31 Dec 2007 Reflecting on 2007 & My Top Ten Images (Podcast 119)
Today I’m going to look back on 2007, mainly talking about my top 10 favourite images from the year, and also touching on a few of the other significant things that have happened, and a little about my plans for next year.
Before we get started, I wanted to mention that following last week’s episode on DxO Optics Pro I was made aware of some possible issues with the anti-piracy software that also gets installed with this software. Now, I have received a mail from a VP at DxO regarding their use of this software, and I am much happier about the situation at the moment, but I haven’t had chance to really digest the contents of the mail or follow up with DxO yet, so I’m not going to go into this today. All I will say is that DxO Labs of course have their reasons for their choice of licensing and rights management, and I’m going to continue to work with them to understand this better. I stand by my statement that DxO Optics Pro is a very useful product, and if you can handle the addition of the anti-piracy software, it is still worth a try. Anyway, let’s take a look at my 2007.
All in all, 2007 has been a good year for me. Photographically I feel as though I’ve grown, and we’ll get to that in a short while. First of all, I want to look at the technology that supports our workflows. The biggest thing for me has been the revolution that is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Until now my digital workflow has been a little clunky, patched together with lots of different pieces of software, to achieve relatively simple things on the most part. With the arrival of Lightroom I found that I could do 90% of what I needed to do in one application. I was disappointed when I found that the initial versions of Lightroom didn’t do a good job of handling large libraries of over 50,000 images, but from version 1.3 this appears to be fixed, so now I’m back to using one large library, instead of multiple ones, which is a big bonus for me, again making things much easier. I do still export my images in Photoshop format and open them in CS3 to save off in a few various formats and my framed small version for the Web, but pretty much Lightroom is where I live on the most part, from the import of the images to printing, which is also so much easier now than before.
Another major change for me was getting a new PC. Some of you will remember that in February I built myself a bit of a monster PC. I’d basically been getting frustrated with the speed of my old PC, especially when it came to photography related tasks, as you all know, this can be pretty processor and hard disk intensive, so is hit pretty badly by a low performance PC. I’d decided to make the switch to Windows Vista as well, and at first it all went smoothly. I’d gone to great lengths to make sure that all of the hardware I bought was Vista compatible, and I was happy enough initially. Then though, I found that 32 bit Vista deducts the total video memory from the physical RAM in the machine, and because 32 bit Windows can only use up to 4GB, which is what I had in the machine, I ended up not being able to use all 4GB. I have 512MB of video memory in my two graphics cards, so I was only able to use 3.5GB of RAM, which seemed very wasteful to me. I often open up Photoshop in additional to Lightroom, and then when I start working with other applications as well, as I tend to do, I really start eating into my RAM and wanted to free up as much of it as possible. So, I decided to switch to 64bit Vista, and spent some more time making sure that I could get the drivers for all of my hardware in 64bit versions as well.
The switch went well though, and I was able to utilize all of the RAM, but there was one important piece of software that stopped working, and I really missed. That was ProShow Producer from Photodex, which is the software I used to make my portfolio slideshow and DVDs to easily show my photographs to others. I was pretty cut up by this. I did get it working in a Microsoft Virtual Machine, into which I installed 32bit Vista, but it is not as responsive as I’d like, and getting at the files on my local system was clunky too. I contacted Photodex a number of times, and did some extensive troubleshooting, including sending them files and other information for when I was seeing problems. I should say that the software installed, but the images were corrupted, and I’d been told that this was down to the 64bit graphics card drivers. I continued to work this though, as I had no problems with the rest of my system. Then, about a month ago, I downloaded the latest version of ProShow Producer, and low and behold, the problem was solved. I hadn’t updated my graphics drivers, but I had reinstalled Windows since the previous version, so to this day I don’t know if it was my original system that was at fault, or if Photodex had actually fixed the issue, but it now worked, which made me incredibly happy. I was now able to update my portfolio, which was well over do.
I completed my portfolio update this morning, on December the 31st, 2007, the last day of the year. By the time most of you listen to this, the new portfolio will be live. This is one of the things that I really wanted to complete before we move into 2008, so I’m pleased that the software now works, pretty much completing my workflow tools, and that I managed to find the time to update the portfolio. I actually chose to make the new version in 16:9 widescreen format. I made it 1920 x 1080 pixels in dimension, which is the same as full High Definition TVs. I’ve reduced the Web version to keep the download size down helping to keep the streaming smooth, but for output to a TV this makes it much better quality, especially when transferred to the TV digitally. This format is a little restrictive on normal aspect computer screens, but most people have a number of toolbars in their browser, and even when going to full screen when viewing the portfolio, the plug-in handles it quite nicely, and it helps a lot to only have to deal with one format. Also, more and more new computer displays are now wide screen, on which the portfolio should display pretty nicely at full screen too.
