2021 is drawing to an end, and to be honest, in many ways I’m pleased to see this year fall into the past, and looking forward to a brighter 2022, although with my winter tours not possible, we aren’t going to get off to a great start. Still, my yearly top ten selection of my own images is an important part of my year, and I know that some of you listeners and readers enjoy this, so I’m sitting down on December 30 to go through my yearly ritual. Before we jump in on the top ten, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the year.
I can’t complain. I’m still alive, which isn’t something that 5.4 million others can say. I’m kind of amazed that the world has been in the grip of this virus for two years now, although experts did warn that it would probably take up to three years to get through this. I think my general optimistic tendencies just hoped we’d handle this better. The governments around the world seem to be handling things with varying degrees of incompetence. The Japanese government has actually done a reasonable job of getting more than 80% of the population vaccinated, although they are dragging their feet with the third vaccination. Luckily the people of Japan are far more intelligent than the leaders of the country, and our collective efforts have kept casualties relatively low, although again, people have lost their lives here too. My heart goes out to anyone that has fallen to the pandemic and to their loved ones left behind.
Apart from gaining even more unnecessary pounds through increased lack of exercise, I’ve gotten through the year healthy, considering I have a hole in my sphenoid bone that leaks cerebrospinal fluid if I take enough medication to shrink the remains of my brain tumor to the point that it no longer completely plugs up the hole. I did have a slight dance with the C-word this summer too. I had a hard growth on the side of my nose, near where my glasses perch themselves, and it grew pretty quickly, so I went to the hospital and they quickly whipped it off, then tests showed that there were cancerous cells in the tissue. The dermatologist told me it was what they call pre-cancerous solar keratosis, which would probably become a form of skin cancer if left to its own devices. I’m told that although I may get more, there isn’t really anything to worry about, and that suits me fine. There’s plenty of other stuff to worry about, and as a terminal optimist, I’m pretty good at not worrying too much about things that I have little control over.
I haven’t done so well not getting concerned about my lack of ability to travel and pursue my passion for landscape and wildlife photography. Apart from the much-needed visit to the Tatsusawa Falls in October, it seems that almost every time I try to plan something, the pandemic tightens its grip on us again, putting the mockers on my plans. I’d dearly love to go up to Hokkaido over the next month or two, and am still hoping it can happen, but watching the daily cases of the new omicron strain of COVID increase, I’m not sure it will be possible. Fingers crossed on that one.
Anyway, let’s have a look at my 2021 photographs. This is something that I’ve done each year since 2007, and you can actually see all of my posts on this with this link. I’m running a little short on time as I’ve had a few reports of issues with the software I’ve developed that have taken a bunch of the time I put aside to do this, so I’m not going to go into quite as much detail as I usually do. It’s also a pretty light year anyway, with my new passion of microscope photography somewhat dominating my selection, so we’ll whiz through this relatively quickly.
As usual, I started by creating a folder to drop my first pass of images into. As I work through the year I drop all of the images that I am happy with into a year folder in my Finals catalog, which I keep on a separate SSD to my main shoot drive which contains everything for the year. So far my most productive year was 2018 with 1452 images that I was happy with. For 2021 I have 333 images. The last time I had less than that was 2010 at 230 images, and all years from 2005 and earlier.
After my first pass through my images, I had 66 shots in my selection, and as you can see in this screenshot, it was a pretty colorful crop of images. I’m grateful that I was able to stay somewhat productive with microphotography. I honestly think I’d have gone insane this year if it wasn’t for the joy I found in the microscopic world. It actually reminded me of when I had a somewhat stressful day job and would find it relaxing to simply have the camera in my hand. I wasn’t always shooting the greatest images, but just the act of doing photography was stress-relief in itself.
After my first selection, I went through and removed all of the obvious offenders. I was never going to have four yellow flower shots, for example, but wanted to have another look at all four before picking one or throwing them all out. This was more difficult than I thought it would be, and that is why this is such a valuable exercise. Editing skills are important and although I do this regularly as part of my job, selecting your favorites from a year’s work is never easy, even when the year was as crazy as this one was.
I ended up with 32 images after my second pass. I’d just over halved my selection, but I was stuck to a degree on what to remove next. I was actually not looking forward to this process this year because it’s been such a dry year, but looking at this screenshot, I’m feeling a lot better. Despite the work lacking the grand landscapes and majestic wildlife that I hang my hat on, it’s still quality work in the most part. The difficulty now is in removing some of the images that I know are simply left in the selection for variety.
I kept the more abstract yellow flower shot but the cherry blossom photo really does nothing for me. I can’t justify keeping it in the selection simply to show that I did more than the microscopy work. How I feel about an image as it comes onto the screen is an important indicator, and I feel a slight dip in my mood as that comes on screen, so out it goes. And, as bad as I feel removing it, the woodpecker shot doesn’t really cut the mustard either, so out that goes as well. I also removed the Shinjuku Eye photo from a few weeks ago. I like it, but it doesn’t do that much for me.
From an artistic perspective, as I got down to thirteen images, I decided that the plankton shot had to go too, and the black and white flowerhead shot seemed out of place at this point too. Compared to what’s left, I might as well remove the final abstract yellow flower shot, after all, leaving me with my final ten. That leaves me with just two real-world photos, and the other eight are microscope shots. Of those eight, only the scarab beetle is still something that could just about be seen with the naked eye. I’ll quickly walk you through the final selection before we wrap up for this episode.
We’ll look through these in chronological order rather than a ranking. This first image from the beginning of May was one of the first shots that started to really draw me into the microphotography world. These are citric acid crystals sandwiched between two polarizer filters, which causes these beautiful colors, and the rainbow colors that we’ll see in some of the following images as well. The flower of crystals here grew around a spec of fiber that had gotten onto the microscope slide, and kind of seeded the growth into this particular pattern.
The next image is one of my favorite sodium sulfite crystal shots. The colors are really appealing to me. This was also one of the first shots to show me the potential of these microscopic crystal formations. We’re looking at less than half a millimeter of the world here.
