In what has become a tradition here at Shutter Photo, I like to do an annual review of all of the photos that have been contributed to our group, Shutter Photo @ Flickr throughout the course of the year. The group, which was started mid-way through 2009, now boasts 200 members as of this writing and over 3,000 photos were submitted to the group this past year. In addition to fueling our weekly inspirational photo spotlights, the group has become an incredible source of inspiration for everyone. Of all the accomplishments we’ve had here at Shutter Photo, I think I”m proud of the Flickr group the most.
It was not an easy task to narrow it down to just 10 photos. I struggled most with the last 30 photos. Believe me when I say that they all would have deserved a spot here on this list. But in the end, and as tradition shall dictate, I needed only 10. So I split those hairs and eliminated photos from the roster based on the most minute details. The resulting list is, in my opinion, a 10-way tie. And so I present to you the 10 most interesting photos of the [email protected] Pool, 2011. (These are presented in no particular order as I chose not to rank them against each other.)
Greenish by Michael Feldklipp
If George Lucas was in need of a movie set of an Imperial Garden for Star Wars, Michael Feldklipp’s Greenish would fit the bill. Except that Michael’s vision is likely better than what Lucas could create. That’s right, folks, this is actually a photo. It’s possible that this is an HDR photo, but only subtly so. Regardless, the means and methods behind a photo is irrelevant. What maters is that Michael has transported the viewer to an oasis among glass and steal towers. The architecture and landscape design certainly deserves its own merits, but Michael has captured it in a way that truly does the space justice. I think it’s the post-processing treatment that really makes the shot pop. The color space is limited a muted green and not a whole lot else. The harsh vertical lines are emphasized by Michael’s treatment. Additionally, the two-vanishing point composition, crystal clear reflections and Michael’s careful placement of the island renders this space with a surreal feel. In short, Michael’s Greenish attracts the eye because of its dreamlike qualities.
Early last year, we published an article discussing the importance of negative space. The photo that inspired the article, and ultimately became part of the article, was none other than Jon DeBoer’s Superstar. The problem with many of today’s beginning photographers is that they lean too much on the so-called rules, one of which suggests you get close, or use tight crops. Sadly, the suggestion does not always work as well as a wider crop, and I commended Jon for offering so much negative space around his subject. The negative space helps to create emotion of the lone performer on an otherwise empty stage. The negative space, in this case, is essential in the communication of these emotions to the viewer. As I suggested last February when speaking of the image, the negative space offers a context and emotion that separates and elevates this photo above others out there. Aside from the negative space, there are many other great virtues of the shot. The use of the stage light to back-light the performer and cast such a strong shadow is immediately fantastic. The performer’s demeanor slams that emotion home and connects with the viewer. As a viewer, I can imagine what this person is thinking. I can feel the emotion. Any time a photo grabs you in such a way, you know it’s a great photo.
The best photos, in my opinion, are the ones that tell a story. The story does not have to be complex, but the viewer should be able to read the story through the photograph. Christoph Hetzmannseder’s photograph, Lost Shoe, tells a simple story, and Christoph tells it so elegantly. From his use of depth of field (which is often overdone) down to the color temperature of the photo (the warm filtering makes the scene welcoming), the viewer cannot help but to feel an attachment to this photograph. Of course, Christoph’s photo has not gone unnoticed since it was taken last April. We discovered the photo and wrote about it last summer. Lost Shoe has been inspiring us ever since. Of course Christoph makes he photo look easy, but I can say that there was some good forethought here. I believe he plans and thinks out each one of his photos down to every detail. He is, in my opinion, a master at crafting simple stories through his camera and has proven it time and time again.
There is something to be said for the sky: It is attractive us, as photographers, in all of our work. Be it street, landscape, portraiture, or whatever, the sky is always a consideration. So when Bob Hallam presented this photo, Keen Observation, I was mesmerized by hot the sky appeared in the shot. To me, it looked like a point where the atmosphere was ceasing to exist, and Bob captured a rare moment between night and day. That’s just perception, of course, as it’s really just a function of where he’s shooting. He was standing 13,796 feet (4,205 meters) above the sea where the clouds are often well below. But the surreal nature of the photo is why this photograph is so amazing: It clearly depicts a scene that many of us have never seen. Captured in black and white, and handled delicately so as to preserve the dynamic range and contrast of the scene, you cannot help but to think this is taken on a different planet. Mars, perhaps? Back in May, when we last wrote about Bob’s photograph, we also pointed out that his photo doesn’t technically follow all of the so-called compositional rules, yet the photo is still fantastic. Keen Observation, then, is yet another reminder that we sometimes need to ignore the rules.
I love minimalist photography. But I’m somewhat jealous of the fact that photographer Djura Stankovic makes it look so easy. His photograph, Notebook, is one such minimalist photograph that has a huge visual impact. It’s a high-key shot of a notebook with a pen holding it open. A normal exposure of the notebook and pen would be uninteresting. But the high-key component eliminates nearly all detail, except for the shadows cast by the notebook and he pen itself. You can’t even see he back edge of the notebook, nor can you see the lines (if any) on the page. However, even if the title wasn’t a clue as to the subject, I suspect most people would be able to figure it out. That in and of itself is a lesson in just how much power the mere suggestion of an object can have. I like this part the most. From the observer’s perspective, high-key and low-key minimalist photographs are fun to try and figure out. Compositionally, Djura keeps things simple with the weight of the subject pushed down and to the right. The white space, which easily takes up 95% of the photograph, is the key to the overall aesthetic. This photo is not crowded. It is a perfect specimen of a minimalist photograph.
One thing we are not used to seeing is bold colors in long-exposure nighttime photographs. That is a mold and a perception that John McGraw has made an effort to break with his color-rich nighttime scenes. We spoke at length on John’s use of color in a photographer spotlight back in June. But perhaps one of his best works is Manhattan Bridge, which is shown here. Color is not rare in night photography, but we are so accustomed to seeing only the light – the whites and pale yellow washes of light as is common in a night scene. While light transforms structures at night, which is interesting without the help of color, I find it refreshing to see other such colors introduced into a night scene. The reddish hue of the structures surrounding this arch yields a nice, warm feel to the shot. Juxtaposition to that is the deep blue sky, something that can only be captured during a tiny window of time just after sunset. Set to that the symphony of light trails from passing cars and the star-like forms from the brightest lights, and John’s photograph becomes a performance for the eyes. And you thought this bridge was fantastic before John introduced his photographic eye.
Brian Day is no stranger to these pages. We’ve featured his works a number of times. His works were featured among last year’s 10 Most Interesting Photos (2010), and he took second place at our competition last year. And that’s just scratching the surface (just search for his name). Needless to say, we love his work. But to be fair, as a person has become one of our favorites here at Shutter Photo, we tend to be harder on them. The bar has been set, it has been raised, and we expect a lot of our favorites, like Brian. However, Brian continues to evolve and reinvent himself every year and his photography continues to improve. So while that bar is very high now, he has once again reached it with his photo, Time Slips Away. It’s a yucky, dreary night when most everyone else is at home and dry…and Brian is out in the dreary taking photos. The man on the left clearly has no interest in standing still long enough to do a long-exposure. But this is a great time to take out the camera. This is when things are most dramatic. As for Brian, he was out there and waited while his camera – most likely on a tripod – captured a crisp, tack-sharp, clean scene. The man, therefore, becomes a blur through the space which is otherwise unaffected by time. And that’s where the theme comes full circle: Time Slips Away.
Photographer Ray Rhodes is a major contributor to the [email protected] group and we’ve featured his work here many times. His slice of the American countryside style of photography strikes deep into heartstrings of many. The photographer in us has a great admiration for his abilities and most of all, his eyes. He has a natural talent for capturing common landscapes – scenes we see each and every day – and presenting them in a way that makes us question whether we really saw the scene in the first place. Visual Impediment, shown here, is Ray’s approach to minimalist landscapes. Snow is always a great subject, but on a drab day it often lacks the pop. Against the sky, there is a minimal amount of contrast and I’ll admit that I would never have seen the shot that Ray has presented here. By introducing an element like a stand of trees, Ray has essentially made the snow relevant again. But I also want you to take notice of the fence line. The rickety old posts are a minimal part of the scene, but they are an important one: They frame the top of the hill, emphasizing the curvature as it bends into the woodland. The woodland itself is quite a contrast – both in tone and in texture – to the fluffy snow around. It’s a simple, but powerful, composition. The result actually inspires me to get out in the snow this year (and I really don’t like the snow).
There is a distinct line in our world between man-made and natural features. Regardless of your feeling about how the two are at odds with each other in the countryside, you cannot argue with the beauty of the juxtaposition in photographs. Jonathan Robson, who allegedly grew up not far from the decommissioned Thorpe Marsh power station in England, the subject of his photo Valley of Kings #3. The industrial forms of the cooling towers are mesmerizing when placed in a natural environment. For the longest time, I actually favored Jonathan’s companion photo, Valley of Kings, which was taken at the same location. It’s more intimate than #3, but I have grown to prefer #3 instead. The reason is because of the natural aspect present in #3, which seems to be lacking in the other photo. Specifically, there are three elements which really draws the eye: The large fluffy tree that seems to guard the towers and the access drive; the diagonal hedgerow that cuts across diagonally and frames one side of the towers; and the high contrast sky that is almost black with it’s white fluffy clouds. The sky especially deserves some recognition as Jonathan clearly spent some time getting it right – be it in-camera with a good stack of photos or in post (or both). The result is this captured landscape, which is clearly a setting suitable for kings.
When I last wrote about Mark Heath‘s photo, Pearl Tower, II, shown here, I spoke about the importance of context within a photo. The interesting thing about Pearl Tower II is that it’s context is the indistinguishable Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai. This has afforded Mark the ability to introduce some bokeh into the photo with a narrower depth of field. Why is this important? For starters, it makes the tower – a presumed destination, considering the title – look like it’s really far off. It also makes the scooter – who’s presence would otherwise be eclipsed by the overbearing tower – pop out of the photo. This begs the question: What is the subject of the photo? Is it the tack-sharp scooter in the foreground, or is it the blurry image of the tower in the background as the title would imply. Perhaps the story of the scooter longing to be at the tower is the real subject. A story, however, is not a physical entity that can show up on film, or so we might believe. The composition and context within the photo helps to tell the story. Even so, there could be thousands of stories derived from this photo. Mark has paired that list down through his use of Depth of Field, focusing on the scooter. But the scooter does not have presence within the title – only the tower does. If you’re following my logic, you’ve realized by now that your perception of this photo is fabricated by Mark’s clever trickery. And you thought you were in control of what you see.
As you can see, the competition this year was incredibly tight. On one hand, it has grown more difficult for me to compile these lists, both due to the volume of photos and due to the overall quality of the work within the [email protected] group. On the other hand, I am incredibly proud of our group’s members and contributors for producing such fantastic and inspirational works. We are, by all consideration, still a small group. But we’re packed full of quality, and I would place the group up against any other. And so we’ll go on about our way through 2012 inspiring each other, and I look forward to that. I look forward to seeing what new concepts and compositions come out of the group this coming year. If 2011 was any indication, we should be in line for a bountiful year.