Same procedure as last year… picking my top ten photos
Rarely do I ever look forward to a task I dread more than choosing my personal top ten photos. I sift through my Lightroom folders, relive interesting, beautiful, funny, and sometimes challenging moments, reevaluate projects, find myself surprised at how some instant favorites lost their charm in hindsight while some which seemed not very interesting at all at first glance now seem to be fascinating and much more creative — the same procedure as last year. But then, also like last year, there’s the part when I have to choose the top of the tops, the best of the pack. I started at 106 images and then went down to 67, 43, 16, and finally ten images. It is a painstaking process, and I just can’t let go of the feeling that I commit an act of severe injustice on the photos I remove from the collection – each and every time.
It should go without saying that the images I picked are different from the ones that you would have picked. If you follow me on FlickR or Instagram, then you will have seen photos that you like more than the ones I chose. Rest assured that I considered them, too, but at some point decided to drop them in favor of others. I did so for personal reasons. For instance, I don’t like postcard cliches and often (but not always) prefer photos which are slightly out of the ordinary and don’t fit too well into the mainstream. This doesn’t mean they are better than those. At best they are at times slightly excentric – if this can be said about photographs. With some images, the moment I experienced is close to my heart and therefore just as much a decisive factor as the photo itself.
To give you an idea of my thoughts and feelings and to make my choices a little more transparent, I will tell you the story of each image (very briefly, don’t worry) and of course present the picture itself.
Top Ten Photos 2018
Wax is an abstract and experimental series of photographs which explores the astoundingly varied structures, textures, patterns, and shades of one of the most ordinary items imaginable, a candle. I wrote a blog post about the series earlier this year, so, to avoid redundancy, I’ll just send you over there and show you the photo.
I picked this image over the others from the series because I have fallen in love with the structures and textures it contains. It also sparks a whole lot of associations. For instance, it reminds me of the stockings which are filled with Christmas goodies on so many countries in the world. And for some reason, I always think of Italy when I took the photo.
If you would like to see the other photos from the Wax project, please go to the corresponding Wax gallery page.
Primal Yawn #2
There are no words to describe how packed the visitors’ area in the orangutan house was. Kids, their parents, photographers with long lenses, mothers with buggies, seniors with walking canes were all competing for a good spot to get a glimpse of the apes. Almost everyone seemed to believe that they had priority access and that the other visitors just had no right to stand in their way. It was packed to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore. The best word to describe it is melee combat.
In this mess, I had decided to turn on image stabilization on my lens and used my tripod only as a monopod. Whereas usually I try to slow down and shoot less and more deliberately, here I could just shoot away quickly because sure enough, another person’s head or could inevitably move into the frame any given second.
This is precisely what happened when I saw Tuan put on his epic yawn. I could see him in between the heads of those standing before me, but I couldn’t get a clear line of sight for a photograph. So, in my desperation, I zoomed out to 150mm focal length which is the shortest my telephoto lens offers, activated autofocus, lifted the tripod to the point where I could reach the shutter button with my arm reaching up, pointed roughly into the right direction, and shot away blindly. I got a couple of frames before Tuan’s yawn ended. I am fortunate and pleased that I got this image under such difficult conditions. I have to be honest with you. I owe 90% of this image to sheer luck and the other 10% to the image stabilizer of my Tamron 150-600mm lens.
To read the entire blog post covering this shoot, please click here.
I took this photograph on the same day as the previous one. In fact, I had driven the 350km to Hamburg primarily to photograph Lions and only went to the orangutan house because I needed a break and some action after I had waited for more than 2 hours for the sleeping lions to wake up and do something unusual – which they finally did when I returned to them.
There’s no better place for photographing lions than the zoo in Hamburg. With a distance of only about 10-15 meters between the cats and the visitors and no glass or visible barriers whatsoever, the shots you get there are unrivaled in their clarity. This particular image isn’t called Lion Staredown coincidentally. In fact, I had my own little staredown duel going on with his majesty when I took this photograph (and quite a few others). I won’t tell you who won, but I admit that I was glad there is a broad and very deep ditch between us and I also felt no urge to look lift my head and look straight into the lion’s eyes without the lens in between us.