The next image is another sodium sulfite crystal shot, looking like an explosion in space to me. The fact that we can imagine these forms to be pretty much anything is probably part of the attraction for me.
Here’s the scarab beetle I mentioned, which was shot with my stereo microscope as opposed to my compound microscope. I found this beetle dead at the bottom of my apartment steps, which ultimately became my preferred way to shoot insects, as I thought it probably would.
Here is the third and final sodium sulfite crystal shot, which I have actually minted on Foundation, so if you collect NFTs you can check that out on my Foundation page at https://foundation.app/@MBP/~/114844 If this sells for more than 1 Ethereum I’ll send you a large format print as a thank you!
This next shot is one of my wife’s kindly donated gray hairs, which I also sandwiched between two polarizers to create these wacky colors. This was a massive 206 frame focus stack to get the entire knot in focus.
The next image was another eye-opener for me, as I looked at thinly sliced cross-sections of the stem or peduncle of a cucumber to find these vascular bundles. They were stained with light green, as they are almost completely transparent without a bit of stain to help us see them. You can also see the tiny chloroplasts in the cells, which I also got a great higher magnification shot of, but resisted included it in my final selection.
Back to the real-world, here is one of my shots of the Tatsusawa Falls from my October trip that also contributed to keeping me sane this year. These really are beautiful falls and I’m so pleased that I was able to get out there this year.
Here is another real-world shot, which is one of my favorites from a visit to our local park while the autumnal color was gracing us with its presence.
And finally, we travel down into The Abyss, which is actually the microscopic gap between two citric acid crystal formations.
OK, so that’s my top ten for 2021. A very different year from previous years, but as my selection shows, microscope photography is probably here to stay as one of my chosen photographic genres. That’s not to say that I’m not chomping at the bit to get back out into the field, but under the circumstances, I’m relatively happy with the year.
As usual, I invite anyone who has selected your own top ten to leave a comment and share your work with me and the rest of the audience. And finally, a huge thank you to our new Patreon supporters Larry, Char, and Paul, who, along with the rest of the patrons are awesome supporters of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast!
It’s that time of year again, when I sit back and select my own personal top ten photographs from the previous year, in order to take stock of where I am in my photography, and provide an overview of my progress over the years. As I often do, I’m sitting down to start the process now, and will write this as I work through my selection. I’ll try not to go into too much detail as I’ve done this many times, but we’ll see how this goes. Note too that you can check out all of my Top Ten posts since 2007 with this link.
2020, as you might expect, is very different from previous years. Luckily, I was able to carry out all three of my Japan Winter Tours before the virus stopped play, but my Namibia Tour had to be postponed to this year. I should also now be two days into my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour, but unfortunately I’m stuck at my desk. None of my Japan Winter Tours this year can go ahead. Recently I spend every night dreaming of being out in open spaces with a group of photographers. Just this morning I woke up and started to tell my wife about my dreams of being in the mountains and had to stop as I felt a lump forming in my throat. I had planned to spend some time on the road this winter in place of my tours, but daily Corona infections are on a steep rise again here in Japan again at the moment, so I doubt I’ll be able to make that happen.
As I look back at my Finals folder for 2020 I see 612 images of which 552 were shot in January and February on last years Winter tours. That means that from March to December I only moved 60 images to my Finals Folder for the rest of the year, and a good chunk of these were from testing the Canon EOS R5.
In Capture One Pro I’ve just created a new Collection Group called 2020 Top Ten and inside that I’ve created my first album called First Pass and made that my selections folder, and I’ve set up Voice Control on my iMac Pro to recognize a few words so that I can literally sit back and work through this process without touching my mouse or keyboard. Because it’s not possible to simply hit the Q key with a voice command, I changed my Capture One Pro shortcut for adding images to the Selects folder to ALT + COMMAND + Q and assigned that to the word Select, so when I have Capture One Pro selected and say “Select” the current image is added to my Selection folder. I also mapped “next” and “back” so I can just talk my way through the selection process. There’s a slight pause after saying each word, so I still sometimes just use the keyboard, but it’s nice to be able to just speak these commands.
OK, so after my first pass, I find myself with 129 images in my selections folder, so I selected about one in five of my Finals. This is pretty much what I expected as all of the images in my Finals folder have already been selected from my various shoots, so they are already images that I like, and that is what makes this process so valuable, and difficult. I made a second folder in my 2020 Top Ten group and named it Second Pass, and copied all of the images from my First Pass into this second folder. From here it becomes a deductive process, as I try to reduce the number of images from 129 to 10. As usual, I’ll start to look for groups of images. The most obvious one being Steller’s Sea Eagles catching fish.
I have 20 images of Steller’s Sea Eagle with their talons out catching a fish from the sea, so I’ve selected all of them and will start to compare them to whittle this selection down to just one image. Capture One Pro fails to provide the functionality I need when doing this though. With multiple images selected I want to be able to hit delete to remove the currently selected image but when I hit delete all 20 images are removed from the Selection so it’s a bit of a mess in this respect. Still, I was able to remove all but one fish catching shot, and started to reduce my Steller’s Sea Eagle shots in general as there was an obvious winner for the flights shots as well.
The next obvious big group was Whooper Swans, of which I have 18, so I’ll work on that selection now too. This was actually more difficult than the Steller’s Sea Eagle shots because most of the Swan shots are panning shots, so the aesthetic beauty of the shot comes into play more. I got down to the final four that you see in this screenshot relatively easily, but then it got more difficult. I think I’ll leave the bottom two in the selection for now and then remove one of them later.
I’m down to 83 images now, and I’m moving on to the Red-Crowned Crane shots. I had 15 left which I quickly got down to 4, and I also removed 2 of the four snow monkey shots while I was at it. I then went back to my Hokkaido Landscape work and removed a bunch of boat shots. I then went through the remaining images and removed a few more that were obviously not going to make it now that I was getting a better picture of my final selection. I was left with the following 36 images. Note that I’m uploading these in pretty high resolution, so if you click on them and open up your browser window you should be able to see a fair amount of detail in each image.
