2021 is drawing to an end, and to be honest, in many ways I’m pleased to see this year fall into the past, and looking forward to a brighter 2022, although with my winter tours not possible, we aren’t going to get off to a great start. Still, my yearly top ten selection of my own images is an important part of my year, and I know that some of you listeners and readers enjoy this, so I’m sitting down on December 30 to go through my yearly ritual. Before we jump in on the top ten, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the year.
I can’t complain. I’m still alive, which isn’t something that 5.4 million others can say. I’m kind of amazed that the world has been in the grip of this virus for two years now, although experts did warn that it would probably take up to three years to get through this. I think my general optimistic tendencies just hoped we’d handle this better. The governments around the world seem to be handling things with varying degrees of incompetence. The Japanese government has actually done a reasonable job of getting more than 80% of the population vaccinated, although they are dragging their feet with the third vaccination. Luckily the people of Japan are far more intelligent than the leaders of the country, and our collective efforts have kept casualties relatively low, although again, people have lost their lives here too. My heart goes out to anyone that has fallen to the pandemic and to their loved ones left behind.
Apart from gaining even more unnecessary pounds through increased lack of exercise, I’ve gotten through the year healthy, considering I have a hole in my sphenoid bone that leaks cerebrospinal fluid if I take enough medication to shrink the remains of my brain tumor to the point that it no longer completely plugs up the hole. I did have a slight dance with the C-word this summer too. I had a hard growth on the side of my nose, near where my glasses perch themselves, and it grew pretty quickly, so I went to the hospital and they quickly whipped it off, then tests showed that there were cancerous cells in the tissue. The dermatologist told me it was what they call pre-cancerous solar keratosis, which would probably become a form of skin cancer if left to its own devices. I’m told that although I may get more, there isn’t really anything to worry about, and that suits me fine. There’s plenty of other stuff to worry about, and as a terminal optimist, I’m pretty good at not worrying too much about things that I have little control over.
I haven’t done so well not getting concerned about my lack of ability to travel and pursue my passion for landscape and wildlife photography. Apart from the much-needed visit to the Tatsusawa Falls in October, it seems that almost every time I try to plan something, the pandemic tightens its grip on us again, putting the mockers on my plans. I’d dearly love to go up to Hokkaido over the next month or two, and am still hoping it can happen, but watching the daily cases of the new omicron strain of COVID increase, I’m not sure it will be possible. Fingers crossed on that one.
Anyway, let’s have a look at my 2021 photographs. This is something that I’ve done each year since 2007, and you can actually see all of my posts on this with this link. I’m running a little short on time as I’ve had a few reports of issues with the software I’ve developed that have taken a bunch of the time I put aside to do this, so I’m not going to go into quite as much detail as I usually do. It’s also a pretty light year anyway, with my new passion of microscope photography somewhat dominating my selection, so we’ll whiz through this relatively quickly.
As usual, I started by creating a folder to drop my first pass of images into. As I work through the year I drop all of the images that I am happy with into a year folder in my Finals catalog, which I keep on a separate SSD to my main shoot drive which contains everything for the year. So far my most productive year was 2018 with 1452 images that I was happy with. For 2021 I have 333 images. The last time I had less than that was 2010 at 230 images, and all years from 2005 and earlier.
After my first pass through my images, I had 66 shots in my selection, and as you can see in this screenshot, it was a pretty colorful crop of images. I’m grateful that I was able to stay somewhat productive with microphotography. I honestly think I’d have gone insane this year if it wasn’t for the joy I found in the microscopic world. It actually reminded me of when I had a somewhat stressful day job and would find it relaxing to simply have the camera in my hand. I wasn’t always shooting the greatest images, but just the act of doing photography was stress-relief in itself.
After my first selection, I went through and removed all of the obvious offenders. I was never going to have four yellow flower shots, for example, but wanted to have another look at all four before picking one or throwing them all out. This was more difficult than I thought it would be, and that is why this is such a valuable exercise. Editing skills are important and although I do this regularly as part of my job, selecting your favorites from a year’s work is never easy, even when the year was as crazy as this one was.
