Image Selection Workflow After Winter Wildlife Tour #2 (Podcast 514)

Image Selection Workflow After Winter Wildlife Tour #2 (Podcast 514)

Having just completed my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour for 2016, and taking way too long to whittle down my final selection of images, today I’m going to talk a little about some of the techniques I use during this editing process.

Despite 2016 being an el niño year, resulting in us having much less snow than usual on both of my Japan winter tours, this turned out to be just as productive a trip as any year, if not more so. The more we have taken away, the more we seem to receive in other opportunities.

I shot about 500 more images on this trip compared to the first, giving me a total of 7,500, and after my initial run through these images to find the ones that I thought were good enough to show people, I similarly had 750 images, compared to around 800 from the first trip for this year.

As with the first tour, I decided to leave my 7D Mark II at home, and worked exclusively with my two Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies, despite this being a wildlife tour. I touched on this a lot during my four travelogue episodes for the first tour, so I won’t keep going on about this, but I have continued to be amazed at how well the 5Ds R coped with the fast paced shooting.

The autofocus worked incredibly well. Much better than the 5D Mark III in similar conditions, and I actually found the reduced frame rate liberating. It had me thinking much more about the critical timing at which I would release the shutter, especially for the eagle shots that we’ll look at later in the series of travelogues that we’ll follow up with. I also had less than half the images to look through, which saved me time, and that’s always a welcome benefit from any new shooting style.

Whittling my Final Selects

With so many images that I was happy with from this trip, I found the selection process even more challenging than usual, and I used a few different techniques for whittling down my images from this trip that I thought might be useful to talk about, so before we get into the travelogue series, I’m going to walk you through some of these processes.

As I travel, I try to look through my images from each shoot, and when other activities such as sleep get in the way, I make a note of which days I’ve looked through, and which one’s I haven’t. For this trip, I managed to look through 9 of the 12 days, so I went through the other three days over the last week, after getting back from the tour.

During my first pass I generally just give anything that I want to look at again 3 stars. This is my “worth a crap” rating. It means that I’d be happy to show people the image, although might not proactively do so. After tour #2 I had 750 of these initial selects which I then needed to reduce to a more appropriate number, which is as few as possible, as usual.

Using Lightroom Smart Collections

To make it easy to review images I generally create a Smart Collection for three star images and above for any multi-day trip that I do. This helps me to quickly view all images that I have rated by going to that Collection, rather than selecting all folders from the dates of the trip, then filtering on three stars or higher.

To create the Smart Collection I just go to the Collections panel in Lightroom’s Library Module and click the + symbol to the right of the Collections label, then select Create Smart Collection… As you can see in this screenshot (below), I then select three stars for the Rating field, and this is set by default to “is greater than or equal to”, so anything with three or more stars will be included in this Smart Collection.

Smart Collection Settings

Lightroom Smart Collection Settings

I then click the + button to the right of the Rating line to add more criteria, and select Capture Date, then “is in the range” and enter the start and end dates for my tour, which was Feb 22 to March 4, 2016. Now, I can see all images with 3 stars or above for the entire trip, just by clicking on this Smart Collection folder.

To reduce my 750 initial select images, I started to look at groups of similar images and reduce them to as few as possible. After my second pass, I was down to 348, so I was able to remove just over half of my original selection. I still had 151 images of the Steller’s Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles, so I did a third pass just through these images, and removed an additional 25 images, but then I was stuck again. I really felt as though the 125 eagle shots that I had left were quite strong images, so I guess this is a nice problem to have, but I really wanted to reduce my overall number of selected images even further.

Lightroom Slideshow Functionality Change

With a total of 323 images left in my Smart Collection for the trip, I tried using my slideshow and coffee process. I’d been through the entire set a number of times at this point, but having hit a wall, it was time to simply feel my reaction to the images as the slideshow progressed.

I start a Lightroom slideshow, and if I am happy to see the next image come up, it stays, but if I get even the slightest sinking feeling as the next image comes up, I hit the 1 key on my keyboard to demote the image out of my selection. 1 star is my “once great” rating. It means I once thought enough of it to promote it above the others, but then decided otherwise. I just like to keep this star on there as a reference.

Anyway, it was this point in time when I realized that Lightroom no longer works as it used to, so the keyboard is not recognized during slideshows. This is actually quite huge for me, as I use this process a lot. It’s even more annoying because the slideshows in Lightroom are being nicely enhanced with features like “Pan and Zoom” and better synching with music being added, but now I have to click through each image in full screen mode, which I don’t like so much. I like to remove anything that disrupts how I “feel” about each image, so the slideshow was perfect for me.

So, while manually going through the images, even after doing this a few times, I was still at 311 images. I’d only managed to remove another 12 from my gut reaction to the images. At this point, I decided to go the other way, and promote the ones that I really liked.

Using Raw Emotion to Select Images

When traveling these days, I generally create a Lightroom Collection that I set to sync with Lightroom Mobile, so when I drop images into that Collection they automatically sync with my iPad and iPhone. I just set that Collection to be the Target Collection, which means that I can add images easily by hitting the B key while browsing or editing images. This gives me an easy way to show the tour participants what I’ve been capturing as we travel, and also my wife can follow along with my progress from home.

Lightroom Mobile Screenshot

Lightroom Mobile Screenshot

The thing with this process is that I obviously don’t just drop all of my selects into this synced Collection. Unlike my initial selection which I give three stars simply to indicate that I want to look at these images again, for my Lightroom Mobile Collection I only add images that I feel are good enough that I want to show people. I make this decision as I work through my initial selection process, so there’s a lot of gut feeling involved. It’s a raw emotional response to the images, and I think that is worth working with.

