Top 10 Images of 2016





2016 has been an odd year for me from a photography point of view. It’s brought several challenges as I reinvigorate my mojo! I’ve been through the whole professional photography using Canon 5D and professional lenses but with everything it’s all become so cumbersome that it was becoming a chore just to pick it up!

So, what to do? Well the answer was simple: go small. So I literally sold pretty much all my professional gear but kept some of my old school flashes and invested in a smaller system. That system is the Olympus micro four thirds EM10, their very base model. Well, no point shelling out a fortune on the top end gear if I find I don’t get on with it within six months.

So, a year on, do I like it? Do I ever! I started with the Olympus OMD EM10 and the 14-42 lens but found very quickly I wanted something with a longer reach, therefore I quickly invested in the 40-150mm.
Even with this setup I could get it all in a bag less than half the size (and weight) of my old one! Of course you end up wanting to try some creative fun shots and soon a fisheye lens joined the ranks. To be fair, a year on I don’t use either of these very often but I know if I got rid of them I would regret it. To that end I found the kit lens was most used but I wanted slightly wider for landscape and other work, so I’ve now got the 12-50 macro. 2mm might not sound a lot and, despite it being a heavier lens, is much more versatile.

And does this new gear all make me a better photographer than I used to be? No, no it doesn’t because good photography is as much about art and knowledge as it is about the camera and lenses. Better equipment does not take better photographs, knowledge and how it’s applied is what produces good photography. Otherwise it’s akin to saying that the oven is what made that great cake, not the person that actually baked it! Of course whether you think I’m a good photographer is up to you, it’s entirely subjective, you will either like my images or not. (I hope you do though).

So, speaking of images, here are my favourite pictures of 2016 in decending order.

Number 10: Toward Kempston Woods.

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 IIR.
Exposure: ISO 200 | 1/500th sec | F6.3 @ 22mm.

This image was taken at the end of April 2016 and was on my way back from spending an hour in Kempston Woods not far from where I live. My initial plan that day was to explore the woods and, more importantly, get some shots of the bluebells that had come out. However, as it was this was my only decent image of the day, just goes to show you can plan all you want, sometimes things just don’t go your way.

By about 4pm the light under the tree canopy was too poor anyway and on my way back to the car I walked past this field of rapeseed and saw an approaching downpour. So, while my planned bluebell shots didn’t work out, this shows that sometimes an opportunity simply presents itself. That’s almost enough reason for me to put this shot in the top 10, however, I was also very pleased to bring out the vibrance of the rapeseed against the darkness of the looming rainstorm and I just love the way the trees and hedgerows lead your eye to the horizon from the left of the image.

Number 9: Common Reed After The Flood.

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 40-150mm f4-5.6R.
Exposure: ISO 200 | 1/50th sec | F8 @ 114mm.

Certainly this was a minimalist shot of a Common Reed (Phragmites australis) taken in early March 2016. We, as well as much of the country had floods and in this case it was the Great Ouse near Stevington, Bedfordshire. While I’d taken several shots on my walk, many were in a very documentary style, but then I decided to put on my 40-150 lens with a plan to do some shallow depth of field shots.

As I walked along the flooded riverbank there were many of these reeds, albeit many were clumped together and I really needed some space to isolate one or two of the reeds at most. It took about 15 minutes of walking to find this spot as I needed the right background, the right space but also needed it to be fairly close to where I was standing despite having a longer lens. The reason for this was that I needed to zoom into the reeds, by using a longer focal length it is possible to increase the blur of the background rather than use a wide lens with a low f stop.

So, the reason this made my top 10 images is because of the isolation of that pair of reeds, struggling to survive in a flooded harsh environment. I hope you like it.

Number 8: Aldeburgh – One More

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 IIR.
Exposure: ISO 200 | 1/640th sec | F3.5 @ 14mm.

Skipping ahead to early November 2016 saw me visit the east coast with the wife on a day trip. However, rather than do the usual Wells next the Sea, we opted for both Aldburgh and then Southwold.