I saved this as the results of my Second Pass, and created another copy of this set called the Third Pass, then I went to Fullscreen and ran a slideshow. I used the voice command “Green Label” to add a green label to each image that made me feel good as it appeared on the screen. This enables me to vote with my heart as I literally feel my reaction to each image. The result was a reduced collection of 20 images for my third pass. I selected all of the green labeled images and created a new Album and this time turned the checkbox on for both the Select collection after creation and Add selected images after creation.
To help me remove the final ten I called on my secret weapon. My trusted critique, in the guise of my wife. I always find that making the more painful decisions of this process is much easier to do with an impartial and unbiassed set of eyes on the images. It took us about 10 minutes to remove ten more to reach my final selection. Probably the hardest to remove was the fox shot, as I really like the feel of that image, but it was not one of the strongest of the set. We also agreed that although the shot with two owls is nice, the single owl looking at the camera is more impactful and the texture of the tree is better.
Removing the sunrise shot was not so difficult. I’m really not much of a sunrise person. I don’t mind being out before dawn, it’s just the sunrise and sunset photo that doesn’t really do a lot for me. On the landscape front, I was disappointed to lose the lone tree shots, but I believe the line of trees and the color image of the morning mist are stronger images, so the deal was pretty much done.
2020 Top Ten
I’m not going to talk about each individual image as I’ve spoken about all of these in the past, but there are a few points of interest that I’d like to cover. The colors of the second shot of the morning mist in Biei for example, are the colors that I used for one of the Light Appearance color schemes in our iOS app Photographer’s Friend. The cranes dancing shot really captured my heart because the two cranes are dancing in perfect synchronization. Their poses are identical, just rotated around 180 degrees, and I found that fascinating.
The Hokkaido Long-Tailed Tit is a tiny little bird that I’ve been hoping to capture for the last few years, and finally got some shots that I was happy with last year, so I had to leave that in. It’s the cutest little bird I think I’ve ever seen. The Great Spotted Woodpecker was a nice catch as well. We go looking for these guys on the last day of my Japan Winter Wildlife tours but they’ve been pretty elusive in recent years. It was nice to be able to get a shot of one is such strange looking surrounding last year. The first nine images were all shot with my EOS R, and the final maple leaf image was shot with the EOR R5 and the new RF 100-500mm lens. I’ve been out shooting with the new gear quite a lot, but my local work doesn’t even come close to the sort of images that I get on my tour locations.
I feel that photography-wise I’ve been true to myself and feel that the images are of a high enough standard for me to be happy with, but I do miss my photos from my yearly visit to Namibia in the summer. My 2021 Top Ten is going to be very different again, but hopefully I’ll be able to get out on some personal projects as soon as the virus is under control. The government here is planning to put us into a state of emergency again later today, for at least one month, so maybe something can happen in February, while it’s still my favorite season for photography here in Japan.
Post Your Own Top Ten
OK, so we’ll start to wrap it up there for this week. As usual though, I’d like to invite you to share a link to your own personal top ten if you also go through this exercise each year. I’ve been in remiss in recent years and too busy to comment, but this year I’m at home and will make an effort to reply to anyone that posts a link to your own gallery or blog post etc. I look forward to seeing what you made of 2020.
A very Happy New Year to you, as we dive into the third decade of the 21st century, I’ve spent a few days returning to my 2019 Top Ten selection, and whittled it down to what I consider to be my favorite 10 images for the year. It was a tough process, as usual, but I’ve talked about the process itself at length almost every year since 2007, so I’m only going to skirt over that with a few thoughts today.
The thing that I found most difficult about this year is that I have done all of the tours that I did in 2019 many times, so it was difficult to find images that felt relatively fresh, but most of what I have ended up with has at least a small element of freshness, for one reason or another. For notes on the selection process I’ve put a grid of previous year’s podcasts at the end of this post, so check out some of them if you are interested.
We’ll work through the top ten images in chronological order as I don’t necessarily want to order them any further than including them in this list. This first image is from my Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour which I will be starting for this year on the day that I release this podcast. These are the falls behind the hotel that we stay in for the first three days, as we travel around Biei making mostly minimalist photographs of the snow-covered hills and trees.
I love the work from this trip, but because I’ve shared it many times I decided to include this shot which is not what I would call minimalist in the least. There’s lots of detail and 24mm a much wider focal length than I often shoot on this trip. That in itself is one of the things that felt fresh at this location for me. I usually prefer going in close, picking out details, and that’s probably why I found this somewhat refreshing.
This next image is from my Japan Winter Wildlife Tour and one that is probably the closest to the sort of work that I usually shoot, but I couldn’t help but leave this in my selection. You probably won’t appreciate the reason for that at the Web size for the images, as I found myself unable to remove this after going through the images on a 54-inch 4K TV screen as I shared my final 24 images with my wife to get her opinion and help me to whittle down to the final ten.
This shot really came to life on a big screen, which is hardly surprising because the details need to be viewed larger to really understand what’s happening. As with a large print though, images can come to life when viewed large, and that right there is part of the appeal of large format prints to me as well.
The next image is also from my Winter Wildlife Tour and I was attracted to this more than anything by the serendipity of owl’s attention being caught by the scratching of the nuthatch that was scuttling around on the side of the tree. The owl wouldn’t have been able to see the small bird from its vantage point, so it must have been the sound that alerted it to the nuthatch’s presence.
The following image has remained my favorite of a series of three images that I cropped down to a 4:5 ratio, all of the same pair of Red-Crowned Cranes dancing together at the end of the day. It was so late by the time I shot this that I had to pump my ISO up to 8000 at f/11 to get this shot at a 1/400 of a second shutter speed, which is what I needed to freeze the movement.