By the time I’d been through all images from the tour I had around 180 images in my Lightroom Mobile Collection for the trip, so these are images that I already knew that at some point I’d felt strongly about. More strongly than the superset of 750 initial selects in the Smart Collection, so I decided to do some further comparisons of the larger group against this subset of images.

I went into my Lightroom Mobile Collection and labeled all of the 180 images in there with a blue label, then went back into my Smart Collection, and in the grid view I could now easily see all of the images that I had added to my gut feeling favorite images Lightroom Mobile Collection. More importantly, this blue label also enabled me to filter out all images that did not have a color label assigned, so I could look at only the images that I had not yet added to this subset. Theoretically these should be the less-good images.

By this point, I’d been back from the tour for over a week, and the emotion of each shoot was pretty gone, so when I looked through these images, I was able to simply feel my reaction to them a fresh, and add anything else that I thought was good enough to want to show people to the Lightroom Mobile Collection.

After doing this, with the memory of the last pass through my lesser images still fresh in my mind, I went back into the Lightroom Mobile Collection, and did another pass, this time with the newly added images included, and removed everything that I didn’t feel was up to scratch. Some of them were from my initial Lightroom Mobile selection, and some were added for the first time. I could see this because of the blue labels, which I thought was useful.

This process enabled me to reduce my overall 3 star image count to 251, which is a closer number to what I like to work with, but by this point I’ve been pretty ruthless, and felt uncomfortable removing anything more at this point. These base three star images will probably remain in the collection, and I’ll present these to Offset, my stock photography agency, for their consideration as well.

My Lightroom Mobile Collection, which contained images that I would more proactively like to show people, had increased a little at 214 images. At this point, I promoted all of these images to 4 stars, and removed the blue label. I don’t like to leave color labels on images, and it was no longer necessary. My 4 star rating is, as I say, for images that I proactively want to share, and I give 5 stars only to images that I feel are portfolio worthy, or actually in a portfolio.

Selecting the Absolute Best to Show You!

By this time, it was 2:30 on Monday afternoon, and I am supposed to be releasing the first travelogue episode for Tour #2 today! At this point I started the process of selecting my final 30 or a maximum of 40 images to talk about. We already now that I wasn’t able to get to the travelogue episodes. The process just took too long. I made Lightroom’s Quick Collection the target Collection again, and then sat through the entire set again, hitting the B key when an image that I thought I’d like to talk about came up on my screen.

Well, as you might imagine, I ended up with a new shortlist of 112 images. I’d added just over half of my 4 star images to my Quick Collection. Aargh!

So, I had to go back and start to select similar images again. I had 46 sea eagle shots, so that was an obvious place to start. For example, I had five shots of White-Tailed Eagles with their talons forward, coming in to catch a fish, so I removed four of them. I had six shots of White-Tailed Eagles side-on actually catching the fish, so I removed five of these, leaving just the one with the most dramatic splash.

I repeated this process for the various types of eagle shots, but the most difficult group to reduce was these four images of a Steller’s Sea Eagle coming in to land on harbor wall at Rausu (below). These four images are already a subset of a series where the light reflecting from the snow on the wall, back up onto the eagle, was absolutely stunning.

Four Stellers Sea Eagles

Four Steller’s Sea Eagles

I love each one of these shots with a passion, so I was disappointed to see that on closer inspection, the third image was a little bit blurred as the eagle lunged forwards. That did make removing one more image a no-brainer though of course, and the other three were absolutely tack sharp.

In fact, as we are not going to have time now to actually start the travelogue this week, let’s take a look at just how sharp these images are. Keeping in mind that the image is already cropped slightly, here is a 100% crop of the fourth of these images (below). I can’t tell you enough how much I have fallen in love with shooting wildlife with the Canon EOS 5Ds R.

Steller's Sea Eagle 100% Crop

Steller’s Sea Eagle 100% Crop

All I’ve done to this image in post is increase the Shadows slider in Lightroom to +18 and increased the Clarity to +12. Apart from that, and the crop of course, this is straight out of the camera, so hopefully you’ll see why I’m so excited about the resolution and image quality of this camera. The shutter speed was 1/1000 of a second at f/10, ISO 400, at 234mm.

In a desperate bid to reduce the number of images down futher, I actually removed the last shot of the White-Tailed Eagle snatching a fish from the water as well, as the Steller’s Sea Eagle shot was better, and this enabled me to get the eagles down to just 12 images for now, so I went through the rest of the remaining 75 images in a similar way, trying to remove more.

The next difficult set was trying to reduce the number of Whooper Swan images. We had two amazing mornings at Sunayu, at Lake Kussharo, with a number of beautiful fly-ins and incredible light. I found it really difficult to reduce the images I will talk about, much past this selection (below). I ended up removing some of my favorite images simply because I didn’t think their true beauty would come through in the limited Web size that we have to use here.

Last 16 Swan Fly-in Shots

Last 16 Swan Fly-in Shots

As you can see, we had very different conditions each day, which made it even more difficult to reduce the number. Especially the second of our two days there, the swans looked as though they were just sitting in a huge soft-box with stunning light, and such a tiny subtle difference between the birds and their white background.

So, finally, after a few more heartbreaking decisions, I arrived at the 40 images that you can see in this screenshot (below) that I will talk about over the next four episodes.