I ended up with 32 images after my second pass. I’d just over halved my selection, but I was stuck to a degree on what to remove next. I was actually not looking forward to this process this year because it’s been such a dry year, but looking at this screenshot, I’m feeling a lot better. Despite the work lacking the grand landscapes and majestic wildlife that I hang my hat on, it’s still quality work in the most part. The difficulty now is in removing some of the images that I know are simply left in the selection for variety.
I kept the more abstract yellow flower shot but the cherry blossom photo really does nothing for me. I can’t justify keeping it in the selection simply to show that I did more than the microscopy work. How I feel about an image as it comes onto the screen is an important indicator, and I feel a slight dip in my mood as that comes on screen, so out it goes. And, as bad as I feel removing it, the woodpecker shot doesn’t really cut the mustard either, so out that goes as well. I also removed the Shinjuku Eye photo from a few weeks ago. I like it, but it doesn’t do that much for me.
From an artistic perspective, as I got down to thirteen images, I decided that the plankton shot had to go too, and the black and white flowerhead shot seemed out of place at this point too. Compared to what’s left, I might as well remove the final abstract yellow flower shot, after all, leaving me with my final ten. That leaves me with just two real-world photos, and the other eight are microscope shots. Of those eight, only the scarab beetle is still something that could just about be seen with the naked eye. I’ll quickly walk you through the final selection before we wrap up for this episode.
We’ll look through these in chronological order rather than a ranking. This first image from the beginning of May was one of the first shots that started to really draw me into the microphotography world. These are citric acid crystals sandwiched between two polarizer filters, which causes these beautiful colors, and the rainbow colors that we’ll see in some of the following images as well. The flower of crystals here grew around a spec of fiber that had gotten onto the microscope slide, and kind of seeded the growth into this particular pattern.
The next image is one of my favorite sodium sulfite crystal shots. The colors are really appealing to me. This was also one of the first shots to show me the potential of these microscopic crystal formations. We’re looking at less than half a millimeter of the world here.
The next image is another sodium sulfite crystal shot, looking like an explosion in space to me. The fact that we can imagine these forms to be pretty much anything is probably part of the attraction for me.
Here’s the scarab beetle I mentioned, which was shot with my stereo microscope as opposed to my compound microscope. I found this beetle dead at the bottom of my apartment steps, which ultimately became my preferred way to shoot insects, as I thought it probably would.
Here is the third and final sodium sulfite crystal shot, which I have actually minted on Foundation, so if you collect NFTs you can check that out on my Foundation page at https://foundation.app/@MBP/~/114844 If this sells for more than 1 Ethereum I’ll send you a large format print as a thank you!
This next shot is one of my wife’s kindly donated gray hairs, which I also sandwiched between two polarizers to create these wacky colors. This was a massive 206 frame focus stack to get the entire knot in focus.
The next image was another eye-opener for me, as I looked at thinly sliced cross-sections of the stem or peduncle of a cucumber to find these vascular bundles. They were stained with light green, as they are almost completely transparent without a bit of stain to help us see them. You can also see the tiny chloroplasts in the cells, which I also got a great higher magnification shot of, but resisted included it in my final selection.
Back to the real-world, here is one of my shots of the Tatsusawa Falls from my October trip that also contributed to keeping me sane this year. These really are beautiful falls and I’m so pleased that I was able to get out there this year.
Here is another real-world shot, which is one of my favorites from a visit to our local park while the autumnal color was gracing us with its presence.
And finally, we travel down into The Abyss, which is actually the microscopic gap between two citric acid crystal formations.
OK, so that’s my top ten for 2021. A very different year from previous years, but as my selection shows, microscope photography is probably here to stay as one of my chosen photographic genres. That’s not to say that I’m not chomping at the bit to get back out into the field, but under the circumstances, I’m relatively happy with the year.
As usual, I invite anyone who has selected your own top ten to leave a comment and share your work with me and the rest of the audience. And finally, a huge thank you to our new Patreon supporters Larry, Char, and Paul, who, along with the rest of the patrons are awesome supporters of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast!
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
As we enter a new year, I’m completing my yearly task of selecting my favorite photos from the previous year, so today I’m going to walk you through my process in Capture One Pro, literally blow by blow as I whittle down my initial selection.
I have actually just got back from a two week break in the UK to visit family, which was great, but I’m a little behind now catching up on business before I start traveling with my first Japan winter tour which starts next Sunday. I was able to photograph a few things that I wanted to get to while I was in the UK, and I wanted to finish processing those images first, before I completed this selection, so I’m a day late with this week’s episode.
