Believe it or not, the second decade of the 21st century is about to come to a close. But before I can attack the ’20’s, I need to take a minute to reflect back over the past year. Part of the process, as it has been for a number of years, is to choose my Top Ten Images of the Year.
To be clear, this is an exercise that benefits no one other than me. In fact, in past years as I have asked others to participate in the process I came to realize that all of us have our own reason for “liking” photographs. So, I am not presenting my “most liked” images. The goal has been for me to determine, based on my own observations, my “best” photos of the year.
The photographers among you will immediately begin to look at technical quality, composition, light and shadow and all of the other things that the average viewer looks right past. Those things certainly come into play, though I will candidly admit that at least of couple of these have some pretty glaring technical flaws.
Others of you will just look for “pretty pictures,” and that is OK. The images should be appealing, at least to someone!
My criteria are a bit more specific, however. I am looking for quality images (of course), but also photos that represent some sort of growth in my work. Some of these images were a result of serendipity (that’s a fancy word for luck). Others were carefully planned and executed. In the best of cases, good planning met with good luck.
So here they are, in chronological order, along with a comment or two for each. I’ll be eager to read your comments, too!
I have spent more time making portraits over the past year or so, beginning with the Create Photography Retreat, which provided an excellent opportunity to experiment and learn new skills. This is a simple one-light studio portrait. To be fair, the model did some great work here, engaging with the camera. The light and shadow provides the color and depth I was looking for.
This is another from the same workshop. Again, the model made life a lot easier with his wardrobe, expression and pose. The challenge for me was to light his eyes, yet still keep the shadow from the brim of his hat and the fine details in his skin, beard and jacket.
This is a portrait of another sort, I suppose. This spring and summer I began to experiment with more macro and close up photography. Flowers are readily available as a subject. This particular one was found in Georgetown, South Carolina on a very bright day. A small diffuser overhead softened the harsh sun, and shooting “through” a plant that was literally on my lens helped to softly frame the lower left corner of the image.
This photograph is, by definition, a “candid portrait”; one in which the subject is unaware that his photo is being taken. These are my favorite things to shoot at historic sites or historical reenactments. Invariably, when the subject sees my camera, they begin to pose which results in a stiff and unnatural look. So I spend my time looking for interesting subjects, good light and a natural expression. Using a long lens usually keeps me out of their sight, at least until I have taken the picture.
Had I taken the time to pose this gentleman, set up lighting, and tinker with my exposure until everything was perfect, I don’t think I could have been any happier with the image than I was with this one.
This image is largely unprocessed. The smoke and haze from the musket fire created a diffused palette that softens the image nicely. The position of the infantryman, as well as the smoke itself, creates a nearly perfect frame for the rider.
Shooting an event like this can be challenging. Things are happening quickly! Almost invariably there is someone in the shot looking the “wrong” way or doing something that detracts from the image. That was not the case here. (Let’s go back to that word “serendipity!”) Click the image to enlarge it and see the detail, particularly in the horse.
I didn’t realize what I had here until I began to process the images from this year’s reeanactment of the Battle of Charlotte. The commanding officer is focal point of the image; a fact that is reinforced by the two soldiers to the left, looking toward him, as the other two follow his gaze and, apparently, his instructions.
Again, had I attempted to pose this, it would have never been as authentic as (luckily) capturing it in the moment.
It wasn’t until September that I had a landscape image that made the cut into the Top 10! My wife and I made a trip to Colorado and were fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days camping and hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park. I still haven’t processed all my images from the trip, but this one stood out immediately.
The sun is actually rising behind me, creating that beautiful “Alpenglow” light on the mountains and clouds to the west. The rocks provide some interest in the foreground, while the river leads our eye directly to the color in the background. Other than the chill, looking at the image takes me right back to the emotion that I experienced that morning!
It was her smile that caught my attention as she entered the fairgrounds. Later, when I opened the image on my computer, I saw what it was that had captured her attention!
I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Smokey Mountains National Park with Richard Bernabe, a talented and accomplished nature and wildlife photographer. It was an experience I will never forget and one that added several images to my landscape portfolio. I am already looking forward to my next opportunity!
I love shadows. And I love how the soft light from the window just barely carves the edge of her face out for us. The image isn’t sharp, and so at some point I will probably look back and wonder why I included it here. So I’ll tell my future self (and the rest of you) that the image communicates a mood or an emotion that I like. Nothing more profound than that!
So there you have it: this year’s Top Ten. Compare them with last year’s crop if you would like. And then let me know which (if any) are your favorites in the comments below.