Final 40 Images from 2016 Tour#2

Final 40 Images from 2016 Tour#2

If time allows, I’ll try to start recording the travelogue series early, and release the next episode before the end of the week, so that we don’t spend much longer on these travelogue series. I also have some other exciting stuff coming up as well, that I don’t want to delay any longer than necessary, but it really depends on how much time I can assign to these tasks in the coming weeks. Either way, let’s wrap it up there for today.

2018 Winter Wonderland Tours

Before we finish, I’d like to remind you that we are now taking bookings for the 2018 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2018. Our 2017 tours are already sold out, but if you’d like to be put on the wait list, please contact us.

Winter Wonderland Tours 2018


Show Notes

Details of the 2018 Tours: https://mbp.ac/ww2018

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Selecting My Top Ten Photos for 2015 (Podcast 504)

Selecting My Top Ten Photos for 2015 (Podcast 504)

As has been my tradition since 2007, I have taken some time over the past week to reflect on the images I have made during 2015, and worked through the process of editing down my favorites to just 10 images. Today I’m going to share my thoughts on the process, as I believe this is a valuable exercise for photographers to do each year.

Developing the ability to whittle down a collection of images to a finite number is a skill that photographers all need to develop or maintain. If you haven’t tried this yourself, you might think it’s pretty easy, but it really isn’t. I often ask people to provide me with say 5 images, and the majority of the time, I get 1o or 20 back. In an informal situation this is fine. I sometimes provide more images than I’m ask for to give the other party options, but I only do this when I know that the other person will be OK with that.

In a professional situation, if you are asked for 5 images, and you provide ten, it shows a lack of discipline in your work. It also sends a message that you think your time is more important than the person requesting the images. After all, if you don’t spend the time required to get your selection to the required number, you are pushing this task onto the other person, and that’s disrespectful. Generally, in a professional environment, if the person requesting the images wants options, they’ll include that in the number that they request. They might ask for say ten images, but only intend to use five. Either way, develop the skill to provide the number requested.

If you are going to do this “top ten” style exercise for yourself, I recommend you set your number before you start. I like ten. Top ten lists are popular, and it just feels good. You could do more or less, but the most I would go to is twelve, as that’s one per month. A dozen. It’s another good number. If you go for a larger number than twelve, you’re being too easy on yourself and won’t learn as much from the process.

Another thing that I’ve done in the past is done multiple top tens, one for nature and wildlife, and another for people photography, but if I’m totally honest, that was just a cop-out on my part. It was probably too difficult to get my selection down, so I gave in to the temptation to increase my numbers. I won’t be doing that this year, although if you do work in a number of totally different fields of photography, it could be an option. I just recommend that you set your goal before you start, and stick to it.

My Lightroom Selection Process

To start my selection process, I created a Collection Set simply numbered 2015 in Lightroom under my Top Tens Collection Set. Under that Collection Set, I created my first Collection called First Pass, and made it my Target Selection, which adds a + symbol to the right of the Collection name. With that set up, I navigated to the folder that contains all of my best work from 2015, and filtered out all of my two star images, because they are the originals of any photos that I have made a copy of, to work on them in Silver Efex Pro or Color Efex Pro, or in Photoshop etc.

Anything that causes me to create a copy means that I also copy my original raw file to my 2015 Finals folder and mark it with two stars. So, showing three stars or above, I went through this folder hitting the “B” key on my keyboard for any image that I like enough to consider it for my 2015 top ten. The B key adds the selected image to the Target Collection, which we just created and specified. Once I’ve gone through the entire folder, I’ll create a second collection called second pass, and repeat this process until I reach my final ten.

My Thought Process

As I went through the images for my first pass, I had a few feelings that I’d like to share with you, as I think this is an important part of the learning process.

I started making my decision based on the thumbnail view, which I found really easy to do for images that I’ve continuously gone back to through the year, but this didn’t work so well for my wildlife work. I felt that to make a decision for my wildlife work, I had to go in and view the images at full size to feel the connection needed to add them to my First Pass. There were a few favorites that would have made it to the first pass just from the thumbnail, but I felt compelled to add more when viewing the wildlife images larger.

What I noticed though, was that even as I was adding some of these wildlife images, I knew that they wouldn’t make the final cut. My thought process was, OK, so I really like this shot, and I’m going to add it for now, to see a collection of all of my favorite work from 2015, as an initial starting point. If I was sitting down without a lot of time to select my 10 images, I would have been far less likely to add these images at this point. Which way you do this is totally up to you of course. I feel as though at least adding them once is like giving them an honorable mention.

I have 870 images in my 2015 Finals folder, of which 693 are the actual Final images. The others are original raw files for images that I’ve done something to. After my first pass, I ended up with 124 images in my Collection. That’s about 20 more than I can even show in a single screenshot from Lightroom, so I’ll move on to my second pass. To start that process, I created a new Collection called 2nd Pass, and left all 124 images in there, then started the process of removing the lesser images. This is where it starts to get difficult.

I have a few sets of images from the same location, so at this point, I start to select similar images and hit N to display just these images in Survey view and flicking back and forth between them, then press the delete key on my keyboard to start and remove the lesser of these subsets from my Collection. I also removed a few of the honorable mention images, to get my set down to 97, and these can be seen in this screenshot (below).

