2020 Top Ten Gallery

Martin’s Personal Top Ten Photographs for 2020 (Podcast 729)

Visit Library for MBP Pro eBooks

It’s that time of year again, when I sit back and select my own personal top ten photographs from the previous year, in order to take stock of where I am in my photography, and provide an overview of my progress over the years. As I often do, I’m sitting down to start the process now, and will write this as I work through my selection. I’ll try not to go into too much detail as I’ve done this many times, but we’ll see how this goes. Note too that you can check out all of my Top Ten posts since 2007 with this link.

2020, as you might expect, is very different from previous years. Luckily, I was able to carry out all three of my Japan Winter Tours before the virus stopped play, but my Namibia Tour had to be postponed to this year. I should also now be two days into my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour, but unfortunately I’m stuck at my desk. None of my Japan Winter Tours this year can go ahead. Recently I spend every night dreaming of being out in open spaces with a group of photographers. Just this morning I woke up and started to tell my wife about my dreams of being in the mountains and had to stop as I felt a lump forming in my throat. I had planned to spend some time on the road this winter in place of my tours, but daily Corona infections are on a steep rise again here in Japan again at the moment, so I doubt I’ll be able to make that happen.

As I look back at my Finals folder for 2020 I see 612 images of which 552 were shot in January and February on last years Winter tours. That means that from March to December I only moved 60 images to my Finals Folder for the rest of the year, and a good chunk of these were from testing the Canon EOS R5.

In Capture One Pro I’ve just created a new Collection Group called 2020 Top Ten and inside that I’ve created my first album called First Pass and made that my selections folder, and I’ve set up Voice Control on my iMac Pro to recognize a few words so that I can literally sit back and work through this process without touching my mouse or keyboard. Because it’s not possible to simply hit the Q key with a voice command, I changed my Capture One Pro shortcut for adding images to the Selects folder to ALT + COMMAND + Q and assigned that to the word Select, so when I have Capture One Pro selected and say “Select” the current image is added to my Selection folder. I also mapped “next” and “back” so I can just talk my way through the selection process. There’s a slight pause after saying each word, so I still sometimes just use the keyboard, but it’s nice to be able to just speak these commands.

2020 First Pass
2020 First Pass

OK, so after my first pass, I find myself with 129 images in my selections folder, so I selected about one in five of my Finals. This is pretty much what I expected as all of the images in my Finals folder have already been selected from my various shoots, so they are already images that I like, and that is what makes this process so valuable, and difficult. I made a second folder in my 2020 Top Ten group and named it Second Pass, and copied all of the images from my First Pass into this second folder. From here it becomes a deductive process, as I try to reduce the number of images from 129 to 10. As usual, I’ll start to look for groups of images. The most obvious one being Steller’s Sea Eagles catching fish.

I have 20 images of Steller’s Sea Eagle with their talons out catching a fish from the sea, so I’ve selected all of them and will start to compare them to whittle this selection down to just one image. Capture One Pro fails to provide the functionality I need when doing this though. With multiple images selected I want to be able to hit delete to remove the currently selected image but when I hit delete all 20 images are removed from the Selection so it’s a bit of a mess in this respect. Still, I was able to remove all but one fish catching shot, and started to reduce my Steller’s Sea Eagle shots in general as there was an obvious winner for the flights shots as well.

The next obvious big group was Whooper Swans, of which I have 18, so I’ll work on that selection now too. This was actually more difficult than the Steller’s Sea Eagle shots because most of the Swan shots are panning shots, so the aesthetic beauty of the shot comes into play more. I got down to the final four that you see in this screenshot relatively easily, but then it got more difficult. I think I’ll leave the bottom two in the selection for now and then remove one of them later.

Final Four Swan Shots
Final Four Swan Shots

I’m down to 83 images now, and I’m moving on to the Red-Crowned Crane shots. I had 15 left which I quickly got down to 4, and I also removed 2 of the four snow monkey shots while I was at it. I then went back to my Hokkaido Landscape work and removed a bunch of boat shots. I then went through the remaining images and removed a few more that were obviously not going to make it now that I was getting a better picture of my final selection. I was left with the following 36 images. Note that I’m uploading these in pretty high resolution, so if you click on them and open up your browser window you should be able to see a fair amount of detail in each image.

