Martin’s Personal Top Ten Photographs for 2021 (Podcast 765)

Martin’s Personal Top Ten Photographs for 2021 (Podcast 765)


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2021 is drawing to an end, and to be honest, in many ways I’m pleased to see this year fall into the past, and looking forward to a brighter 2022, although with my winter tours not possible, we aren’t going to get off to a great start. Still, my yearly top ten selection of my own images is an important part of my year, and I know that some of you listeners and readers enjoy this, so I’m sitting down on December 30 to go through my yearly ritual. Before we jump in on the top ten, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the year.

I can’t complain. I’m still alive, which isn’t something that 5.4 million others can say. I’m kind of amazed that the world has been in the grip of this virus for two years now, although experts did warn that it would probably take up to three years to get through this. I think my general optimistic tendencies just hoped we’d handle this better. The governments around the world seem to be handling things with varying degrees of incompetence. The Japanese government has actually done a reasonable job of getting more than 80% of the population vaccinated, although they are dragging their feet with the third vaccination. Luckily the people of Japan are far more intelligent than the leaders of the country, and our collective efforts have kept casualties relatively low, although again, people have lost their lives here too. My heart goes out to anyone that has fallen to the pandemic and to their loved ones left behind.

Apart from gaining even more unnecessary pounds through increased lack of exercise, I’ve gotten through the year healthy, considering I have a hole in my sphenoid bone that leaks cerebrospinal fluid if I take enough medication to shrink the remains of my brain tumor to the point that it no longer completely plugs up the hole. I did have a slight dance with the C-word this summer too. I had a hard growth on the side of my nose, near where my glasses perch themselves, and it grew pretty quickly, so I went to the hospital and they quickly whipped it off, then tests showed that there were cancerous cells in the tissue. The dermatologist told me it was what they call pre-cancerous solar keratosis, which would probably become a form of skin cancer if left to its own devices. I’m told that although I may get more, there isn’t really anything to worry about, and that suits me fine. There’s plenty of other stuff to worry about, and as a terminal optimist, I’m pretty good at not worrying too much about things that I have little control over.

I haven’t done so well not getting concerned about my lack of ability to travel and pursue my passion for landscape and wildlife photography. Apart from the much-needed visit to the Tatsusawa Falls in October, it seems that almost every time I try to plan something, the pandemic tightens its grip on us again, putting the mockers on my plans. I’d dearly love to go up to Hokkaido over the next month or two, and am still hoping it can happen, but watching the daily cases of the new omicron strain of COVID increase, I’m not sure it will be possible. Fingers crossed on that one.

Anyway, let’s have a look at my 2021 photographs. This is something that I’ve done each year since 2007, and you can actually see all of my posts on this with this link. I’m running a little short on time as I’ve had a few reports of issues with the software I’ve developed that have taken a bunch of the time I put aside to do this, so I’m not going to go into quite as much detail as I usually do. It’s also a pretty light year anyway, with my new passion of microscope photography somewhat dominating my selection, so we’ll whiz through this relatively quickly.

As usual, I started by creating a folder to drop my first pass of images into. As I work through the year I drop all of the images that I am happy with into a year folder in my Finals catalog, which I keep on a separate SSD to my main shoot drive which contains everything for the year. So far my most productive year was 2018 with 1452 images that I was happy with. For 2021 I have 333 images. The last time I had less than that was 2010 at 230 images, and all years from 2005 and earlier.

After my first pass through my images, I had 66 shots in my selection, and as you can see in this screenshot, it was a pretty colorful crop of images. I’m grateful that I was able to stay somewhat productive with microphotography. I honestly think I’d have gone insane this year if it wasn’t for the joy I found in the microscopic world. It actually reminded me of when I had a somewhat stressful day job and would find it relaxing to simply have the camera in my hand. I wasn’t always shooting the greatest images, but just the act of doing photography was stress-relief in itself.

First Pass 66 Images

After my first selection, I went through and removed all of the obvious offenders. I was never going to have four yellow flower shots, for example, but wanted to have another look at all four before picking one or throwing them all out. This was more difficult than I thought it would be, and that is why this is such a valuable exercise. Editing skills are important and although I do this regularly as part of my job, selecting your favorites from a year’s work is never easy, even when the year was as crazy as this one was.

I ended up with 32 images after my second pass. I’d just over halved my selection, but I was stuck to a degree on what to remove next. I was actually not looking forward to this process this year because it’s been such a dry year, but looking at this screenshot, I’m feeling a lot better. Despite the work lacking the grand landscapes and majestic wildlife that I hang my hat on, it’s still quality work in the most part. The difficulty now is in removing some of the images that I know are simply left in the selection for variety.

Second Pass 32 Images

I kept the more abstract yellow flower shot but the cherry blossom photo really does nothing for me. I can’t justify keeping it in the selection simply to show that I did more than the microscopy work. How I feel about an image as it comes onto the screen is an important indicator, and I feel a slight dip in my mood as that comes on screen, so out it goes. And, as bad as I feel removing it, the woodpecker shot doesn’t really cut the mustard either, so out that goes as well. I also removed the Shinjuku Eye photo from a few weeks ago. I like it, but it doesn’t do that much for me.

From an artistic perspective, as I got down to thirteen images, I decided that the plankton shot had to go too, and the black and white flowerhead shot seemed out of place at this point too. Compared to what’s left, I might as well remove the final abstract yellow flower shot, after all, leaving me with my final ten. That leaves me with just two real-world photos, and the other eight are microscope shots. Of those eight, only the scarab beetle is still something that could just about be seen with the naked eye. I’ll quickly walk you through the final selection before we wrap up for this episode.

We’ll look through these in chronological order rather than a ranking. This first image from the beginning of May was one of the first shots that started to really draw me into the microphotography world. These are citric acid crystals sandwiched between two polarizer filters, which causes these beautiful colors, and the rainbow colors that we’ll see in some of the following images as well. The flower of crystals here grew around a spec of fiber that had gotten onto the microscope slide, and kind of seeded the growth into this particular pattern.

Alien Flower Head (Polarized Citric Acid Crystals 100X)
Alien Flower Head (Polarized Citric Acid Crystals 100X)

The next image is one of my favorite sodium sulfite crystal shots. The colors are really appealing to me. This was also one of the first shots to show me the potential of these microscopic crystal formations. We’re looking at less than half a millimeter of the world here.

Monoliths' Salute (Polarized Sodium sulfite 400X 26 Frames)
Monoliths’ Salute (Polarized Sodium sulfite 400X 26 Frames)

The next image is another sodium sulfite crystal shot, looking like an explosion in space to me. The fact that we can imagine these forms to be pretty much anything is probably part of the attraction for me.

Sodium Sulfite Crystals (Polarized 100X 22 frms)
Sodium Sulfite Crystals (Polarized 100X 22 frms)

Here’s the scarab beetle I mentioned, which was shot with my stereo microscope as opposed to my compound microscope. I found this beetle dead at the bottom of my apartment steps, which ultimately became my preferred way to shoot insects, as I thought it probably would.

Scarab Portrait (15X 75 Frames Stereo Microscope)
Scarab Portrait (15X 75 Frames Stereo Microscope)

Here is the third and final sodium sulfite crystal shot, which I have actually minted on Foundation, so if you collect NFTs you can check that out on my Foundation page at https://foundation.app/@MBP/~/114844 If this sells for more than 1 Ethereum I’ll send you a large format print as a thank you!

The Mole Biplane (Sodium sulfite 400X 23f)
The Mole Biplane

This next shot is one of my wife’s kindly donated gray hairs, which I also sandwiched between two polarizers to create these wacky colors. This was a massive 206 frame focus stack to get the entire knot in focus.

Grey Hair Polarized (200X 206 Frames)
Grey Hair Polarized (200X 206 Frames)

The next image was another eye-opener for me, as I looked at thinly sliced cross-sections of the stem or peduncle of a cucumber to find these vascular bundles. They were stained with light green, as they are almost completely transparent without a bit of stain to help us see them. You can also see the tiny chloroplasts in the cells, which I also got a great higher magnification shot of, but resisted included it in my final selection.

Vascular Bundles in Peduncle of Cucumber (100X 30f Light Green Stain)
Vascular Bundles in Peduncle of Cucumber (100X 30f Light Green Stain)

Back to the real-world, here is one of my shots of the Tatsusawa Falls from my October trip that also contributed to keeping me sane this year. These really are beautiful falls and I’m so pleased that I was able to get out there this year.

Tatsusawa Falls
Tatsusawa Falls

Here is another real-world shot, which is one of my favorites from a visit to our local park while the autumnal color was gracing us with its presence.

Yin & Yang
Yin & Yang

And finally, we travel down into The Abyss, which is actually the microscopic gap between two citric acid crystal formations.

The Abyss (400X 8 Frame Stack - Citric Acid Crystals)
The Abyss (400X 8 Frame Stack – Citric Acid Crystals)

OK, so that’s my top ten for 2021. A very different year from previous years, but as my selection shows, microscope photography is probably here to stay as one of my chosen photographic genres. That’s not to say that I’m not chomping at the bit to get back out into the field, but under the circumstances, I’m relatively happy with the year.

As usual, I invite anyone who has selected your own top ten to leave a comment and share your work with me and the rest of the audience. And finally, a huge thank you to our new Patreon supporters Larry, Char, and Paul, who, along with the rest of the patrons are awesome supporters of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast!

So we’ll wrap up there. All the best for 2022!


Show Notes

Check out previous year’s Top Tens here: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/tag/top-ten/

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Martin’s Personal Top Ten Photos For 2019 (Podcast 692)

Martin’s Personal Top Ten Photos For 2019 (Podcast 692)

A very Happy New Year to you, as we dive into the third decade of the 21st century, I’ve spent a few days returning to my 2019 Top Ten selection, and whittled it down to what I consider to be my favorite 10 images for the year. It was a tough process, as usual, but I’ve talked about the process itself at length almost every year since 2007, so I’m only going to skirt over that with a few thoughts today.

The thing that I found most difficult about this year is that I have done all of the tours that I did in 2019 many times, so it was difficult to find images that felt relatively fresh, but most of what I have ended up with has at least a small element of freshness, for one reason or another. For notes on the selection process I’ve put a grid of previous year’s podcasts at the end of this post, so check out some of them if you are interested.

We’ll work through the top ten images in chronological order as I don’t necessarily want to order them any further than including them in this list. This first image is from my Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour which I will be starting for this year on the day that I release this podcast. These are the falls behind the hotel that we stay in for the first three days, as we travel around Biei making mostly minimalist photographs of the snow-covered hills and trees.

I love the work from this trip, but because I’ve shared it many times I decided to include this shot which is not what I would call minimalist in the least. There’s lots of detail and 24mm a much wider focal length than I often shoot on this trip. That in itself is one of the things that felt fresh at this location for me. I usually prefer going in close, picking out details, and that’s probably why I found this somewhat refreshing.

Shirahige Falls
Shirahige Falls

This next image is from my Japan Winter Wildlife Tour and one that is probably the closest to the sort of work that I usually shoot, but I couldn’t help but leave this in my selection. You probably won’t appreciate the reason for that at the Web size for the images, as I found myself unable to remove this after going through the images on a 54-inch 4K TV screen as I shared my final 24 images with my wife to get her opinion and help me to whittle down to the final ten.

Misty Awakening
A crane flaps its wings in the mist at dawn

This shot really came to life on a big screen, which is hardly surprising because the details need to be viewed larger to really understand what’s happening. As with a large print though, images can come to life when viewed large, and that right there is part of the appeal of large format prints to me as well.

The next image is also from my Winter Wildlife Tour and I was attracted to this more than anything by the serendipity of owl’s attention being caught by the scratching of the nuthatch that was scuttling around on the side of the tree. The owl wouldn’t have been able to see the small bird from its vantage point, so it must have been the sound that alerted it to the nuthatch’s presence.