I suppose I’m also including a few points for the technology as well, as this image would simply have not been possible even just a few years ago. The only problem with shooting wildlife in this level of light is that you have virtually no chance to get a catchlight in their eyes, and I don’t like to use flash for that purpose, but I think the form of the birds and the minimalist white on white look that I love still makes for a shot that I find very appealing.
That’s also what I like about the next image, shot three months or so later, in Walvis Bay in Namibia, during my Complete Namibia Tour. We were treated with a beautiful morning mist that I’d expected to burn off quite quickly but which actually hung around for over an hour. The very pale pink of the flamingoes against the mist and water in this highly diffused morning sunlight was lovely to watch and photograph.
The reflections were a little bit ripply but defined enough to form a pleasing additional dimension that basically disappears if the wind gets up any higher. The mist was again cutting out a lot of light, forcing me to work at ISO 5000 for this image for an 1/800 of a second at f/10. I like to keep a reasonably small aperture for these shots, as the depth of field is too shallow for multiple subjects if you open it up much more than this.
At the end of the same day, we were back out on the beach, enjoying the fact that the EOS R has an articulated LCD so that I could drop the camera down literally to water level to capture the beautiful salmon pink tones of the setting sun behind the flamingoes that were gathering in larger numbers now to spend the night in a group.
Also gaining protection from being in groups, the Zebra in the Etosha National Park played a large part in my photography last year. I love this shot of a young zebra merged into his dazzle doing just that as they made their way across the planes. This area was a rarity with a reasonable amount of vegetation, albeit very dry. Most of the rest of the park was very baron in 2019 as the country struggled with a particularly bad drought.
I love taking my zebra shots into black and white, as I think it helps us to concentrate on the graphic appeal of these beautiful black and white Equidae. That’s just a lucky bonus for the photographer really, but of course, the zebra need their stripes to confuse the likes of this guy in my next photo.
I have had this image as the desktop background on my iMac Pro for most of the last six months since returning from Namibia, and absolutely love the serenity of this lion as he snoozes in the morning sun, also in the Etosha National Park, Namibia. I find it amazing that these animals are so similar to their cousins that share houses with millions of humans the world over, despite them weighing probably 80 to 100 times more than those cousins.
Still, it’s always a privilege to get so close to these magnificent big cats, and I was particularly happy that this guy was on a slope, allowing me to get a shot from a vehicle that looks like I’m much lower. This is a special bonus in Etosha as you aren’t allowed out of the vehicle at all. You might think that getting out of the vehicle around lions is not a good idea anyway, but that makes me recall having to get out and push our car out of the sand when we got stuck leaving the dry Hoanib Riverbed a number of years ago, while listening to the lions behind the vehicle, hoping that they preferred the taste of the giraffe they were feeding on to overweight humans.
The final two shots were from a trip to Mie Prefecture in December 2019 to photograph these two rocks in the sea that are connected with a large rope by the Shinto Shrine on the shore just to the right of the rocks. They are called Meoto Iwa, with Iwa meaning rock, and Meoto, in this case, means husband and wife. I’m not sure that I like the idea of a husband and wife being tied together, but the sentiment is harmless and the shrine is supposed to help people find a partner, so it’s all connected, like the rocks themselves.
I’ve had this location on my wish-list for a number of years, and my friend Ulana Switucha has a lovely shot of these that had caught my eye too, so I decided to have a few days out of the office in December to go and shoot them. The two rocks in this image are, in my opinion, nicer to look at from this angle, so I chose this EOS R photo over a closer image that I shot shortly after on medium format film with my Rolleiflex TLR camera, which has too wide a lens to shoot from this angle.
Having this final image that was shot on the Rollei though seems like a fitting way to end the series, as I also ended the year being somewhat consumed by a revival in my passion for film photography. It’s been exactly twenty years since I switched to digital and almost instantly stopped shooting film. I remember shooting my second camera on film briefly on my first visit to Hokkaido in the winter, as I only had one DSLR, and even compared to my Canon EOS 10D, 35mm film didn’t really cut it, but the images that I’m getting on medium format with the new Rolleiflex and the film and chemicals I’m using have been blowing me away.
It’s not just about the resolution of the images though. I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming more comfortable with developing my own film at home since getting the revolutionary Lab-Box and with Fujifilm re-releasing their Neopan 100 Acros II film and me also finding Rollei RPX film, I’m kind of in film heaven at the moment.
The final photo for my series is a two-minute exposure shot on Neopan Acros II, with a cormorant that stayed almost completely still for the entire two minutes, which I thought was very nice of him. I love the soft quality of the light in this image, and how the horizon line is barely distinguishable from the sky. I’m also really pleased that Neopan has not lost its ability to create beautiful deep blacks as it got reborn as a Mark II film. Without the color information, there is no easy way to mess with the feel of the image either, so I’m very happy that I have been able to create work that matches much of the minimalist work that I find so appealing.
I’m not sure how much of it I’ll have time to shoot, but I’ve just packed twenty-five rolls of film into my bag to take with me on the Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour that I will be on by the time most of you listen to. I’ll be shooting digital as well, just in case it all goes pear-shaped for any reason, and of course, with only a 75mm lens to work with, there will only be a certain number of locations that will work, but I’m going to try really hard to make other scenes that I’m already familiar with work on this format. I think it’s become a bit of a personal challenge too, but it’s really just a lot of fun, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
MBP Film EXIF Updater
One last thing that I wanted to point out is that I have just about finished the script that I’m creating to provide a command-line interface for updating the EXIF information in my film images. Of course, it uses Exiftool from Phil Harvey on the back end, but I’ve created something quite sophisticated to walk through the process of tagging scanned film in a number of ways, and hope to be able to release it as a product for sale very soon. I’m not going to charge a lot for it, but it’s been a lot of work and will require more work to refine and maintain, so free doesn’t really work for me.
Anyway, the point is, if you click on the final image and take a look at the shooting information, you’ll see that my site is reading the shooting data just as it does my digital images, and that was my main motivation in creating the script. I really wanted to be able to record this information in the image easily. I’m also tagging the images with the time, so they sort correctly along with my digital work, and that was also important to me.