2015 Top Ten 2nd Pass

2015 Top Ten 2nd Pass

OK, so I’m under a hundred, but still have 87 images to remove from my selection. Time to start getting ruthless. The next thing I did was to select images of the same subject. For example, I have five snow monkey shots, and at most I’m going to have only two in my final selection, so I try to take the knife to at least three of these. The first two weren’t so difficult, but with these three little monkeys on my screen, I had to differ the decision until later.

Three Monkeys

Three Monkeys

I started to remove red-crowned cranes, white-tailed eagle and whooper swan shots. I think the reason that I had to look at my wildlife work full size is because of the eyes of the animals, but it was these same eyes that made it really difficult to remove the wildlife shots once in the selection. Even when the eyes are closed, the feeling that I get from looking at animals makes this really tough.

Of course, even more difficult was removing some of the photographs of the Himba people from Namibia. I had a real cultural exchange with these people, making it incredibly difficult to remove any of these. I removed a few but still ended up looking at this set, and was stuck again.

Namibia Himba People Photos

Namibia Himba People Photos

At the end of my third pass, I was down to 64 images, and by this time, I need a break. This is hard! Here’s a screenshot of where I stood at the end of this third pass (below).

2015 Top Ten Third Pass

2015 Top Ten Third Pass

Starting from the beginning of the Collection again, I still have eight photos from my January Hokkaido Landscape Adventure, so I went to work on them. The first three minimalist tree shots are all strong favorites, but I removed two of them, going for the lone tree on the hill, which has been a favorite since I shot these. The Boat Graveyard shot was definitely going to stay too, so I removed the other boat shot with the clouds radiating out. That left me with three tetra-pod shots, which I really like, but I left only the one with the suns rays, as that’s also remained a favorite. I then removed a few more eagle shots, and removed three of the four sky full of swans shots.

Of the two fox photos, although I think the one of him just sitting there is a prettier photo, the one of him yawning is more unique, so I removed the first of the two. I removed a white-tailed eagle shot and the black-eared kite shot, and then selected all of my crane shots, with a mind to leave only one, which I managed to do.

Back in Namibia, I removed the milky way shot, which I like, but it’s not brilliant, and then removed the single point perspective shot of the room at Kolmanskop, leaving the sausage boilers and slats for now. I knew that I would only leave one of the two camel-thorn tree silhouette photos from Namibia, and because the first of the two was a retake of a 2013 image, I went with the new composition, which I actually prefer anyway, so that was easy enough. Of the two dune shots, I went for the less cluttered of the two, but I’m still not sure I’ll leave the other one in. There’s still a long way to go.

I really like the pink pelicans shot, but it’s not my best work, so that’s gone now too, and I have to say goodbye to the Himba lady dancing, because I prefer the other two low key images of these three. I can’t remove the goat herding shot. That’s still a firm favorite. I removed two of the three desert elephant shots, because they aren’t that good either, but I left the one of the elephants walking into the distance as I love the feel of that image. At this point I still have 13 Namibia shots left in the selection, which is not good, but I go back to Iceland.

I remove the shot of Gullfoss from the end of the gorge, because it’s a 5Ds R reshoot, and as much as it hurts, I remove a few more of the Iceland landscapes, because I have better images from previous years. The Icelandic horse shot also has to go. It’s not that special. That’s the end of the fourth pass though, and I’m still at 36 photos. Aargh, this is hard!

2015 Top Ten Fourth Pass

2015 Top Ten Fourth Pass

I actually found the fifth pass a little easier, because I now know that I still have to delete almost three out of four images. I have a specific number to work with now, and that was kind of liberating. It meant that I had start to really sacrifice images that had made it this far in my process.

I quickly cut a bunch of stuff. Swans in flight, sausage boilers, slatted room, the cave shot from Iceland. I kept the Landmannalaugar cotton grass reflection in as long as I could, but it just isn’t as good as many of the other shots, so that went too.

It’s a toss-up between the Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfall shots, but in the end, I leave the Skógafoss image in, because it’s landscape as opposed to portrait orientation, and therefore will look better on the blog. That’s my final thinking on that one, and this is a valid consideration. If I was selecting something for the cover of a magazine, I’d have gone with the portrait orientation image.

I’ve still only removed one in three images though by the end of my fifth pass, so I take another quick swing at it and get my Namibia images down to five, four Iceland images left, and still ten Japan shots left. By this time, I’m at 19 images, and it’s the end of my business day. I will go down stairs for dinner now, and try to pick this up again later. At this point I’m actually happy to walk away from the process for a while, to reset.

2015 Top Ten Fifth Pass

2015 Top Ten Fifth Pass

So, after writing the last paragraph, at 19 photos, I actually left this selection for four full days, as I visited in-laws over the New Year, and came back to this on the evening of Sunday the 3rd of January. One of the best ways to finalize a selection like this in my mind is to take at least a day, or a few when possible, to let the shortlist sit.

The Shortlist

I was able to within a few minutes pick 11 of the 19 images remaining that I absolutely felt I had to include, and the last two were a toss-up, so I basically had to decide between my shot of the elephants walking into the distance and the blue glacial water flowing around the iceberg. My other nine were set.

I’d decided to go with just the little Himba girl, and leave out the photo of the Himba man, as although I love both of those photos, I don’t have room for two of these, and I feel that the little girl photos is the stronger of the two, with a richer sense of culture. I also decided that I could live without another red-crowned crane and eagle shot, as these have dominated my top tens over the years. I still totally enjoy making these photographs, but for now, I need something a little more special to make what is to me, a pretty important selection of images.

