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

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

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

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

Magical Forest

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

Magical Forest

Magical Forest

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

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

Revisit Old Shoots

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

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

The Catch

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

The Catch

The Catch

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

Himba Smile

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

Himba Smile

Himba Smile

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

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

Lone Wildebeest on Plain

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

Lone Wildebeest on Plain

Lone Wildebeest on Plain

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

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

Colorful Fes Alleyway

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

Colorful Fes Alleyway

Colorful Fes Alleyway

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

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

Camels and Handler in Sahara

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

Camels and Handler in Sahara

Camels and Handler in Sahara

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

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

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

Camel Handler with Camels

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

Camel Handler with Camels

Camel Handler with Camels

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

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

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

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

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

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

Moroccan Man in Well

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

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

Moroccan Man (Karim) in Well

Moroccan Man (Karim) in Well

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

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

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

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

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

Moroccan Man in Adobe Building

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

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

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

Share Your Own Work

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

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


Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Namibia 2013 Travelogue Part 5 (Podcast 376)

Namibia 2013 Travelogue Part 5 (Podcast 376)

Today we conclude what turned out to be a five part travelogue style account of my recent trip to Namibia. I’ve selected my last ten favorites to take a look at, and I’ll include a little background about my thought process while shooting. We pick up the trail on the evening of May 20 at Okonjima.

I think of all the accommodation we stayed at, the Kulala Desert Lodge and the last lodge at Okonjima were my favorites. Kulala was were we stayed when shooting the incredible red sand dunes and the Camel Thorn trees at Deadvlei, which we looked at in episode 373, part two of this series. It’s also where the staff sang to us every other night, which is the music I’ve been playing us in and out with for these episodes. The rooms at both lodges were incredible, the people were warm and welcoming, and the food was great. I could literally go back to either lodge and just spend a couple of weeks just hanging out, though that would be a bit of a waste with such great photography to be done on their doorsteps.

We’d driven a few hundred kilometers through the morning, and after settling into our rooms, we met our guide for the afternoon, who’s name was Previous! How cool is that!? Previous used a receiver to track the signal of a tracking device attached to some of the cheetahs in their reserve. The Okonjima reserve is actually the home of the AfriCat Foundation, which is involved in the research and rehabilitation of Namibia’s threatened wild cat population, which is why they have some of the cat’s tagged, but this does of course make it easier to find and photograph them.

Honestly though, the tagged cheetahs were very difficult to photograph in a position where the huge tracking device and collar was not spoiling the shot. As I shot this first image, their were three cheetahs sleeping on the ground not far behind me, but I gave up on waiting for the right moment in preference of getting a shot of this giraffe with the warm light of the sunset on its face and neck, and with the wildebeest in the background.

Giraffe & Wildebeest

Giraffe & Wildebeest

I ran this through Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro to bring out the texture a little, and this also gives the slightly out of focus background an almost primal feel, probably because I associate wildebeest with cave paintings, which I’ll talk about even more later, as we look at an image that almost is a cave painting. We went on to shoot the giraffe here against the setting sun, but I was a little underwhelmed with my resulting images. The sun was too harsh, and the silhouettes didn’t really work, but the memory was incredible. Previous kept telling us that no-one gets this close to the giraffes, and we were damned close. They were towering over us almost like dinosaurs, and the experience will stay with me forever.

Two Giraffes

Two Giraffes

Giraffe Pair

Giraffe Pair

A somewhat similar shot (above), here’s another photo looking back towards where the cheetah were, probably just out of the left of the frame here. I wanted to mention this shot more to talk about a technique that I often use when shooting with long lenses.

Here I was shooting with the 70-200mm lens with the 1.4X Extender fitted, and I’d pulled back as far as I could go, giving me a focal length of 98mm. The scene though was wider than I could zoom out, so I shot two photographs, and stitched them together in Photoshop. The result is a 16:9 aspect ration photo, so it will view perfectly on a widescreen display or TV. The thing to note here though is that even with wildlife, don’t rule out stitching images together if you don’t have the time to change lenses or remove an extender etc.

The next photo (right) is a closeup of two giraffe’s heads, which I thought worked better in sepia. The sun was down now, and the light so low that I had to increase the ISO to 3200 for this shot, at f/8. I needed to stay stopped down to f/8 so that the second giraffe was still acceptably sharp. You can see that it’s just starting to go soft, but it’s sharp enough for this to work, and it leaves no ambiguity as to which of the two giraffes is the main subject. Obviously the one that is looking straight at the camera is the star of the show here.