The other technology that has come my way at the end of 2007, as most of you are already aware, is the 1Ds Mark III, which I have been waiting for, for five years now, since the first generation 1Ds was released. The more I use this camera, the more I find myself falling in love with it. Compact Flash cards are getting bigger and faster all the time, while the price of them continues to fall relationally. This means that I can now drop an 8GB card into the camera and get 300 RAW files into one card. Imagine how restrictive shooting with a 21megapixel camera would have been if we were still using saying 256MB memory cards. Slow ones, at that. Basically with all the R&D dollars that companies such as Adobe, Canon, Nikon, the various memory card manufacturers, and of course a multitude of other photography related companies are investing is really starting to work its way around to the everyday photographer, who all along really just wanted things to be simple yet powerful, and most of all, to just work. Basically, at this point, on the last day of 2007, I’m really happy with the technology at my finger tips, and feeling that this is an amazing time to be involved in photography and technology in general. I can’t wait to see what is around the corner, as we move into 2008 and beyond.
As I said, one of the things that I really wanted to do during this year was to update my portfolio, which I have achieved. Although I shoot in a number of genres, it turns out that so far I have only had time to make and now finally start to maintain one portfolio, so I have concentrated on Nature, specifically, The Nature of Japan, which is the title of my portfolio. I managed to get my portfolio down to 40 images, which was quite a feat, as I started off with more than 200 images that I really wanted to include. I was never really happy that I’d gone over my original goal of forty images though when I first put my portfolio together in 2006, so decided to give myself a hard roof for this update. Also, I am a strong believer that your last year’s work should always be your best. With that, I should ideally be able to create a 40 image portfolio just from the last years shots, but unfortunately responsibilities in my day-job, and also the time that I have to invest in creating this Podcast mean that I can’t get out shooting anywhere near as much as I’d like. Having said that, I’m still happy that 18 of the forty are now new shots from 2007, which is almost half.
Because of this, it was pretty easy to choose my favourite 10 shots, because I just had to look at these 18 images, and add a couple that I just could not leave out, but that don’t qualify to go into my Nature of Japan portfolio. I’ve also tried to loosely order these according to how much I like them. As I’ve mentioned before, images tend to get higher marks for a while after you shoot them, so to protect myself from this, I have added my two most recent favourites in the first two slots. Let’s first look at image number 1655, which I’m pretty sure is going to probably still be in my top five or maybe even top three for the year, even as time passes. This was shot just four days ago at the Kotokunama, or Kotoku Pond in Ibaraki Prefecture, almost a two hour drive from my Tokyo apartment. I had got up at 3:30AM to get over to the pond by 6AM, to start shooting before the sun rose. The sun comes up at around 6:50AM at this time of year, and because there are a number of wooded hills behind the pond, the sun doesn’t actually make it over the top of the trees until 50 minutes later, at 7:40AM, which is when I shot this. There are around 40 swans that winter at this pond, and they don’t fly a whole lot at this time of year, so I was incredibly lucky that these five Whooper Swans took flight, and flew over the pampas grass at the edge of the pond at exactly the time when the sun was coming over the trees. I was even more lucky here, because I have to admit that as the sun hit the front element of my 300mm F2.8 lens, as I was panning with the swans, I thought the shot was lost, and shot just this one frame and then stopped. When I looked at it on the LCD I was pleasantly surprised at how well it had turned out, and when I got to look at it on the PC and saw how sharp the swans were and the balance of the sunlight and the pampas, I was really pleased that I released the shutter this one last time in the burst.
The next shot, number 1647, is also very recent, shot on December the 16th, just a few weeks ago, at the Ueno Zoo here in Tokyo. Here we can see a Secretary Bird. Native to Africa, this beautiful bird won’t make it into my Nature of Japan portfolio, but I could not resist including this today, as I just love this shot. I was shooting through the wires of the cage which captivates this subject, but of course the wide aperture made that disappear. The bird stood up at one point, and I was surprised at how long it’s legs were, giving it a total height of around 4 feet tall, but it soon sat back down again, and continued to pose for me. I shot it for around five minutes, and it really did feel like I was working with a model, with all the poses it kept on making for me. I actually uploaded five shots of this subject from the series, which is about four more than I usually like to upload of the same subject, but all of the poses have their own beauty, so I couldn’t resist sharing them all. This one is my favourite of the series, as we can see not only the red face, with the pale blue beak, and those beautiful long eye lashes, but also we can see the head feathers splayed out nicely behind the birds head.Next let’s take a brief look at image number 1485. In the interest of time, and because I’ve already spoken about most of the remaining 8 images throughout the year, I’m going to move through the remaining images a little more quickly. In this shot we can see a Japanese Green Woodpecker, trying to coax a fledgling from the next, minutes before it took its maiden flight. This shot is still special to me because of the tenderness in the gaze of the mother as she looks into the eyes of the child.
