A few weeks ago we published an article about the value of critiquing your own photography in order to improve at the craft. We also mentioned the value of a certain exercise that can help achieve this; picking your one favorite you’ve taken and figuring out what exactly you love about it.
The CP staff and I decided to do that for 2017. More importantly, we want to encourage you to do so, as well. To that end, we’d love to see your favorite photo that you’ve taken this year. So if you’re up for it, pick your favorite photo and tell us about it in the comments section of the post. Add a link to a place where we can see the shot.
Here are each of our favorite photos, why they’re our favorite, how and why they were shot, and with what gear. We hope you like them.
Panning shots are a challenge. Set the shutter speed too fast and the background freezes and the shot becomes bland. Twitch mid-pan and your subject can fall out of focus. Snap the shot before or after your point of critical focus, and suddenly the whole photo is nothing but a blur, no matter how steady your sweep. Try all of this on film and you’ll have no idea if you’re fouling up shot, after shot, after shot.
With this many variables and so much potential for disaster, I’m please any time I manage to pull off a panning shot on even just a technical level. Just getting a shot of a crisp subject is enough of an annoyance that I’m happy to compromise on composition and crop later to make the photo work better. When a panned photo of something moving as quickly as a formula car at close range actually comes out, and I can also use the whole negative, I’m nothing short of ecstatic.
I shot this particular formula car at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park in September of this year. I was pinned to the back straight fence trying to get myself as close to the action as possible, which is oh so hard to do at a racetrack. This time, it paid off.
To the best of my memory, this was shot on a Canon F1. The lens was a Canon FD 200mm f/2.8, and the film was Eastman Double-X shot at box speed. Shutter speed was somewhere around 1/125th, though it may have been slightly slower than that. In any case, I’m more pleased with this shot than any other photo I’ve made this year.
The snow-capped Eastern Sierras of California are one of the state’s signature natural wonders, and something every Californian should see once. But beautiful may they be on their own, they take on a more complex, poignant character when viewed from the Manzanar National Historic Site, the historic site of one of the United States’ many Japanese internment camps.
Seventy years after its practical application, the camp is now a museum serving to inform and educate patrons about the tragic years during World War II that saw the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans. Walking through the museum is an intense experience as you come face to face with an extremely dark part of U.S. history, all told through the firsthand accounts of the people who suffered through internment.
While reading through these stories, I came across a section where an internee was reflecting on the beauty of the mountains from inside the camp. He wrote that the eternal beauty of the mountain range gave the internees hope that one day they would be free from their temporary suffering.
The sentiment sounded nice, but the truth behind it didn’t hit me until I found myself sitting inside the camp’s mess hall, looking back out at the majestic Sierras through a small, rickety window. Without giving it a second thought, I raised my Nikon FE, focused and metered for the mountains, and took the shot.
I have to say, the mountains never looked as beautiful as they did then.
The process of picking my favorite photo from 2017 was challenging. My heart tells me that the hundreds of shots I’ve taken of my two-year-old and ten-month-old daughters are the best. But if I put on my editor’s hat, I know I need to pick something a bit less sentimental and a bit more cerebral. Here’s the result.
I mostly consider myself to be a bad photographer. I take shots of things that look pretty or interesting, and I try to play with light, but I’m very aware that my photos don’t contain much in the way of message or commentary, personal or otherwise. I’d like to change this, or at least figure out how to flip the switch when I want to take serious photographs. I chose the shot that I chose because it’s one of the first photos I’ve taken that has at least some degree of craft and significance (to me). Here’s why.
I’ve been a working stiff for much of my life. Even as a college student, I worked full time. From age eighteen to twenty-three I worked the night shift stacking papers at the tail end of a newspaper printing press. The job paid next to nothing and permanently damaged my sense of hearing. I spent the next ten years working with chemicals. I won’t get into this too much, but imagine breathing acetone and oil fumes all day, every day, for ten years. Plus the aches and pains that come with lifting heavy shit all day, and the mental weariness that comes with wasting your education and being paid just enough to stay alive.
The longer you work these kinds of jobs, the harder it is to see anything else; a way up and out, the path that might allow you to do something fulfilling. And if you work these kinds of jobs too long, it’s almost as if you lose your vision completely. You go to work, come home, get nowhere, and never see that there could possibly be anything different.
After ten years, I knew I needed to provide a better life for my brand new daughter and family. I quit my job in February of 2017, and dedicated myself full-time to growing this site and the camera shop. I’ve been doing this every day since.