I shot this with my 300mm f/2.8 lens with the 1.4X Extender fitted. I was in wildlife shooting mode, so was using my Black Rapid Double Strap, with the 1D X and 300mm on one side, and the 5D Mark III with the 70-200mm on the other side. This makes switching lenses very easy, which broadens your shooting horizons in locations like this. With just one camera, I’d have lost shots while changing lenses here, without doubt.

That evening after dinner, we had the option to do a night game drive. I was totally whacked, but knew I’d regret not going, so I signed up for it. Straight out of the gate we saw this Spotted Eagle Owl. Initially he was in a different tree, with messier branches, but then he flew to a second tree, which is where I shot this. As you can see, we were shooting by the light from a spot light that the guide was shining on the animals. Because of this, the light would move around a lot, and we were also shooting at varying distances, so this was one of the rare occasions when I switched to Aperture Priority mode. When I use Aperture Priority I now also use Auto-ISO as this gives the camera more wiggle room. The ISO ended up at 16000 for this shot at f/4, but there is virtually no grain. Another tribute to the amazing technology we have these days.

Spotted Eagle Owl

Spotted Eagle Owl

The thing I don’t like about the automatic shooting modes is that I have to start to mess around with Exposure Compensation, and here I was down to -2 stops, because there was so much black in the frame, and I needed to stop the owl from being over-exposed, but because the light was changing as the driver wiggled the spot light around, I had to live with that. I left my White Balance on my default Daylight Preset, but then I changed this to Auto in Lightroom, and the results were quite neutral, so I went with that.

After the owl shot, we saw very little that would make a decent photograph, and we were out much later than we’d initially been told, so I was actually regretting going on this excursion, but then just before we started to head back, I got this shot of a heard of wildebeest as they ran to escape the spot light. There is a lot of subject movement here, but with the light shining in the wildebeest’s eyes, and the natural vignette, this is the photo that I mentioned earlier reminds me of a cave painting, so I quite like it.

Wildebeest Cave Painting

Wildebeest Cave Painting

With my fixation on sharpness, I sometimes have a hard job letting go, but I think this is one of those times that the artistic merit of the image is greater than the requirement for critical sharpness. I sometimes find this with panning shots too. I love to nail the sharpness on the head, but sometimes the slight softness can even add to the overall ethereal feel of the image, and therefore should never be ruled out without thinking of the artistic over technical accuracy.

The next day, we had another morning game drive, but the highlight of the day was late in the afternoon, when the guides took us to a corner of the reserve to photograph Wahoo, their old captive leopard. We were due to leave the following morning, and I get the distinct feeling that they’d kept this to the end of the last day, but that was OK. Wahoo was worth it.

We were lead into a hide with seats along a counter to rest our lenses on, and once we were all sat down and ready, the shutter was winched up, and almost like a circus peep show, Wahoo was released. After pausing for a second, he jumped up onto a strategically placed tree, to feast on the raw meat that had been placed on the branch on which we see him here. There were initially two pieces of meat, so as he ate the first, the second one just sitting there was so obviously just placed there, that I only shot a few frames until he’d finished the first bit. This shot was actually as he’d finished the second bit of meat and was considering jumping down.

Wahoo the Leopard [C]

Wahoo the Leopard [C]

Jeremy Woodhouse, the tour leader and I talked about this afterwards and we agreed that not only would one piece of meat have been better, it would be great if they could just stick an impala leg or something up there. Of course, that would take a long time to eat so may not be practical, but they are probably feeding him game anyway, so not that far-fetched an idea. Still, I like this shot. I had purposefully cropped in very tightly here, and you can also see how I placed the curvy branch along the bottom of the frame to anchor and frame the image.

I had a wider lens on my other camera, which I used for this next photo, where I pulled back a little, and included Wahoo’s tail. The sun had stopped shining directly on this beautiful leopard, so you can see the difference between the warm tones in the first image, and the cooler tones in this image. I adjusted my exposure accordingly, changing from f/5 for a 1/500 of a second at ISO 500, to f/5.6 for 1/320 of a second at ISO 1600.