Down to 36
Down to 36

I saved this as the results of my Second Pass, and created another copy of this set called the Third Pass, then I went to Fullscreen and ran a slideshow. I used the voice command “Green Label” to add a green label to each image that made me feel good as it appeared on the screen. This enables me to vote with my heart as I literally feel my reaction to each image. The result was a reduced collection of 20 images for my third pass. I selected all of the green labeled images and created a new Album and this time turned the checkbox on for both the Select collection after creation and Add selected images after creation.

Down to 20
Down to 20

To help me remove the final ten I called on my secret weapon. My trusted critique, in the guise of my wife. I always find that making the more painful decisions of this process is much easier to do with an impartial and unbiassed set of eyes on the images. It took us about 10 minutes to remove ten more to reach my final selection. Probably the hardest to remove was the fox shot, as I really like the feel of that image, but it was not one of the strongest of the set. We also agreed that although the shot with two owls is nice, the single owl looking at the camera is more impactful and the texture of the tree is better.

Removing the sunrise shot was not so difficult. I’m really not much of a sunrise person. I don’t mind being out before dawn, it’s just the sunrise and sunset photo that doesn’t really do a lot for me. On the landscape front, I was disappointed to lose the lone tree shots, but I believe the line of trees and the color image of the morning mist are stronger images, so the deal was pretty much done.

2020 Top Ten

I’m not going to talk about each individual image as I’ve spoken about all of these in the past, but there are a few points of interest that I’d like to cover. The colors of the second shot of the morning mist in Biei for example, are the colors that I used for one of the Light Appearance color schemes in our iOS app Photographer’s Friend. The cranes dancing shot really captured my heart because the two cranes are dancing in perfect synchronization. Their poses are identical, just rotated around 180 degrees, and I found that fascinating.

The Hokkaido Long-Tailed Tit is a tiny little bird that I’ve been hoping to capture for the last few years, and finally got some shots that I was happy with last year, so I had to leave that in. It’s the cutest little bird I think I’ve ever seen. The Great Spotted Woodpecker was a nice catch as well. We go looking for these guys on the last day of my Japan Winter Wildlife tours but they’ve been pretty elusive in recent years. It was nice to be able to get a shot of one is such strange looking surrounding last year. The first nine images were all shot with my EOS R, and the final maple leaf image was shot with the EOR R5 and the new RF 100-500mm lens. I’ve been out shooting with the new gear quite a lot, but my local work doesn’t even come close to the sort of images that I get on my tour locations.

I feel that photography-wise I’ve been true to myself and feel that the images are of a high enough standard for me to be happy with, but I do miss my photos from my yearly visit to Namibia in the summer. My 2021 Top Ten is going to be very different again, but hopefully I’ll be able to get out on some personal projects as soon as the virus is under control. The government here is planning to put us into a state of emergency again later today, for at least one month, so maybe something can happen in February, while it’s still my favorite season for photography here in Japan.

Post Your Own Top Ten

OK, so we’ll start to wrap it up there for this week. As usual though, I’d like to invite you to share a link to your own personal top ten if you also go through this exercise each year. I’ve been in remiss in recent years and too busy to comment, but this year I’m at home and will make an effort to reply to anyone that posts a link to your own gallery or blog post etc. I look forward to seeing what you made of 2020.

Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.

Get this post's short-link:
If you find this post useful, please consider supporting Martin Bailey Photography on Patreon! There are tiers with various benefits to choose from and all include access to the private MBP Community!
Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
  • Christian Meermann
    Posted at 22:34h, 07 January Reply

    Believe it or not, but I have been looking forward to this post. This is a gorgeous set of images you have put together here (even though most of them are in color 😉).
    It’s hard to pick a favorite. The Copse in Snow image is slightly Kenna-esque. Both eagle shots and the “Passionate Dance” shot are perfect examples of the importance of timing in photography.

    These are the ones I like best.

