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Picking my top 2023 images

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Yeah, it’s that time of the year.

 

The moment  I almost dread.


But also a useful exercise . The process of choosing my top images makes me look at my images a tad less emotionally. I try to put together a logical, rational basis for both, the selection and the ranking. That brings home some clarity, which otherwise, I might not have had, on what precisely worked in the image for me and, that, in turn, will help me as I make images in the coming year.


Your responses – mostly disagreements :) - also help. Perspectives matter.


It also makes me ponder over my rationale and revisit my criteria. For example, last year, I looked at my images from my perspective alone – and that lens had the rather considerable filter of the difficulty in taking an image or the originality that I brought to it. Some of my friends argued that for a viewer, all that is immaterial. The critieria for a viewer is simply how much an image moves them. What do they care for what I went through to get that image or my real or imagined creativity?

 

Valid point. I kept that in mind but its tough to keep that very personal bias fully out.

 

This year provided another challenge. As if, the process itself isn’t tough enough – this was one whopper of a year.


I had been to the deserts in the Rann , I experimented photography styles with shorebirds at Bhuj. I climbed snowy inclines and spent freezing nights in tents in Norway. In Goa, I lay down on wet grass and peered under bushes dripping with recent rain looking for frogs and vipers. I walked up mountains and down valleys in Kashmir soaking in beauty that a man can not even dare to dream of. In Kenya, I crouched down in hides, nights on end, flew in helicopters and rounded off the year with a visit to the dust and chaos of a camel fair at Pushkar.

 

That’s an imposing number of trips. And... that is my excuse for adding to my list of the top 10 :)

 

Anyway, here goes.

 

11. Contemplation

 

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,

but when there is nothing left to take away.

Antoine de Saint Exupery


A creative image of a razorbill preening itself

You have snow. Lots of it. You have birds too. Lots of that too.

 

On top of it, birds that are totally comfortable with human presence. One really can’t ask for more.

 

I had this dream of making a bunch of minimalistic images of puffins and  razor bills in the snow and I particularly liked the way this came out. A razor bill might appear a simple bird in monochrome, but it has some seriously elegant lines. Here, I used the snow in the foreground to blur out the lower half and got only the head in sharp focus. The bird was busy preening but to me it appeared as if it was lost in deep thought.

 

10. A serious dispute


“Photography is the story I fail to put into words.” - Destin Sparks


Two puffins in a fight

Sometimes you compose images. Sometimes, images get composed for you.

 

A pair of puffins engaged in a rather violent fight over the rights of a burrow falls in the latter category. They came tumbling down the hill and to me, this image captures the seriousness of the fight and the criticality of the prize. Getting ownership of the burrow for the rest of the breeding season mattered.

 

As an aside, there is a disarming simplicity in the animal ( and the bird ) kingdom. You fight for ownership ( even if you are wrong ). If you lose, too bad…you pick yourself up and move on.

 

9.   Wariness

 

Minimalism is not about having less. Its about making room

for more of what matters.

- Melissa ( Simple Lion Heart )


A caracal drinking at a waterhole

I like the point that minimalism need not be only with an ocean of white in the frame.


When the light falls on a subject, as elusive as the caracal is, it just makes it perfect. I had underexposed even more than usual, wanting the face, which is so unusual, to be a little better lit and the rest of the body dissolving into the mysterious dark night.

 

A little like the cat itself.

 

8.   Posers

 

I am always doing what I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

-       Pablo Picasso

 

Slow shutter speed image of two black grouse fighting

The trip to Norway was one where I experimented fiercely. Slow shutter speed, ICM ( intentional camera movement ), overexposure, wacky compositions…everything.


Most yielded disastrous results.


I think, this one worked.


It seems frozen in time, two fighting black grouses, one captured mid leap, and the slow shutter speed gives a sense of motion, which is what these fights are all about.


7.   Graceful Dance

 

There are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them. – Vicki Baum


Two fighting black grouse in lekking season

Except that this was no dance.

 

These black grouse can fight. The fight lasts for barely a few minutes, but there is a viciousness in those few minutes that needs to be seen to be believed. The fights are a flurry of motion, an explosion of wings and claws and feathers.