This shot is one of many taken during that day out but is probably my favourite based on the cool blues and whites which epitomised the cold barren November afternoon. There’s something about visiting the coast out of season, you feel more at one with the whole world.

Number 7: Airlander Under The Great Bear

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 IIR.
Exposure: ISO 100 | 30 secs | F3.5 @ 14mm.

My only shot in my top 10 that is after dark. Now some of you will be wondering what on earth you are looking at and I don’t blame you, partly as it’s dark and partly as it’s the only one of its kind in the world currently. This is the Airlander 10 hybrid airship and you can find their website here.

The airship is based at Cardington Sheds which is only a few miles from my front door and I took this shot late at night August 2016 from outside their fence that night and managed to get approached by a security guard asking what I was up to, his reasoning being I had a head torch with a red light and he thought I was spying? Have to say it seems odd if they were worried about spies that the ship would be on display to all and sundry. Perhaps he just thought that anyone out after dark was up to no good. Anyway, the shot is a composite of two shots, one exposed for the stars showing the Great Bear, the other for the airship itself. Merging in post production was straight forward and, at the time of writing, is one of very few images online of this mighty machine in a night time environment!

Number 6: Ridgeway Wood Bench

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 IIR.
Exposure: ISO 100 | 1/30th sec | F7.1 @ 33mm.

Jumping back to early March 2016 sees me in one of our other local wooded / forested areas which is part of the Forest of Marston Vale, just outside of Bedford after days of rain resulting in flooded pathways, roads and generally just water everywhere!

My initial plan was to explore a local farm that I knew had been sold up for development and I hoped to get there before it was demolished but was too late, so plan B was to explore the local area via public footpaths and byways. As I said, lots were flooded and I came across this bench which caught my eye on two fronts.

The first was the gnarly, rough hewn wood stumps that looked like they were decaying from the ground up, the water added to this making it look like it was actively attacking the structure of the bench. I could already envisage this working well as a simple black and white image, which is how you see it now.

The second reason was that still, mirror like reflection. A good reflection in wet weather is just too good to pass up. As a photographer it’s too easy to avoid the bad weather but often if you make the effort to embrace the rain and wind within sensible limits (I’m not advocating storm hunting!) then you can get some great shots.  

Number 5: Gate Latch & Lock

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM1040-150mm f4-5.6R.
Exposure: ISO 200 | 1/10th sec | F8 @ 92mm.

This is the earliest of my top 10’s for 2016 actually taken on the 26th January and I didn’t have to go very far at all. This is in fact the lock and latch of my own back garden gate which, as you can tell by the cobwebs, doesn’t need to be used often.

This shot was inspired by a set of themes on a photography forum and that week was black and white. Sometimes I simply want to take pictures of everyday, overlooked items and that day I made myself look no further than 50 feet from my living room. As soon as I saw the lock and latch I just thought “that could be any abandoned gate” and the idea that it could be a back yard or even the gate to a long abandoned farm just spoke to me. I immediately knew it had to be a contrasty black and white, the grain of the wood and the sharp focus on the metal of the lock was a perfect juxtaposition of elements and just too good to pass up. One more thing needed going though and that was the addition of a dark vignette to direct your eye away from the edges into the middle of the picture. 

Number 4: Scooter Selfie

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 | Canon 540EZ Flash Off Camera | Yongnuo Flash Triggers
Exposure: ISO 100 | 1/20th sec | F13 @ 12mm.

So, from number 5 in January to the other extreme. This shot was actually on Christmas Eve and inspired by a thread on the Lambretta Club of Great Britain website where members are encouraged to post photos of their scooters. This particular week was “Selfie” so there you go.

However, I wanted to post something more than simply sat on my scooter so decided to seek out a local lane with little traffic (so I thought) in the wilds of Kempston and do a sunset shot but using off camera flash to ensure I wasn’t dark in the image. Boy oh boy, a shot that should have taken 5 minutes took about an hour, mainly because this dead end lane, that only goes to one farm, must have had ten cars up and down over that time as it was, after all, Christmas Eve.

