Martin’s 2017 Personal Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 603)

Martin’s 2017 Personal Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 603)

Following on from my selection process episode last week, this week I’m going to tell you a little about each of my personal top ten favorite images from 2017.

We’ll work through my top ten in chronological order, starting from January and working through the year. My first image was a bit of a surprise for me, as I wasn’t all that fond of this image when I first shot it, but it quickly grew on me. 

Magical Forest

This image (below) is from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure Tour. Weather permitting, I’ll actually be at this same location just a day or so after releasing this episode, and I can’t wait to get back there. This particular spot is just off the ski slope at Mount Asahi in Hokkaido. A beautiful place to ski as well as to photograph, although we are careful not to get in the way of the skiers. 

Magical Forest

Magical Forest

I shot this at f/14 for a 1/50 of a second, at ISO 100. Pretty much my default settings for when I’m working on a tripod. I think one of the things that prevented me from liking this image initially was that I had to compromise my composition because of foreground objects and the fact that I shot this from the other side of a small brook. I’d ideally wanted to go just a little bit wider and include more snow down in that trough in the center foreground, but that would have meant including some hazard warning poles and something else as well, and I obviously didn’t want to do that.

It’s funny because this is the reverse of how we sometimes find it difficult to remove images from a selection because of the emotional attachment that we generally have for a while after a shoot. In this case, I’d had a slightly negative emotional reaction caused by the fact that I had to compromise my preferred composition, but as that wore off over time, I found myself liking the image for its artistic merit, unhampered by my feelings from when I made the photograph.

Revisit Old Shoots

I’ve found this to be the case when going through images from old shoots too. We finish a shoot with certain expectations. It’s still fresh in our mind and we have a shortlist of images that we think went well, and give preference to finding and processing these images, and tend to skim over other images a little less enthusiastically.

Again though, if you go back and look through your old shoots with fresh eyes if your creativity was engaged, you’ll sometimes find that there are images in your set that are pretty good but you ruled out initially because of your fresh expectations. It’s because of this that I like to set aside some time every so often to look through images from six months to a year ago. It sometimes turns up some pleasant surprises.

The Catch

Moving On, this image (below) is from my Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido wildlife tours. Specifically from the small fishing town of Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula, where we spend three days photographing the sea eagles. This is a White-Tailed Eagle having just caught a fish. In actuality we through the fish into the water, and quite often they are flatfish, which don’t usually swim near the surface, so I like this mostly because it’s a regular looking fish and we can still see the splash of water as well as the reflection of the eagle.

The Catch

The Catch

I cropped this down from the top edge to a 16:9 ratio image, mostly because there wasn’t anything interesting at the top, but also because it made it feel more dynamic with movement from left to right being forced into a narrower space. My settings for this were ISO 800 at f/10, with a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed. For more information on my settings and techniques for using long lenses for this kind of fast-paced focusing etc. please take a look at my podcast episode 584.

Himba Smile

Next, we go from the wintery sub-zero temperatures of northern Japan to Namibia, when I visited a Himba settlement with my Namibia tour group. Without a doubt, one of my favorite images from the 2017 visit is this young Himba girl that I’d also photographed in 2015. It was amazing to see how she’d grown and was turning gradually into a young woman. I’m really hoping to be able to photograph her again this year when I return.

Himba Smile

Himba Smile

This Himba are an amazing people with beautiful culture and traditions, so it’s always a pleasure and a privilege to photograph them. I shot this at ISO 5000 inside one of their huts, to get out of the harsh sunlight. I had set my aperture to f/5.6 and my shutter speed to 1/80 of a second.

In my post-processing, I darkened down the background and added a vignette to focus our attention on the face. I exposed the image so that the white of her teeth and eyes were just starting to overexpose, and that helps to keep grain away in the dark areas, even at ISO 5000.

Lone Wildebeest on Plain

I also visited the Etosha National Park in Namibia for my first time in 2017. With a few hundred wildlife images to choose from, I found it difficult to remove many of them from my final selection but felt strongly that this shot of a wildebeest (below) should stay. It’s not a dynamic or powerful shot as such, but something about the stance and calmness of this image really appeals to me. 

Lone Wildebeest on Plain

Lone Wildebeest on Plain

As I also mentioned last week, it was only as I revisited my Namibia wildlife work from this year that I really thought about converting this to black and white. I do a lot of black and white and have done monotone wildlife before too, but for some reason when processing my Namibia work it had never really appealed to me, until last week, when it hit me like a sledgehammer. 

As is often the case, removing the color enables us to concentrate more of the form of the subject, and I love the texture and gradation in the mane of this magnificent animal, as well as the way black and white makes the wildebeest stand out so much, almost as though it has been superimposed onto the photograph. My settings for this image were ISO 400 at f/11 for 1/640 of a second. I was using my Canon 100-400mm lens with a 1.4X extender attached for a focal length of 560mm.

Colorful Fes Alleyway

I also ran my first tour in Morocco in 2017, and have absolutely fallen in love with this beautiful land and her people. Many of the places we visited had places where the locals had taken pride in decorating their town, like this beautifully painted alleyway is Fes (below).