The next image, number 1532, was difficult to place in the other nine, because it is of a totally different genre, portraiture. This as many of you will remember is from my September visit to India, when I was fortunate to meet this gentleman in a market, and having asked for permission, was allowed to shoot this wonderful portrait. I’ll never forget the brief exchange and have a wonderful digital memory to backup my mental memory, even after my own memory is lost forever.
We can see a shot that I titled Cosmos Rhapsody in image number 1562. This was shot at the beginning of October as we started to get into autumn here in Tokyo. I like this because I feel it is one of my non-macro flower shots that encapsulates much of what I’m aiming for in this type of shot. I like to search out patches of the larger scene and create my own little world within. I have added a number of wide aperture lenses to my arsenal to enable me to shoot images just like this. Here I used the 70-200mm F2.8 wide open, at F2.8, to get minimum depth of field, getting just a handful of flower heads in sharp focus, but this allows the rest of the scene to fall into the bokeh, creating depth and atmosphere, helped here by some flare or another flower head in the bottom right.
This next shot, number 1625, is something that I shot kind of on a whim, on my way into a favourite park in Chofu City here in Tokyo. There were a number of bamboo stalls with slatted roofs covering a display of numerous chrysanthemum flowers. The heads on the flowers are pretty large, maybe up to around 20cms in diameter sometimes, so I just got in nice and close with my 100mm and got a few frames, of which this is one. I was attracted by the way the light behind the flower is illuminating the base of the petals. I was in too minds initially as to whether or not I should remove two dark patches in the top right and left corners, but our good friend Landon Michaelson commented that it would probably be better without them, and as I felt pretty much the same way, I cropped the shot again to this size. I’m really pleased that I did, and thank Landon for your advice. I really feel that I am drawn into this shot and couldn’t resist putting it into my top 10 today. Actually, this is number five when counting back from first place, so we’re now into my top 5.
In fourth place is image number 1633, which I shot in November with my 300mm F2.8. Again, this is one of those shots that I have tried to isolate a part of the scene by getting in close with a telephoto lens, but also have added a wide aperture telephoto to my arsenal to be able to shoot wide open, as I have here at F2.8, without forfeiting sharpness in the areas that I want sharp. Shooting colourful subjects in the shade and using the exposure and the histogram for checking has become a large part of my shooting style, and this is another of my favourites as I feel it came together nicely here in this slice of autumn.
A shot from early October, image number 1571, is in third place in my list. This is a small part of a sweeping vista shot from Shibutouge, which is a mountain pass which I have visited a number of times now. I shot this with my 600mm lens though, really just selecting a tiny slice of the scene. I love the layers that the mist creates, that are also emphasised by the way a long telephoto like this compresses space. The colours help, as autumn sets in, and the detail of the shot when viewed at full size, and also in a print is just something else. This is one of those shots that makes me really want to get my act together and make the time to arrange an exhibition of my work. The tones of this shot when printed out on professional cotton rag paper are also just out of this world, which is another reason I placed this third in my list.
Another shot which looks just amazing as a print is image number 1392. Another technique that I have been using more and more, which is to find a subject in the shade but with a bright background really came together here in this relatively simple shot. It feels just like a watercolour painting, again caused by using a wide aperture telephoto lens. I also pay a lot of attention to how the background forms the bokeh, or the out of focus portions of the scene, and ensured here that the daffodil head had a nice uncluttered patch behind it, and I also paid attention to the semi-focussed daffodil leaves in the image. Any of these could have ruined the shot if placed in the wrong quadrant or if they had been more in focus.
Finally, my favourite shot for this year has to be image number 1438, which I titled Night Falls, which is of course a bit of a play on words. I drove to these falls through a very narrow road, as my navigation system had taken me the wrong way to this area, and I ended up scratching my car quite a bit, but getting this shot, just as Night Fell, really made up for it. This was shot in May, as the surrounding trees got their first leaves, and it still remains one of my favourite shots of the year, so I promoted this to first place as it is standing the test of time.
I’m sure there’ll be some shots in this list that you are wondering why they are there, and that’s fine. I’m often surprised by the shots that people like, and sometimes left wondering why people don’t like some of my favourites. This is how it is. We are all different and with different tastes, and catering for the entire world is never going to be possible. I definitely feel though as though my work is getting better as time passes, and the fact that my current portfolio is now almost half made up of work from the last year is a comforting reminder that I’m improving.
