Back in December 2014 when I was an apprentice in Martin Bailey’s Mastery Cohort in The Arcanum, Martin gave us what I thought was a very unusual exercise. He asked us to go through the process of editing our archives from 2014 and pick the ten photographs that we thought were our best work. “Easy”, I thought.
Little did I know.
It was one of the toughest exercises he ever asked us to do. In modern days of digital photography, most of us shoot more than we should. Picking the 10 best shots from thousands of images, even from hundreds of keepers… this is an incredibly difficult task. The process of selecting images, also called editing, is best organized in several passes. In the first pass I got a selection of more than 100 photographs. In the next few passes, I narrowed down my selection further, but it got harder and harder with every pass. The final round was the toughest one. But after I had done it, I thought it would be easier for me to do it again with my 2015 selection one year later.
Little did I know.
What’s in it for me? – The benefits of editing photos
Before I delve into my selection process and how I managed to get down to ten photos, I’d like to write a few lines on why this exercise is important for every photographer out there. There are some important lessons to be learned that can help you to improve your photography even though you don’t take a single new image in the process. So, here is what’s in it for you when you tackle this challenge:
- You clarify/develop your knowledge on the essentials of good photography. While editing photos, you constantly have to decide which image to leave in your current selection and which ones to remove. While you can make gut decisions in the beginning, you’ll need reliable criteria when it comes down to remove the last 5-10 images to get down to ten. Editing photos for a selection like this will help develop those criteria, thus improving your knowledge on what makes an image work for you. In this sense, editing will help you to realize who you really are as a photographer.
- The growth in self-awareness goes even further. While looking at your final portfolio, you will almost realize the style that defines you. It’s like a 30000 feet view, so that know you can see the shape of the island that you have been walking on throughout the year. Realizing your style enables you to make more conscious decisions on how to develop it further.
- Editing photos will train your eyes to see details. When your down to 15 images and you are looking for reasons to remove another 5, minor flaws like sensor dust or subtle halos can become the decisive factor. You might not have noticed them before, but you will find them while editing, thus training you to see them more easily in the future.
- You will end up with a killer portfolio to put on your website and promote in social networks. You know how it works: Do good and talk about it.
My selection process for the 2015 selection
Even though I had been shooting more deliberate and considerate and therefore taken considerably less images than 2014, the process wasn’t easier in the least. I had followed Martin’s method of editing which he has laid out in a blog post along with some marvelously beautiful photos here. But then I came to a selection of 14 photos that I couldn’t narrow down any further. You can see it here.
The problem was that each of these photos had its own personal meaning for me. I was emotionally attached to each and every one of them. That’s why I couldn’t let go of any of them. It was only after I had introduced another criterion that I could make my decision. I asked myself, “Which of these images can you imagine hanging on a wall in a living room?“
From that point on it was easy to make my final selection. So, here are the images that didn’t make the selection… And why.
1. The Cloudmaker — As intriguing as I find this shot, it also has one liability. The cloud on the left is cut off. I love the title of this shot, I love the story it tells, but I can’t help but notice the cut off cloud. And it drives my crazy. So the image has to go.
2. The Ivory Tower — This shot would certainly have made it to my final selection if it wasn’t for that very smooth dark halo around the tower. The single person staring up at the unreadable heights of the remote tower appeals to me very much. The halo is hardly noticeable in the beginning but it can’t be ignored once it has been noticed. So, bye-bye, Ivory Tower.
4. Tentacle — I love the subject matter and the composition but at the end of the day I think it is slightly over sharpened and noisy around the tentacle itself. That’s why it doesn’t grab me as much as a tentacle should. And that’s why I wouldn’t hang it on my wall.
My Top Ten Photos 2016
So, without further ado, here’s my selection. Here are my Top Ten Photographs from 2015. Grab a drink of your choice, lean back and enjoy!