As I mentioned, here is a grid of all the previous year’s top ten selections and the episodes on the selection process itself, which I find to be a great learning experience and practice for creating small selections of images, for both personal and professional scenarios. Check out these earlier posts if that interests you and you haven’t heard my thoughts on this already.
As usual, if you have your own top ten posted online, or your own thoughts on the process, please do comment below and include a link. I did a terrible job of following up on this last year, and hope to be better this year, but I will get to it at some point, so please do post, and feel free to comment on each other’s work as well.
In the meantime, I’m off to Hokkaido and I have not been able to create anything for release next week, so unless we get any serious downtime during the trip, I will be back in two weeks. All the best for 2020, and I’ll see you on the flipside.
Click here to view previous yearly top ten archives.
Following last week’s episode in which I shared my selection workflow and thought process, this week I’m going to share my personal top ten favorite images for 2018.
I don’t try to rank these images in any order, rather we’ll just work through the year in chronological order, starting with this image from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour held at the start of January each year.
Konpira Shrine Shinto Gate
I’m preparing this episode on January 4, but I will be releasing it around January the 14th, a few days after visiting this Shinto Gate or Torii with this year’s group. I really hope we get some good conditions like we had last year again. The low pressure that lets the clouds roll in to form that beautiful grey sky also allows the sea level to rise, so that the water washes around the rocks surrounding the gate.
I considered including a shot from a different angle where the sea was washing around the concrete base of the Torii instead of this one where the base is solidly visible, but I went with this shot, as I prefer its simplicity. The even grey sky is unobtrusive and allows the red of the gate to stand out, but the water washing around the rocks, made silky from my 4-second exposure helps to accentuate the detail in the rocks themselves.
To get the 4-second exposure I was probably using my 6-stop neutral density filter, and I’d set my aperture to f/11, which is wider my usual f/14, so I was obviously trying to avoid going any longer than four seconds, because the water can start to look too smooth, and lose its texture if you go too long on waves like this.
As I prepare for this episode, I’m really looking forward to getting back up to Hokkaido with my guests and photographing these beautiful winter minimalist locations. I’m actually going to be taking my Canon EOS R, my first mirrorless camera, and my RF 24-105mm lens, and using these really for the first time on this trip, so I’m excited about that too.
Moonlit Quiver Trees
The next three images are from my Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, which started at the end of May last year. We had a moonrise while we were in the Quiver Tree Forest, and although I’d spend most of my time trying to capture a telephoto shot of the moon rising through the trees, it wasn’t really working because of the light cloud cover.
Then shortly before we had to leave, I figured it was worth trying my 11-24mm lens for a wide shot, and I was surprised to see how good the clouds looked, but also how much the stars shone through the clouds. I honestly didn’t expect this to balance out this well, and I even got a bit of moonlight hitting the trunks of the Quiver Trees, which adds a nice touch I thought.
This was a 25-second exposure, just with the moonlight. I didn’t need any neutral density filters here of course. That’s all the light we had, even with my aperture wide open at f/4 for this lens.
Later in the tour, we visited the Etosha National Park, and I got one of my firm favorites for the year, as we visited a private game reserve, and were treated to a late afternoon male lion as he bathed in the last few minutes of sunlight for the day, and then gave a great big yawn, that to me almost looks like a fierce roar, hence the title that I gave this image, Fierce Yawn!
I’d opened up my aperture to f/8 for this shot, and set my shutter speed to an 1/800 of a second, and to get a good exposure this required an ISO of 1600. I manually tweaked my focus to keep it on the eyes of the lion, and that in turn helped me to keep the focus on the teeth of the lion as he yawned. Because I use the back AF button to focus, and disable the autofocus mechanism on the shutter button, I was able to just not press the back AF button to avoid the camera trying to refocus as the lion flipped his head back like this.
Had I been using the shutter button to focus it probably would have started to search for focus as the lion moved his head, and might have even focussed on the grasses in front of him, and I definitely wanted to avoid that, although I like the fact that the grasses are there, keeping the lion firmly in his environment.
This next photo is what I call Zebra Soup, for obvious reasons. Again, from the Etosha National Park in Namibia, when I first shot this, I was much happier with the images that I’d got where I’d managed to crop the edges of the frame better, rather than cutting off the zebra’s heads, or half a face, but as time passed, I started to become more attracted to this photo, just because of the sheer chaos as all of these zebra drank from a waterhole.
I think I learned or maybe relearned that the technical accuracy of the image isn’t as important as how the image makes you feel. When I shared my final 44 images with my wife as I whittle down my top ten for 2018, we talked about this image and she didn’t even notice the cropped off body parts, because her attention was focussed firmly on the mayhem in the middle of the frame.
That’s not to say that I won’t pay attention to the point at which I frame my photos moving forward, but I will probably go a little easier on myself when making my final selection, especially when there is enough going on in the photo that the imperfections become almost completely insignificant. For this shot, I was using my 100-400mm Mark II lens at its full reach, and my shutter speed was 1/800 of a second at ISO 800, and an aperture of f/14.
Moroccan Man in Chefchaouen
It hasn’t been that long since I talked about my Morocco work for this year, but we’ll discuss these again, as the remaining six images of my selection for 2018 are from my Morocco trip.
That probably says something about how the images being fresh in our minds affects our ability to select a collection of images, but I actually really do think that this is some of my strongest work from the year, so it’s hard to remove them from my best ten.
This gentleman was a real character. He was shouting out to me and my group as we walked towards him, and started to dress in these clothes, saying that we could photograph him for $20 each! We get used to paying for photos in Morocco, but 20 bucks is a little steep. Most of the guests just kept walking, but me another guy talked him down to $10, and I was happy with the results.
When my guest asked for advice on his shot, and I told him that he didn’t need so much space over the top of this gentleman’s head, and as soon as my guest went to photograph this guy again, he immediately asked for another ten bucks, but we managed to talk him into a freebie. With him though, time definitely was money, and I only got a handful of frames before he started asking for more money.