I found the subject of my photo in the basement of a dimly lit grocery shop in Boston’s Chinatown. The man was surrounded by stink, the smell of old fish and bad produce. The shop was not heated, even though it was February and close to zero degrees outside. He wore rubber boots, a rubber shirt, rubber gloves, and a thick, rubber apron. He was mopping the floor, but to me it looked like he was simply dousing the filthy floor with filthier water. A cold worker in a poorly ventilated crawlspace of a shop. Looking defeated and miserable. Was this the peak of his potential? Is this what he would choose to do, given the choice? I snuck in and got the shot.
When I first saw this image, it made me recall all the unhappy years I’d spent at dead-end jobs, all the years I’d spent unable to see a way up. I also noticed, sadly, that the man in the photo appears to have no eyes.
Of course, none of this is immediately apparent to a viewer who hasn’t read these paragraphs on the shot. I guess incorporating clearer messaging into my photos is the next step toward becoming a good photographer. 2018, perhaps?
For the second year in a row, 2017 saw me traveling to Europe with film cameras only, and once again I learned the hard way just how much I’d over packed. Medium format, tripod, some point-and-shoots, an SLR and multiple lenses. And just like it was the year before, I rarely touched anything other than my Minolta XD with the Rokkor 35mm f/2.8 lens. That pairing is great for travel; the XD is small and sophisticated and the 35mm’s a sharp lens with a great all-around focal length.
Hamburg is Germany’s second-largest city and also one of its cloudiest. Having taken the train from Berlin, I planned to tour the city for the day and shoot as much as I could. I knew very little about the hot spots in the city, but had read an article before the trip about the recently completed Elbphilharmonie, which is both a world-class concert hall and the jewel of the city’s skyline.
After taking what may be the longest escalator ride of my life, I reached a small observation deck looking at out on the city and Elbe River. It was here that I saw this family pause and take in the sight. I’m really not much of a street photographer and I’ll always be uncomfortable with the intrusiveness that is required to make really great street photos. But in this instance, the opportunity for an interesting photo fell into my lap.
With all good photography, being there is the most important thing. I think I shot this at f/8, and as usual, the center-weighted metering of the XD with the infallible Kodak Tri-X delivered an even exposure. On a trip filled with somewhat underwhelming photography, this and a few other photos on that roll were diamonds in the rough.
Children are often difficult to photograph. My boys, cursed with photographers for parents, have quickly developed a heightened sense of photo anticipation. Not a day goes by that they don’t turn the opposite direction or obscure their faces obstinately as the camera is raised. As our collection of awkward family photos grows, their defiance has led many observers to think that our kids are angry or even evil at heart, as they browse the family photo albums. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth (though I have at times considered that my middle child may be the spawn of satan). Regardless, nothing pleases me more than capturing their unique personalities on film. I consider these photographs to be my greatest treasure.
During our annual pilgrimage to Whistler, B.C., Canada this past summer, the boys, some friends of ours, and I took a walk around one of the local lakes to find a high rock to jump off of. Part of that walk required us to follow a set of train tracks for a bit before eventually ducking into the shrubs. I had my trusty Pentax 645n with me that day, attached to the stellar Pentax FA 75mm f2.8, and loaded with my favorite 120 color film, Fuji Pro 400H.
As we hopped onto the tracks, the boys, sans shoes and shirts, began hollering and throwing rocks. It was like a scene from Lord of the Flies as they hopped from rail to rail, and danced around in some sort of pre-pubescent hunting ritual. I recall running a few yards up ahead adjusting my aperture (wide open) and shutter speed (1/1000) as I did so, knowing there wouldn’t be much time to get a shot off before they denied me the pleasure. As I turned and raised the camera to my eye, my youngest had followed me down the center of the tracks and had begun what I consider to be one of the most bizarre pelvic thrust motions I’ve ever witnessed. Truly, no child should know how to move their body in this manner. Despite my desire to laugh, I fired one shot, just as the camera reached my eye, and ended up with the shot.
My youngest isn’t the easiest child by any stretch, but for him to humor me for just a split second, and for me to be able to capture it forever, makes this not only my favorite photo of 2017, but one of my favorite photographs I’ve ever taken.
And that’s the end of our 2017 shooting year. As we mentioned, we’d love to see your favorite photo you’ve taken all year and hear about what makes it special. Tell us about it in the comments section and link us to a place where we can see the shot.
And as always, thanks for making 2017 a wonderful year for CP. We love sharing your hobby with you and are always honored that we’re able to do that. From everyone here to all our friends out there, have a great end of 2017 and best of luck as we move forward into the new year.
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