Another reason this process took more time than usual is because I had to reprocess a number of images from the first half of 2016 because I switched to Capture One Pro in the summer, and really wanted to complete this task entirely in Capture One. Still though, I’ve started writing this on the morning of January 3, the morning after completing my first pass, so let’s look at my process in Capture One Pro.
Over the years I’ve completed this process many times, and so far have shared details of that process in Lightroom, but since I’ve jumped ship to Capture One, this year I’ll use Capture One references, in the hope that it will help Capture One users as well. If you are a Lightroom user, or any other program for that matter, much of what I say today will be easily transferable to your chosen application.
As always though, I have used Collections to drill down to my personal top ten photographs. In Capture One, to start this process, I right clicked User Collections, and created a Group called Drill Down Groups, and I then right clicked that and created an Album called First Pass. I then right clicked my First Pass Album and selected “Set as Selects Collection”.
Once you have your First Pass album ready and set as your Selects Collection, you can go through your selects for the year, and hit your keyboard shortcut to add any image that you want to look at again to the Collection. I had my shortcut set to CMD + J initially, but as I did this many times yesterday, I found it a pain to hit a two key combination, so I changed my keyboard shortcuts in Capture One to make the letter Q add images to my Selects Collection. I used Q because on the keyboard it kind of looks like a line going into a zero, which you could think of as a diagram for putting something into a jar. It works for me anyway.
I ended up with 973 images in my Finals folder for 2016, which includes a number of images from the first half of the year which were duplicated as TIFF files, because I was using Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro on some of my work, and I keep both the final TIFF and the original raw file when I did this. For the second half of the year, I’ve not used Silver Efex and I only have a few images that I had to edit in Photoshop, so this probably makes 2016 one of my most productive years. The only year that I’ve got more Final Selects than this before now is 2012, when I did three consecutive Antarctica Expeditions, so I had 994 Finals that year, but the chance are more of those were original raw files and a TIFF or Photoshop file, so I’ve probably had my best crop so far this year.
First Pass 140 Images
The Pain of the Cull
After my first pass, I found myself with 140 images in my Collection (above) which is of course 14 times more than I need, so this is where the struggle begins to start and reduce my selection down to just ten. It’s always best to break processes up a little, I created a second Album under my Drill Down Groups called Second Pass.
Create Second Pass Collection
Before I created this new album I hit CMD + A to select all of my 140 images, and I turned on the “Add selected images after creation” checkbox (right) so that my images were automatically added to this new Collection.
From this point, instead of adding images, it becomes a case of removing them, with the delete key. When you are in a Collection, the delete key just removes images from the Collection. It doesn’t actually delete them.
My Selection Reasoning
As I was adding my images, I knew that there were a number of images that were very similar, and that not all of them could be included in the final top ten, but I didn’t want to make the decision at that point. There are two reasons for this, and the first is simply paying respect to some of the images that I like. It’s not a logical way to add images, but there are images from the year that I have come back to a number of times, and I simply cannot start this process without including them, even though I know I’ll remove them later.
The second and more logical reason for adding these images is because the first cull has to be relatively quick. This is how I generally edit down any selection of images from a shoot for example. My first pass is just throwing images that I like into the pot so that I can take more time making my decisions later. That’s where I am at this point after my first pass.
Work in Groups
What I start to do now is look for those groups of similar images, and start to whittle them down to the strongest image. For example, there’s no way I’m going to include more than one sea eagle photograph, so I selected all shots of Steller’s Sea Eagles with their talons forward, and started on these first.
One of those little things that I don’t like about Capture One Pro, but I put up with for the greater good, is that you can only select up to 12 images to view and compare in the Viewer at any one time. I would have liked to view all of my eagle shots at one time, but it’s not possible. Having said that, it’s better practice to work in smaller groups, so this is fine, but annoying that I don’t have that extra control.
You can remove single images from a Collection while in the Viewer pane in Capture One Pro, by selecting the image and hitting the delete key, but ensure that you have “Edit Primary” selected, rather than “Edit All Selected Variants” first. You can toggle between these modes with the icon with the three stacked rectangles, or from the Edit menu. If you leave this set to Edit All Selected Variants, when you hit the delete key, they will all be removed from the Collection.
