you know, it is difficult when you have such attachment to so many photos that you have taken throughout the year. However, it is fun and (mostly) satisfying to review your own work annually..

    This year I am accepting your invitation to share my images as a Comment in your Blog.

    I hope to someday join you on a workshop and be even further inspired by you.

    All the best in 2018 to you.

    My Top Ten:

    • Martin Bailey

      Hi David,

      Thanks for sharing your top ten. I’m really pleased you decided to take the challenge. Your year of photography is stunning.

      I recognized Neko Harbour instantly, and the penguin porpoising in front of the iceberg is great. All lovely shots though. Congrats on a great year.

      And, all the best for 2018 to you too.


    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Michael,

      I wonder if that should have been Martin. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your top ten. It’s a beautiful set. The Chocolate Girl photo stood out to me. Although I imagine she might be family, it’s great to see such an artistic piece, especially if she’s close to you, as it shows you’ve been objective in your selection. When I saw that it reminded me a lot of some of Annie Leibovitz’ or Dorothea Lange’s work. Great image!

      The hockey player image is great too. I like them all though. The final staircase shot is a great finishing piece.

      Well done, and a Happy New Year to you!


  8. Mauricio Duque Arrubla

    Great job, as usual, Martin! I started this tradition after your top 10 post in 2015. Many thanks! From your selection, the ones I like the most are the two men and the camels in silhouette, but many of your photos are fantastic.

    Here is my slection for 2017. You will find eleven but now I know that the third one (Cuchillas de Bocagrande) would be de las discarded to reach the magic number of ten. I prefer to call them favorites instead of “the best” http://www.duquearrubla.com/2017

    My aim this year was to take more photos of people, I think the change is noticeable.

    Here 2015 and 2016 favorites

    Many thanks, all the best


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