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

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.


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.


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

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.


My 2014 Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 455)

My 2014 Top Ten Photographs (Podcast 455)

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Clearance

Waiting for Clearance

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

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

Search for Prey

Search for Prey

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

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

Angel Wings

Angel Wings

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

Steller's Sunrise

Steller’s Sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

Jewel on the Shore

Jewel on the Shore

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

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

Skógafoss (Falls)

Skógafoss (Falls)

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

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

Choushi Ohtaki Waterfall (Higher Perspective)

Choushi Ohtaki Waterfall (Higher Perspective)

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

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

Towada Lake Jetty 2014

Towada Lake Jetty 2014

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

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

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

Dahlia #3

Dahlia #3

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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.


Selecting My 2013 Top Ten Favorite Photos (Podcast 404)

Selecting My 2013 Top Ten Favorite Photos (Podcast 404)

Now into 2014, I thought I’d carry on my tradition of selecting my favorite ten photos from the previous year, and I found the process so difficult this year, that this is what we’ll discuss today, as I believe this is something that we can all learn from, especially if you decide to do this with your own images too.

I know that I’ll be repeating myself to a degree here, as I do this every year, but I always learn so much from the process, that I like to share it with you. Unlike other years though, this time, I’m going to concentrate much more on the selection process, and then just include the top ten for you to look at, rather than explaining about each image, as I’ve already spoken about these images in earlier episodes from 2013.

If you recall from previous episodes, I always copy what I can my Finals, or my final selects, to a new folder for each year, so as the years go by, I can always go back and look at what I thought was my best work for each year. Because I do all of my initial rating in my original RAW file folders, I can also go back to my library and select a year, and show only 5 star images, and automatically get the same set of images. How you do this will depend on how you archive your own images of course.

My New Rating System

I should also clarify that my Finals folder contains images that although aren’t necessarily portfolio class, I consider them good enough to show people or put forward to be considered for inclusion in my Offset stock library now. Until now I’ve marked these images with 5 stars, not because they’re amazing, it’s just been my system so far.

From 2014, I’m going to change this so that my Finals are now four stars, and my portfolio images will be five star. Three stars are now images that I need to keep in my Finals folder, but that are not necessarily images that I want to show people. Two star images are my originals. For example, if I take an image into Silver Efex Pro and create a black and white version, I mark the original RAW file with two stars now, and keep it with the Final copy. One star images are images that I initially selected after my shoot, but then decided not to use.

For example I might have had five or six similar images, and just needed to mark them initially until I drill down to a finer selection, which I do by filtering on the higher star number, and then demoting the images by reducing the star rating removes them from my view. I call this now one star rating my “once great” images, and just like to leave the stars there so that I can go back and see what I though were good enough to at least think about including at one point. All other images have no stars assigned.

Selecting my Top Ten

So, to start the process of selecting my 2013 top ten images, I go to my Finals folder for 2013, I start my first pass. I know that throwing in too many images is going just make the process longer, so I’m very critical as I go through the folder. I create a collection in Lightroom called “2013 Top Ten First Pass”, and make that the Target Selection, so all I have to do is hit the “B” key to add an image to the collection. My 2013 Finals folder contains 359 images that I was happy to show people. From those after my first pass my selection stood at 40 images, which we see here in this screenshot (below).

2013 First Pass 40 Images

2013 First Pass 40 Images

Once I had this selection of 40 images, the next thing I did was to start to reduce the selection down in groups. For example, I had 2 sand dune shots from Namibia that were similar, so I chose which of the two I preferred. I also decided to remove all three snow monkey shots. I wanted to consider them, so I added them to my initial selection, but with a total of forty in that initial selection, I knew they weren’t going to make the cut, as they definitely aren’t my best snow monkey shots when compared with previous years.

Once you get to this point, and you already have a fresh understanding of what’s in the selection, it’s not hard to reduce the selection to around half based on just knowing that the image you are looking at simply doesn’t excite you as much as some of the others. In two more quick passes I was able to reduce the 40 to the 21 images that we see here (below).

2013 Second Pass 21 Images

2013 Second Pass 21 Images

It’s from this point that the process starts to get really hard. For me at least I can get a year of images down to this shortlist relatively quickly, but this last part really takes a lot of time. Every image in this last 21 is very special to me for one reason or another.

Emotional Roller-Coaster

I’m still relatively happy with my other selected images, but to be honest, even though I try to be very selective after a trip or shoot to only add the very best shots to my Finals, and I always give it some time for the initial excitement to die down, I find that I really like my images for a month or two after the trip or shoot, but then once a few months have passed I start to think that some of the images aren’t that special after all.

I think the thing is that for me, the gap between the excitement I feel about new work and work that is a few months old is so great that I sometimes even feel as though I dislike some of my images for a while. The strange thing is though that after that dip, I often start to like the images again, so I don’t remove shots from my final selections even if I don’t like them that much for a while. If I don’t come back around, I sometimes remove images after six months or a year or so, but I’m on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster with regards to how I feel about my images until that point.