In many ways you can’t blame the Moroccans. Many of them don’t have a lot, and this is a great way to make money from the tourists that otherwise don’t really buy a lot, and that unstandably frustrates the Moroccans.
I used my 85mm f/1.4 portrait lens for this shot, although I did close the aperture down to f/4.5 for this, to maintain a little bit of texture in that beautiful blue wall from Chefchaouen.
Public Bath Furnace
Our amazing guide in Morocco constantly came up with hidden gems for us to photograph, and after being whisked down a back alley in Fes, this next shot was a real treat. This gentleman is stoking the fire in a furnace to heat the local public bath.
I can’t find a reference to this online, so my memory might be playing tricks on me here, but our guide told us that for a community to thrive in Morocco, they need five things; A market, a mosque, a Koranic school, a well, and a public bath. And sure enough, as we visited the various medinas throughout the trip, these things were always there, and always thriving.
I was using my EF 24-105mm lens for this shot at 41mm, and the aperture was set to f/5.6 for a 1/160 of a second shutter speed, at an ISO of 2000. The man was throwing plenty of wood shavings into the fire, and stoking it to make the flames higher, so it wasn’t a difficult shot, but It was nice to be able to capture it.
For my exposure, I was using aperture priority, as I try to do for this kind of photography, but I’d dialed in minus one stop of exposure compensation to stop the fire from over-exposing too much, then I lightened up the rest of the room with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro.
Distant Figure in Fes Alleyway
Another favorite shot from Fes is this image from down an incredibly narrow alleyway, again, a gem presented to us by our guide. I had just composed my shot, and as I hoped for someone to walk into the scene, this lady in a red Djellaba appeared in the distance, just long enough for me to use her as a nice color contrast and splash of detail to focus the attention of an attentive viewer of the image.
I know the figure is very small, but when viewed large she makes a nice easter egg, which is what I call this kind of tiny detail in a photo that you have to work a little to find and comprehend. My settings for this image were f/8 for a 1/20 of a second at ISO 6400 and a focal length of 24mm.
The Turban and the Cloud
The next image was from the Sahara Desert in Morocco, when we had a little time to photograph our camel handlers before the sunset, and with the high winds, it was a great opportunity to get them with their turban blowing in the wind like this. We couldn’t resist asking this guy to go to the brow of the sand dune to get him against the sky with this beautiful big cloud that had rolled across the background.
I really struggled with the decision to not include one of the camel’s in the sunset images, as they were pretty nice, but I risked having my 2018 top ten looking just like my 2017 top ten, so I had to make some sacrifices.
I also have found that six of my top ten for this year have people in them, which is a little out of character for a predominantly wildlife and landscape photographer, but cultural travel photography has played a large part of the last few years, so I decided to just roll with it. My settings for this photo were a 1/320 of a second shutter speed at ISO 250, and an aperture of f/10 at 300mm.
Man in Well
It was just two weeks ago when I spoke about the final two images, but here goes. This man is Karim, and he watches over an irrigation channel in Morocco, ensuring that it doesn’t get blocked, and he’s found himself a nice niche job posing for photographers beneath the well hole in the channel.
I also took this photo out of my selection for a while because I had this and the next gentleman in my 2017 top ten, but I just could not bring myself to leave them out. The set felt empty without these two images. I also mentioned recently that I have extended this image out from a portrait orientation image by increasing the size of the canvas in Photoshop then using content aware fill on the sides.
It’s a very narrow space, but because I darken down the surrounding a bit, you can’t really tell that it’s been changed, and I like the idea that he is in a larger space here than he actually was. It feels more of an abyss like this. My settings were f/2 for a 1/20 of a second, at ISO 6400, with my 85mm lens. There is hardly any grain in this image because Karim is beautifully lit from the light of the well, and the shadows are so dark that grain is just not visible.
Moroccan Man in Adobe Building
Our final image from my 2018 Top Ten set is Mr. Mohammed, another Moroccan gentleman that I had the good fortune to photograph again on last year’s tour. This man has been an extra in many movies, as the town where he lives, Ait Benhaddou, has been the location of countless movies over the years.
Not at all camera shy, we asked him to pose for us inside an adobe building next to his own home, and with these dust-covered tajine pots and again, just a single open ceiling window, this makes for a stunning environment to photograph people in. It’s dark in here too though, so this is another 6400 ISO shot, this time at f/4, again for 1/20 of a second, at 35mm.
Share Your Work!
As I mentioned last week, please do share your own Top Ten images for 2018 if you also do this each year. If you haven’t been doing it, I really believe it’s an invaluable exercise to help us grow as photographers. If you want more information on the process, and haven’t caught up on last week’s episode yet, do check that out here, and by all means share a link to your top ten below, along with details of anything that you learned from doing this.
With six of this year’s images being from my Morocco tour, I’m actually really struggling with the decision to not run this tour again in 2019, due partly to the trouble that I had getting into Morroco this year with my camera gear. I have a few other ideas that I’m working on right now though, so I need to finalize a few other decisions before I completely rule out Morocco for this year. If you would like to join me in Morocco this coming fall, maybe you could drop me a line and it might sway my judgment a little.
MBP Pro Membership
One of the things that I’ve been working on really hard since getting back from Morocco this year, is a new membership system that I’ve built into our website, and I’ve been growing this gradually to allow me to iron out the kinks, but we already have a fair number of people signed up and starting to get active in the new MBP Pro community.
If you’ve been visiting the blog posts for the last few episodes, you may have noticed a new button at the top of each post, for a members-only PDF eBook. This is one of the main benefits of what I’m called the Bronze Membership. Things changed in recent months, making it difficult now to publish our articles automatically to those that subscribed to my newsletters, but because I know many people like to read, I decided to build on that, and now I’m creating a beautifully laid out eBook of all articles that I create and release, with a commitment to provide at least three PDF articles per month for our MBP Pro subscribers.
