The same procedure…
As always at this time of year, I have sat down and reviewed this year’s work to select the top of the crop, my ten best photographs in 2020. This is a good practice that I have learned from Martin Bailey. As usual, the selection process was difficult and time-consuming. Now, I am happy to present them to you in this blog post.
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex #37
If I had to choose only one favorite photo out of these top ten photographs, then this would be it. It was one of those moments when all stars aligned, and all the powers of fate smiled down favorably: The people on the escalator raising their cellphone at just the right moment, the sun breaking through the clouds just in time to make the reflection of the conveyors and trees behind the viewer visible, yet allowing for enough transparency in the glass to let the viewer see what’s behind, thus providing just enough recognizable detail without giving away too much of the structure for it o lose its mystery.
For those viewers who don’t shy away from complex imagery and who enjoy the process of decoding it, this photograph is a visual riddle that provides quite a few minutes of enjoyment. Click here to check out more images from this shoot.
Ice Entity #6
This shot is a part of the Ice Entities, a series of abstract macro photos that show strange beings hidden in a frozen and cracked puddle’s structures. It is safe to say that this series’s images were only possible because of the Nikon Z6 I had purchased two months before. The combination of high ISO performance and IBIS allowed me to photograph downwards with outstretched arms with fast shutter speeds, allowing for sharp images in the waning late afternoon light. The Ice Entities have won 3rd place in the Monovisions Awards 2020 in the abstract category. You can view the whole series here.
Misty Morning #3
I took this photo on the Hoheward spoil tip, where I originally wanted to photograph the quite sci-fi-looking horizon observatory at dawn. It was only when I reached the top of the hill that I realized the haze covering the whole area and creating this beautiful layering, especially when you looked eastward into the rising sun. Time and conditions complemented each other almost magically, and I was lucky to get the opportunity to photograph it. I took three pictures. This one features the most interesting combinations of elements standing out of the haze.
Technically, I used a tripod and my 70-300mm zoom lens to focus on faraway objects. I also didn’t care about the contrast and exposed for the highlights instead, knowing that I would get this beautiful layering right later in post. Here is the rest of the images from this day.
Tiger & Turtle #14
The Tiger & Turtle Magic Mountain is a well-known landmark in the western Ruhr Valley. Being this popular, it is no wonder that it has been photographed countless times before. I created this image in my desperate and most likely futile attempt to photograph the landmark from a new angle. As you can see, it is all about the framing and a little bit of Photoshop for the gradient in the background. The result is an almost abstract shot that excludes just enough of the surrounding structure for the remaining portion of the stairs to appear mysterious. Making the viewer ask questions without providing obvious answers is an excellent method to increase an image’s interestingness.
This photo is the first of two animal portraits in this year’s Top Ten. I went for a more classic approach in this image as far as the pose and composition are concerned.
It is another picture that was only possible because of many factors coming together. The light, the animal’s pose, and patience, the eye contact, my distance from the subject, the low number of other zoo visitors around – all of these play a vital part in creating this photograph. The result is one of the most elegant and flawless animal portraits I have made so far, which is why I included it in this collection.
A while ago, I purchased three Cala Lillies to photograph them in my little improvised studio. Knowing hardly anything about lighting, I planned to use my son’s lighting gear (he has a couple of softboxes for his stop motion experiments) to experiment and learn a little. I didn’t expect this kind of study to generate any presentable results. To my surprise, however, it did. This particular photo has a minimalist approach to it, with only one blossom and a simple background. I only used two light sources: A Manfrotto LED light positioned behind and below the flower and some ambient light from a small window and the computer screen behind my back. Setting up the strongest light sources behind a flower creates a semi-translucent look that helps bring out subtle details in the petals.
This photograph illustrates the meaning of the famous Minor White quote, “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.” While this clearly is a Calla lily photo, the shape of it resembles a hummingbird in flight. This, and the petals, which resemble flapping wings, cannot be unseen once they have been perceived as such by the viewer. This moment of recognition contributes positively to the experience of seeing (and hopefully enjoying) this photograph.
When Michael Kenna says that he seeks to give his images a haiku-like quality, he means that he works suggestions, not descriptions. He leaves a lot of open space, not only visually in the frame but also in the story for the viewer to fill in. He often prefers to only hint at visual elements instead of showing them entirely or in super-fine detail in his work. The viewer can then step in and interpolate the gaps with his own imagination, which may sometimes be fed by his own memories. In the viewer’s mind, the image becomes at least in part his own work.
This image is the fourth photo I have taken of a watusi, so it makes complete sense that I was looking for a different approach when I took it. With Kenna’s idea of haiku-like photography in mind, I used the strong backlight to create a minimalistic chiaroscuro, concealing more of the animal than it reveals. It is up to you, the viewer, to add what is missing in your imagination.
Lighthouse at Night
This photo represents one of my very few forays into night photography. I took it when I stepped out of my apartment onto the terrace to get a little fresh air before going to sleep. When I noticed the exceptionally clear night sky, I knew I had to photograph it. I used my 50mm prime at f/1.8 with an exposure of 1 second at ISO 1000. The tricky part was to get the timing right for the light beam to point sideways. It took five exposures before I finally got this one.
They say it is not the camera that takes the pictures but the photographer. I agree. The gear, however, is not entirely irrelevant. Suppose it introduces useful features that remove technical hassles from the creative process. This way, it can help reintroduce playfulness into the process and take creativity to the next level.
This photograph is one of the two images in this set that remind me of the importance of timing. I have three different exposures of this scene, all taken in quick succession. The only noteworthy difference between them is the amount of visibility of the couple as they are emerging from behind the dunes. But only this exposure tells the story of two people approaching from afar the way I want it. Each moment we photograph is unique, so it is always good to consider when to press the shutter button.
Simplicity and minimalism – this is pretty much what this photo is all about. You can find this notion in the low number of visual elements, and in the way the tips of the plants, respectively their reflections ever so silently imply a triangle, my favorite visual shape in photography. Can you not see it? Just connect them with straight lines and see what you get.
Furthermore, what appeals to me in this image are the very subtle deficiencies in the water. These are created by the surface of the water and by me in post because I added grain and contrast. In modern times, when everybody strives for visual perfection, this decision may seem somewhat unusual or even unfortunate. To me, however, it proves what I have always said: There is beauty in imperfection.
So this is it. If you like what you have seen here, you might enjoy watching the slideshow below. Just grab your drink and click “Play.”
It is also worth mentioning that all of the images here are available as fine art prints. If you are interested, please use the contact form in the menu to message me.
I am always interested in seeing other photographers’ work. So, if you have selected your own top ten photographs from 2020, please share a link down in the comments. I hope you are just as happy with your images as I am with mine and I wish you all the best for 2021.