Martin’s Top Ten Photos for 2018 (Podcast 646)

by | Jan 14, 2019 | Art Talk, Musings, Podcast | 6 comments

Following last week’s episode in which I shared my selection workflow and thought process, this week I’m going to share my personal top ten favorite images for 2018.

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I don’t try to rank these images in any order, rather we’ll just work through the year in chronological order, starting with this image from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour held at the start of January each year.

Konpira Shrine Shinto Gate

I’m preparing this episode on January 4, but I will be releasing it around January the 14th, a few days after visiting this Shinto Gate or Torii with this year’s group. I really hope we get some good conditions like we had last year again. The low pressure that lets the clouds roll in to form that beautiful grey sky also allows the sea level to rise, so that the water washes around the rocks surrounding the gate.

Konpira Shrine Shinto Gate
Konpira Shrine Shinto Gate

I considered including a shot from a different angle where the sea was washing around the concrete base of the Torii instead of this one where the base is solidly visible, but I went with this shot, as I prefer its simplicity. The even grey sky is unobtrusive and allows the red of the gate to stand out, but the water washing around the rocks, made silky from my 4-second exposure helps to accentuate the detail in the rocks themselves.

To get the 4-second exposure I was probably using my 6-stop neutral density filter, and I’d set my aperture to f/11, which is wider my usual f/14, so I was obviously trying to avoid going any longer than four seconds, because the water can start to look too smooth, and lose its texture if you go too long on waves like this.

As I prepare for this episode, I’m really looking forward to getting back up to Hokkaido with my guests and photographing these beautiful winter minimalist locations. I’m actually going to be taking my Canon EOS R, my first mirrorless camera, and my RF 24-105mm lens, and using these really for the first time on this trip, so I’m excited about that too.

Moonlit Quiver Trees

The next three images are from my Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, which started at the end of May last year. We had a moonrise while we were in the Quiver Tree Forest, and although I’d spend most of my time trying to capture a telephoto shot of the moon rising through the trees, it wasn’t really working because of the light cloud cover.

Moonlit Quiver Trees
Moonlit Quiver Trees

Then shortly before we had to leave, I figured it was worth trying my 11-24mm lens for a wide shot, and I was surprised to see how good the clouds looked, but also how much the stars shone through the clouds. I honestly didn’t expect this to balance out this well, and I even got a bit of moonlight hitting the trunks of the Quiver Trees, which adds a nice touch I thought.

This was a 25-second exposure, just with the moonlight. I didn’t need any neutral density filters here of course. That’s all the light we had, even with my aperture wide open at f/4 for this lens.

Fierce Yawn

Later in the tour, we visited the Etosha National Park, and I got one of my firm favorites for the year, as we visited a private game reserve, and were treated to a late afternoon male lion as he bathed in the last few minutes of sunlight for the day, and then gave a great big yawn, that to me almost looks like a fierce roar, hence the title that I gave this image, Fierce Yawn!

Fierce Yawn
Fierce Yawn

I’d opened up my aperture to f/8 for this shot, and set my shutter speed to an 1/800 of a second, and to get a good exposure this required an ISO of 1600. I manually tweaked my focus to keep it on the eyes of the lion, and that in turn helped me to keep the focus on the teeth of the lion as he yawned. Because I use the back AF button to focus, and disable the autofocus mechanism on the shutter button, I was able to just not press the back AF button to avoid the camera trying to refocus as the lion flipped his head back like this.

Had I been using the shutter button to focus it probably would have started to search for focus as the lion moved his head, and might have even focussed on the grasses in front of him, and I definitely wanted to avoid that, although I like the fact that the grasses are there, keeping the lion firmly in his environment.

Zebra Soup

This next photo is what I call Zebra Soup, for obvious reasons. Again, from the Etosha National Park in Namibia, when I first shot this, I was much happier with the images that I’d got where I’d managed to crop the edges of the frame better, rather than cutting off the zebra’s heads, or half a face, but as time passed, I started to become more attracted to this photo, just because of the sheer chaos as all of these zebra drank from a waterhole.

Zebra Soup
Zebra Soup

I think I learned or maybe relearned that the technical accuracy of the image isn’t as important as how the image makes you feel. When I shared my final 44 images with my wife as I whittle down my top ten for 2018, we talked about this image and she didn’t even notice the cropped off body parts, because her attention was focussed firmly on the mayhem in the middle of the frame.

That’s not to say that I won’t pay attention to the point at which I frame my photos moving forward, but I will probably go a little easier on myself when making my final selection, especially when there is enough going on in the photo that the imperfections become almost completely insignificant. For this shot, I was using my 100-400mm Mark II lens at its full reach, and my shutter speed was 1/800 of a second at ISO 800, and an aperture of f/14.

Moroccan Man in Chefchaouen

Moroccan Man in Chefchaouen
Moroccan Man in Chefchaouen

It hasn’t been that long since I talked about my Morocco work for this year, but we’ll discuss these again, as the remaining six images of my selection for 2018 are from my Morocco trip.

That probably says something about how the images being fresh in our minds affects our ability to select a collection of images, but I actually really do think that this is some of my strongest work from the year, so it’s hard to remove them from my best ten.

This gentleman was a real character. He was shouting out to me and my group as we walked towards him, and started to dress in these clothes, saying that we could photograph him for $20 each! We get used to paying for photos in Morocco, but 20 bucks is a little steep. Most of the guests just kept walking, but me another guy talked him down to $10, and I was happy with the results.

When my guest asked for advice on his shot, and I told him that he didn’t need so much space over the top of this gentleman’s head, and as soon as my guest went to photograph this guy again, he immediately asked for another ten bucks, but we managed to talk him into a freebie. With him though, time definitely was money, and I only got a handful of frames before he started asking for more money.

In many ways you can’t blame the Moroccans. Many of them don’t have a lot, and this is a great way to make money from the tourists that otherwise don’t really buy a lot, and that unstandably frustrates the Moroccans.

I used my 85mm f/1.4 portrait lens for this shot, although I did close the aperture down to f/4.5 for this, to maintain a little bit of texture in that beautiful blue wall from Chefchaouen.

Public Bath Furnace

Public Bath Furnace
Public Bath Furnace

Our amazing guide in Morocco constantly came up with hidden gems for us to photograph, and after being whisked down a back alley in Fes, this next shot was a real treat. This gentleman is stoking the fire in a furnace to heat the local public bath.

I can’t find a reference to this online, so my memory might be playing tricks on me here, but our guide told us that for a community to thrive in Morocco, they need five things; A market, a mosque, a Koranic school, a well, and a public bath. And sure enough, as we visited the various medinas throughout the trip, these things were always there, and always thriving.

I was using my EF 24-105mm lens for this shot at 41mm, and the aperture was set to f/5.6 for a 1/160 of a second shutter speed, at an ISO of 2000. The man was throwing plenty of wood shavings into the fire, and stoking it to make the flames higher, so it wasn’t a difficult shot, but It was nice to be able to capture it.

For my exposure, I was using aperture priority, as I try to do for this kind of photography, but I’d dialed in minus one stop of exposure compensation to stop the fire from over-exposing too much, then I lightened up the rest of the room with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro.

Distant Figure in Fes Alleyway

Another favorite shot from Fes is this image from down an incredibly narrow alleyway, again, a gem presented to us by our guide. I had just composed my shot, and as I hoped for someone to walk into the scene, this lady in a red Djellaba appeared in the distance, just long enough for me to use her as a nice color contrast and splash of detail to focus the attention of an attentive viewer of the image.

Distant Figure in Fes Alleyway
Distant Figure in Fes Alleyway

I know the figure is very small, but when viewed large she makes a nice easter egg, which is what I call this kind of tiny detail in a photo that you have to work a little to find and comprehend. My settings for this image were f/8 for a 1/20 of a second at ISO 6400 and a focal length of 24mm.

The Turban and the Cloud

The next image was from the Sahara Desert in Morocco, when we had a little time to photograph our camel handlers before the sunset, and with the high winds, it was a great opportunity to get them with their turban blowing in the wind like this. We couldn’t resist asking this guy to go to the brow of the sand dune to get him against the sky with this beautiful big cloud that had rolled across the background.