So, let’s briefly touch on what would I have liked to have done in 2007, but could not, and also what I want to do next year. Well, having spent so much of my free time messing around with my computer for the first half of the year, I was getting very frustrated that I was not able to get out shooting as much as I’d have liked. I also want to spend more time getting my work out there, in more ways than just via my own Web site and this Podcast. I have now made an action in Photoshop that saves off two copies of my selected photos for upload to two Stock Photography sites that I have decided to get involved with. That will hopefully help to increase my photography income next year, so I am determined to make the time to upload a few hundred images early next year. I have been asked by many people to put a calendar together, and have actually promised myself for the last few years to do so, but didn’t get around to this again this year. Next year, I am determined to make this happen.
There is of course the Hokkaido Workshop in January that is all planned, and now just around the corner, and making that a success is my top priority for the start of the year, so I’m really looking forward to getting started on that. So, as far as commitments go, in addition to the workshop, getting some stock photo income and doing a calendar for 2008 are on the list. There are a few other things that I really want to do, but can’t commit to right now. Shooting more is top of the list. Doing an exhibition is also very high on my list, as is approaching some magazines to see if there is any way of getting my work out there more without selling myself short. I can hear you asking why I can’t commit to do these last three things, because they sure sound like very important things to work on. Well, to be brutally honest, you’re listening to the reason. This Podcast takes an incredible amount of time to do each week, and I’d be hiding the truth if I didn’t say that this is one of the main reasons why I cannot do some of the other stuff that I feel important. Why then do I continue the Podcast, I now here you asking? That is simple. I have not created a Podcast every week for more than two years now just for you. I gain so much from doing this Podcast as well. You are helping me to improve my photography, and I am gaining a lot more marketing for my images than I could have possibly done without this Podcast. It helps to improve my photography because every week I have to put down my thoughts in a structured form that you can understand and benefit from. This in turn allows me to sift through what I’m learning and do away with the unnecessary, and concentrate on the important aspects. I also find myself thinking through my shooting process much more carefully now, because I am often thinking of how I will talk about my shooting in the Podcast, and I believe that being deliberate in your shooting for any reason is going to help it to improve.
There is also the forum. The Podcast has attracted a wealth of talent to my forum and it is truly a pleasure to communicate with all of you in there, and this of course also helps my photography, as I know it does many of yours too. I could definitely do these last three things on my list if I stopped doing the Podcast, but it has helped me to build a community that I love being a part of, as well as all of the other benefits I just mentioned. I would be crazy to stop now, and I know from the many mail I receive from kind listeners that you want me to go on too, so the last thing I will commit to for 2008, is to continue with this Podcast. Whether or not I can get to those last three items on my list will depend on how hard I work with what’s left of my free time.
I hope you enjoyed that simple wrap up of my 2007. I need to say before we close that it had been suggested that I also talk about some of the member’s images from the mbpgalleries.com site as well. I would have liked to have done that if I had more time, but when I went into the members’ galleries to look for the images that had caught my eye throughout the year I realized that this was going to be something that I could not achieve in the time I have to prepare this podcast. There are just too many amazing photographs that you guys have uploaded over the course of the year, and I wouldn’t have been able to cull out a small enough number to talk about. I would like to also apologise for my own lack of involvement in the members’ galleries. I do look and am constantly amazed by all of your work, but rarely make the time to comment, and I do feel bad about this. Please understand that it is just a time thing, and I really do enjoy watching your images come up and the conversations that you all have in there.
If you have a few minutes, well, seven to be precise, please do check out my updated portfolio by clicking on Portfolio in the top menu at martinbaileyphotography.com. There are two formats. The best one unfortunately only runs on Windows, and that requires a plug-in from Photodex that will be installed automatically when you try to view the slideshow. If it is not, there’s a link to install it manually on the Portfolio page. I definitely suggest if you do use Windows, that you turn on your speakers or use headphones, because there is some nice music that complements the slides. Also, please right click the slideshow and select Full Screen from the short cut menu that is displayed. You should be able to view the images at high resolution on most monitor sizes, and it looks much better this way. If you don’t use windows, please select the Flash version of the slideshow. This can’t be viewed full screen, and is a little bit more pixelated than the Windows version, but you should still get an idea of what I currently think is my best nature work, as 2007 comes to an end.
So, with that, I want to say as usual, thanks for listening, and I also want to wish you all a very Happy New Year and a successful and safe 2008. And more in the short term, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.
I want to also wish you all a Happy New Year!
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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.