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My top 4 photographs of 2020

Looking back at last year and picking my 4 favourite images

Fujifilm GFX 50S, 100.0mm, 1/125s, f/8.0, ISO 320

Last year, jumping on a top-4 trend from Twitter, I selected my own 4 favourite images from 2019. A year has passed and so it’s time for my top 4 photographs of 2020.

A re-review of 2019

First, I thought I’d have a quick look back at the four images I chose from 2019.

Do I still like them?

I wrote at the time of feeling that 2019 had been relatively weak for me photographically and I think that was true. The final image from Simonside got included less because I thought it was a great image and more because it was a subject/style I hadn’t tried often and wanted to encourage myself to explore more.

Interestingly, of the four images, I have since come to prefer a different image from the same day on two of them: for the Cullerocats sunset I found another frame with a slightly better composition and with the afore-mentioned Simonside trip I now prefer the image I shared when looking forward to last autumn and revisiting Simonside.

The Chamonix image had always been a tough choice amongst a number of mountain views and I still couldn’t really choose a stand-out favourite today. Which probably means none of them are exceptional.

Leaving just the Druridge Bay panorama, which I still love. So at least there’s that.

2020

Choosing a top four images has been harder this year. Despite the global pandemic and being restricted to our local area pretty much all year, it has allowed me to explore that area and be with a camera way more often.

So, on to to the 2020 top 4…

St. Mary’s Island low tide, August 2020

St. Mary’s Island low tide | FUJIFILM X-T3, 25.7mm, 1/480s at ƒ/8.0

Despite having a stronger year for photography, my favourites have all bunched up in the last few months and it’s August before we reach the first: a pano stitched image of a local landmark, St. Mary’s Island and lighthouse.

I need to let it settle, but at the moment I think it’s one of my favourite images this year and I wasn’t even trying to get it.

As I wrote at the time, I didn’t clock this as a particularly special image when taking it and then got pleasantly surprised reviewing it in post. It needs viewing big, but I’m still very pleased I captured this image.

As a bonus, while I quite quickly gave up on my specific aim to use the Fuji X-T3 more in 2020, that’s the camera I used to make this photo and so it’s nice to see the old X-T3 make an appearance here.

Tide pool toddle, September 2020

A toddler wades into a still tide pool. The water ripples out from his legs as he looks down and balances himself.
FUJIFILM GFX 50R, 90mm, 1/3199s at ƒ/1.0

Last year I excluded family photos from the list as I don’t tend to share them here, but this one I think stands on its own as an interesting image.

Taken on one of many walks down to the beach with the kids, on this day conditions were beautifully calm and a very large tide pool had formed on a section of the beach, with a ring of rocks protecting it from the waves and leaving a lovely still pool of water.

I made a point on these lockdown days with my sons to always still take a camera and this time I had the GFX 50R with the Leica Summicron-R 90/2 lens on an adapter.

The tide pool was large and deep enough to almost act like an infinity pool when looking at a low angle, while still shallow enough that I was OK with my toddler wading out into it on his own while I took a photo.

The ripples around him in the still water, with soft calm sky blending into the pool and a nice shallow depth of field to add to the softness of the scene all come together really nicely.

Taking flight, September 2020

Taking flight | FUJIFILM X100F, 23mm, 1/1399s at ƒ/8.0

I remarked last year how all four of my favourites were shot on the GFX medium format cameras and while I feel 2020 has seen me reach for the GFX bodies even more often, here’s a second top-4 image taken with an X series camera: the X100F.

… I lucked out with some lovely conditions and some fortuitous timing: I was actually trying to get a photo of the crow sitting on the railing, but as it is here in early flight works so much better with the minimalist composition and geometric, parallel lines of the sea, sand and prom.

I enjoyed this image when I took it and it has continued to grow on me. Fujifilm recently ran a competition celebrating the 10th anniversary of the X100 line, asking people to submit their single best image taken on an X100 series camera. After much back-and-forth, I submitted this one.