Ural Owl and Nuthatch
Ural Owl and Nuthatch

The following image has remained my favorite of a series of three images that I cropped down to a 4:5 ratio, all of the same pair of Red-Crowned Cranes dancing together at the end of the day. It was so late by the time I shot this that I had to pump my ISO up to 8000 at f/11 to get this shot at a 1/400 of a second shutter speed, which is what I needed to freeze the movement.

Dancing Cranes 2019 #3
Dancing Cranes 2019 #3

I suppose I’m also including a few points for the technology as well, as this image would simply have not been possible even just a few years ago. The only problem with shooting wildlife in this level of light is that you have virtually no chance to get a catchlight in their eyes, and I don’t like to use flash for that purpose, but I think the form of the birds and the minimalist white on white look that I love still makes for a shot that I find very appealing.

That’s also what I like about the next image, shot three months or so later, in Walvis Bay in Namibia, during my Complete Namibia Tour. We were treated with a beautiful morning mist that I’d expected to burn off quite quickly but which actually hung around for over an hour. The very pale pink of the flamingoes against the mist and water in this highly diffused morning sunlight was lovely to watch and photograph.

Flamingoes in the Mist
Flamingoes in the Mist

The reflections were a little bit ripply but defined enough to form a pleasing additional dimension that basically disappears if the wind gets up any higher. The mist was again cutting out a lot of light, forcing me to work at ISO 5000 for this image for an 1/800 of a second at f/10. I like to keep a reasonably small aperture for these shots, as the depth of field is too shallow for multiple subjects if you open it up much more than this.

At the end of the same day, we were back out on the beach, enjoying the fact that the EOS R has an articulated LCD so that I could drop the camera down literally to water level to capture the beautiful salmon pink tones of the setting sun behind the flamingoes that were gathering in larger numbers now to spend the night in a group.

Heads-up! Sun-Down
Heads-up! Sun-Down

Also gaining protection from being in groups, the Zebra in the Etosha National Park played a large part in my photography last year. I love this shot of a young zebra merged into his dazzle doing just that as they made their way across the planes. This area was a rarity with a reasonable amount of vegetation, albeit very dry. Most of the rest of the park was very baron in 2019 as the country struggled with a particularly bad drought.

Infant Zebra
Infant Zebra

I love taking my zebra shots into black and white, as I think it helps us to concentrate on the graphic appeal of these beautiful black and white Equidae. That’s just a lucky bonus for the photographer really, but of course, the zebra need their stripes to confuse the likes of this guy in my next photo.

I have had this image as the desktop background on my iMac Pro for most of the last six months since returning from Namibia, and absolutely love the serenity of this lion as he snoozes in the morning sun, also in the Etosha National Park, Namibia. I find it amazing that these animals are so similar to their cousins that share houses with millions of humans the world over, despite them weighing probably 80 to 100 times more than those cousins.

The Lion Sleeps Today
The Lion Sleeps Today

Still, it’s always a privilege to get so close to these magnificent big cats, and I was particularly happy that this guy was on a slope, allowing me to get a shot from a vehicle that looks like I’m much lower. This is a special bonus in Etosha as you aren’t allowed out of the vehicle at all. You might think that getting out of the vehicle around lions is not a good idea anyway, but that makes me recall having to get out and push our car out of the sand when we got stuck leaving the dry Hoanib Riverbed a number of years ago, while listening to the lions behind the vehicle, hoping that they preferred the taste of the giraffe they were feeding on to overweight humans.

The final two shots were from a trip to Mie Prefecture in December 2019 to photograph these two rocks in the sea that are connected with a large rope by the Shinto Shrine on the shore just to the right of the rocks. They are called Meoto Iwa, with Iwa meaning rock, and Meoto, in this case, means husband and wife. I’m not sure that I like the idea of a husband and wife being tied together, but the sentiment is harmless and the shrine is supposed to help people find a partner, so it’s all connected, like the rocks themselves.

