I am currently pulling together my “best of” collection of photographs for 2021. Here is an essay I wrote many years ago about the advantages of annually assessing your images. I hope to post my selection by New Years Day or just after. I am also providing the links to my past selections from 2010 to 2020.
Best of the Year
Review Your Images to Find New Directions to Explore
Many years ago, when I was involved with Ansel Adams’s workshops, I was fortunate to hear lectures by many master photographers. One of them was Jerry Uelsmann, who became a good friend and mentor. During his lectures, he would show his work from the past year. Since his work involves compositing many images together into one, these images included variations he had tried, often with the same objects in different locations or scenes. Seeing this overview made it easier to see some of the progression of Jerry’s creative process. I always felt inspired by his presentations and often thought I should do this myself each year in order to assess my year’s efforts, but for many years I never got around to it.
With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, it is now very easy to create a “Best Of” portfolio to share with friends and followers. The process of self-assessment is a vital part of artistic growth. In the day-to-day rush of life, we don’t often stop to see trends in our image-making. By turning back the clock, we can see if we are stuck in a rut or have made great progress. One technique I’ve used to analyze my own work is to use the filters built into Adobe Lightroom or Bridge. The software will show you the metadata analytics for any folder of images you have. The data shows how many images were made with which camera body or lens; the shutter speed, aperture, or ISO used; or sort images according to ranking labels.
I especially like seeing which lens I used the most, which is my Canon 70–200mm f/2.8. Even with this simple knowledge, I can recognize that I tend to photograph details of the landscape rather than wide views. This information can lead to ideas for a portfolio or theme. The data can also be a hint than I am in a rut and might want to break away from this trend to expand my repertoire of wide-angle landscapes. Another option would be to filter by keywords to see what images I’ve made of water or trees, or with clouds and sky. Studying my photos in such a way might lead to the creation of a new eBook, or a theme idea for an exhibit. Developing themes in your work is an important way to focus your photographic efforts.
The photographs shown here are my favorites from 2009. Stones, 2009 was taken on my back patio. I have a tub of these colorful landscaping pebbles that I often photograph in various conditions. This version was created with two frames taken side by side to create a panoramic photograph. What works for me in this image is the powerful colors but also the even pattern spread across the frame.
Later that year, I was photographing Monterey pine trees in a dense fog. Toward the end of my dawn shooting session, I decided to make some panoramic images, so I composed overlapping frames that could later be stitched in Photoshop. This frame was made from two exposures made side by side by rotating my tripod laterally, overlapping by about 25%. I knew that I would have to crop since I was aiming up into the trees at 160mm on my 70–200mm zoom, so I widened my composition to allow room to crop later.
The main point here is to assess your photographic efforts on a regular basis. The beginning of the year is the ideal time for me, but you could also choose to do so annually on your birthday, for example. Ansel used to say that if a photographer made ten portfolio-grade images in one year, he or she had a great year. When you read this, go back and review your past year of work and see how well you do.