Colorful Fes Alleyway

Colorful Fes Alleyway

Because the local people don’t like having their photos taken without permission, which they rarely give, sometimes the best way to include people in a shot like this is to capture them while they are still so far away that they’re quite small in the frame, as I did here. This works fine, as it enables me to add a human element, but also leave lots of room for us to see the beautiful colors.

Although it was a clear day, the draped cloths and Moroccan flags cut out enough light that I needed an ISO of 2500 at f/11, for a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second. For much of this tour, with there being quite a lot of street photography, I forced myself to use Aperture Priority and set a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 of a second, so that I could freeze any sudden movement in the subjects when necessary. I could have used a slower shutter speed and ISO here, but there often wasn’t enough time to override my settings or drop back into Manual mode, especially as many of my shots had to be grabbed before the unaware subjects got much closer than this.

Camels and Handler in Sahara

While in Morocco I arranged for a shoot in the Sahara Desert with two camel handlers each with five camels. My group actually rode these camels into the desert, which was an experience unto itself, but it was such a treat to be able to photograph these people with their animals like you see in this image (below).

Camels and Handler in Sahara

Camels and Handler in Sahara

I was happy with the location that I asked the camel handlers to stop at, with this beautiful view of the sand dunes as a backdrop. I did clone out a number of patches of vegetation from the distant dunes, to clean this up, but I’m very happy with the results. 

I used my 24-105mm lens on one body and my 100-400mm lens on a second body so that I could quickly switch between the two. I don’t mind changing lenses in the desert, despite the dust. In fact, I didn’t expect to use the 100-400mm until we actually started shooting, so I put the lens on to the body while out there. Unless there is a lot of wind, generally you can get away with a lens change, especially if you turn your back to any breeze and shield your camera with your body.

My settings were ISO 800 at f/10 for a 1/250 of a second, at 200mm. Again, I was using Aperture Priority here and was actually getting quite comfortable with it by this point. I continued to use Aperture Priority because as you’ll see a few photos from now when we panned around to the right of this scene, we were shooting into the sun and then later the sunset, and Aperture Priority helped to adjust the exposure as we switched from regular lighting to silhouettes. 

Camel Handler with Camels

This next image (below) is another one that sort of grew on me. I was excited when shooting it, and thought it had potential, but I didn’t think for a moment that it was going to make my top ten for the year until I started to go through my Morocco images time and again during the process of whittling down my selection. Every time this image flashed up onto the screen, it brought a smile to my face.

Camel Handler with Camels

Camel Handler with Camels

I don’t know if it’s the Lawrence of Arabia type appeal, with the camel handler in his headwear, or the way this man carries himself, just sitting in the sand that he’s so familiar with, and his five camels standing patiently behind him. I found Morocco to have a wonderfully romantic and poetic air to it, that moved me quite deeply, and I sense a lot of that in this image, so there was no way I could remove it from my top ten selection.

Again, still using an automated mode, I could have switched to a slower shutter if I’d taken control, but it took a lot of work for me to get used to giving up that control during my Morocco tour, so while it made sense, I stayed in Aperture Priority, and so this image was shot at ISO 4000 at f/11 for 1/320 of a second, at 200mm. No big deal really either. The image is as clean as can be, so I have no regrets.

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

I tried really hard to remove one of my two camel train images from my top ten as well, but I love both of these shots so much, that they both had to stay. I shot this second camel train image (below) as the sun started to turn the sky firey-red and the wispy clouds were making beautiful patterns in the sky. These natural phenomena were a perfect backdrop for our camel handler as we marched him all over the dunes to get our photographs.

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

I shot this at ISO 500 at f/10 for 1/320 of a second at 35mm, so a lot wider than the first camel train shot. Because I was now shooting into the bright sky, the Auto-ISO dropped down to 500, keeping my shutter speed at 1/320 because I’d set a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 of a second, and I think I had +0.3 of a stop Exposure Compensation dialed in, which is why the actual shutter speed increased by a third of a stop.

Moroccan Man in Well

As we left the Moroccan Sahara to continue our journey, our wonderful guide had our bus driver pull in to a sandy patch of land with what looked like a series of adobe turrets built at intervals across the land.  It turns out that there is an underground irrigation channel with wells inside each of these turret-like structures, and when you go underground through a door in their base, you can actually walk into the underground canal. 

We were guided into the tunnel by the man you see in this next image (below) who graciously posed for us, looking up into the light pouring down into the darkness from the mouth of the well.

Moroccan Man (Karim) in Well

Moroccan Man (Karim) in Well

Taken a little by surprise at this photographic treat, I lowered my exposure compensation to -2.0 to prevent my camera from making the man’s blue garments over-expose due to the very dark background, and also give to give me a 1/40 of a second shutter speed at f/4 in the very low light, even though my auto-ISO had reached the limit I’d set, which was 6400.

I absolutely love this shot though, and although I’m not really much of a people photographer, I think this and the final image that we’ll look at in a moment are my favorite photographs of my top ten for 2017.

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

In the final image, we see a proud man that lives in an ancient ighrem or fortified village, called Aït Benhaddou, and his families home was built around the 15th or 16th century. An incredibly generous gentleman, he invited our tour group into his home for tea, and then came with us outside, into a nearby building with an opening in the roof, so that we could photograph him in this amazing light.