The Turban and the Cloud
The Turban and the Cloud

I really struggled with the decision to not include one of the camel’s in the sunset images, as they were pretty nice, but I risked having my 2018 top ten looking just like my 2017 top ten, so I had to make some sacrifices.

I also have found that six of my top ten for this year have people in them, which is a little out of character for a predominantly wildlife and landscape photographer, but cultural travel photography has played a large part of the last few years, so I decided to just roll with it. My settings for this photo were a 1/320 of a second shutter speed at ISO 250, and an aperture of f/10 at 300mm.

Man in Well

It was just two weeks ago when I spoke about the final two images, but here goes. This man is Karim, and he watches over an irrigation channel in Morocco, ensuring that it doesn’t get blocked, and he’s found himself a nice niche job posing for photographers beneath the well hole in the channel.

Man in Well
Man in Well

I also took this photo out of my selection for a while because I had this and the next gentleman in my 2017 top ten, but I just could not bring myself to leave them out. The set felt empty without these two images. I also mentioned recently that I have extended this image out from a portrait orientation image by increasing the size of the canvas in Photoshop then using content aware fill on the sides.

It’s a very narrow space, but because I darken down the surrounding a bit, you can’t really tell that it’s been changed, and I like the idea that he is in a larger space here than he actually was. It feels more of an abyss like this. My settings were f/2 for a 1/20 of a second, at ISO 6400, with my 85mm lens. There is hardly any grain in this image because Karim is beautifully lit from the light of the well, and the shadows are so dark that grain is just not visible.

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

Our final image from my 2018 Top Ten set is Mr. Mohammed, another Moroccan gentleman that I had the good fortune to photograph again on last year’s tour. This man has been an extra in many movies, as the town where he lives, Ait Benhaddou, has been the location of countless movies over the years.

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building
Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

Not at all camera shy, we asked him to pose for us inside an adobe building next to his own home, and with these dust-covered tajine pots and again, just a single open ceiling window, this makes for a stunning environment to photograph people in. It’s dark in here too though, so this is another 6400 ISO shot, this time at f/4, again for 1/20 of a second, at 35mm.

Share Your Work!

As I mentioned last week, please do share your own Top Ten images for 2018 if you also do this each year. If you haven’t been doing it, I really believe it’s an invaluable exercise to help us grow as photographers. If you want more information on the process, and haven’t caught up on last week’s episode yet, do check that out here, and by all means share a link to your top ten below, along with details of anything that you learned from doing this.

Morocco 2019?

With six of this year’s images being from my Morocco tour, I’m actually really struggling with the decision to not run this tour again in 2019, due partly to the trouble that I had getting into Morroco this year with my camera gear. I have a few other ideas that I’m working on right now though, so I need to finalize a few other decisions before I completely rule out Morocco for this year. If you would like to join me in Morocco this coming fall, maybe you could drop me a line and it might sway my judgment a little.

MBP Pro Membership

One of the things that I’ve been working on really hard since getting back from Morocco this year, is a new membership system that I’ve built into our website, and I’ve been growing this gradually to allow me to iron out the kinks, but we already have a fair number of people signed up and starting to get active in the new MBP Pro community.

Full Featured Profile Page Sample
Full Featured Profile Page Sample

If you’ve been visiting the blog posts for the last few episodes, you may have noticed a new button at the top of each post, for a members-only PDF eBook. This is one of the main benefits of what I’m called the Bronze Membership. Things changed in recent months, making it difficult now to publish our articles automatically to those that subscribed to my newsletters, but because I know many people like to read, I decided to build on that, and now I’m creating a beautifully laid out eBook of all articles that I create and release, with a commitment to provide at least three PDF articles per month for our MBP Pro subscribers.

Other benefits include our monthly desktop wallpaper for all members, and access to a members-only forum, and a feature-rich profile page for all members, where people can share their own updates, make friend relationship with other members, send messages to each other, and even post their own photos and links to portfolios and skill sets etc. Socially its turning into a great place to hang out, and of course, with the forums and my now weekly eBooks, it’s a great way to take your photography to the next level.

You can find details of the new membership levels here, but please note that the Silver and Gold memberships are on hold until March, after I’ve finished my Japan winter tours. The Silver Membership includes a monthly video that I won’t have time to create until March, and the Gold membership is actually a mentorship, for a maximum of ten mentees for the time being, so I need to give them my full attention, and I won’t be able to do that until March.