After whittling down my first batch of Steller’s Sea Eagle shots, I selected pretty much the rest of them, and removed another ten or so, until I got down to the one that I probably knew all along that I would not be able to remove. I think it’s important to compare though, as you learn about your images as you go through the process.
I also knew that I was not going to be able to have many eagle shots, so I quickly went through, and with the single Steller’s Sea Eagle shot in mind, it was easy to remove a bunch of other eagle images, although I had to leave in one White Tailed Eagle and one Black Eared Kite shot that I really like, for now at least.
Giving Them the Bird
I still had a lot of bird shots though, so I started to work through small groups of other types of birds too. I removed some Ural Owl shots, to leave just one, and then got rid of most of my Japanese Red-Crowned Crane shots too. I had lots of crane shots this year of them in flight, but these are really quite common photos, so it wasn’t too hard to remove lots of these too as I became more ruthless.
I ended up with my favorite shot of the cranes at the famous Otowa Bridge in Tsurui, as we’d been fortunate to get beautiful hoar frost for a number of mornings on my 2016 tours, and the one I left had a lot of story to it, with various groups of cranes doing different things, and some pintail ducks in the foreground, so it has remained a favorite throughout the year.
We also had a great year for Whooper Swans, so I had found myself with a whopping 21 photos of these magnificent birds to wade through. Again, I started to break them down into similar groups. I had a lot of them flying against a beautiful softbox-like background, so I worked on these first, then the similar flight shots etc.
I found that a few times I wanted to view the images at full size, but in Multi View that isn’t possible, because when you double click on an image, it zooms in on the image in its small window. This is great for say checking critical sharpness on a certain area of multiple images, but not much use for this exercise. So I found myself flicking back and forth between Multi View and Primary View, with the four rectangles and single rectangle icons in the top left of the Viewer, or under Viewer Mode in the View menu.
Feel the Images
You can make a certain number of decisions when looking at the images in Multi View, but when you look at the images large on your display, you can “feel” the images much more, and I find this really helps with my culling process. Remember that all of the images I am looking at are already favorites from the year, but as some of them flick up on my screen, I get a little flutter of excitement. This clearly tells me that I’m looking at the image that I should be selecting from the current group.
This is also why I think it’s important to work in groups. At the end of the day, I like to create a balanced, representative set of images, almost like a mini-portfolio of my work for the year. I might for example prefer ten swan shots over everything else, but it wouldn’t represent my year very well, when you consider all of the varied subjects that I’ve photographed in 2016.
Sometimes as I feel that excitement, I go back to the last few images and quickly remove them. Sometimes after doing that, the image after the one that just excited me excites me even more, but these feelings just really help with the process. There is also sometimes a sinking feeling after the excitement, telling me that as much as I like the image, I don’t like it as much as the previous image, and this of course is another indication that it’s time to hit the delete button.
Down now to just three swan shots, I started to block, so I moved on. I’m not going to explain every step, but I gradually worked through groups of images, until I got to the end of my Collection again.
Portfolio of 2016 Work
By the time I’d gone through a second time, my Collection contained 70 images, exactly half the images that I started with. This is actually a really nice number for a slideshow, so I made a coffee, kicked my feet up, and hit the slideshow button.
Here are my thumbnails as I started my third pass (below). In Capture One you can view more than 12 images by selecting Hide Viewer from the View menu, and then just use the zoom slider in the Browser Toolbar to change the size of the thumbnails. You can also toggle the display of file name and star ratings under the images by turning Browser Labels off until the View menu.
Collection After Second Pass
Another Capture One Quirk
I really wish there was an option to view or hide the image crop on the thumbnails, but unfortunately this ins’t possible, so images that I have cropped appear smaller than others, and offset a little, which I find annoying. This really should be an option, not the default and only thumbnail view.
I have fed this kind of request back to the Phase One team but they have so far been pretty bad at implementing any of the ideas I’ve sent over. Hopefully it’s just a case of them trying to steer a rather large ship, and these things are just taking time, rather than simply being ignored.