I also decided to drop the tetra-pod image and keep the boat graveyard image, because again I think the latter is the stronger image, although I do really like both. I’ve had a shot of Skógafoss in my top ten a few years ago, and the 2015 version doesn’t do any more for me, so I dropped that too. Also, although I like the church shot, there is a definite aspect of been there done that, so I dropped that too.

I’ve also had monkey face close-ups, so I dropped the adult monkey in favor of the six week old baby, because it’s  fresh work for me, as I visited the snow monkeys in the summer for the first time in 2015. This was a tough choice though, as I find the strong human like expression on the thoughtful adult snow monkeys face hard to resist.

Finally, the bright and vibrant green shot of the pond from Fukushima has been a favorite throughout the year, but I feel that the misty tree and pond shot is a better image and closer to my overall style than the first pond shot, so I went with the atmospheric misty shot.

I was back to my decision as to whether or not to leave the elephants shot in, or go with the glacial flow and ice shot. I love the story behind the elephant shot, but I think the glacial flow shot is closer to my style, and perhaps a prettier photo, so I’m going to go with that.

For my final selection of 10 from my 19 image short list, I used the P button to add the Pick flag to my images, and then hit the U key to Unflag the elephant shot after making my decision, leaving me with my 10. If it’s important to keep a record of the selection after each pass, you can just right click and select Duplicate Collection, or create a new Collection and drag your images into it, and just repeat this with each new pass you make.

2015 Top Ten Final Selection

2015 Top Ten Final Selection

I honestly find it really sad to remove any photo from these selections, but as difficult as this process can be, I really do think it’s an important process for a photographer to undertake at least once a year, to help us to become better editors of our work. By editing, I don’t meaning modifying the individual image, I mean the act of editing down a selection to a finite number.

As I mentioned earlier, photographers seem to find this difficult to do, but in some situations it is a necessary skill, that we should practice, as often as we can, so that when we are asked for selections of images for any reason, we can go through the process relatively quickly when necessary. When time allows as well, it’s pretty much always going to help you to be more objective about your final selection if you can step away from the process for a day or more as you reach your last few passes.

If you don’t use Lightroom, you will of course have to figure out a way to actually select the images and whittle them down. I haven’t used any other tools for so long now that I can’t offer any advice, other than make it simple. If the process gets in the way, or becomes a pain to manage, you need to look for a better process.

Next week, I’ll share the actual Top Ten images that I was left with one by one, along with a little bit of information about each image. I’ll also talk about how beneficial it is to keep these Collections, to enable us to view our progress over the years.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I hope it has been on some use to go through this process with me, and if you do this too, remember that it is important to stick to your number, be it five, ten or twelve, once you’ve decided a number to shoot for, don’t allow your emotional attachment to the images force you to increase that number. If you do that, you’ve failed to learn from the process. It’s supposed to be hard. That’s why it makes us better photographers.

Share Your Top Ten

And of course, as usual, if you do post your selection of images anywhere, drop a link into the comments for this post. I know that many of you go through this process, and I love seeing how you are progressing as photographers, and even if it’s your first time, let me know, and include a note on what you learned from the process too if anything.


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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My 2014 Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 455)

My 2014 Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 455)

Following on from last week, when I walked you through my selection process, this week I’m going to tell you a bit about the 10 photographs that I selected as my 2014 Top Ten.

Before we jump in and start to walk through my top ten, I’d like to thank all of you that posted a link to your own top selection for the year against last week’s podcast about the select process. It was great seeing your selections, and I encourage anyone else that is thinking of going through this process to post your link too, either against this, or last week’s post. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

OK, so here are my 2014 Top Ten images. Remember these are my selections based on the process I explained last week. You might not think they’re my best photos, or even any good at all, but that’s not really what this is about. This retrospective is really about putting a stake in the ground at the end of each year, and building a baseline from which to judge our progress each year.

I’ll go through these in chronological order, starting with this photo that I called Waiting for Clearance (below). I shot this and the next few photographs during my winter wildlife tours in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan. On this day we were having a wonderful snow storm, and the wind was high, so the cranes seemed to just float above the crowd for a while as they looked for a spot to touch down.

Waiting for Clearance

Waiting for Clearance

I had been panning with the crane in flight, and not really paying much attention to the cranes below, so I actually had a bit more room above the crane which I cropped off making this a 16:9 ratio. I could have probably moved the camera down some to include more of the cranes below, but something about the end result here just appeals to me. I guess this is one case when, for me at least, the appeal of the photograph overrides the need for any perceived requirement for compositional conformity.

My next selection is this tightly cropped photo of a Steller’s Sea Eagle from the start of February. Again, technically there are a few reasons why people might not like this. The face being in shadow is one, and some people are probably going to complain about cropping off the tip of the wings, or the entire right wing in this instance. Personally, I’m finding more and more that I prefer a really tight crop like this, and often go in much tighter on eagles and birds in flight, aiming for just this look.

Search for Prey

Search for Prey

I like this particular image also because of the background. I have lots of eagle shots with vivid blue skies, which I actually don’t really like very much in normal photography, but here, the dappled texture of the mountains over the fishing town of Rausu where we photograph these eagles makes a nice background in my opinion.

I called my third selected image Angel Wings (below), because these wings remind me of the wings that you often see on angels in the movies. I have fond memories of laying on the snow at the edge of the Kussharo Lake with some of the other photographers on my tour, just waiting for swans to rise up and flap their wings like this.

Angel Wings

Angel Wings

Although I wasn’t impressed with the 5D Mark III auto-focus on the 200-400mm lens for birds in flight, it’s still very capable of snapping focus quickly onto a target like this when there is really not a lot of time to focus and grab a few frames while the action lasts.