Other benefits include our monthly desktop wallpaper for all members, and access to a members-only forum, and a feature-rich profile page for all members, where people can share their own updates, make friend relationship with other members, send messages to each other, and even post their own photos and links to portfolios and skill sets etc. Socially its turning into a great place to hang out, and of course, with the forums and my now weekly eBooks, it’s a great way to take your photography to the next level.
You can find details of the new membership levels here, but please note that the Silver and Gold memberships are on hold until March, after I’ve finished my Japan winter tours. The Silver Membership includes a monthly video that I won’t have time to create until March, and the Gold membership is actually a mentorship, for a maximum of ten mentees for the time being, so I need to give them my full attention, and I won’t be able to do that until March.
Also note that there will be prorated upgrades available, so if you buy a Bronze subscription now, you can use the remainder of your subscription as part of the payment for a higher level subscription later. Apart from a few teething problems that I’m still ironing out though, the Bronze Membership is all running smoothly already, so check out the details and jump onboard if it’s of interest to you.
Note too that just because I’m introducing these memberships, does not mean that you’ll lose anything. I am gradually locking down the blog so that people will have to create a free account to view more than a certain number of articles each month, but if all you want is the blog posts they are not going anyway. You just might find yourself being asked to create a free account and login to view these posts at some point soon.
Do check out our new MBP Pro Memberships though, and I hope to see you in our shiny new community, to take your photography to the next level.
I have just finished cleaning up my photography storage and preparing for a new year, as well as selecting my top ten favorite images for 2018, so today I’m going to share some workflow tips and my thoughts of the process.
As you may recall if you have followed my previous workflow articles on how I organize my images so that I can easily move between my laptop and desktop computers, I have a few tasks to do as a year ends, and another starts. The main task at hand is to do one last pass through my Traveler Solid State Drive, and move any remaining Final Selects to my Finals SSD.
I keep all of my current year’s images on what I call my Traveller drive, and as I shoot and finalize my selections from each shoot or tour, I copy my selection of images to a second SSD called Finals. This allows me to carry all images that I’ve ever shot that are worth a hoot on one drive, and all of my current year’s work on another.
With one thing and another, I had still not copied my Morocco work to the Finals drive, so that was my first task this morning as I started work on this. I had 154 images selected from Morocco still, and I wanted to get that down a little, so I did one last pass and removed 14 images, which tells me that my initial selection was relatively tight.
Copying Final Selects to Finals SSD
Having ensured that all of the Morocco images had at least the necessary generic keywords assigned, I selected them all in my Traveller catalog for 2018, and selected Export > Originals, ensuring that the “Include Adjustments” option was checked, then copied all of them to the 2018 folder in my Finals SSD.
Then I opened my Finals catalog, and right-clicked the 2018 folder, and selected Synchronize from the shortcut menu, and ensured that the Show Importer option was turned on. I checked and was somewhat disappointed to find that this is still not fixed in version 12, but in Capture One Pro, if you don’t show the importer then physically select all of the images rather than just hitting Import All, the adjustments made to images are completely ignored and not imported.
Double Check Archived Backup
Back on my Traveller drive, after making my final few changes to my selection, I ran my ChronoSynch job to synchronize my 2018 folder with all of my original raw files from the year, to my 2018 folder on my Drobo, and then right-clicked the folder in both my Traveller drive and my Drobo and selected Get Info, to just check that exactly the same number of files was in each location. I also checked that the date and time of my 2018 Catalog was updated on my Drobo, signifying that it was also synchronized correctly from my Traveller SSD.
Then with my Traveller SSD unmounted from my iMac Pro, I opened the 2018 catalog from my Drobo for the first time, and of course, because the Traveller was not there to reference my images from, Capture One Pro showed an exclamation mark against the Traveller and all of my folders, so I right-clicked the Traveller icon and selected Locate, then navigated to my Photo Originals folder on my Drobo which contains my 2018 folder, so that Capture One Pro could relink my photos, which takes about 2 or 3 minutes. Once that’s done, my main 2018 archive is now located on my Drobo, so that I can go ahead and clean out my Traveller SSD ready for a new year of photos to be stored on it as I start the process again.
Selecting my 2018 Top Ten
Now ready to start selecting my 2018 Top Ten photographs, let’s quickly recap on the reason for selecting my top ten images each year. I believe that this is an important process to help us understand how we are growing, or not growing, as creatives, by reviewing our year’s work, and forcing ourselves to make some tough decisions about which images we’ll include in our selection, or often more importantly, which we’ll leave out.
How many images you try to select is up to you, but I would not recommend more than 12, which of course equates to one image per month for the year. I like ten, probably because of watching the top ten music charts as a kid. The important thing is to decide on the number, and then stick to it.
Honing Our Editing Skills
Part of the value in this exercise is to help us to hone our skills in the editing process, so that we get better at whittling our images down to a finite number. Whether you are a professional having to provide a selection of images for clients, or a hobbyiest, selecting images to show family or maybe at your local camera club, no-one wants to sit through hundreds of images. It makes our presentation stronger if we can present fewer, stronger images, and selecting a top ten for the year helps us get better at this process.
Whether I’m editing a selection for a client, or selecting my top ten for the year, I start by creating a Collection called First Pass, and make that my Selects folder, so that I can just hit the Q key on my keyboard to add the image I have selected to this Selection. The Q key is just the key that I’ve assigned the function to in my Capture One Pro Keyboard Shortcuts.
Get into the Editing Mindset
Then, I start to go through the entire year of images in my Finals catalog, hitting the Q key whenever I see a photograph that I want to consider for my Top Ten. This is actually another great benefit of having my Final Selects in a separate Catalog, because I don’t have to look for my final selects out of all of my raw files. If you don’t do this, I’d recommend at least ensuring that you star rate your images so that you can filter out your better shots to avoid looking at your lesser images.