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

Again, because of the low light, I opened up my aperture to f/4, as wide as it goes for my 24-105mm, and still had to shoot this at ISO 6400 for a 1/60 of a second exposure. There’s virtually no grain in the image though, as I exposed it so that the whites were bordering on overexposure, which helps to stop the shadows getting too dark, and it’s the shadow areas that become more problematic if you don’t protect them.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to visit Morocco for the first time last year, and I’m hoping that we’ll get enough people sign up for the 2018 tour to make it possible to visit again. It’s a magical country with beautiful people and a sense of poetry that I honestly wasn’t prepared for. 

As I spoke with our guide towards the end of the 2017 tour, he told me that 2018 would be even better, because, in his words, “Morocco is in your eyes now”. This might not seem very special, but it’s this sort of turn of phrase and philosophy that can reel me in and make me love a country and her people like nothing else.

Share Your Own Work

There was a great response to my call for you to share your work at the end of last week’s episode, in which I discussed my selection and editing process for this top ten. I’d like to invite those of you that have not yet posted a link to take a moment to share your own top ten in the comments for this post (below).

If you haven’t selected your own top ten, I really do recommend setting some time aside to do this. It helps to hone various skills that help us to become better photographers, as well as enabling us to put a stake in the ground at the end of each year, and that builds into a great visual record of our progress as we continue on this wonderful journey of our, into 2018 and beyond.


Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Martin’s 2016 Personal Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 556)

Martin’s 2016 Personal Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 556)

Having shared my thought process and selection workflow last week, today I share my personal top ten photographs from 2016. Since I started doing this in 2007 it has become a yearly tradition and although it’s an invaluable learning experience in itself, over the years it becomes a wonderful record of our progress as photographers.

If you are interested in the process of selection including workflow tips for Capture One Pro, please do also check out last week’s episode. For now though, let’s jump in and take a look at my top ten from 2016. Do keep in mind that this isn’t so much about my images, as the thought process behind the making and processing, in the hope that it helps you with your own photography. Note too that I’m going to work through these images in chronological order, so this isn’t a top ten countdown as such.

I started the year with a visit to Hokkaido with my landscape photography tour group. Being the northern-most island of Japan, Hokkaido gets huge amounts of snow from Siberia each winter, making for some beautiful winter scenes. When weather permits, I like to take the group up the mountain roads to Mount Asahi, and we simply have a walk up the ski slopes there, being careful not get in the way of the skiers, and make photographs like this one (below).

Mount Asahi Trees

Mount Asahi Trees

The nice thing about this location is that there is a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees which hold the snow in different ways, making for a varied and what I consider to be a quite beautiful scene. If you followed my transition to Capture One Pro from Lightroom, you might remember that this was one of the first images that I tested to see if I could create black and white images that I am happy with. I never really did black and white in Lightroom, rather I was using Silver Efex Pro, but I have not had to use Silver Efex once since switching, and I’ve continued to do a lot of black and white. This image was shot at f/14 with a 1/125 second shutter speed, ISO 100 at 30mm

As I’m now using a 1.92TB SSD to store my Final selects and current years original raw files, I’m also hoping that not having to save lots of TIFF files from Silver Efex is going to help me to keep my entire year of raw files plus my Finals folders in this single drive. For 2016, with lots of TIFF from the first half of the year, I would have been a few hundred gigabytes over.

If I do ended up filling this 1.92TB, hopefully by the time I need to add a second the price will have dropped, but I would still prefer to keep all of this on one drive for traveling. I’ll be talking more about this drive and how much I love it in an update of my traveling photographers digital workflow post, that I have already started to plan.

The next image (below) is also from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour, from a small harbor on the West coast of the northern tip of Hokkaido. I actually had a shot from this spot in last year’s top ten too, so it obviously holds a special place in my heart.

Boat Graveyard in Heavy Snow

Boat Graveyard in Heavy Snow

I remember rushing back to this location as the snow was falling, because I think when you can capture something that makes the air more visible it adds atmosphere to an image. This also reminds me much more of the actual feeling of being out in the elements, with the snow crunching under my feet and the brisk air, and often having to blow snow off the front of my lens between shots.

Again I converted this to black and white in Capture One Pro, but I did that just this week, as I prepared for this episode, because I really wanted to complete as much of my 2016 work in Capture One as possible. I was still referencing my old Silver Efex TIFF during the selection process. This version is slightly different, not quite as punchy, but a little more subtle. This image was shot at f/14 with a 1/125 second shutter speed, ISO 100 at 24mm.

My third pick (below) is from a location that I’ve now seen much more on western TV programs. It’s shot from a bridge built specifically for photographers over the river at a town called Tsurui in Hokkaido. The town’s name Tsurui literally means “cranes are here” and the name of the bridge “Otowabashi” means “the sound of wings”. When I think of things like this it makes me feel so happy and fortunate to have been able to adopt Japan and my home.

Distant Dance 2016

Distant Dance 2016

I called this image Distant Dance 2016, because of course, of the two cranes dancing in the distance, but I added the 2016 to differentiate this from my original Distant Dance shot from this location in 2008. The hoar frost that makes this scene so beautiful doesn’t perform like this every time we go, and some years we aren’t lucky any of the days we visit, so it literally took me eight years before I got something at this spot that I was happy to name the same as my old favorite image from this location.