Steller's Sunrise

Steller’s Sunrise

Again, the swans in the foreground bug me just a little bit, but I find the image appealing all the same, and so went for my feeling about the image over technical accuracy. After all, the swans are all in this water together, and my photo depicts that accurately.

This next photograph is a Steller’s Sea Eagle sitting on a pinnacle of sea-ice with the rising sun behind it (right). This was towards the end of Tour #2 for 2014, and again, I recall the excitement as the skipper of our boat moved us slowly back and forth so that all of my group got a chance to shoot this while the eagle remained perched up there.

I decided not to adjust the white balance on this, I generally shoot in the Daylight preset, and that helped me to maintain some of the blue feel of the cold dawn ice, because this is really how it feels.

This is also one of the few times that I actually use Aperture Priority shooting mode. Although I usually shoot Manual, at this location at dawn, we sometimes shoot away from the sun, but because we also sometimes shoot directly into it, it makes more sense to allow the camera to adjust exposure. I generally dial in about +2/3 of a stop, and run with that for about 20 minutes as the day starts, then go back to Manual as I feel much more comfortable in Manual mode.

Next we jump seven months of the year, from the end of February to the end of September, and this photo called Jewel on the Shore, from my Iceland tour (below). It doesn’t seem like that long ago when I talked about this, but I was really happy with this photo. I was set up with an ND filter on, doing multiple second photos of the sea water as it washed up the beach, sometimes coming up to my ankles as I worked this scene.

Jewel on the Shore

Jewel on the Shore

This was a 4 second exposure too, but I ended up shooting this while the sea water wasn’t high up the beach, as the sun shone perfectly through a gap in the larger growlers, which is actually a technical term for icebergs about the size of a car. The name comes from the sound they make as they roll along the hull of a ship. I couldn’t believe my luck as the light hit the small piece of clear ice, which then focussed the light down onto the beach like a prism. Sometimes everything just comes together to create something special, and I believe this was one of those times.

My next selected image is of the iconic Skógafoss waterfall in Iceland (below). I have scores of similar images of these falls now, but I really like the light on this one. The light above the falls seems to be spilling into the photograph, and there was so much spray that it caused highlighted the rock formation along the right side of the frame, which I also like.

Skógafoss (Falls)

Skógafoss (Falls)

This was a one second exposure with an ND8 filter on. I sometimes go a bit faster for waterfalls, but one second registers a lot of movement and the mist around the basin of the falls is really nice at this shutter speed, so this is probably my favorite Skógafoss photo to date.

My next selection is this photograph of the Choshi Ohtaki falls in the Oirase mountain stream area of Aomori, the northern-most prefecture of Honshu, the main island of Japan (below). When I first spoke about this image along with the other shot of these falls a few months ago, I think I preferred the other version from a lower angle, but now,  this one seems to appeal to me more, probably because there is more fall color in the image than the other version.

Choushi Ohtaki Waterfall (Higher Perspective)

Choushi Ohtaki Waterfall (Higher Perspective)

This is a 0.8 of a second exposure, again, a little longer than you need for a waterfall image, but what you need isn’t always what you want. I just like the really ethereal feel of flowing water like this, and there’s still a little bit of texture left. Just the balance I like for my waterfall photographs.

You might also remember this shot from that recent episode, of the wooden jetty out the back of a little cafe on the Towada Lake near the Oirase mountain stream. Another long exposure, this time at 3 minutes 40 seconds. The cloud on the other side of the lake was snow cloud, and the wind picked up buffeting my camera and leaving water droplets on my lens during this exposure, but I was able to remove most of them in Lightroom, and this became my favorite of a handful of long exposure from this evening (below).

Towada Lake Jetty 2014

Towada Lake Jetty 2014

As I mentioned last week, when I submitted this and another version to Offset, the stock agency that I work with, they rejected this one for the other version, but that just makes me like this one all the more. Really, the more I shoot, the more I want my own sensibilities to govern my likes and dislikes. I see no reason to change how I feel about an image based on what other people think. It’s my art, and it should stay that way. I really want to be true to myself, and my heart.

Of course, I’m not saying that you should make all of your editing decisions in a vacuum. The roll of your trusted critic is vitally important. When editing down sets of images, part of my finalisation process, is to get my wife to look through them. She’s not a photographer but she has a great eye, and she’s close enough to me that she knows she can give me some harsh feedback, and because I trust what she says, I generally listen.

You might recall this next image too, from episode 450 about productive respites, when I mentioned that this image ended up being kind of an homage image, as it reminds me very respectfully of Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30. I have had an incredibly busy year, and really haven’t had a chance to get out with my camera much other than when I’m on tour, and I shot this on a well-earned break afternoon in my local park. Black and white flowers aren’t something that necessarily spring to mind, but I’ve been doing more and more over the last few years, and really enjoy this ongoing project of mine.

Dahlia #3

Dahlia #3

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

Finally, here’s a photograph of a mother snow monkey nursing her baby, from a recent visit to the snow monkeys on a private tour that I ran for four great clients from Singapore in December (right).

On our third day, the snow really set in, and this mother and child were sat on the wall of the hot spring bath for quite a while. I ended up with scores of images of this pair, but this is one of my favorites.

The baby didn’t look up that often, so having this eye contact here was nice, and I just love that look in the mother’s eyes as she seems to be just bearing the cold, and you can almost feel the love for the child. I have no idea how much these snow monkeys feel. I doubt that anyone does, but when you see them like this, it’s incredibly special. I love every moment that I’m able to spend with these very special animals.