 

I am particularly fond of this image since, instead of the violence, it momentarily captures a sense of grace that are usually not visible. It almost looks as if the two are dancing a ballet with the mild snowfall providing the music !

 

6. A Starry Shower


 The process of art-making is full of happy accidents – what fun !! – Max Elliot Slade


A mountain hare in snowfall

I must admit that I slept more than I took photographs at this place in Norway. However, the few that I took, did throw up some decent ones. This image is a happy accident.


This mountain hare was nosing around in the snow. We usually wait for pairs 'cos they start to fight and that makes for good images. However, I happened to be clicking away when there was a sudden increase in the snowfall and at the same time, something caused the hare to turn around and present its back to me.

 

To me, it seemed as if the hare was spellbound with the starry galaxy that had unveiled itself.


  

5. Golden Dust

 

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning. – Gloria Steinem


A herd of goats at sunset

A dream image for long has been a slow shutter speed, low angle capture of cattle as they crossed a furiously dusty trail, taken in golden light. I missed that here with these goats. But, just a few minutes later, I got alerted to this magical opportunity ( God bless you, Rahul :) ).

 

The herd was vanishing in the distance, in a cloud of dust, the two shepherd boys, looking back at us, the typical African trees, spreading into the skies like ink on a blotting paper.


Its got a heartwarming sense of a typical rural scene, the likes of which we see less of each passing year.

 

( I took a print of this image…it DOES look good ! )

 

4.   A Giant looms up

 

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment

until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss

 

A wide angle photo of Craig the super tusker

 

There are moments and there are moments.

 

You could say the same thing about subjects too.


Sometimes, in a happy coincidence, both happen at the same time. To lie flat on the ground, in front of one amongst the last 15 supertuskers is an incredibly unforgettable and moving experience. I took my eye off the eyepiece of the camera just as I took this image to see, Craig, the male supertusker, walking past me…just a few feet away !

 

Along with the experience, the exaggerated perspective that a wide angle provides, gives the viewer a sense of why the supertusker is called so.

 

3.   Attention

 

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. – Christina Mittermeier


Silhouette of a mountain hare

When good fortune comes and adds its devilish bit to your plan, you can get a delightful result. I was focused on the mountain hare, when I noticed the light falling on the trees, giving it a rather interesting look and zoomed out to get the branches also in the frame.


That plan got embellished with a little bit of good fortune - the mountain hare also got distracted by some sound and stood up to get a better look, its ears perked up and you have a series of vertical lines, all clearly indicating what they stand for ( oops :) )

 

This was also the image which got me my first award in a competition, so yeah…holds a special place for me.

 

2.   A Silver trail

 

It is not what you wish for…its what you do about it - Anon.

 

A side lit image of a giraffe drinking water

How does one create a different image ?

 

The distinct arc that a giraffe throws up while raising its head after a drink is something that all photographers aim for. While the giraffe was spending hours deciding if the spot is safe enough for him to get into its vulnerable pose for a drink, I thought I shall try to underexpose heavily and get only the light on the shimmering arc of water. I knew if I get it right, the reflection will make it even better.

 

Of course, the arc isn’t always pretty.

 

Sometimes, you get lucky.

 

1.     The Boss


They say an elephant never forgets.

What they don’t tell you is,

you never forget an elephant.”

– Bill Murray

 

Close up of the tusks of an elephant in Amboseli

 

There was a herd in front of us. Calm. Unhurried. Debating which path they should take. Through the jumble of creased, dust laden giant foreheads and swirling trunks, I spotted this elephant with the most magnificent tusks. It was a no brainer, I had to get those tusks.

 

I quickly changed my lens to a longer one and went for tighter shots, focusing on the single elephant.

 

Dust. Creased, leathery skin. And those tusks.

 

Phew.

 

What. A. Creature.

 

This image personally meant a lot to me, since I had more than my share of reservations about my ability to take really good images of elephants.


So, that’s it.

 

Thoughts ?


Drop a line as always and let me know!

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2 comentarios


Ajay Kumar
Ajay Kumar
19 dic 2023

What an amazing set if pics ! I donlt have he heart to even try to rank them, so will go with yours :-) I can imagine the effort that would have gone into the ranking !

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Ashok Nair
Ashok Nair
19 dic 2023
Contestando a

Mucho gracias, Ajay but that is still a cop out :)

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