01 Jan 2018 2017 Top Ten Photographs Selection Process (Podcast 602)
As 2017 drew to an end, I completed my yearly exercise of selecting my personal favorite top ten images from the year, and as has become a tradition, I’m going to share my process with you today.
As usual, I started this exercise by creating a Group in the Library area of my Capture One Pro catalog called “2017 Top Ten”, and then created an album initially called “First Pass” and made that my Selects Collection, so that I can just hit the shortcut I’ve defined, in my case the “Q” key, to add images to my collection. Because I have all of the images I felt were worth a hoot in my 2017 folder in my Finals catalog, it’s easy to go through and select images that I’d like to consider to my First Pass folder.
I like to do this each year because it helps us to be objective as we evaluate our images, making us better at editing down a selection. If we keep in mind that all images in my 2017 folder are there because I like them, it’s actually really easy to just want to drop them all into my First Pass folder, but then I’d just be duplicating my 2017 folder. I know that I have to whittle this down to just ten images, so you start to think about whether or not each image has a chance of staying in the selection even before you hit the shortcut key.
A Productive 2017
By doing one more tour than previous years, I actually finished 2017 with 1,052 images in my Finals folder. Also, having switched to Capture One Pro in June 2016, 2017 was the first year that I processed the entire year exclusively in Capture One Pro, which means that there are now very few images in my finals folder that represent a base raw image that I worked on with a plugin.
When I work on an image in Photoshop or in the past the Nik Collection, I used to save both the original raw file and the edited TIFF or PSD in my Finals folder. In 2016 for example, 78 of my 928 Final selects were duplicates, because I saved both a TIFF and my original raw files, from the first half of the year, before I switched to Capture One Pro. By comparison, this year I have just 8 TIFFs and one PSD file, so 1,043 images are original, meaning that I have approximately 200 more original images to choose from over the previous year.
I’d like to think that the quality of the work is still increasing gradually too, and this is something that this process helps me to keep tabs on. I also feel that for sure, looking through a full year of Capture One Pro images that Capture One has helped me to raise the bar again image quality-wise. I’m still very happy with my decision to switch from Lightroom and have no intention of switching to any other raw processing software for at least the foreseeable future.
I still have all of my top ten selections as Collections in my Finals catalog, so I can easily go back and review previous years, and it’s always fun to do that, just too see how you’re doing. It’s also interesting to see how my tastes have changed over the years. There are some images that I see in old top ten sets that I wouldn’t include now, even though they may still have merit as a photograph. They just don’t appeal to me like they did when I initially selected them to represent my year’s work.
I also found that work from my Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours is finding its way into my short list much less often. I guess this is a luxury I’m afforded by the fact that I’ve now visited these locations so many times that I’ve pretty much shot everything in previous years, and anything that I add to my list at this point really has to exceed my previous work. That’s partly why I still love going, because I’m constantly challenging myself to better my old work, but that gets more and more difficult each year, especially as I have no control over the conditions and what the animals might do in those conditions.
For example I found myself only selecting a couple of Steller’s Sea Eagle shots in which I’d captured something that I’d not seen or shot before. My Snow Monkey shots were really difficult too, because I didn’t really have anything so special that I felt compelled to drop it into even my first pass.
I also surprised myself a little with a powerful realization that a lot of my wildlife work from Etosha National Park in Namibia was screaming out to be converted to black and white. I had always thought of that work in color, but when I went back through my images during this exercise I felt that the color in some images was getting in the way, so I converted it to black and white. This worked mostly with my zebra shots, which are already black and white animals, but I found some of the wildebeest shots worked well in black and white as well.
After spending a few hours going through my 1000+ images, I had a collection of 97 images, so just under 10% of my images. I guess one in ten from my final selections for the year isn’t too bad. I could have been more brutal, but this was a good start. I also at this point found myself being hit by a deep sense of gratitude to have been able to visit the locations I have in my work. I’ve included here (below) a screenshot showing my initial selection, and it humbles me to see what I’ve been able to photograph this year.
To start my second pass, I created another album and added the 97 images from my first pass. I could just continue to whittle down my first selection, but I like to keep tabs on what I selected and how I whittled it down, by keeping my working collections. Once inside my Second Pass album, it’s now a case of hitting delete to remove images from the collection, instead of adding them, as I did on the first pass.
Although it helps to select similar images and identify the best of each group, I find that on my second pass, it’s often easy to remove a chunk of other images now that I have a holistic view of my selection just by going through and feeling my reaction to the images. I start to instinctively know that some images just aren’t going to make it, especially when I consider that I have to remove another 9 out of 10 images. It’s just easier to do this having just gone through the images.
It only took me five minutes to go through and remove another 46 images, getting me down to 51 at the end of my second pass.
So, with another 4 out of 5 to remove, I copied my selection again, to a collection named third pass, and quickly removed another 22 images, but then I was stuck. I was down to 24 images that I absolutely wanted to leave in. This is when it starts to get difficult.
Still having to more than half my selection, the obvious place to look at is the three camel shots. I definitely wanted to keep the photo of the camel handler with his animals against the dunes, and perhaps one of the sunset shots, so I removed the one with the camels bunched up a bit, as I prefer the spacing of the shot with the sunset just in the bottom left corner.
I also don’t need three zebra shots, so I looked at all three together and initially removed the color shot, and continued to deliberate over which of the two black and white shots to keep. I also removed the Namibia silhouette shot from the Quiver Tree Forest. I like that shot a lot but I have to start making some hard choices.