In fact, I simply love every moment that I’m able to spend making my living with a camera in my hand. Looking back on the year, I spent a lot of time doing other work.

It’s all good of course and I’m happy with how I prioritized my time, but it really makes me grateful even more for the time that I’m able to actually make photographs rather than being behind my desk.

Next year, I’m hoping to hire an assistant, that can help not only with photography activities, but with back office tasks as well. I’m at the point now where I am becoming my own bottleneck, and it’s now a high priority task, to bring someone else on board, although that task itself is going to be pretty time consuming, I’m sure.

Anyway, that’s it. My 2014 Top Ten photographs. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking through them with me. I’m starting my first winter tour of 2015 tomorrow, my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure. Unless something miraculous happens during the first week, I will probably be skipping an episode next week, but I’ll be back in two weeks time with an update. If I am able to post a few photos from the tour in a blog post, I will, so do check in, or subscribe to the RSS feed if you use an RSS reader.


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Observations from Gallery Pruning (Podcast 129)

Observations from Gallery Pruning (Podcast 129)

For some months now I’ve been meaning to go through all of the photos in my online gallery, and clear out all of the ones that no longer really appeal to me, or are no longer in line with my current vision. Over the last week or so I’ve been through my online gallery one image at a time and cleared out many of these photos. When pruning a tree, we cut away unwanted branches and parts of the tree that may even appear necessary, but this has to be done to enable the tree to grow more healthily in the coming year. I’ve decided that each year I am going to prune my gallery to enable healthy growth, and today discuss some observations from the exercise.


Like I said, for some time now, I’ve been meaning to go through my gallery and remove some of the old images that I really wasn’t very happy with any more. At the start of this exercise I wasn’t really sure how heavy handed I was going to be. I actually have been in a bit of a dilemma for some time now when it comes to removing my lesser images from my gallery. The main reason for this is because some of them still sell. I am often surprised by some of the images that people chose to buy prints of. There is a good chance that some of the images I have just removed might bring me some income in the future. Why then did I go ahead and delete them? Basically, I’m thinking that our photos are representations of our vision and photographic style. I have been in a position a few times where people buy prints of images that I really no longer particularly like myself, and I wished that I had removed them from the gallery making the sale. This does seem counter-productive, but as I define myself as a photographer, I really don’t want to be known for images that no longer match my personal vision.

I have found that as my style has developed over the years, and I started to concentrate more and more on nature photography, many of the Japanese daily life, or festival photographs that I quite liked before simply did not appeal to me anymore. I have received requests to post more street photography for example, but although I can appreciate that some people like street photography, there are few times that it actually appeals to me, just like some people don’t particularly care for nature photography. With this, I found myself removing a lot of the shots that I took of festivals here in Japan. Also, many of the shots from temples or just everyday scenes went. Some remain, but mainly these are images that still appeal to me, at least to some degree, as standalone photographs, and not just a document of the event.

By the end of the exercise, I’d deleting 437 of the 1689 images in my gallery, which is just over a quarter of the images. It would have been a little more, but I have actually spoken about 8 images that I wanted to remove in this Podcast, so I just moved them to the example photos album instead, as I didn’t want to create any dead links.

In addition to not really matching my current style, I found a fair few images that weren’t bad, but composed in a way that I simply would not have composed them had I shot the same scene today. I also noticed way too much depth of field in many shots. Generally, apart from Landscape work, I have systematically increased my range of wide aperture lenses in the last few years to enable me to shoot with very shallow depth-of-field, and so I really just don’t shoot images with lots of depth of field these days. When I saw flower shots that had lots of depth of field, they just had to go. The same went for shots with distracting background elements. Partly due to having too much depth of field, but even when shooting wide open, I try to take great care of keeping the background simple, with few distracting elements, but I found many shots that I found I hadn’t really done this very well at all, so out they went.

As I visit the same place multiple times I often find that I am shooting similar scenes. This was difficult, but to a degree I removed the older versions of shots that I had replaced with similar versions from future visits. I also found myself removing some shots that really could just do with re-processing. The tools and my techniques for RAW processing have changed significantly over the years, and I saw many shots that I know I would just not have processed that way had I worked on them today. For the borderline ones that I left, I added a keyword so that I can easily find the ones that need reprocessing when I get time to do it. If I find they still don’t look how I want them too, I’ll remove them later.

Many shots I think got uploaded because of the fresh memory of the event. I mentioned in a recent episode that we tend to view our images with kinder eyes when the memory of the shoot is still fresh in our minds. We associate so much more with the image than the image actually contains. Of course, that means that the information only in our memory never makes it to the impartial viewer, and the image really isn’t that successful. Another reason I sometimes uploaded lesser images is because I put so much into getting the shot, that to a certain extent, I just felt I had to share it. Kind of like going to an expensive restaurant only to find that the food is not very good. You have to pay for it, so you’re damn well going to eat it, right?