Also note that there will be prorated upgrades available, so if you buy a Bronze subscription now, you can use the remainder of your subscription as part of the payment for a higher level subscription later. Apart from a few teething problems that I’m still ironing out though, the Bronze Membership is all running smoothly already, so check out the details and jump onboard if it’s of interest to you.

Note too that just because I’m introducing these memberships, does not mean that you’ll lose anything. I am gradually locking down the blog so that people will have to create a free account to view more than a certain number of articles each month, but if all you want is the blog posts they are not going anyway. You just might find yourself being asked to create a free account and login to view these posts at some point soon.

Do check out our new MBP Pro Memberships though, and I hope to see you in our shiny new community, to take your photography to the next level.

Show Notes

If you are interested, you can see most previous year’s top ten selections here:

Check out our new MBP Pro Membership here:

Note that by buying from our friends at B&H with the links in this post you help to support the podcast at no extra cost to yourself. Thank you for your support!

Music by Martin Bailey


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  1. Kim Cofield

    Love the photos Martin. You have inspired me to go through my photos of 2017 & pick some highlights of the year.
    Regarding the Figure In The Distant Alley photo, is there a person sitting in the ‘window’ on the right hand side of the frame? Or is it fabric? I’m curious 🙂

  2. Lloyd Kasper

    Hi Martin, Great images… I love The Turban and the Cloud Image.

    I realise you have already seen my Top 10 for 2018 from Facebook, but I thought I would also post here with some background info around them. This year was very little for me for travelling, but the process of cutting down to the top 10 was still just as difficult.

    Most of my images where captured with my trusty Canon 6D and Canon EF 100-400mm Lens, but I also had the opportunity to shot with a Canon 5D Mark IV and the Canon EOS R with the RF24-105mm Lens.

    The baby crocodile eye was shot with the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 Lens and the process of capturing the images without focus was done completely hand held, as his eye was only about 15 millimeters across and it took me a number of times to slow move back and forward to capture the number of shoots to get as much as needed in focus.

    The reflection image was capture as an opportunity street walk with my local camera store, trying out the new EOS R and 24-104 RF Lens.

    The distant capture of ‘The Dish’, was a photo I thought about doing for a long time, over the last few years while passing this location I took the opportunity to stop and capture it with the right light and the Dish was in the perfect position.

    Thanks for the Inspiration for this great yearly activity.

  3. David Recht

    Hi Martin!

    I always enjoy walking with you through your process and your Top Ten of the Year Photos. The one of the Torii gate is spectacular. It is getting me even more excited for our Snow Monkey and Hokkaido tour in a few weeks. Can’t wait.

    Since you asked, I am posting a link to my 2018 Favorites. I like to call my list “Favorites” instead of Top 10 since, for me, I have photos that I like a lot but may not be my “top” photos technically or maybe even compositionally. For me, the draw and feeling of a photo should be the priority. I also chose 12 instead of 10 because it gets hard at the end and 12 keeps two more of my photos “alive” for me.

    Also, the review process for me really makes me rethink how fortunate I am to have been to all the places I photograph each year. We should never overlook that.

    Here is the link to my 2018 Favorites:

    See you soon.


  4. Michael Assmann

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for helping me out with getting the NextGEN galleries properly working. Your input came in time for the post of my 2018 top ten which can be found at

    I’ve found the systematic review process to come up with the selection quite helpful for a number of reasons. For one, 8 of the finalist were shot with the Fuji X100F which confirms the versatility of this camera and how well it fits my needs. Secondly, 5 of the 10 images (mostly black and white) came almost straight out of camera, but also the others did not require significant post-processing – it seems I start to get things right in-camera, which is what I like to achieve. And finally, comparing this year’s top ten to the ones of the previous years I start to see patterns emerging, helping me to understand my development and to be more confident about where I am today as a photographer.

    So a big thank you to you as you have made me start this annual review process.

    All the best for 2019,

  5. Rufus Levvy

    Hey there! Quick question that’s entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My weblog looks weird when viewing from my iphone 4. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to resolve this issue. If you have any suggestions, please share. Appreciate it!


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