    I wish you all the best for 2021. Stay safe… and keep your head up in these bulls*** times.


    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 00:05h, 08 January Reply

      Ooh, now that’s one stunning set of images. Everything that I’ve come to expect from you Christian. Impossible to find a favorite as they all are, but if I had to pick a few, Bongo #5, Zollverein Coal Mine and Hummingbird Abstraction probably get an extra vote or so. The Hummingbird Abstraction shot has a bit of a Pepper #30 feel, in a good way, of course.

      Thanks for the kind words about my set, Christian, and for the shout out on your blog post. I’m flattered by the Kenna-esque comment, although I am happy to have been doing these scenes in Hokkaido since before I even heard of him. 🙂

      All the best for 2021 my friend. My head is up, but it could be ‘upper’ if the Japanese government would get their aid priorities in order.


  • Christian Meermann
    Posted at 22:38h, 07 January Reply

    Oh, I forgot, here’s the link to my top ten post: https://www.chm-photography.com/blog/top-ten-photographs-2020/

  • Drake Dyck
    Posted at 12:58h, 08 January Reply

    Hi Martin.
    I always enjoy watching you go through the process of selecting your top ten images of the year. I hope you stay healthy and have a great 2021.
    Here’s a link to my top ten. https://wilddrakephotography.com/2021/01/04/top-ten-favourite-images-of-2020/

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 17:47h, 08 January Reply

      Hi Drake,

      Great to see your top ten! The owl shot is stunning. Wonderfully detailed and a great expression. Tree on Fairy Lake is really nice too. I love the soft tones and muted colors.

      Thanks for sharing!


  • Lloyd Kasper
    Posted at 17:35h, 08 January Reply

    Hi Martin,
    Lloyd here again…. I always look forward to this time of the year for this reason, especially with the past year that we have all endured.

    I absolutely love the Steller Sea over the wall in Rausu and the owl in the tree.

    With the restrictions in placed, I started working on way of attracting birds to my garden instead heading out my favourite locations to find them. The Two image of the Rainbow Lorikeet and the Willy Wagtail are from my front yard and one of the Kookaburra is from my mate’s back yard.

    The bearded dragon and python image are from my last studio workshop before the lockdown started here in Brisbane.


    Thanks again for the inspiration and Stay Safe mate…

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 15:46h, 13 January Reply

      Hi Lloyd,

      Sorry for the delay in my reply. There was a problem with my site that was sending some comments to the trash. I think I’ve got it figured out now, and I resurrected your post.

      I’m glad I did too. Wow! That Bearded Dragon shot is absolutely stunning! Amazing lighting and detail, and it’s nice to see that they were using a first-surface mirror too. Makes all the difference. The python shot is equally as stunning. The detail in the eye is outrageous! In a good way, of course. The rest of the shots all show your usual attention to detail and ability to create quality work. A lovely set mate, even without taking the crappy year into consideration.

      It’s great to hear from you. You stay safe and sane as well.


    • Christian Meermann
      Posted at 20:27h, 22 January Reply

      Hi Lloyd. I just checked your collection. Wonderful imagery. I think my favorites are the animals. Such wonderful colors and detail, especially in the snake. Amazing shot, that one.

  • David Riddell
    Posted at 10:41h, 09 January Reply

    Hi Martin

    Stunning images, as always.

    Although they conjure up different emotions, my two favourites are the Copse in Snow and The morning mist in Biel.

    Take care, regards.


    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 20:07h, 10 January Reply

      Hi David,

      Thanks for the kind words. Those are two of my favorites as well, so I’m really pleased you like them.

      All the best!


  • Ulana Switucha
    Posted at 11:30h, 09 January Reply

    Hi Martin

    Excellent images evoking a range of emotion. And so nice to see a few familiar locations. I join the others in admiring the Copse in snow and remain in awe of your wildlife in action.

    This is not an exercise that I have done in the past but since 2020 was a year of moving in different directions, I might take a crack at the exercise.

    Stay safe and healthy.


    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 20:09h, 10 January Reply

      Thanks for the kind words Ulana!

      Please share a link to your set if you do pull ten together. I know that is going to be something worth looking at.