Meotoiwa - Him and Her Rocks
Meotoiwa – Him and Her Rocks

I’ve had this location on my wish-list for a number of years, and my friend Ulana Switucha has a lovely shot of these that had caught my eye too, so I decided to have a few days out of the office in December to go and shoot them. The two rocks in this image are, in my opinion, nicer to look at from this angle, so I chose this EOS R photo over a closer image that I shot shortly after on medium format film with my Rolleiflex TLR camera, which has too wide a lens to shoot from this angle.

Having this final image that was shot on the Rollei though seems like a fitting way to end the series, as I also ended the year being somewhat consumed by a revival in my passion for film photography. It’s been exactly twenty years since I switched to digital and almost instantly stopped shooting film. I remember shooting my second camera on film briefly on my first visit to Hokkaido in the winter, as I only had one DSLR, and even compared to my Canon EOS 10D, 35mm film didn’t really cut it, but the images that I’m getting on medium format with the new Rolleiflex and the film and chemicals I’m using have been blowing me away.

It’s not just about the resolution of the images though. I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming more comfortable with developing my own film at home since getting the revolutionary Lab-Box and with Fujifilm re-releasing their Neopan 100 Acros II film and me also finding Rollei RPX film, I’m kind of in film heaven at the moment.

Sea, Rocks, and Cormorant
Sea, Rocks, and Cormorant

The final photo for my series is a two-minute exposure shot on Neopan Acros II, with a cormorant that stayed almost completely still for the entire two minutes, which I thought was very nice of him. I love the soft quality of the light in this image, and how the horizon line is barely distinguishable from the sky. I’m also really pleased that Neopan has not lost its ability to create beautiful deep blacks as it got reborn as a Mark II film. Without the color information, there is no easy way to mess with the feel of the image either, so I’m very happy that I have been able to create work that matches much of the minimalist work that I find so appealing.

I’m not sure how much of it I’ll have time to shoot, but I’ve just packed twenty-five rolls of film into my bag to take with me on the Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour that I will be on by the time most of you listen to. I’ll be shooting digital as well, just in case it all goes pear-shaped for any reason, and of course, with only a 75mm lens to work with, there will only be a certain number of locations that will work, but I’m going to try really hard to make other scenes that I’m already familiar with work on this format. I think it’s become a bit of a personal challenge too, but it’s really just a lot of fun, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

MBP Film EXIF Updater

One last thing that I wanted to point out is that I have just about finished the script that I’m creating to provide a command-line interface for updating the EXIF information in my film images. Of course, it uses Exiftool from Phil Harvey on the back end, but I’ve created something quite sophisticated to walk through the process of tagging scanned film in a number of ways, and hope to be able to release it as a product for sale very soon. I’m not going to charge a lot for it, but it’s been a lot of work and will require more work to refine and maintain, so free doesn’t really work for me.

Anyway, the point is, if you click on the final image and take a look at the shooting information, you’ll see that my site is reading the shooting data just as it does my digital images, and that was my main motivation in creating the script. I really wanted to be able to record this information in the image easily. I’m also tagging the images with the time, so they sort correctly along with my digital work, and that was also important to me.

As I mentioned, here is a grid of all the previous year’s top ten selections and the episodes on the selection process itself, which I find to be a great learning experience and practice for creating small selections of images, for both personal and professional scenarios. Check out these earlier posts if that interests you and you haven’t heard my thoughts on this already.

As usual, if you have your own top ten posted online, or your own thoughts on the process, please do comment below and include a link. I did a terrible job of following up on this last year, and hope to be better this year, but I will get to it at some point, so please do post, and feel free to comment on each other’s work as well.

In the meantime, I’m off to Hokkaido and I have not been able to create anything for release next week, so unless we get any serious downtime during the trip, I will be back in two weeks. All the best for 2020, and I’ll see you on the flipside.

Click here to view previous yearly top ten archives.


Show Notes

See previous year top ten episodes here: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/tag/top-ten/

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.