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex #29
Long exposure photographs of world heritage sites are bound to be iconic, aren’t they? This one is no exception. The clouds did me a great favor and flew in the right direction to give tower some sort of corona which to me is a vital component of the photograph’s impressiveness.
If you would like to see the other images from this impressive location, then you should go to the corresponding blog post.
This photo was also taken at the Zollverein coal mine. Not every corner of this site is tended and looked for. If you know where to go and look, you’ll find places that show beautiful signs of age and decay – an El Dorado for photographers. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get inside those buildings, but I was fortunate enough to find this window with a little help from my photo buddy Daniel Böttcher. I like how the shapes of the broken window panes, the shadows inside the building, and the old machines inside together look as if they were conceived by a cubistic painter.
Again, check out the blog post on the Zollverein World Heritage site if you haven’t done so already.
Beach Grass (Dunes #13)
I usually don’t go out to shoot a specific location at a hopefully perfect time with perfect light. Also, I typically don’t have preconceived ideas of what I am going to photograph. I am more of a hunter who shoots whatever interesting composition he finds on his way. This image, however, was sort of an exception. When I went to the beach of the German North Sea island of Amrum, I had precisely this image in my mind and therefore was extremely delighted when I found the perfect spot to photograph the image.
I remember setting up my tripod in the glistening sun for at least 10 minutes until I finally found the right angle. So much for the myth of harsh and direct sunlight being inferior to soft evening light. This photo wouldn’t have worked in this so-called “better” light. As I always say, there is no good or bad light. There’s just light which is better for some sort of images than for others. And it is the photographer’s job to seize the moment and make the best of the opportunities the given light offers to him.
For some reasons, my followers on Twitter had queer associations when they saw the image as a thumbnail in the FlickR stream. “exquisite…
(and a little sexy – but maybe that’s just me… 🙂 )”, one of them wrote in a comment. I have no idea what he is talking about… 🤔
I am particularly fond of this photograph because it features a very particular take on the subject. I like how the black silhouette of the dunes not only defines their shape but also supports the bright sunlit sand portion of the dune in shining brightly thus providing the context of a dune or beach landscape. It is unlike any beach photo I have ever seen before which is why it definitely belongs into this collection.
Three Street Lamps
Sometimes you can find exciting photos at very unlikely places, for instance at ferry harbors. I had gone there very early at about 6:30 am to photograph long exposures of some old poles sticking out of the water when I saw this frame. I still remember the confused looks of some other early risers as they saw me setting up my tripod and composing the shot. Beyond the edges of the frame, busses and traffic signs would have ruined the shot, so I didn’t have too many options in terms of composition.
This photo has an interesting backstory. I had just come home from a long walk on the beach when my son Mark showed me a sandbank through our apartment’s living room window. “Wouldn’t this be an interesting photo?”, he said. I certainly agreed, grabbed my photo gear, went into the bathroom where I had a slightly better angle on the scene, set up my tripod right above the toilet and took this 4.5-minute long exposure through the open bathroom window. It was fascinating to see how the sandbank got smaller literally by the minute during the exposure. I didn’t get the chance for a second shot. About one minute after the exposure had ended, the sandbank was gone, completely covered by the sea. I aptly called the photograph “Sparky’s Sandbank,” because Sparky is my son’s nickname.
Swaying Fishing Nets
This photo had a hard time making it on this list. I almost would have deleted it shortly after import. I didn’t like the motion blur on the fishing nets at first which was created by the movement in the water. But some of my friends told me that this motion blur made the photo special and gave it that extra bit of interestingness. So I kept the picture. And each time I looked at it, I liked it a little more. And when I managed to create this extremely delicate gray gradient in the water, the photo had won me over. Sometimes it is good to give a picture a little time.
More of the same
This concludes this year’s list of my top ten photos. I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did.
If you liked this, you might also want to check out my previous top ten lists: