(© Ian Plant) Ansel Adams once famously said “twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” I don’t know how many days Ansel spent in the field in a given year, but I do know this: the pace of nature photography has become much more hectic than in his days of 8x10 view cameras and glass plates. Forget every year—it seems these days we’re expected to make twelve significant photographs every trip.
Every now and then, however, it is a good idea to slow down and to take stock of where things are and where they are heading. There’s no better time than the end of a year to take a deep breath, and to critically assess the direction your creative eye is taking you. So before charging headlong into 2013, pause for a moment to review the photographs you made in 2012.
Letting Ansel be our guide, challenge yourself to pick your twelve favorites from 2012. Picking just twelve can be more challenging than you think. Even if you had a really good year, finding twelve of your images that really inspire you may prove difficult. We all have an initial rush of excitement when we first view a stunning new image on our camera’s LCD screen, or after it has been brought to life on the computer. But after you have stared at an image for several months, does it still move you the same way it did when you first saw it? Many images have short term wow factor, but few have sufficient depth to stand the test of time. If you find that you are picking mostly from your recent work, take a break and wait a few weeks before starting again. Let some of the “honeymoon” period wear off, and study your recent work critically before including it in your top twelve.
Now that you've picked your twelve favorite images, take a moment to explore what they say about you as an artist. Have you taken images for yourself? Or have you taken photographs that will sell well or give you acclaim on the Internet? Has your vision progressed from the previous year, or have you been in an artistic rut? Are you seeing more of the nuance and subtlety of nature, or have you been chasing epic moments? Are each of your photos different, or is a style emerging? There are no right or wrong answers, but honestly asking these questions is the key to artistic growth.
To be honest, I find the process of picking my twelve best images to be a difficult one. Great photographs don’t just fall from the sky—they require patience, hard work, and dedication. Even with significant time spent in the field, few images rise to the highest level. The process of building a quality portfolio is a long and arduous one, and there are no shortcuts along the way. It may take years for your work to speak with authority, but once it does, no one will ever fail to see your vision. Even then, you can never expect to complete your progression as an artist—it is a lifelong journey, rather than a destination.
So, maybe in the end, twelve significant photographs every year really isn't such a bad number. The most important thing is that they are significant to you, are a product of your own vision, and represent your progression as an artist. As we enter the New Year, reflect on the lessons learned from the past, and strive to do even better than before.
As for me, I’m looking forward to the day when I can have a conversation with Ansel about his awkward number choice. Ten (instead of twelve) has the benefit of being a round number, and much easier to obtain!
Now that I've officially wrapped up my shooting for the year, I can share my twelve favorites from 2012. Here they are, in no particular order . . .
1. "Reaching for Light"—Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, Belize
2. "Lenga Dance"—Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina
3. "The Devil's Eye"—Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Lake Superior, Wisconsin, USA
4. "Ancient Portal"—Scotland, United Kingdom
5. "The Beast"—Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
6. "Visual Flow"—Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA
7. "Eventide"—Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
8. "Snorkeling"—Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, Belize
9. "Eilean Leòdhais"—Scotland, United Kingdom
10. "Into the West Away"—Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona, USA
11. "Sunset Slumber"—Tambopata National Reserve, Peru
12. "Aurora's Blush"—Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile
To see more of my images from 2012, visit my Recent Work gallery (although soon I will purge the gallery, move the best stuff into my permanent galleries, and then start fresh for the new year). Good luck to everyone in 2013!