Wahoo the Leopard [C]

Wahoo the Leopard [C]

Leopard Profile {C}

Leopard Profile {C}

I really just don’t think twice about increasing my ISO to this level any more, and as you’ve seen, even when you really push it now, there isn’t a lot to worry about, especially if you shoot to the right, with the data on the right side of the histogram, so that you record the image with the best use of the data distribution in the file. In a nutshell, more bits of data are allocated to the brighter end of the histogram, so the darker you allow the image to get, the more grain you’ll see.

Here’s one last shot of Wahoo before we move on. Once the blind was lifted, we were able to move around, so I’d been up and the hide a few times, and as Wahoo settled on the grass right in front of us, I kept him in the frame, capturing a few expressions, but my favorite by far is this profile, where we can see his deep head, beautiful facial markings and huge teeth, as he continued to chew on the last of the meat in his mouth.

If you are wondering about my ethical stance with regards to photographing captive animals, you might have already guessed that it doesn’t really both me at all, but that is based on the understanding that there is a good reason for the captivity. Wahoo is a rescued animal, and not able to fend for himself in the semi-wild larger enclosure at Okonjima. He has to be in this small enclosure, and so it would be a waste not to make him available for photography like this. One thing I like to do though, is mark images of captive animals with a {C} as you can see here.

After the Wahoo shoot, we went out to the vehicles, and the guides pulled out some cooler boxes, and made us drinks. Another one of those magical memories, I remember watching the sunset wrap the surrounding trees and distant hills with beautiful warm light as I sipped my deliciously over-strong gin and tonic.

The following day, the morning of May 22, was our last few hours of shooting before we had to start our drive to Windhoek airport and then fly back to Johannesburg to end the tour. Fighting the urge to just have a lie-in, we got up before sunrise one last time, and headed out for what would be really just a 90 minute shoot, hoping to see some cheetahs without the tracking devices around their necks.

Once again, I got the feeling that this had been held back until this last morning, but we were driven into a relatively small enclosure, where there were a number of young, un-collared cheetahs. They were relatively easy to find, here we see one of them just bathing in the warm sunrise light.

Sleepy Cheetah

Sleepy Cheetah

The light was still not that bright, so I was at ISO 800 for a 1/200 of a second exposure at f/8 for this shot. Within a few minutes, the color of the light had changed, and my exposure was set at 1/500 of a second at f/5.6, ISO 1000 for this last shot, which is literally the last image that I’ve chosen of the fifty that we’ve talked about over the last five episodes. There was just a few minutes left before we had to rush back to the lodge only to skip breakfast and shoot off to the airport.

Stalking Cheetah

Stalking Cheetah

The funny thing is though, a moment before this shot, a warthog decided it would be a good idea to go for a stroll through the grasses, and caught the cheetah’s attention. This was just as the cheetah saw the warthog, then in an instant he had two of them running after him at full sprint. Warthogs can move too of course, and although the trees soon obscured our view robbing us of the possibility of a shot, we saw that the warthog got away. I couldn’t help laughing though, wondering what must have gone through the warthog’s mind as he ran off. The poor guy looked like he was just going for a morning stroll when the chase started.

He must have wondered if he’d gotten out of the wrong side of his den as he found himself instinctively running for his life from two of the fastest predators on the planet. What’s even funnier is that we’d also seen warthog sneaking in to this relatively small compound through a hole they’d dug under the electric fence. It’s no wonder they’re one of the cheetahs favorite snacks if they are stupid enough to risk electrocution so that they can burrow into their arch enemy’s back yard.

Anyway, that’s it! That concludes what turned out to be a five part series covering my trip to Namibia. We’ve looked at fifty photos, and there are more in my portfolio here if you’d like to take a look at the full set.

Those of you that have followed me for a while may remember that when we found that pesky brain tumor exactly two years ago now, the first time I shed a tear was when I realized that I had not yet been to Africa. The fear of death was very real, but literally, the first thought that brought me to tears was the possibility of dying before I’d looked out across this beautiful land. The trip lived up to and surpassed everything I’d ever dreamed of with regards to Africa, so to finish, I’d like to thank my friend Jeremy Woodhouse from the bottom of my heart for making this possible. You rock Jeremy, and I can’t wait to work with you again.


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Show Notes

Martin’s 100 Namibia Impressions: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/portfolio/namibia/

Music used with kind permission from the staff of the Kulala Desert Lodge.


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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