This was shot at f/11 with a 1/500 second shutter speed, ISO 640 at 420mm. There isn’t really any special processing on this, except a little bit of lightening on the bottom left corner to balance the toning of that foreground bank of snow and take its edge off a little.

The Steller’s Sea Eagle (below) is one of the world’s largest eagles, with a wing span of up to 2.5 meters, so again, I always feel so fortunate to be able to visit and photograph these magnificent birds each year, and the light and the pose of the bird in this image make this a definite favorite from 2016.

Steller's Sea Eagle Making a Fist

Steller’s Sea Eagle Making a Fist

We had moved close to the harbor wall at the end of our two hours on a boat photographing the eagles, and the covering of snow on top of the harbor wall was reflecting light back up onto the underside of the birds, giving them a beautiful glow in addition to the sunlight, but the thing I really like about this shot is the fact that this incredibly powerful bird seems to be making a fist, as though he’s about to swoop down and punch someone.

I’m not a violent person, but I love it when I capture a trait in an animal that is associate with us humans, and that fist and the pensive look makes me think of someone like Client Eastwood as he walks into a bar to lay down the law in his somewhat unorthodox ways. This was shot at f/10 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 second to freeze the action, and the ISO set to 400 at 234mm.

The next photo (below) is from my Greenland Tour in August 2016. As we left the bay at Tasiilaq, this beautiful iceberg was sitting in the channel out to the open ocean, so we sailed around it a few times making detail shots. This is one of my favorites, as it shows the texture of the ice on the tip of the iceberg and the dark sky above.

Iceberg Details

Iceberg Details

People often ask if the ice really is this blue, and I have to admit that it isn’t “this” blue, but I don’t change the color of my images, I just enhance it, bringing out the detail that is already there and showing the texture better. I used to do this in Color Efex Pro, but I processed all of my Greenland tour images in Capture One Pro.

It was actually the first time I’d processed a large number of images in Capture One since jumping ship, so I was still learning, but it was really easy to get the results I was looking for. This was shot at f/10, 1/400 second shutter speed, at ISO 500 and a 164mm focal length. Even though the subject wasn’t really moving, it’s important to keep a fast shutter speed when shooting from a moving boat, to avoid camera shake.

The next photograph (below) is a bit of a dream come true for me. I’ve seen whales breaching in the past, but always at a distance, and it happens so quick that so far I’d not been able to photograph them. As we finished a day of shooting in Greenland and we were sailing back to Tasiilaq, we saw a pair of Humpback Whales breaching in the distance.

Breaching Humpback Whale - Side View

Breaching Humpback Whale – Side View

Our Inuit driver started to speed towards them initially, then stopped the boat as he realized they were heading straight towards us, at speed. We only had to wait a minute or so before they were right in front of our boat, and I got a shot of one heading straight for the camera. Then, a moment later they went right past our boat, breaching as they went. As excited as a kid in a candy store, I was so happy to have captured this photograph too, from the side. These images are now very special to me now.

The settings were f/10, 1/1600 shutter speed, ISO 800 at 400mm. Again, shooting from a boat requires a fast shutter speed, but with an animal this size moving at the speed it was, you need at least 1/1600 of a second, if not faster to get a sharp shot.

Landmannalaugar in Iceland is one of the most beautiful locations on the planet, and I really struggled with my decision not to include a shot of the main valley in this year’s selection, but for me, this shot (below) probably sums up this year’s visit a little better. We had beautiful skies again, and the light was just stunning for most of the day.

Breathing Mountains

Breathing Mountains

As we led my group across the lava fields, I turned back and photographed this scene with the geothermal steam seeping out of the mountain, almost looking as though the mountain was breathing misty breath on this brisk autumn afternoon. Especially when you are climbing with heavy camera gear it’s tempting to just keep your head down and get to the next ridge, but I also think it’s important to look back at the scene behind you from time to time. If I hadn’t I could have missed what I consider to be a beautiful scene.

This was shot at f/14, 1/100 of a second, ISO 200 with a focal length of 28mm. I always think that an image is greatly improved when you find some element that makes the air “visible” as this steam does here, and the snow does in the second shot we looked at today. Here I think the steam adds a little dynamism and life to a still photograph.

As we started to pack up to leave Skógafoss, one of my favorite waterfalls in Iceland, a man walked up to the falls barefooted with an umbrella, and stood in the edge of the water to pose for a photograph. Being a bit of an opportunist, I captured my own version, and this has become one of my favorite photos of the year (below).

Umbrella Man at Skógafoss

Umbrella Man at Skógafoss

I shot this at f/13, a half second exposure, ISO 160 at 24mm. I used an ND filter on the front of my lens to slow down the shutter speed to a half a second so that I could make the water appear silky like this. Luckily the man stood still for this time, so he’s perfectly sharp. When I first started doing black and white conversions in Capture one Pro I didn’t think I was going to be able to get this really dark looming look in my Iceland waterfall images, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s not only possible, but really quite easy to get this look.