I repeated the process of creating a new album and copied the 70 images from my second pass into a Third Pass Collection. Yet another quirk with Capture One is that it always sets the default sort of a new album to Name, so images are sorted by filename. This means I have to go in each time and change this to Date, so that I can see my images in the order they were captured. I don’t know if it’s just me, but that seems to make much more sense than sorting by name as the default.
Anyway, as you can see I still have a few groups of images that I can work on, so now it’s time to get really ruthless. I still have to remove 60 images, so this is really going to hurt. I only have room for one snow monkey shot, so two of those have to go. I remove the middle one in the previous screenshot (above) but I like the remaining two about the same, so my final decision is based on the orientation. Landscape is better for computer screens than portrait.
Jeez This is Hard!
I have a lot of Winter Trees left, so I go to work on those too. Jeez this is heartbreaking! My boat graveyard in Hokkaido holds a very special place in my heart, but at this point I have to get these shots down to just one, so three of them go. And there are still three shots of lines of boats, so at least two of these have to go too. Aargh!
As much as I love my raptor images, the White-Tailed Eagle and Black-Eared Kite also have to go. They just aren’t special enough to compete with the other images. I’m still struggling with my swan shots too. I was able to remove one of the three that were left, but limped on to remove the Pipe Dreams shot that I’d snuck in. This wasn’t a difficult decision because it really doesn’t match the rest of the set.
I trimmed the Greenland icebergs and glacier shots down a bunch, then moved on to Iceland, and removed my beloved ultra-wide angle shot of Landmannalaugar, as I feel the 63mm shot is a more natural perspective and shows the natural beauty of the valley better.
I also removed two of my ice on the beach shots from Iceland, and kind of surprised myself with my decision to remove the one with the waves crashing over the ice and leave the one with the distant telegraph poles. I love the totally natural scene, but I’m finding myself more and more attracted to images that contain a trace of man, and what we do to our beautiful planet.
After a few more hard decisions, I found myself down to twenty-seven images. I’m hours into the process, and I really need to get this job completed, and release this podcast too, so that I can move on to a few other important jobs that are waiting for me. Ideally at this point, I’d be able to walk away for a day or so, and come back later for the final push, but I don’t have that luxury right now.
Just 27 Images Left!
This in itself is good practice at editing a selection towards to tight deadline. One of the reasons I think this is such an important thing to do each year, is because it gets us accustomed to whittle down images to a very tight selection. I’ve mentioned before that I hate to sit through hundreds of peoples images. It doesn’t matter how good someone is, I never want to view the entire contents of their memory card after a shoot.
A Professional Skill
In a professional environment, we are often asked to provide a very small number of images for a specific project, so developing the skills to drill down to these small sets is a vital part of being a professional photographer, and sometimes that happens with very little time to sit back and wait for the set to define itself.
So, here we go. It’s time to make the hardest decisions so far, and remove almost one in three of my most favorite images from the year. If you look at the last three in the previous screenshot, you’ll see that these are very recent photographs from my visit to the UK. One is the Radcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, that I grew up in the shadow of. I’ve been hoping to do some nice photos of this for years, so that’s staying.
The second is a Lighthouse in Dovercourt, near Harwich in Essex. I found out about this place from a member of my Arcanum cohort Phil Newberry, an excellent photographer from the UK. Phil has an amazing photograph of this spot, so I’ve wanted to visit here for a while too. I really like my black and white shot from this spot, as well as my color version from sunrise the next morning, but I’m going to go for the color version, mostly because Phil’s is a beautiful black and white, so I want to keep them different.
I still had five images from my January Hokkaido Landscape Photography tour, which is obviously disproportionate to the year, so I removed the one of the Shinto Gate in the sea and the fish drying frames. I love both of these shots, but need to keep trimming down the set.
I hate to remove my two flying swans, but I think the two swans flapping on the ice has a very slight edge. The fox is really cute, but has to go too. I like the Bluie East Two shots with the old military vehicles in Greenland, but that situation isn’t ideal, and I’m not a political activist, so I’ll remove that too. I like the boat on the grass shot from Iceland a lot, but I think that can go too.
It breaks my heart again to do this, but if I have to remove one of the two Iceland beach ice shots, I think I’ll leave the wider scene. I also love my shot from my first visit to Gullfoss (whoops! I meant Godafoss) but it’s not as good as much of the other work in my opinion.