I really like the shot with the cranes in the mist too, but I’ve had a number of those over the years, so that’s gone. I also removed the shot of the Lioness looking out across the plain, as although I love that shot, it’s not as impactful for someone that wasn’t there to look at.
Cutting the Emotional Connection
I then realized that I still had eleven shots from Morocco, and that has to be partly because this is my most recent work, so there is still a strong emotional connection, that is probably preventing me from getting ruthless. As I’ve mentioned in previous years, this is a good illustration of the importance of giving yourself some time to live with your work before making important editing decisions. It’s much harder to cut the chord until you have some time between the shoot and when you edit your selection.
I removed the blue city shot, as I don’t feel it’s as strong as my emotional attachment makes me feel. I removed the other zebra shot, leaving just one, with the zebras at the waterhole. Still having 7 images to remove, I deleted the Namibia dunes with the stormy sky shot, because there is a line of ground in the bottom right foreground that annoys me.
Having three closeup portraits from Namibia I decided to remove the man in the blue turban, and the man with the dark red background. This was a hard decision, but at this point, I’m shooting children. If it comes to this, I guess my mostly orange dune shot from Namibia has to go too.
Down to thirteen, I decided to use my secret weapon; my wife. She’s my trusted critique and although she’s not a photographer, she has a good eye and sense of the aesthetic, so I loaded my selection onto my iPad Pro and went downstairs to solicit her advice. We don’t always agree on the selection, but I trust her opinion more than my own sometimes, and it’s usually the best way forward I find.
For example, I recently shared my Morocco work on Instagram and found that of the two photographs of the camel handlers in the dunes that were still left in my selection, the one with the red of the sunset in the bottom left hand corner got significantly more likes than the one with the dunes in the background. And, as you might imagine, my wife chose the sunset shot over the dunes shot. Personally, I could go either way on this. I think there is a classical appeal in the dunes and camels shot, and but the sunset shot has more impact.
Now, I want to stress that Instagram Likes are not important to me from an ego perspective, but when trying to make a decision as to what to leave in, it can be a good indicator to bear in mind. It’s good information. But, it’s my own personal favorite top ten, so I started to deliberate as to whether or not I should simply leave in both camel train shots. They are different enough for that to be OK, but what else could I remove?
We also decided to remove the photo of the Mosque, because although I like it a lot, I find the fact that the rest of the town around the mosque is a little messy sort of reduces my overall satisfaction with the photo, so that was removed. Also, the young musician from the oasis in Morocco is a nice shot, but it’s not as artistic as the other portraits, so we removed that too.
Two Day Contemplation
I started this exercise on Friday the 29th of December and actually sat on the final decision for two days. Sometimes a bit of time is necessary to enable that last decision, but sometimes, especially if you are a working photographer, you don’t always have time. Sometimes we have to whittle down our selections quickly, and that is why I find this exercise so useful, especially if you don’t do tight edits of your work regularly. This gets you accustomed to making tough decisions.
I had the luxury this time of spending a few more days and decided to keep both camel train shots and remove the black and white zebra shot. Although I like that image, especially now it’s black and white, it’s easier to cut from the selection as I can’t believe it’s better than either of my camel train shots, so it’s gone.
The Final Ten
With that, we now have my final Top Ten selection for 2017. It’s a bit Morocco-heavy, with 6 out of the 10 images from there, but I think that’s really only natural as it was my first visit to Morocco, and I have many images that are new and fresh to me. Of course, part of this is also because Morocco was only just over a month ago, but I have tried to be objective, and base my decisions on the artistic merit of each image, rather than the fact that the memory of the trip is still fresh in my mind. This is another thing that I believe doing this exercise helps with.
I’ll talk about each image in next week’s Podcast and blog post, so please tune in for that as well, if you’d like to hear a little more about each of them.
Your Top Ten
As usual, I also invite you to decide on your own Top Ten images for 2017. Don’t make it more if at all possible. Twelve is a nice number, matching the months of the year, and it’s your choice of course, but what you need to avoid is starting out looking for ten, then increasing it to twelve or fifteen, because you find it difficult to whittle down your selection. This is supposed to be difficult, or there isn’t much benefit in doing it.
Also, try to be objective. Don’t keep a shot of grandmother or your cat in your top ten unless it’s an absolutely beautiful photo with great light etc. I’m using grandmothers and cats as a generic example of course. The point is, your family are special to you, but not to anyone else unless it’s a beautiful image, so please do try to be objective and make some difficult decisions.
Share Your Work!
And then when you’ve completed this task, please do share a link in the comments of the blog post. Some of you have been doing this every year, and I always look forward to seeing your selections, and I absolutely welcome any newcomers too. Try to keep a record of your selections if possible. This enables you to go back and compare your work to previous years over time, and that helps you to check that you are getting better each year. I have all of my previous top ten selections in Capture One Pro still, and they are all available to see as blog posts too.
Of course, there will be years when you’ll visit somewhere amazing, and produce work that stands out more than other work, but remember, that helps us to ratchet up as photographers. It’s important to learn from the highlights and not become bogged down by the feeling that other work closer to home can feel a little mundane. I talked about this in my Evolution of the Photographer post back in 2014.
So, I look forward to seeing your selections, and a Happ New Year to you. I hope 2018 brings everything you hope for and more.
Previous Top Ten posts: https://www.martinbaileyphotography.com/tag/top-ten/
Music by Martin Bailey
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