Reflection on 2013

So, after getting down to my 21 images over the weekend, and not being able to reduce past that after a few more looks through the selection on Sunday evening, I left this final stage until the morning of the day that I have to record and release this Podcast episode.

As I write this I literally just sat at my desk and watched the images in a slideshow on my iMac screen, and suddenly I’m sitting here once again thinking how fortunate I am to be living this life. I was able to visit two of my bucket list countries last year, and now I’m faced with having to cut this 21 images more than half to just 10! It’s a wonderful problem to have, and this reflection on the previous year is another reason that I love to go through this exercise.

Continuing to work in groups, I had three sea-eagle shots, so I removed two, leaving just one. I also had multiple Namibia wildlife shots, so I initially removed the Springbok shot, as although I like it, the Cheetah shot wins out. I left the elephant’s ass shot in for now, as I love the mood of that sepia image. The Milky-Way shot went too. There were two whooper swan shots left, so I removed one of them.

At this point, I still had seven shots from Iceland left, so I got these seven up in Survey view and started to think of which ones of my children I was going to shoot. An obvious first place to look was which of the two similar waterfall shots I’d remove. After that though, I was stumped for a while. As much as I love the Aurora shot too, it was in the selection more because it represents the realization of a childhood dream rather than artistic merit, so it had to go.

Iceland Shortlist

Iceland Shortlist

Now at 14, I’m still struggling with my Iceland selection. I started to look at the two black and white landscapes, and although I wanted to go with the abandoned farmhouse, the surfboard on the beach shot just grabs me by the heart, so the decision was made. At 13, I decided to remove the Namibia sand dune shot, which took me to 12 images. Jeez this is hard!

2013 Top Twelve

2013 Top Twelve

At this point, I went back to my slideshow mode. I use the Lightroom Slideshow a lot when trying to whittle down my selection of Final images from a shoot too. At this point, I’m looking for a slight change in how I feel as the slides progress. If the next image comes up and I feel a dip, it’s an indication that the image isn’t as good as the last, and therefore should be considered for removal. Conversely, if I feel more excited about the next image, the previous one may have to go.

With this, I removed the image of the copse of trees on the hill from Hokkaido, and the last one, which was a long exposure of Mount Fuji from Hakone. I love both shots, but I dipped slightly as these came on the screen, compared to the rest, so I now have my 2013 top ten. I’ll add them at the end of this post for you to take a look at.

I hope you enjoy looking at the images, and hearing about my selection process. I know that a lot of listeners have started to do this each year with your own work, and I always enjoy looking at your shots when people let me know that they’ve done this. If you go through this process, do post a link in the comments of the blog post, so that we can all check out each others images. Also let me know if you learned anything by doing this, as it is such a valuable process.

What Did I Learn?

In addition to being incredibly thankful for being able to make these images in the first place, selecting my top ten really helps me to understand which images really work better for me. It also shows me that I seem to have appreciated my Namibia and Iceland work more than my Snow Monkey and Hokkaido work this year. That’s not surprising, as I have been traveling to the Snow Monkeys and Hokkaido for much longer, and I already have in the most part much better shots from previous years. Namibia and Iceland were totally new experiences. That does make me happy too though, that I was able to be productive in totally new environments.

This also tells me though, that I am probably making my Snow Monkey and Hokkaido selections based on this years images, wanting to select something because I made the images, but I’m not really adding to much to my portfolio if I don’t rate the resulting images over my existing work. More images would make say a 40 image portfolio of course, but under these restrictions, they don’t make the grade, and that’s important to know.

What that makes me want to do is not only be more critical with this year’s work, but also to try harder to come home with some images that beat what I already have. This of course depends very much on weather conditions and the wildlife that we encounter, but there’s a fire in my heart now, so I want to see what I can do with that.

OK, so here are my top ten images for 2013–remember to click on the images to view them larger than the embedded images, and you can navigate around with your mouse or keyboard arrow keys.

My 2013 Top Ten!

Pensive Power

Pensive Power

Seven Swans

Seven Swans

Quiver Tree Sunrise (with Moon)

Quiver Tree Sunrise (with Moon)

Deadvlei Silhouettes

Deadvlei Silhouettes

Relaxed Cheetah

Relaxed Cheetah

Elephant's Ass

Elephant’s Ass

Gullfoss (Falls)

Gullfoss (Falls)

Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar

Surfboard

Surfboard

Vík í Mýrdal Church

Vík í Mýrdal Church

Housekeeping

Before we finish I wanted to quickly mention that if you missed our old Podcasts page that I took down over Christmas and the New Year, it’s now back. I’ve created a redirect so your old link will work, but the new page, now under the Links menu above, has much of the functionality of the old one, but I’ve added a few different new views, and it’s all under this WordPress blog, so the look and feel is much more consistent now too.


Show Notes

The new Podcasts archive page with a  number of new views:
https://martinbaileyphotography.com/podcasts/

Music by UniqueTracks


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.