For some time now, I’ve been aware of the tendency to go ahead and upload stuff because of the lingering memory of the shoot. Because of this, I try give myself enough time to live with the images for at least a few days, or a week or more when possible, before deciding on my final selection from any particular shoot. I find that while doing this I remove a few shots each day that quickly start to fall from grace. Doing this also helps us to get a better feel for what we will eventually remove from our final selection, and enable us to remove them much earlier in the process in future editing sessions. Because I’ve been doing this, I find that my editing skills are now so much better that when I need to, I can get rid of most of the questionable images even when looking at them on the same day, if I am pushed for time. There’re still a fair number of shots left that I’m not that happy with. If I had been totally brutal, I could probably have remove half the shots, but I just couldn’t quite pluck up the courage to go that far in this first pruning session. Now that I’ve cleared about 28% of my gallery though, the next cull should not be so painful and hopefully truer to my real vision. I’m definitely going to schedule this same exercise at least once a year from now on, and I’m sure that when I do this again, what is borderline now will be unacceptable then, and I’ll end up with an even more streamlined collection of images.

Another observation, which I was hoping for and kind of expecting, is that the number of images that I removed dropped dramatically as I got closer to the present. Particularly when I moved to the shots I from the end of 2005. Although I really do feel that my photography has been getting better in the last few years, I thought I’d theorise a little about why this might be the case.

The first thing that came to mind is that I bought my 5D in October of 2005, with the finder that is brighter due to the full-size sensor. This might have helped, but probably only a minute factor. Then as I continued through my images I started to recall how I’d gotten to the various locations, and realised that something else had significantly changed at the end of 2005. I’d bought a car. I had been travelling to locations by train and bus, and the odd time by rental car, but at the end of 2005 I bought a car and for the first time in five years was once again totally mobile, and on my own terms, which without doubt changed my photography.

Another thing that changed is what you are listening to right now, the Podcast. I started doing this Podcast about a month before I got my 5D. Indeed, the fifth episode was my review of the 5D. Many people think that this Podcast is all giving on my part. Sure, I pay for the servers and invest many hours a week into the Podcast and maintenance of the Web servers and Web sites etc. I have never received money for sponsorship either, always channelling that back into prizes for the Assignment, so in many ways this is a labour of love.

However, as I have mentioned before, at least in the forum and maybe in an episode, one of the key benefits that I get from doing this Podcast is that it keeps me on my toes photographically. Firstly, just the act of putting down what I know about photography in words, in an understandable form to relay to you via the Podcast has helped me no end in understanding my photography from both a technical and artistic perspective. As you know I have a policy of not talking about stuff I am not confident in myself, and that has always been and will always remain the case. The point is though, that some things that I just did, kind of as second nature, became much more structured and purposed after putting it down in words. Another part of this is that I started to shoot with much more purpose than before. I often have it in the back of my mind that I will talk about my photographic adventures in the Podcast, and this again keeps me focussed. I’m often thinking about how I’ll talk about a certain subject in the Podcast and even take some shots with the specific goal of talking about them here. Without doubt, being more focused on your work will always help you to produce better results, and this is exactly what I believe has happened to me over the last two and a half years since starting this Podcast.

By the way, I found that once I got into the last twelve months, I hardly removed any images, probably less than ten. This once again reinforces my belief that your last year’s work should always be your best. If it isn’t, you are probably stagnating and may need to take a change in direction. It also probably proves that I have got better at removing the images that I’m more emotionally attached to during my editing process, before they are uploaded to my online gallery.

You might be wondering why I decided to share this information with you today. If you are, I apologise for taking your time, because it means you probably don’t have any of these problems yourself. If you found yourself thinking about your own online presence though while listening to this, be it a full blown Web gallery, online portfolio or flickr account, I’d like to propose that you bear some of what I’ve said in mind, and take a look at your own collection of images. It is highly tempting to leave shots up indefinitely; after all it took time to prepare and post them, and give them titles and comments right? I really can’t talk, because it took me so long to get around to this myself, but I really believe that leaving images that no longer represent your photographic standards or current artistic vision, can damage our credibility as photographers. If there is any truth in the saying that your portfolio is only as good as your worst photo, I think we owe it to ourselves to weed out as much of our lesser work as possible from our online image collections.

I actually created my portfolio slideshow to enable me to showcase my best work, and have tried to segregate it out from my everyday galleries, which is one of the reasons why I left this pruning session for this long. The other reason of course is time. It was quite time consuming to go through all the images with a critical eye. With regards to the portfolio slideshow though, it is great, and I will continue to develop that, but I am really kidding myself to think that people will look in my galleries and see my lesser work without it reducing their appreciation for what I consider my better work. Most people go straight to the galleries too, and never even notice the slideshow, which I still have to do something about.

So, I hope that my sharing my own thoughts while clearing out my online gallery a little has helped you in some way too. I have a couple of pieces of housekeeping before we finish. Firstly, I have family coming into town for a few weeks from the 20th of March, and although I’m going to try, I might find that I cannot create a Podcast during the week of the 24th. If I can, I certainly will, but I imagine even during the time that I have free, my apartment will be a little too noisy to sit down and record a Podcast. My better half actually sits with headphones on watching the TV while I record normally, but I don’t think I’ll be able to ask my brother and his wife to do the same. Anyway, I will try to figure something out, but if it doesn’t work out, please accept my apologies.

Also related, the current Assignment which is on Nostalgia will close at the end of Sunday the 16th of March. Voting was planned to go on for two weeks until the 30th or March, but due to my family visit, which I failed to take into consideration when I decided the dates, I’m going to increase the voting period by three days until the end of April 2nd. This means that on the 3rd of April my time I’ll stop the voting and prepare a Podcast to announce the winners and the next Assignment theme, which will probably be released on the 4th of April. The week after that I should get back on schedule, so at worst we should only skip one week.

And that’s about it for today, so all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.


Show Notes

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


Audio

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Michael Rammell

Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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