The editing mindset has to be engaged right from this first pass. Keeping in mind that every image I’m looking at has already been selected out of all of my raw files, it’s important to not simply hit the Q key on every photo. I know that I have just ten slots to assign, so we have to be as ruthless as possible right from this first pass.
At the same time, you need to give yourself options and the opportunity to compare similar images, so you will likely finish the first pass with a relatively large number of photos selected. After going through 1,452 images from 2018, after my first pass I had 120 images in my Collection.
To start to whittle this down, I created a second Collection called, you guessed it, Second Pass, and chose to initially simply copy all of the images from my first pass to this new collection. From this point on, I’m removing images, not adding, so I just hit the Delete key as I go through and make comparisons and gradually reduce my selection. Of course, inside a Collection, the Delete key only removes the images from the Collection. It doesn’t actually delete them from the hard drive, or even the catalog.
Attack the Packs
As I start my second pass, the first thing I do is look for groups of similar images. It’s highly unlikely that I will include more than one of the same or similar subject unless the photos are both very special, so I can be pretty ruthless as I look through images of, for example, winter trees, Red-Crowned Cranes, Sea Eagles, and Camels in dunes etc.
When the images are dispersed I hold down the Command key and select each of them, then ensuring I’m in Multi-View mode I can view the candidates together to see which are the stronger images. To me, out of this four it was easy to see that the bottom right image stood out from the group, so I removed the other three.
I finished my second pass having reduced the set of 120 images to just 44, almost one-third of my original selection, but to be honest, this is a pretty easy process, until this point, although it starts to get really difficult now that the list is condensed down this much.
There are still groups to attack, so the next thing I do is to see if I can just remove as many Namibia wildlife shots as possible, and I still have a number of images of the same subject or subject type, so these are obvious candidates, but they are still in the set because it’s really hard to remove them at this point. I’m actually about to be called for dinner, so my best course of action right now is to save what I have in my third pass folder and seak the advice of my trusted critique, my wife, after we’ve eaten.
A Day Later
OK, so it’s now a day later, and I sat with my wife after dinner last night, and went through my 44 images. I feel that having someone available to confer with, someone that you trust, but also that is able to give you honest feedback on your work is a vitally important part of this process. My wife gets almost sadistic pleasure out of telling me that she doesn’t like something when she doesn’t, but when she does like something, she’s equally as vocal, and I know it’s coming from the right place.
Having said that, we don’t agree on everything. Although her preferences are very much included in my final selection, she felt very strongly that I should include the shot of the dancing Himba because of the dynamism, and because it’s different from the work I often do. She also felt that I should remove the photos of the man in the well and the man in the adobe building from Morocco because I had these same two people in my top ten from last year.
While I completely agree with her, I really struggled with the idea of leaving the two images of the Moroccan men out, because I feel that they are strong images, and without a doubt in my mind, some of my best work from 2018. The dancing Himba image is strong too, but I feel that it’s slightly more removed from my style than the other two, and when I viewed the final ten that I worked on with my wife, I felt somewhat deflated, as though something was missing.
I’m a big believer in trusting our feelings with regards to sets of images. Whenever I’m whittling down a selection, I walk away from the computer for a while, then I watch a slideshow of my selection and literally take note of how I feel as each image appears on the screen. If it feels good to see the image, it should probably stay in, but if you detect a slight dip in your feelings, it’s a good sign that it should be removed.
I also really struggled with the White Rhino shot. I wanted so badly to leave this in out of respect for the people that are protecting these wonderful animals, and in protest against the poachers and people buying that horn for reasons that should never result in the death of such a magnificent creature.
As a statement, my heart is screaming to leave it in, but artistically, and because of the restrictions I’ve set for myself, to get this down to a final ten images, with a heavy heart I removed the White Rhino shot as well.
My 2018 Top Ten
And with that, we have my 2018 Top Ten photos, which I will share in a separate post next week, with a little information about each of the images.
This year’s process was, I think, more difficult than usual, and I was saddened not only by removing the rhino shot but also by the fact that so many of my Japan winter tour images bit the dust. I love those tours and the images that I get on them, and I wonder if part of the reason is just that the tours are so much more distant in time, and the images from more recent tours feel more familiar. Or is it just that I have so many images from my winter tours, that the newer locations I’m visiting are just naturally winning over.
Compare To Previous Years
Another thing that I like to do, is to browse through my previous year collections, just to see how I’m doing. I have a folder in Capture One Pro with my Top Ten Collections for every year since 2007, so this is the twelfth time I’ve done this, and although I learn from it each year, it really does seem to be getting harder to make the final choices.
I am also sitting here right now feeling incredibly fortunate and humbled as I browse through these years, and noticing how my work has changed. It has become so much more mature, as I’ve obviously matured as a photographer and a human being, over the last twelve years.
I doubt that anyone will be interested enough to take a look, but because all of my top ten posts are tagged with the word top ten, you can actually list all of my previous years’ posts with this link. Note though that there is no post for 2010, as I didn’t post it, although I did go back later and go through the selection process.
At some point, maybe when I’m so old that I find myself stuck indoors more than I’d like, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, I will go back and select a top ten for all years since 2000 when I started shooting digital. Maybe by then though I’ll have so many yearly collections that those extra seven years will seem completely insignificant.
Of course, you don’t have to have a number of previous year’s selected to make this a useful exercise. When I first started it back in 2007 I had nothing to compare myself to, but in 2008, I had a benchmark, and it only grows from then on. I guess what I’m saying is that you won’t have anything to look back on if you don’t start doing this, and this year is as good a starting point as any.
Share Your Work!
Whether it’s your first year, or your fifteenth, I’d love for you to share the results of your yearly top ten images by dropping a link into the blog post and also please do share your thoughts on the exercise, and anything that you may have learned from it.
If you haven’t done your top ten yet, how about setting about the task and then share your work next week, when I share my ten images? I truly do believe that this is an important exercise for us to carry out each year, and it always helps us to learn more about ourselves as creative artists.