Now that we’re a quarter into 2015, it’s a good time to start looking back at the photos you’ve taken so far this year. When reflecting, consider the following questions: What have been your favorites and why? Would you include these in your portfolio? What can you do to improve what you’ve already taken?
Best of 2015
It has been discussed on the site and in the Improve Photography Podcast how one way to really measure how you are improving as a photographer is to compile a yearly top 10 “best of” collection. In fact, collection is a great word to use here as using the Lightroom Collections feature is an excellent way to get ready for this each year. As you go work through your photo shoots in Lightroom and you finish editing a shot you think has a good chance to be in your top 10 for 2015, drop it into a collection for that purpose. If you are diligent in rating your photos you could find your 4 and 5 star photos at the end of the year as well, but using a collection makes that even easier because it is disconnected from the ratings that you may need to use with clients.
As an example of this, I am going to reflect on some of the photos I have taken so far this year and see what have been the highlights.
Riverside Lunar Festival (January 2015)
For events like this, I switch to street photography mode and focus more on capturing moments rather than carefully composing shots. For this particular one, I carried my full-frame Nikon Df camera with my 50mm f1.8 lens. I like the quick focusing of a prime lens and like the option to use a wide aperture to draw out people and objects from often-busy backgrounds. I took several photos I was pleased with this day, but two stand out.
When shooting events, I like to have establishing shots—signs, banners, or other indications of what the event is and where it took place. These are not always the greatest photos (often more practical than artistic), though this one I particularly like. We get the banner along with a sense of the location (downtown Riverside, California) with the tower in the background. I chose to process this with a sharper black & white filter to bring out details in both the banner and in the architecture.
I also loved this interplay of the dragon with the little girl. I took many different compositions and kept some in color and converted some to black & white. I particularly like this one for its long shadows and the way the light is hitting the dragon’s eye. However, keeping this photo in color draws more attention to the fact that it was shot in a parking lot, which is a little distracting.
Private Model Shoots (February 2015)
I often work with models. These shoots range from studio shoots complete with sets, lights, and make-up artists to simple location shoots where I work with available light. For these shoots, I either use my full-frame Nikon D600 or my Df, often with my 50mm f/1.8 lens for full body shots or my 105mm f/2.8 lens for portraits. I have done several such shoots already this year, but photos from two of them have become favorites.
One of my model friends lives in Los Angeles and has an apartment with a balcony overlooking the city. We have shot here before, but that time focused more on shots inside her apartment. This time, we focused on the balcony and the roof, which offers a panoramic view of downtown LA. What I like about this shot is that she almost appears to be floating in air. I shot this at f/2.8 to allow some distinction in the blurred background—enough blurring to draw attention to the model yet still being able to make out the buildings.
I’d met up with another model friend of mine in downtown Claremont at a boutique hotel. For this photo, we setup outside of the room to work with the minimal props of the two wicker chairs and the simple circular table. This allowed me to focus on her red dress and her expression, while the landscape nature of the composition also draws attention to her elongated legs. It also allowed me to take advantage of the natural light available from the courtyard behind me.
Nicaragua (March 2015)
My favorite photographs are those taken while traveling. I like having to think on my feet and doing the best I can with the given conditions (clouds, rain, crowds). I travel with a crop-frame Nikon D7000, which along with my Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 lens are noticeably lighter and smaller than a similar full-frame setup. While I have many trips planned for this year, Nicaragua was the first.
There are many volcanoes in Nicaragua and photographing them is always challenging, as their craters tend to be covered with either clouds or gases emitting from the crater. With this in mind, for this photo of Masaya Volcano, I employed a lot of the area surrounding the crater to provide visual interest. The cross in the background also provides for a surprise element and a reminder that this volcano is located in a Catholic country.
I really like this photo as it reminds me of a modernist painting. It was taken inside Managua’s new Cathedral, itself a modernist work. While I had taken some symmetry shots of the interior, I often find angles to be much more interesting. My only concern with this photo is that, since I don’t travel with a tripod, I had to set the ISO to 1600 in order to get an acceptable shutter speed, which creates some grain and can limit how large I could print this image.
Will each of these photos end up in my Best of 2015 portfolio? At the moment they're among my favorites, but there are still many photographs to be taken this year, so it's hard to tell. I will be traveling with a tripod this summer in Europe, so that will address my concerns with the Managua Cathedral photo. In three months, I'll go through another review of my photos this year, including a re-evaluation of these photos taken in the first quarter of this year. I may even find some I overlooked. No matter if you use Lightroom collections, or the rating system in Lighroom or another photo catalog program, creating your top 10 photos each year is a really good way to see how you are improving as a photographer.