Another shot from September 2016 in Iceland made it to my top ten, and that’s this shot that I call Sapphires and Telegraph Lines. Ice carving from the glacier at Jokulsarlon floats out to the open ocean, then tides and sea currents push some bits back on the beach. While we were there this year, the beach was totally strewn with ice, as you can see (below) so I capitalized on the opportunity to show the entire beach, and included the telegraph poles in the distance to add a human element.

Sapphires and Telegraph Lines

Sapphires and Telegraph Lines

I used to try and avoid the human element in my landscape work, but sometimes I think it adds to the story, showing our effects on this beautiful planet we call home. This was shot at f/14, with a shutter speed of 40 seconds, ISO 100 at 24mm. I used a 10 stop ND filter to get a 40 second exposure, which caused the rough sea to smooth over a lot, and allows a bit of movement in the clouds.

The final image of my 2016 top ten is from a December visit to England to spend Christmas with family for the first time in four years. While there I visited this beautiful lighthouse in the sea at Dovercourt, near Harwich in Essex. I learned of this subject from an incredibly talented photographer and member of my Arcanum cohort, Phil Newberry. Phil has a stunning photograph of this lighthouse, so I’d wanted to visit for a long time.

Dovercourt Low Lighthouse at Dawn

Dovercourt Low Lighthouse at Dawn

The problem with photographing something that you’ve already seen in a photograph is that you have a very strong visual seed planted in you mind that you have to try to dismiss when shooting, and Phil’s image is so strong it was very difficult to do that. But, what I always do in this situation is I don’t search out or look at photos of places that I’ll visit once I’ve decided to go. This way you have a better chance of clearing your memory and allowing your own creativity to get to work.

This goes for any location that I shoot. Once I know where I’m going, the only other research I might do is the sunrise and sunset time, and roughly where the sun will be in the sky in relation to the scene while I expect to be there. If you go online and look for lots of images from your upcoming location you will arrive and spend your whole time searching for those shots, and your own creativity gets stifled, even paralyzed by this, so I just don’t do it.

With something as iconic as this lighthouse on stilts out on the sea it’s difficult to make a photograph that isn’t similar, but I chose this color version from dawn, as I like the colors and the glow of the sun reflected on the sea under the lighthouse. I have some black and white shots from the previous day that I also like a lot, but they are much more like Phil’s photo and quite rarely for me, I actually really like this warm, color version. It was shot at f/14, with a two minute exposure, ISO 100 at 95mm. I used a 10 stop ND and I think also a 3 stop ND filter for a two minute exposure to smooth over the water and clouds to for this somewhat surreal look. I was also pretty happy that two seagulls decided to sit on the lighthouse and were almost totally still for two minutes, which was great.

Learn from the Process

I really enjoy going through this exercise each year, as I mentioned last week, because it really helps us to build our image editing skills. I don’t mean the editing of each image, I’m talking about the skill of editing a large number of images down to a finite number.

We become attached to images for various reasons, and generally include a lot for irrational, emotion based reasons, but as you start to drill down and remove lesser images you are always faced with hard decisions about what to leave in. If you are totally honest with yourself and try to keep images in your selection based on their merit as a photograph, it should end up being a very authentic record of your very best work for the year.

The Evolution of the Photographer

What’s more, it builds into a yearly record of our work, that will hopefully show how we grow as photographers. I have done this almost every year since 2007, missing only 2010 as I left my old job and incorporated Martin Bailey Photography, and I sat down with my wife earlier today and we went through nine of the last ten years. We came to the conclusion that my work took a few leaps forward with my visits to Antarctica and most of all with my first visit to Iceland in 2013.

As I mentioned a couple of years ago in my Evolution of the Photographer post, I believe that our experiences become part of us. People sometimes get discouraged because it’s hard to beat work that we do at amazing locations, but these amazing places and opportunities elevate us as photographers, and we don’t lose that. We get ratcheted up, and take our new self to future shoots, and the effects should be visible in all of our work. It’s not automatic. You have to work at it of course, but the opportunity to level up like this is a very real one when visiting beautiful places, especially in a workshop environment like my Iceland Tours.

Our Work-in-Progress Legacy

So, even if this is the first year that you try this process, keep in mind that it will build into a legacy of your work. I was so proud to be able to go back and look through nine of the last ten year’s of images, that I’ve decided that as soon as I can make time, I’m going to go back and select my 2010 top ten as well, just to complete the decade.

I know I’m not the best photographer in the world by a very long shot, and as I mentioned, this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, and we certainly aren’t comparing ourselves to each other here. Your worst image might be as good as my best, but I still truly believe that you’ll learn from this exercise, and enjoy building on it over the years.

Share Your Top Ten!

And please do drop a link to your own top ten into the comments below if you do this. I love to see what you came up with for the year, and really enjoy seeing new work from those of you that post a link each year.


Show Notes

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

Check out my tours and workshops here: https://mbp.ac/workshops

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Yearly Top Ten Photographs Selection Process (Podcast 555)

Yearly Top Ten Photographs Selection Process (Podcast 555)

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.

First Pass

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

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

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.

Whoop, Whoop!

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

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.

Third Pass

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.

Hard Decisions

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!

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.

Final Pass

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

One of Three

All Done!

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

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.