This meant taking a lot of shots because it was such a narrow lane there simply wasn’t enough room to have a car go past with a scooter and a light stand for the flash and a camera on a tripod, as I was alone, so it was quite comedic using the self timer then jumping on the scooter and striking the right pose. Still, I really enjoyed it and that’s why it makes it to number 4! Well that and the technical knowledge I successfully used to balance the off camera flash against the sunset in Kempston.

Number 3: Southwold Seaweed & Salt

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 IIR.
Exposure: ISO 160 | 1/4000 sec | F3.5 @ 14mm.

Skipping backwards to November for Number 3 and we have a picture of a shop. However, this was another of my shots from the day on the east coast with my lovely wife which I mentioned back at Number 8 where we visited both Aldburgh and Southwold the same day.

Here we are at Southwold, in fact on the pier facing inland, if you look closely through the railings either side you will see the sea. This shot was a difficult one as it was very windy that day and I wanted this unusual shop (which the wife was only too happy to spend time and money in) to be the focus of a symmetrical shot.

Now, normal practice would dictate the use of a tripod but there were two problems with that approach. First of all, I didn’t have one with me, I took my basic portable gear and didn’t think I’d need one. And secondly, even with a tripod, it was very gusty and exposed that day so I’m not honestly convinced it would actually help. Luckily, despite the wind and the fact it was so late in the year, it was a cold but beautifully bright crisp day and so shooting handheld was no problem at all.

PS the website for Seaweed & Salt can be found here.

Number 2: Stevington Tree

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM1040-150mm f4-5.6R.
Exposure: ISO 100 | 3.2 secs | F8 @ 40mm.

This photograph taken in April was very very nearly my number one shot. Here, I’m back at Stevington, this time near to Stevington Windmill which is a very popular local attraction for photographers and was why I initially went out shooting that evening. 

I was lucky enough to be there and witness such a fantastic sunset and got several great shots of the windmill, however, this tree sits in the middle of a farmers field between the public footpath and the windmill itself and deserved looking at closely. With the way the sky was changing so quickly though as the sun hit and then sunk below the horizon, I had to be quick! 

I love this photograph because of the colours, the way the bands of dark foreground, the blues and oranges layering the scene with the silhouette of the tree standing proud.

Number 1: Southwold Pier

Equipment used: Olympus OMD-EM10 | 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 IIR. | 10 stop ND Filter
Exposure: ISO 200 | 5 secs | F11 @ 14mm.

And finally, for my favourite image of 2016 we go back to Southwold to the pier in November. This was again a chance shot as I’ve been experimenting with long exposure shots recently to this and had left my neutral density 10 stop filter in my bag. Originally, I’d left the wife browsing in Seaweed & Salt (see number 3 above) while I explored the beach looking for a good shot of the pier.

However, when I spotted I’d left the 10 stop filter in my bag I was annoyed at myself as I hadn’t got a tripod which is pretty essential for a long exposure shot, otherwise everything is just blurred and unrecognisable. I was determined to not be beaten though so there was nothing for it. I flipped out the screen on the camera, set the self timer for 10 seconds and balanced the camera on my trusty Lowepro camera bag! It would either work or not and by setting the self timer I knew by the time the shutter activated I wouldn’t be in contact with the camera thus reducing the risk of camera shake.

And this is the result, which I’m very pleased with. Again it does show that sometimes luck shines on you with an opportunity as there is no way to take an image like this in broad daylight and make the waves look that milky smooth effect unless you use a neutral density filter. But for me to be able to use the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years to adapt what I had and use a floppy camera bag and still get the shot? Very very happy. 

So, what about 2017? Well, I’ll repeat this exercise in December so I hope that I’ll have even more difficulty choosing my top 10! For now though, I will continue to challenge myself and hopefully continue to improve.