      All the best for the coming year and beyond.


  • Glenn Smith
    Posted at 11:19h, 12 January Reply

    I’ve just completed my top ten for 2020, not sure if its because I’m use to doing it more each year of maybe the quality of the shots wasn’t the same this year but I found it easier this year to get to my final top ten. The final top ten are still on the improvement curve from previous years so not lack of quality of the work. It’s been an interesting year shall we say. As always great to see Martins Top ten shots with a very difficult year there for Martin not being able to travel to all his amazing locations. As always great work Martin, always good to see your top ten each year there. Stay safe there everyone, I really don’t think this is going to end in a hurry any time soon so we all have to make changes in how we do things even the simple things like going to the shops is totally different experience to what we were doing 18 months ago. Our photography is no different things are changing and we have to change with them. Stay say have fun, and take care of each other.


    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 12:14h, 12 January Reply

      Hi Glenn,

      Great to see your top ten for the past year. Stunning work, indeed. I love the mushroom shots and the snake. Is that a Topaz or similar filter adding the painterly effect to parts of these three images? I’ve seen that before and love the effect.

      It’s fun that you’ve been shooting Saturn as well. I’d been wondering about how well you can see the rings with the R5, and waiting for the spring when we get to see Saturn above the horizon without the sun in the sky. I haven’t fully investigated this yet, but it looks like on April 7 we’ll get almost a new moon, Saturn and Jupiter and the Milky Way all pretty much lined up in the South-Western sky. It will be around 4am and I’d need to travel somewhere with clearer skies, but certainly something worth looking into further.

      You’re right, of course, about having to change. I’ve reassigned my time completely and working on projects right now that wouldn’t be happening if I was touring, but I can’t stop my dreams and they keep reminding me of what I’d rather be doing right now. 🙂

      All the best to you Glenn. Thanks again for sharing your top ten!


  • Glenn Smith
    Posted at 19:21h, 12 January Reply

    Yes Topaz impressions used in a fair few of these, To various levels using photoshop layers to mask back in the hero of the shot, It helps to soften the back grounds and gives then a certain flavour. Weekends I shoot week day nights I play with the weeks images to see where I can take them, there’s I just use the shot and only Lightroom edits. With Saturn you’ll be surprised but so far I’ve only used the single images not fully image stacked yet, still go too learn that skill yet, with the 100-500 you have then and the extenders you’ll get even more magnification than I get with the 800so you’ll see even more, you’ll need to zoom uneven so, Jupiter I can just start to make out the cloud bands. Saturn is a fair bit noisy, due to atmospheric distortion so really needs to be image stacked properly. You can make you the rings clearly and depending the angle of the planet at the time you see it you get quite a view. You can see it on the back of the LCD when you zoom in as you’re taking a shot but you really need to aggressively crop it later.
    Thanks for your kind words there Martin, hope things settle down over there for you and you get to get out and shoot again there soon, take care there mate, stay safe.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 15:05h, 13 January Reply

      Aah, I thought it was Topaz. It’s a beautiful effect.

      I’ll give Saturn a go when the time comes. I think the resolution and reach of the 100-500mm with the RF 2X Extender should work well.


  • Todd Henson
    Posted at 06:31h, 13 January Reply

    I always love viewing your photographs and hearing about your process for choosing them, though this may be the first time I’ve commented to tell you this. I tend to find viewing your images a very calming experience, perhaps because of the subject matter but also how you photograph it. Even the action scenes with eagles or cranes are still very calming. Beautiful work, Martin! 2020 was a tough year, and this one will likely be much the same at least for parts of it. But I hope you are able to get out and create and share your passion and learning with the rest of us.

    This wasn’t as productive a year as I’d hoped, at least from the perspective of creating new images, though I did spend more time on older ones. But I managed to create some, so here are my favorites from 2020: https://toddhensonphotography.com/blog/best-photos-of-2020

    All the best to you, Martin!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 15:31h, 13 January Reply

      Hi Todd,

      Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m incredibly happy to hear that you find my images calming. It’s a quality that I’m sure not everyone gets (i.e. understands) so it’s nice to hear that you do.

