It’s that time of year again when I take a good long lock back at my photographic work of the year that has just passed. Originally, I was encouraged by Martin Bailey to go through this process each January. Now it is the third time I did this. And even though making the necessary choices that come with picking the top ten from the several thousand photos that are taken these days each year can be very hard sometimes, it always turns out to be a very rewarding process.
I have already written about the benefits of this work in last year’s blog post, so to prevent redundancy, I’ll just link you to it here so that you can read about those benefits there. Today, I’ll just say that it is a bit like looking at your work from a higher altitude so that you can make out grander developments as well as further refine your personal criteria for good photography, aka personal style.
A different editing process
In recent year I have never thought much about my personal favorites or my top ten selection throughout the year. Sure, I had marked my favorites and selected the images that I would share on social media (on photo almost every day on FlickR!), but that was it. Very often, I would begin another shoot before I had finished editing or processing previous ones. When the time came to start the top ten selection process, I would go through every folder in Lightroom and collect images that I responded to emotionally into a „First Pass“ collection and then narrow things down from there. As you can imagine, this is a very time-consuming process, even more so because my day job tends to put an extra amount of work onto my shoulders in December and January.
So, for 2017, I decided to try a different editing process. It goes hand in hand with 2016’s new year’s resolution: Shoot less, but better. This approach entailed photographing more deliberately, more thoughtfully. This approach has a decisive advantage: It forces you to develop more precise criteria for „successful“ photos, Criteria that made picking my favorites from each shoot as well as the rejects much faster and easier. What this means is that I was pretty aware of which images would end up in my first selection right away. It also meant that the number of shots in my first pass collection was considerably smaller in 2017 than in previous year. This year I started out with only 43 images. And even better, I had already decided on five pictures that would end up in the final selection.
Here’s a screenshot of my first selection.
For an image to be included in the 2016 collection it had to meet the following criteria:
- It had to be monochrome as I had decided to focus on black & white photography exclusively. So, all the color images had to go, regardless of how beautiful they are.
- It had to be innovative compared my previous body of work. This criterium ruled out many animal portraits. I have created hundreds of them in recent years. They might be beautiful, but they are also a little repetitive.
- It had to be technically perfect and aesthetically beautiful – according to my taste.
Round two – the final selection
Now I’d like to share my top ten selection with you along with some thoughts on why I picked it and why I dumped other images.
The first image in my selection is this portrait of a tiger.
While it may not be the most innovative animal portrait on the planet, it has made the collection because of its visual quality and the sheer intensity of the eye contact.
At the same time, keeping the tiger meant ditching several other animal portraits. The pelican is indeed posing wonderfully, but I haven’t been able to remove the vertical stripes in the dimly lit background. The cheetah still needs some work along the edges where it ought to blend in nicely into the darkness. The fish the kudu and the orangutan are almost perfect, but they have some minor sharpness issues, at least compared to the tiger. Sometimes small problems can help to make an otherwise nearly impossible decision happen.
I knew I wanted to have one of the two gorilla shots in my collection. The ape has a unique facial expression in both images. I decided to go with The Look because I find the way I was able to simulate the lighting in post-processing is better than in the other gorilla shot.
I have taken many lion portraits over the years, but this one is special because of the lioness’s expression and pose as well as the storytelling that comes with humanizing these portraits always seem to inspire. The other lioness photo had to go because the lioness struck a more ordinary pose than in „Looking Up.“
This image was the last photography I added to my final selection, and it was the toughest decision to make. Both, this photo as well as its competition (see below), were taken on the West Highland Way in Scotland. In the other shot, I love how the tree serves as a focal point in the see of mist that seems to cloud almost everything else. But alas, this exact tree is not as sharp as it should be, which was the main reason why I added The Wave to the collection. Its semi-abstract approach based on the shape of a wave that is created by the hill and then continued by the cloud made the cut.
This is another photograph that I knew I would add to the final top ten immediately after I had finished working it. Getting there was tough because initially, I hadn’t previsualized the shot as a silhouette at all. Only after many hours of vainly trying to get the detail in the foreground right, I decided to get rid of it completely. The result is one of my favorite photography from the West Highland Way.
Despite being taken a bright and sunny morning, this movie shot is a 70-second exposure. I used two ND filters to stop the image down whooping 15 stops to get to this exposure time. And because I didn’t want to expose for such an amount of time carelessly, I took extra care of the composition. Slowing down pays off, not only regarding exposure time. I love the implied (and therefore not perfect) symmetry in this photo which together with the smooth water creates this sense of calm, peace, and silence which is so typical for long exposures. The trees in the distance remotely reminded me of skyscrapers in a cityscape, hence the title.
On The Beach
This photograph was in my already chosen as one of my favorites of 2016 early on. I took it on the pier in Hastings, UK. I just love how the light, the way the soft gradients lead the viewer to the object of interest (the bikers), the soft clouds, and the film look I was able to achieve. Your mileage may vary, but to me, this was an instant fave.
I took this picture by the pool in Can Picafort, Majorca. I wasn’t thinking of photography at all and was watching my kids in the pool while sipping an espresso when for some reason I looked up and saw this frame.
This semi-abstract architecture photograph keeps fascinating me because it makes it quite hard to recognize what is the reflection in the window and what is actually behind the window. This, the subtly clouds, and the repetitive structure of the building itself trailing off into the distance, and the fact that you cannot see the ground constitute a photograph that I can get lost in at any time.
In the real world, this building is called Colorium and is indeed quite colorful. Creating a monochrome photograph of such a colorful subject isn’t always easy. It took quite a bit of experimenting and learning to get it where it is now. I have to say thank you to my friends over at The Arcanum, especially the brilliant Robin Griggs-Wood and Ian Watts.
Top ten photographs 2016
So, there you have it, my top ten photographs from 2016. If you like, you can watch the animated slideshow of the photos below. Enjoy!