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


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Martin’s 2015 Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 505)

Martin’s 2015 Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 505)

This week I’m going to share the 2015 top ten photographs that we edited down to last week, with a little information about each image. There is a lot to be learned about our images from this exercise, so this is something that I like to do each year.

If you didn’t catch last week’s episode, in which I walked you through the selection process, you might want to check that out first. I really think that it’s important for a photographer to get used to whittling down images to a finite number, even for personal benefit.

There’s nothing worse than sitting through hundreds of photos from someone’s photo trips. In any situation, if you get a chance to show your photos to others, it’s always going to project you in a better light to show a tight edit of your images, and whittling down an entire year of photographs to just ten is great practice for this.

In a professional environment, I feel that providing more images than you are asked for is not only unprofessional, I think it’s disrespectful. You are basically saying that your time is more precious than that of the person asking for the images, because you are forcing the selection process on them, when it’s really your job.

Anyway, I went through that last week as well, so let’s jump in and start to look at my 2015 Top Ten photographs. Remember, these are my personal selected images. It’s highly likely that you’ll wonder why I didn’t include others, or why I even included some of these. Again, we talked about that process last week, but do keep in mind that this is a personal preference. What I consider to be my best ten, and we’ll work through these in chronological order.

I started 2015 with an amazing winter landscape tour in Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan, and this first image was from the second day. The trip depends heavily on having good snow cover and when possible also falling snow, which we didn’t have for the first two days, so we drove to a few locations that I had in mind, and on the way, we drove past an opening through which I saw this tree with the line of posts (below).

Hanazono Tree with Fence Posts

Hanazono Tree with Fence Posts

I could see that many people in the group weren’t really seeing this, but this ended up being one of my favorite images from the 12 day tour. I waited for the patches of lighter sky that were in the scene when we walked back to it to clear, before capturing this shot. I feel the very subtle line between the line of the hill and the almost uniform white sky works really well here. I love white on white, when the boundaries between the two is almost not even visible. The line of posts punctuates the shape of the hill nicely too, and the tree, being almost totally black adds the necessary weight to balance the image out nicely. I shot this at f/8 for 1/200 of a second at ISO 200.

I made the next photograph five days later on the same Hokkaido Landscape tour (below). We were photographing a small fishing port, and to the side there were these seven boats that had holes in their hulls and other places, so we figured this was like a boat graveyard. We also had a very dynamic sky with rain or snow falling on the horizon in the distance, so there are lots of different levels of detail to explore in this image.

Boat Graveyard #2

Boat Graveyard #2

I converted both of these first two images to black and white in Silver Efex Pro 2, my “go to” black and white conversion software, because I love the control it gives me over the conversion process. I love to bring out a dramatic sky like this, while maintaining the subtle tones in fallen snow. This was shot at f/11 for 1/160 of a second at ISO 100.

This next photograph was from the last day of my second Winter Wonderland tour, also in Hokkaido (below). We saw this young fox at the side of the road, probably hoping for a scrap of food from the tourists, so we stopped our bus and all of the group shot from the bus through open windows. This lovely little fox walked around and then sat for us for a while. It sounded like the Olympics inside the bus as we all made the most of the opportunity.

Fox's Yawn

Fox’s Yawn

I thought I’d gotten my shots, and I do like the other images that I had, but then one of the participants closer to the middle of the bus, with a better angle said that he’d done, and offered me his window. As I walked up and started to raise my camera, the fox yawned, so I was able to grab this and a couple of other frames. I felt really bad for the guy that gave me his window, but this happened so quickly that as he walked away he would have missed it anyway.

I shot this with my 7D Mark II, so the fast frame rate helped me to get more than one frame. I’m going to take the 7D2 with me on this year’s tours, but will be trying to use the two 5Ds R bodies mostly, as I really want the higher resolution. I’ll let you know how this goes over the next few months as I complete each tour. The settings for this image were f/8 for 1/1000 of a second, ISO 400.

Drowsy Six Week Old Snow Monkey

Drowsy Six Week Old Snow Monkey

Some months past between the last and this next photograph, as I made my first summer visit to the snow monkeys that we also visit during my Winter Wonderland tours.

I’d been hoping to visit during the summer for some time now, as the babies are born in May each year, so this little guy was just six weeks old when I photographed him here (right).

It was a very different experience to that which I’m used to in the winter months. You can sense the lack of hardship in the monkeys, as they don’t have to battle the cold to survive. They lay on the rocks and seem generally more relaxed in the summer.

I shot this hand-held at 400mm with the 100-400mm Mark II lens from Canon, and the 5Ds R, which I had just bought and was testing out for the first time during this trip. I was happy to find that despite the ultra-high resolution, it is very much hand-holdable.

There’s just something beautifully innocent and yet slightly playful in the expression of this young monkey, which have made this a favorite photo for 2015. My settings were f/5.6 for 1/500 of a second at ISO 400.

During the same trip to photograph the snow monkeys in summer, while testing out the new 5Ds R camera, I also spent a lot of time in the Shigakougen (Highlands) and one of the things I love to do up there is to photograph Ichinuma, which means literally the number one pond (below). I always wish for a bit of mist, and usually go there before breakfast just for that, but as I walked up to the location at the end of the day, after photographing the snow monkeys, this mist rolled in for a brief time, as low cloud engulfed the top of the mountain.

Ichinuma in the Mist (Panorama #2)

Ichinuma in the Mist (Panorama #2)

Feeling very lucky, I quickly rotated my camera with the lens ring on the 100-400mm lens and shot a series of vertical orientation images for a stitched panorama photograph. Of course, with mist like this, moving quite quickly, you can’t wait too long between each exposure, or it becomes difficult to stitch them in Photoshop, but this worked well, giving me a 144 megapixel image. I can print this huge without any enlarging, and the detail is just spectacular. Regardless of that, this has also remained a favorite for the year, and one that I pretty much knew I’d include here from the start of my selection process. The exposure here was f/10 for 0.6 seconds, at ISO 100.

In August, I was lucky enough to be able to go back to Namibia with my friend Jeremy Woodhouse, to cohost another tour there with him. As part of my personal project to recapture some of my old favorites at the new 50 megapixel resolution of the 5Ds R, on my first visit back in Deadvlei, I recreated my 2013 image of the camel-thorn trees in silhouette at dawn. The following day though, I wanted something new, and this photograph was it (below).

Deadvlei Camel Thorn Tree Silhouettes

Deadvlei Camel Thorn Tree Silhouettes

I think of the two images, this is actually my favorite, so I’m not just trying to include fresh work here for this 2015 selection. I really like the way the left tree is very similar in shape to the right tree, and yet the image is asymmetrical in terms of size with the second tree being much further back in the scene. The settings here were f/16 for 1/15 of a second at ISO 100. I used a focal length of 349mm to compact the elements of the scene to emphasize the relationship between the trees and the orange dune in the background.

As I’ve mentioned before, this contrast is caused by the sun coming up over the sand dune behind me as I shot this, and there is a one or two minute window each morning when the sun only illuminates that dune in the background, before it starts to illuminate the clay floor of the valley that the dead camel-thorn trees are standing on. The contrast is amazing, and I think this is perhaps one of my favorite spots in the world to photograph.

I’m actually finalizing plans for a 2017 tour in Namibia right now, and will be releasing details in the coming weeks, so if you want to be one of the first to hear about that, do sign up for my Tour & Workshops Newsletter.

Himba Girl

Himba Girl

During the same trip, we were privileged to be able to spend some quality time with the Himba People, and this is one of my favorite images from the amazing cultural exchange that we had (right).

We are able to ask the Himba People to go inside their small huts, and here I photographed this young girl in just the light entering the hut through a small doorway, that you have to crouch down to pass through.

It’s all natural light, but I had increased the ISO to 5000 for this image. I know a lot of people are afraid to increase the ISO for fear of causing grain, but that same fear also makes people allow photographs in such conditions to become a little dark as well.

Here I was literally just about over exposing the girls eyes and the decorative items she was wearing, so although much of the image is still very dark, I was essentially exposing to the right, and this really helps to keep noise to a minimum. The image is not without any noise, but the levels of noise are so low that this is still a wonderfully high quality image.

My settings were 1/80 of a second at f/5.6, ISO 5000.

At the end of the same day with the Himba People, we went back to their village to photograph them herding their goats back into the coral, and that resulted in a photograph that I love so much I printed it at 24 x 36″ and now have it framed on the wall behind me. The sun was still hitting this scene over the top of the hill in the background, so although it wasn’t quite golden hour, the light is still very warm, helped by the color of the brown dust that the goats were kicking up as they walked (below).

Himba Goat Herding

Himba Goat Herding

I love how each of the goats is slightly different and that one with the big horns in the middle of the herd is a great character, as is the smallest goat at the front of the group to the right as we view the scene. The thing I love the most about this photograph though is the smiles on the faces of the Himba People, probably as they find humor in the fact that there’s a line of 12 photographers kneeling in front of them as they simply perform a task that they do every day.

These are wonderful exchanges that I treasure, and I hope that even a tiny piece of that comes across in the images I make there. If you are interested in taking a look at more of my Namibia work, my portfolio is here.

After Namibia I visited Iceland for my 2015 tour. We’re taking the group full circle in 2016, so we’ll be taking in some even larger waterfalls, but so far, the largest falls we’ve visited each year has been Gullfoss, that we can see a tiny segment of in this photograph (below).

Gullfoss (Falls)

Gullfoss (Falls)

It was unfortunately a sunny day when we visited in 2015, which is not great for photographing waterfalls. They always look better in the shade or on overcast days, because there is less contrast to deal with, and you can concentrate on recording the subtle beauty of the water and rocks. As usual though, as photographers it’s our job to find something of beauty to shoot, under the conditions we’re presented with. Of course, ideally we’d be able to go back when conditions are better, but there is only so much we can do when we have an itinerary to work with, and places to be, so we did what we could.

I was in the end actually very happy with some of the shots from this year, despite the conditions. This is perhaps my favorite, as I picked out just a small section of the falls, as they cascade down towards the main drop down into the gorge a little further along. I used a one second exposure at f/14 to record the movement of the water. I like to use around a half to a full second exposure for waterfalls, as I feel this records a nice amount of movement without removing all texture.

In this photo (above) I particularly like the area of texture in the water in the bottom right, just in front of the rocks, but I find myself pouring over a number of areas of detail in this image. I also like how the light mist above the center of the cascade enables us to see a little bit of detail in the cliff in the distant background. Looking at the focal length in the EXIF data, I shot this at 114mm, which also gives me confidence to take my 100-400mm lens with me on my Hokkaido Landscape tour for 2016, which I’ll have just started as I release this episode.

I’m really hoping that Canon release an updated 24-105mm lens at some point soon, as I currently have a gap between my 24-70mm and the 100-400mm, which makes me uncomfortable, but I’m finding that I am tending to be getting by without that 30mm at the moment, so the 70-200mm is generally staying at home now. I’ll probably hang on to it for the wider f/2.8 aperture, but I am definitely giving preference to using the 100-400mm now, even for my landscape work, as I really like being able to just zoom in past 200mm without using an extender.

Last up, is another photo from Iceland, which is this image of the blue glacial waters from Jökulsárlón as the water flowed through the narrow estuary to the sea as the tide went out (below). We were driving past the lagoon on the way to another glacier when we noticed a couple of icebergs trapped in the estuary as there are some large concrete blocks under the water to stop large icebergs from flowing out and breaking down the bridge that were were driving over. You wouldn’t normally see this sort of flow unless the iceberg is grounded like this.

Water and Ice

Water and Ice

I enhanced the color in this a little bit by increasing the Vibrance and Saturation in Lightroom, but these are generic changes, so you can tell that the blue really is there in the glacial ice and water. I really like the curves of the flow of water here, leading down to that plume of white water at the base of the ice. I used a 1/4 of a second shutter speed for this at f/16, ISO 100. I was zoomed in to 312mm, as it was this bottom corner of the iceberg that I found most appealing.

A Rolling Record of Progress

I really do find this exercise to be useful each year, and this year has been no exception. Looking at my images, I thankfully continue to get a sense of improvement in my work. The beauty of doing this selection each year, is that you can go back and compare your selections to previous years easily.

I didn’t do this in 2010, as I was busy exiting my old day job and incorporating Martin Bailey Photography K.K. but just for fun, I just displayed all of my top tens since I started doing this in 2007. Here’s a screenshot from Lightroom showing each year on a single row (below). I love that having these Top Ten Collections saved enables me to quickly go back and compare my work to previous years and view trends.

Eight Years of Top Tens

Eight Years of Top Tens

By the way, if you use Lightroom for this process, keep in mind that if you create a Collection referencing images on a hard drive that you later stop using, you basically lose your collections. They just become empty. So even if you start to use a new hard drive, instead of re-importing your images from the new location, it’s always best to right click the hard drive in Lightroom after moving the images, and tell Lightroom where to find the images in the new location. If you do this, the linkage will be maintained, and you won’t break your collections.

Looking back over the years though, I find it interesting that there were no black and white images at all from 2007 and 2008, and only one from 2009. In fact, to say how much a part of my photography black and white plays, there is generally still only around 2 to 3 of my ten images from each year that is black and white, which surprises me, although this is probably because I don’t tend to convert much of my wildlife work to black and white.

I feel that my photography probably took the largest leap forward between 2009 and 2011, rows 3 and 4, although that isn’t surprising either, because that’s when I severed the cord from my day job, and started to do photography full time. In all honesty, I have probably done less photography some years since going full time than I did before, because I spend a lot of my time now on the business side and marketing, and I also now do more writing about photography, but I feel as though my approach to photography changed as I started to make a living from my photography alone. I have become much more deliberate in my work, thinking through my technical and creative processes more each year, and I feel that this is showing in my work.

I am of course incredibly fortunate to have been able to visit the locations that I go to, and without that, many of these images would not have been possible. I would of course have still been doing going through this process though, even if I had only gotten images from here in Japan where I live. I hope you don’t decide not to do this with your own 2015 images if you haven’t been to exotic locations. It’s all relative to where we live and where we are able to shoot.

You’re Playing Against Yourself

I don’t think photography should be about trying to beat anyone. Of course, it’s important to try to improve, but I think photography in many ways is like golf, and although I haven’t played for years now, I always found that regardless of the fact that I would be playing with others, I never felt it necessary to compare scores. Ultimately, you are playing against yourself. If you allow yourself to ponder too much on how your golf, or your photography, compares to others, it can be crippling.

I’ve been saying this for years now, and my stance has not changed, but I truly believe that we should create photographs firstly and foremost for ourselves. The most important thing is that you are happy with your current work, and if you are not, take the necessary steps to create work that you are happy with, or at least moving towards what you believe you will be happy with.

Be it working to find new locations, new genres to work in, or even dare I say it, buying that new piece of kit that you believe will open up some new doors for you creatively. Don’t get caught up in gear acquisition syndrome or GAS as it’s affectionately known, but sometimes, a new piece of kit can open up doors both technically, by removing obstacles, but also creatively, by inspiring us to make new work.

However you take your work to the next level, the main thing is to continue to improve, and I hope we all continue to do that together through 2016 and beyond. As I said last week as well, if you do post a selection of your own 2015 top ten somewhere, please drop a link into the comments for this post, and also try to include a few sentences about what you found useful or interesting about defining your own top ten for 2015.


Show Notes

Martin’s Portfolios can be found here: https://mbp.ac/portfolios

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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