      I love the opening to your blog post too. I’m sure we will be looking back on these times for centuries to come. At this point, I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to put this behind us over the next year or so. My fear is that our governments’ tendency to try to balance the economy and our welfare is working against us more than people realize still. These new strains that are coming out could possibly be slowed or avoided by less human contact, yet the government’s think they are doing a good job by allowing some contact, and some casualties. I fear that in a hundred years we may be looking back on these times as the greatest governmental balls-up (pardon my language) in history. I do hope I’m wrong on this.

      Your own top ten is wonderful Todd. I love the soft brown tones that carries through most of them. That Great Blue shot is stunning too. The contrast in the colors and the detail in the bird itself are really striking. I love it! Crossing Powell’s Creek has lots of story to it as well. I hope it signifies our heading towards a brighter future.

      All the best for the coming year Todd. I look forward to seeing what you make of this year as well.


  • Fred Kotler
    Posted at 08:49h, 13 January Reply


    I look forward to your annual top ten blog post. Your images are wonderful, as usual. I particularly like the owl and woodpecker images – the birds are perfect, but what really makes these images for me are the environmental details of the textured trees the birds are in. I also really like the panning shot of the Hooper Swan with its perfectly focused head and almost poetic out of focus wings.

    Unfortunately, narrowing down to my top ten photos was much too easy this year. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was able to do little photography and all of it was close to home. Nevertheless, I like the results.


    The first four photos of birds were either backyard photos or from a nearby nature reserve. The last six are all macro experiments with found objects in my backyard. All were shot with a Nikon D7100 and a Nikon 70-200 mm f2.8 lens. The macros were done with a NISI Close-Up lens mounted on the Nikon 70-200 mm.. The second through fourth photos had a 1.4x extender fitted to the Nikon 70-200 mm. The focal length is 35 mm equivalent after adjusting for the D7100’s 1.5 crop factor. All images were processed with CaptureOne Pro 20.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 14:43h, 13 January Reply

      Hi Fred,

      Thanks for persevering with the comment system, and for letting me know that you were having problems. I think I’m on top of it now.

      Thanks also for the kind words about my images too. I’m really pleased you see what you do in them. These are details that I myself find very appealing, so it’s nice to be on the same page.

      I’m with you, about the process being easier this year. You still got some lovely images though. The Tree Swallow shots are stunning. I also like the head of the second swallow poking out of the nest box in the first shot. That tiny little snail on the acorn is a wonderful little “Easter egg” as well. A present for the time taken to really study the shot.

      Here’s to a better 2021. All the best!


  • J D Ramsey
    Posted at 10:57h, 19 January Reply

    Martin – I love your annual post of top ten photographs and I know you are a terrific photographer from whom I’ve learned much But, to some extent, I think you annual images are a bit too repetitious. I know you base them on your tours, but I also know, because I’ve copied some of your images (shameless) on your tours, that you have the ability to do new work that doesn’t have the same subjects year after year. This is a friendly plug to get you to do some new tours that get to new places that you haven’t been before. Yes, going back to places repeatedly gives a photographer the best chance to get the right light at the right time with the right conditions, but so many of your earlier photographs of similar subjects are so stunning that it’s hard for your new photographs to top equal them. Go to new places and many of us will follow (at least once this damn pandemic is over).

    With the greatest respect for your artistry,

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 13:48h, 19 January Reply

      Hi David,

      Thanks for the great comment! I am aware that the subject matter is repetitious, and I’d love to be able to create some new work as conditions allow. I am talking with my Japan travel partner and contacts about a new tour that I will be able to talk about in the coming months hopefully, and that will offer some very different and hopefully unusual opportunities, so please stay tuned for that.

      I had also hoped to get out and do more non-tour projects, but that is on hold until this damned pandemic is over. It will happen though, and I hope you enjoy the results when it does.

      Your comments are, of course, taken in good spirit. I value your opinion and you are 100% on the mark, so no negative feeling here. 🙂

      All the best for the coming year, and I look forward to catching up again at some point.


Post A Reply to Martin Bailey Cancel Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.