Don’t Cut Yourself Some Slack
OK, so now I’m really struggling. I am at eighteen images, and this is the point where many people start to say things like, “Well maybe I can just limit myself to 1.5 images per month and just go with this” but that defeats the object. It’s these last few selections that really hurt, so please don’t give in to the temptation to cut yourself some slack.
OK, so the owl is gone, with it’s beautifully cute upwards gaze, and if it comes to this, I guess I can say goodbye to my frolicking swans, as well as the shot of the waves drawing out at the harbor at Ohmu, Hokkaido. The view of the distant mountains in Greenland is starting to feel just a little bit out of place, and in the scheme of things, I think I need to give in to the temptation to include my shot of the power station. I like the shot but it’s probably elevated in my evaluation at this point because of its relative newness.
Aargh, Just Three More!
With just three more images to remove, and the sun having gone down almost an hour ago, I think I’m going to have to remove the aerial photo of the glacier from above, as it is perhaps symbolically more beautiful than it is aesthetically beautiful. I’ve shared the classic Landmannalaugar valley images before, so I’m going to remove that one too, leaving the breathing mountains shot.
At this point, I’m looking at remove one of three images, to get to my final top ten. I think if I’m totally honest with myself, it’s the sheer cuteness of the snow monkeys that is responsible for them being in the set, so as much as it breaks my heart, I think it’s time to say goodbye to them.
One of Three
So, with that, I have my 2016 Top Ten images selected. I can now rename my Final Pass album to 2016 Top Ten, and drag it to my Top Ten Collections Group. I’d say that this took a little bit longer than it used to take me in Lightroom, because of some of the Capture One Pro quirks, but six months after I jumped ship, I’m still very happy to work around these quirks for the ultimate quality of the images.
Martin’s 2016 Top Ten
Next week I’ll release a follow-up episode in which I walk you through each image, sharing my thoughts on the process of creating each of them. I hope you enjoyed walking through this process with me today, and that you’ll enjoy my walkthrough of the final ten next week.
Share Your Top Ten
Whether you are one of the folks that now also does this each year, or someone new to this tradition, please share a link to your top ten in the comments below. I love to see your work, and for those that have been doing this for a while, it’s always great to see how you are growing as a photographer. If this is your first time, you will not regret doing this. I fully believe it makes us better at editing our images down to a finite selection, and these yearly top ten collections build into an invaluable series of mini portfolios that help us to review our work from year to year, and hopefully help us to see how we are growing as photographers.
We’ll leave it there for this week, but to finish, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year! May 2017 be an amazing year for you, and if things don’t go as well as you’d like, I wish you the strength and good fortune required to overcome any hardships that you might face and move on to better things.
This week’s podcast is a video tutorial, to walk you through my new image editing and processing workflow in Phase One’s Capture One Pro. I have been using Capture One Pro since July, and have absolutely fallen in love with it, to the point that I haven’t used Lightroom once since switching.
I have also not used Silver Efex Pro or Color Efex Pro at all, and I’m finding myself in Photoshop less often too. My biggest test was how comfortable I felt working on all of the images from my recent tours in Greenland and Iceland, but these were no hiccups at all. I have worked exclusively in Capture One Pro, from import to export and everything in between.
One thing that I was kind of surprised by, was just how little work I had to do on most of my images to get them to look how I wanted. I have never been a heavy image processor, but during my earlier tests, I was putting quite a lot of time into each image. In reality, most of the images that I worked on over the last few month were how I wanted them to look after tweaking just a few sliders.
On occasion, I dived in and did a little bit of work with Adjustment layers, and sometimes did extensive cloning and healing to remove unwanted features like lots of people in the shot, and none of this was difficult to achieve.
What’s really enhanced my Capture One Pro workflow, is the ability to customize Capture One Pro’s user interface and shortcut keys, literally putting everything that I need right at my fingertips. Because of this, I also spend some time in this video explaining some of these aspects, especially the custom shortcuts.
To make it easier to follow along, I’ve actually shared my shortcut customizations here along with a PDF to print them out for easy reference. If you haven’t customized your own shortcuts, you might want to give these a try. Come back to check the shortcuts page from time to time too, as I’ll continue to tweak my shortcuts and will update the page whenever I do. There is a link to the page in the PDF to make that easy to do.
