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Best Of The Year

An annual review of your images can point you in new directions of creativity

Forest Fog, Monterey, California, 2009

Many years ago, when I was involved with Ansel Adams’ workshops, I was fortunate to hear lectures by many master photographers. One of them was Jerry Uelsmann (, who became a friend and mentor. During his lectures, he’d show his work from the past year. Since his work involves compositing many images together, these images included variations he had tried, often with the same objects in different locations or scenes. The overview gave insight into some of the progression of Jerry’s creative process. I always felt inspired when I saw many of his slideshows. I’ve often thought I should do this myself each year in order to assess my year’s efforts, but I never got around to it.

With the advent of Facebook, Twitter and blogs, it’s now very easy to create a “Best Of” portfolio to share with friends and fans. Using Collections in Lightroom is an ideal way to do this. My assistant John O’Connor simply took the top-ranked images in my 2009 Library folder to create the new Collection. From there, I edited down to the top 30. SlideShowPro is the software we use to post portfolios on my website via their Lightroom plug-in, which is simple to use, but also highly customizable in terms of design.

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’re stuck in a rut or are making great progress. One technique I’ve used to analyze my own work is to use the filters built into Photoshop’s Lightroom or Bridge. The software will show you the metadata analytics for any folder of images you have. The data shows how many were made with which camera body or lens, the shutter speed, aperture or ISO used, or by ranking labels.

I especially like seeing which lens I used the most (in most cases, it’s my Canon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8). Even with this simple bit of 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 that I’m in a rut and I may 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 may lead to the creation of a new e-book or an idea for an exhibit. Developing themes in your work is an important way to focus your photographic efforts.

I started out 2009 in India, so a few of my “Best Of” images are from there. Otherwise, I didn’t travel much, so many images were made around my house, in nearby Yosemite and during a short trip to the Monterey coast. Fortunately, I live in a beautiful area of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The photograph shown here is currently my favorite from the 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. The image for this column was made from two side-by-side exposures. I rotated 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.

I used Adobe Lightroom to select the two digital files, then sent them to Photoshop using the menu option Photo > Edit In > Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. After assembly, I cropped as shown here. When the layers are flattened, I have a 308 MB master file created with two exposures from my 21-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III. This gives me plenty of resolution for large mural-sized enlargements. We converted to black-and-white using menu option Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White. I liked it so much I added it to my recently printed version of my Meditations in Monochrome e-book.

The main point is to assess your photographic efforts on a regular basis. The beginning of the year is the ideal time for me. Ansel used to say that if a photographer can make 10 portfolio-grade images in one year, he or she had a great year! When you read this, go back one year in time with your own work and see how you do.

A collection of my best images from 2009 can be seen on my December 31, 2009 blog post:

To learn about William Neill’s one-on-one workshops in the Yosemite area, his e-books Meditations in Monochrome, Impressions of Light and Landscapes of the Spirit and his online courses with, or to visit his PhotoBlog, go to

William Neill is a renowned nature and landscape photographer and a recipient of the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars and posters, and his limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection and The Polaroid Collection. Neill's published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. He is also regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer with his column “On Landscape”.