I made a print of this image as a Christmas gift and it prints really well. I think I might get a large print done for myself too.

Harbottle Wood, October 2020

Warm golden light from the left falls across trees in a woodland. The leaves are mostly shades of yellow and orange for autumn, with a few green branches here and there.
FUJIFILM GFX 50S, 100mm, 1/124s at ƒ/8.0

Lastly for this top four, an image I’m very pleased with as it’s the kind of image I’ve been interested in making for some time: a ‘proper’ woodland photograph.

It’s made all the better for me personally as it came from a rare full day I had for photography and where woodland was my focus; also a day where my plans all fell through and this scene is from a wood new to me that I only found as a backup location search after my favourite wood, and target for the day, at Simonside was closed for felling.

Taken as a hand-held stitched panorama on the Fuji GFX 50S with the GF100-200 lens, it was a scene I had already walked through and past while initially exploring the wood but only noticed the possibilities when stopping on my way back for a rest.

After an early start for a sunrise shoot and then the disappointment of Simonside being off-limits, by the time I spotted this wood while scouting for a new location in my car and pulled over, my morale and energy levels were both pretty low. 

I charged into the wood a bit aimlessly, taking the odd snap as I walked but not really feeling it. Also hungry and tired, I really should have stayed and eaten an early lunch in my car, realising that fact as I grumpily tramped around being uninspired.

Stopping for a rest in a more open area of the wood on my way back to the car for food, the forced pause allowed me to settle and actually observe my surroundings more, at which point I realised I was in a scene full of interesting compositions.

Enthusiasm regained, I had a burst of energy and took a load of frames walking around the general area, including this stitched pano which I love. I took a very similar composition with a wider lens on the 50R, but the stitch worked really nicely with the longer lens and leaves me with a 200+MP image that could be printed huge.

This image is a reminder to me both to persevere through the moments when inspiration and motivation are absent as well as make sure I keep the blood sugar levels up on these long days and eat regularly.

A successful year?

In last year’s post, I set myself a few goals for 2020: getting more use from the X-T3, my drone and my Bronica film cameras; spending more time on photography itself and exploring woodland photography more.

I’ll review my equipment usage in another post but the X-T3 did see more action, I only flew the Mavic 2 once (for shame!) and I did manage a few outings with the Bronicas, albeit not as much as I’d like. Also, the S2 turned out to have a light leak.

Lockdowns, working from home and spending a good 6 months of the year looking after my kids in the mornings, starting work at lunchtimes, oddly increased my opportunities for photography hugely this year at least in terms of quantity and regularity. Having made the move up to the North East coast of England 18 months ago, this pandemic year really encouraged us that we made the right choice. I’m not sure we’d have managed nearly as well if we’d still been in our small house in South East London.

The flip side to those positives photographically speaking is that I only managed two dedicated photography days on my own all year: everything else was done on family walks. So I got some lovely images (and three of this top four are from family walks) but didn’t get quite the opportunities I had hoped for to dig into slower, more considered photography.

2021

Looking forward to this new year, we’re realistically looking at plenty more months of restricted movement and so I’m wary of setting any lofty goals for 2021. 

I would like to find more opportunities to get out on my own for photography, even short local trips, and in those opportunities try to set myself themes or constraints (like film photography, drone, slowing down and using a tripod, etc.) so they don’t turn into longer run-and-gun sessions. Sometimes it’s good to have no plan and just see what happens too.

In 2020 I still want to explore woodland more, and I’ve been building up a scene list with SceneMapper to jump on good conditions when I can.

I’m also keen to look out for more of the little details and then stop and spend proper time on them when I find them. I got one lovely dune detail last year and have been trying to be more observant for these detail shots since then.

A real stretch goal will be to finally release SceneMapper. While it’s already in a pretty solid state and I’ve been using it personally for months, it is a side project from my day job and finding time to get it ready for public consumption is tough. I’m working on it!

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