So, here’s the video. It’s almost an hour long, so grab a coffee and a plate of cookies, and I hope you find it useful.
Here too is a link that will list all Capture One Pro tutorials that I release. With this video, we are currently at four, but this list will grow over time as I release more.
Please note that due to changes in Phase One, the discount code that I mentioned in the Podcast is no longer valid. Do give Capture One Pro a try though. You can download it here and use it for 30 days before you make up your mind.
Have you ever forgotten the star rating protocol that you use for rating and sorting your images? I have. Not for the best shots. I give my final selection 5 stars. However, I use the other stars in various ways, mainly to allow me to show or hide image files, based on their role in my work-flow.
Before I go on to the main reason I decided to write this post, here’s a little background on my rating process, following a little tweaking recently.
When I am running through images from a shoot, I give my selected images 4 stars as an initial selection, and at the same time mark anything that I simply want to delete straight away a 1 star rating. As I work through weeding out the weak and fine tuning my selection to leave only the very best shots, with little duplication in subject matter, I mark this final selection with 5 stars. As I demote images, I like to be able to remember what I originally selected, so instead of removing the stars altogether, I mark them with 2 stars.
After I’ve gotten the selection down to as few images as I can in my first few passes, I tell Lightroom to display only 1 star images, then select them all, and delete from disk. Note that I don’t select “Rating is greater than or equal to” in my filter, because that would also show all my 2 and 5 stars, and I don’t want to delete them!
If I have to get the images out to a client quickly, I’ll skip this step, but when possible, I’ll sleep on the images, and run through them a number of times more, taking a number of days or even weeks, giving myself time to become less emotionally attached to the images and the shoot. This allows me to be more subjective and therefore more ruthless in my edit. During this period I simply live with the image, looking through them, or running a slide-show on my PC while I’m doing other stuff. While doing this I might feel myself not being quite so pleased with the image as it flashes up on my screen, so I demote these images to 2 stars as well, removing them from my final selection.
I might also do some black and white conversions etc. When I do that, I mark the new black and white version with 5 stars, and mark the original RAW file with 3 stars, assuming that I’m not going to use the color version anymore.
At this point, I have my final selection of RAW files with some Lightroom adjustments. I might also have some TIFF files for the B&W conversions or PSD files for anything that I worked on in Photoshop. These are stored in the same locations as my original files, but I then copy all of these final selection of RAW, TIFF and PSD images into a directory on a different hard drive for my best shots. I also make a full sized JPEG copy, for easy sharing or slideshows, and I make a small version for flickr and my Web site if I’m going to be sharing the images online.
Once I’ve done this, I mark all of the original RAW files, or TIFF, PSDs in the original location with a 3 star. I also copy the RAW files for anything that I made a PSD or TIFF for, to the second hard drive, which I also mark with 3 stars. I sometimes end up with images that I like, and want to keep with my best shots, but don’t necessarily want to see these in my best shots view or share them online. I mark these with a 4 star.
Unless I need to go back to the originals for any reason, the 5 star rated images become my main working files. Having just these final selection images marked with 5 stars enables me to easily remove the other images from my Lightroom view using the filters, when I don’t want to see multiple copies of the same image. If I want to see my almost made it shots as well, I can select to view 4 star images and above.
Anyway, background and process explained, here’s the main point of this post. A few days ago I realized that in recent months, I had sometimes left my lesser images rated with 3 stars instead of 4, but I know wanted 3 stars to only represent my original image files. I’d also rated some original files with a 4 instead of 3, so I got in a little bit of a mess.
As I started to work through my archives correcting the problem, at almost 1AM, it started to get a bit confusing, so I decided that before I went on, I’d leave myself a little guide. This is probably overkill, but I decided to use the Lightroom Identity Plate as a key or legend for my rating system. It’s not that sexy, but I scrunched my logo up to the top a little, and added the legend as we can see below.
You can quickly change this in Lightroom, so I can switch back to my straight logo before showing clients my screen. Still, when I’m rating and playing around with views, especially at 1AM when I’m no longer firing on all cylinders, it might help to remind myself of what I’m using, at least until it becomes second nature again after my recent tweaks.
By the way, to create something similar yourself, to enter the star symbol in Photoshop, just select the Wingdings font and hit SHIFT + Y.