Jeff Harmon, over at the PhotoTaco podcast on the Improve Photography network, made a recommendation that photographers should, at the end of the year, choose their Top 10 photos of the year and put them together as a set. Besides providing a retrospective look at what you’ve accomplished over the past year, it also gives you the opportunity, over time, to compare your Top 10 to previous years’ Top 10s. I followed his advice last year and, for the first time, selected my Top 10 photos. This year, I’m did the same. I started out with 102 candidates and began whittling them down. Jeff warned that the process would be difficult and, indeed, it was. However, after some agonizing and difficult decision making, I made it down to these 10 shots:
Way back in January, I got up one frigid morning and took my camera and tripod down to Brighton Beach to capture the sunrise. While I got some very nice sunrise images (which, sadly and painfully, did not make the final cut), this was my favorite image of the day. I love the calmness and the serenity that the picture conveys. I also love the fact that if I didn’t tell you it was in the dead of winter, you’d probably think I took this during the summer. I used my (then) brand new Lee Big Stopper (a 10ND filter) to be able to keep the shutter open long enough to smooth out the ocean while not having the entire picture blown out by all the light. 42mm, f/16, 13 seconds, 100 ISO, 10ND filter, tripod.
Central Park is one of my favorite places to shoot. Being a nature lover who lives in the middle of the largest urban jungle in the country sometimes presents a challenge. Sure you can get great cityscapes (some of which you’ll see later), but for greenery and such, it leaves much to be desired. Unless of course, you head to one of the city’s parks — and Central Park is the biggest one of the bunch.
Bethesda Terrace is one of the most recognizable places in Central Park. Most people have seen the famous fountain at 72nd Street. However, aside from the fountain and the terrace which overlooks it, there is also the underside of the terrace, with it’s unique architecture and design. I shot this one for 52 Frames for their “Black and White” week and it ended up earning one of the Top 4 spots for the week (out of close to 800 photos).
I don’t normally like to shoot black and white. At heart, I’m a color junkie and I *love* seeing all the wonderful color that is out there. But yet, I found that, for this shot, I ended up liking the black and white version better. Perhaps it’s because the lack of color allows me to focus on the lines, textures and shapes in a way that I could not do with the color dominating the picture as it does in the color version:
Rockefeller Center Flags
I don’t often shoot at Rockefeller Plaza. In fact, the night I went to shoot this shot, I didn’t intend to go to Rockefeller Plaza to shoot. I shot a picture of the status of Atlas and St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a 52 Frames photo and then, wandering around, came across the plaza. It didn’t take me too long to notice how the flags were blowing in the night wind and to realize that, with a long enough exposure, I could get some interesting motion in the flags. Add to the fact that all these world flags had tons and tons of color in them (I did mention earlier that I love color, right?) and that they could make a very interesting shot. So I set up my tripod and shot the flags with various exposures and from various angles. This was my favorite shot.
24mm, f/18, 6 seconds, ISO 200, tripod.
Colors of the City
There are plenty of great places to shoot the famous New York skyline. Most people know about shooting from Brooklyn Bridge or Liberty State Park or from Weehawken. Somewhat less known, however, is Gantry Plaza State Park.
Gantry Plaza State Park is located in Queens, just across the East River from Manhattan. It’s a wonderful spot from which to shoot the skyline. I arrived there on Presidents Day shortly before sunset and began shooting. Since I was facing west, I had the sun setting behind the buildings and it made for some very nice shots. Alas, some of those shots were the last ones to be cut for this Top 10. The shot that did make it, however, was one that I took well after sunset. The sky was already beginning to darken when I noticed how the colors of the skyscrapers were reflecting off the East River. I realized that if I left the shutter open long enough to smooth out the motion of the water, it might make for an interesting shot. This is the result:
I really like the reflection of the colors in the river. I was originally ready to go home after sunset, but I’m glad I stuck around to see what other opportunities would develop and this one didn’t disappoint. 35mm, f/16, 30 seconds, ISO 100, tripod
Last year, I began taking photos of flowers on black backgrounds (in fact, one of them made it into last year’s Top 10). I like the way the absolute darkness of the black contrasts with the color of the flower and makes it really stand out. My favorite of the ones I shot this year is this one of a Red Gerbera. Daises are wonderful flowers for photography, as they give you a defined center that the viewer can instantly focus on.
I don’t use my flash and umbrella too often (most of my shots, as you can easily see, are taken out of doors), but for flowers, they are perfect. I’ve been experimenting with different lighting angles and different setups and hope to continue to improve at it over the coming year. 100mm, f/11, 1/30 second, ISO 100, tripod, flash, umbrella.
Little Red and Big George
Aside from the skyline and the skyscrapers, probably the most photographed feature of New York City is its bridges. Nineteen bridges connect the island of Manhattan to other landmasses. Eighteen of them are on the east side of the city. Only one is on the west and, aside from the Brooklyn Bridge, it is perhaps New York’s most famous. This bridge is the George Washington Bridge.
Getting to Fort Washington Park is a bit of a pain, as it’s a bit of a hike from the nearest subway stop, but the view from there can’t be beat. Once you arrive in the park, you can stand right under the bridge and watch the sun set over the New Jersey Palisades. Also located there is the famous Little Red Lighthouse, made famous by the children’s book by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward. Since the lighthouse is almost directly under the bridge, you can easily capture both of them and the setting sun in the same shot.
The sun was casting a fantastic orange glow that day, which is reflected in the sky, clouds and river. I love this shot despite the fact that it’s not the most technically proficient. In most cases, the type of lens flare that exists in this shot would more than likely cause me to discard the image, but in this case, I’m more than willing to overlook it. 24mm, f/18, 1/15 second, ISO 100, tripod.
Venus Over The Smokies
In August, Lisa and I took a trip to Tennessee to catch the solar eclipse. The eclipse itself was an incredible and awesome event and I encourage everyone who has even the slightest chance of seeing a total solar eclipse to do so.
My eclipse pictures didn’t come out too well. My focus was a bit off (partly due to the fact that I didn’t learn the true purpose of a tripod collar until after the eclipse was done) and, as a result, none of my shots from the eclipse made it into my Top 10. However, we had an incredible view of the Smoky Mountains from our cabin porch and I made sure to take as many shots as I could (including getting up before sunrise).
My favorite shot from that vantage is this one:
I actually shot this as part of a panorama, but it looked so good as a stand alone shot that I processed this part by itself. Venus was hanging over the mountains and I love the fact that I was able to capture it as part of the sunrise (it’s the brightest dot on the left hand side of the shot). As I mentioned earlier, I’m a color junkie and this picture has such deep colors, with beautiful purples, blues, yellows, reds and oranges, that I just fell in love with it. In addition to the wonderful colors, I also love the isolated trees sitting on the hill. I had a lot of difficulty picking my Top 10 shots for the year, but if I had to pick a #1, my heart would say that this is the shot. 24 mm, f/4, three shots centered on 1/2 second, ISO 100, tripod.
Great Smoky Mountain Morning
Another shot taken from our cabin porch. This one was taken later in the morning than the previous one, when the sky had lit up enough to allow the greens to stand out, while still showing off the grand colors of the sunrise. 18mm, f/5.6, 3 shots centered on 1/13 second, ISO 100, tripod.
Another Smoky Mountain shot, this time taken on the next day as the previous ones. I love how the sun is going into hiding as it rises behind the clouds. 135mm, f/5, 1/1600, ISO 100, tripod.
Morning Mountain Abstract
I’ve always loved mountain photos that are abstracts, where the detail is gone and all you see are shades of mountaintops and the sky. This shot isn’t quite exactly like that (you have some of the detail in the foreground here), but otherwise, I think this might qualify. I love how the sunlight, filtering in through the clouds, casts rays on the mountains that, in the background, begin to blend into the mountains themselves. 47mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO 100, tripod.
Tumbling Through the Gorge
I love waterfall shots and, whenever I have the chance, I like to go to one of the waterfalls in my area to shoot it. In October, I took a trip up to the Finger Lakes region of New York State, which has some amazing gorges with glens and waterfalls running through them. Watkins Glen is perhaps the most famous of these gorges. I spent almost an entire day there, shooting the falls and rock formations. One of my favorite images from that day is this one:
I like how this shot captures not just the flowing glen and the waterfall, but also the rock layers that have been formed by the flowing water over the rock over the last few millennia. 31mm, f/14, 3 shots centered on 1.6 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.
And that’s it, that’s the Top 10. Well, actually, I do have to admit that I cheated… there are actually 11 images here. I *tried* to get it down to ten, but simply could not bear to cut any of the images here so, I admit, I cheated a bit.
So, how did I do compared to last year’s Top 10? I think my photography has improved, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if that’s because I had opportunities this year that I didn’t have last year (such as my trip to Tennessee) or if I really have improved in the technical and artistic senses. I suppose I need to think about it more. What do you think? Have I improved? And, if not (and please don’t be afraid to tell me so if that’s what you think), what do you think I can improve on?