Collage of three photos
Lens-Artists,  Photographic techniques,  Themed galleries

Lens Artists Challenge: picking favourites

How good are you being self-critical when it comes to your photography? Can you easily pick out the best of your shots and are you comfortable rejecting those that have been less successful?

I confess I’m pretty rubbish at it. I always hang on to far more images than I really need to, including many that aren’t quite of the standard I hold myself to. Often that’s because of the memories attached to them or because I don’t have any better shots of that place or event. And that’s fine. But when it comes to sharing with the wider world, I like to try to pick out my very best shots of the subject. And that task can sometimes feel like hunting for a precious stone in a beach full of sand!

I have been invited by the regular team to host this week’s Lens Artists Challenge – thank you all for entrusting me with your ‘baby’! I want to ask you all to join me in sharing three of what you consider to be among your very best shots. This exercise will really test your ability to be self-critical, as it has mine. Look into your archives and apply your most critical eye; play ‘judge’ and try to look dispassionately at your images. Pick out three (just three!) that stand out as particular favourites. Choose three from different genres please, but those genres are up to you: macro, wildlife, street, landscape, architecture. Anything goes, but each must be an image you are proud of.

Tell us a bit about each of your three photos please. Where you took it and when. Why you are pleased with it and have chosen it for this challenge. Does it evoke some special memories that influenced your choice of it as a favourite? Has it won a competition perhaps? Or is it simply a shot you love and are pleased to have taken. It doesn’t matter, by the way, if you’ve shared it before. The best images are worth seeing more than once, after all.

Here are my three. Believe me, I didn’t find this exercise any easier than you will. And if I did it again next week (or even tomorrow) I would probably choose three different shots!

People:

Fisherman in Fort Kochi, Kerala
Man in a turquoise turban
Why this photo?

I take a lot of photos of people when I travel, partly because it’s a genre I enjoy but mainly because a place is nothing without its people. I want to populate my memories with those I meet and the many others I see in passing. And I like to record what people wear, how they look, how they live.

My preference is for candid or street photography. This isn’t only because I rarely feel comfortable asking permission; I also prefer the spontaneity of an unposed shot. I admit too that I rather enjoy the challenge of trying to capture people unawares. But I’m also equally happy when someone sees my camera and collaborates. That was the case with this fisherman in Fort Kochi. He was fully aware that I was taking photos during our visit to the Chinese fishing nets, the traditional style of fishing there. But he didn’t have a problem with it as you can see.

I have many candid shots from our trip to Kerala, where (as in most of India) locals were generally very comfortable with me taking their photo. It was hard to pick out a favourite, but this is one I’m especially fond of. It was pure serendipity that the colour of the man’s turban matched the net almost exactly! And I like all the textures – his beard, the hairs on his chest, the cloth of the turban. But most of all it’s his expression that makes the shot for me, because I find it so hard to read … and that keeps me looking at the image.


Structures:

An apsara at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Relief carving of a young woman in elaborate headdress
Why this photo?

As a keen traveller, of course I take lots of photos of structures, both intact and in ruins. So picking a single favourite in this category is impossible. Luckily that’s not the task! I ask only that we pick A favourite, not the favourite; a subtle distinction but important. So I chose this one as it embodies several of my approaches to photographing a site, especially one as famous as Angkor Wat.

I of course always take what I consider to be record shots, showing as clearly as I can what the place looked like to me. But I have a particular interest in photographing the little details that make a structure distinctive, whether that’s an ultra-modern building or an ancient ruin.

All over Angkor I was captivated by the devata or apsara reliefs. These are depictions of beautiful women, with ornate hairdos and jewellery, bare-breasted and posed as if dancing. There are said to be around 2,000 at Angkor Wat alone! We explored the ruins soon after sunrise, when many of the other tourists who’d flocked to photograph it had left to have breakfast. They missed a treat. By the time they returned the light was harsh and the sun hot. But at this earlier hour it slanted in through all the spaces in the walls and lit up the small details I love. This was my most successful shot of the reliefs, because of that perfect light, the grey stone of the ruin turned to gold.


Wildlife:

An elephant in Chobe National Park, Botswana
Why this photo?

Wildlife is another of my favourite genres, both birds and animals. But when asked to choose my favourite animal, am I as torn as when asked to choose my favourite photo? No, not really; although I can never decide between the big cats and elephants.

Certainly elephants have a special appeal and in recent years I’ve been lucky to get up close to them in the wild in Botswana and in a special sanctuary in Laos, MandaLao. Both gave me great photo opportunities and pulling out just one image for this challenge was tough. But I wanted to include one monochrome shot in my selection of three, as it’s a format I’m increasingly drawn to. And this portrait of one of Chobe’s youngish bulls is one I feel works very well in black and white. I took it with my zoom lens at its furthest limit, and cropped it slightly to cut out all of the distracting background.

As to why I like this shot, I especially love the texture on his forehead, looking rather like parched ground. And look at the way the light is catching the hairs on his trunk. Isn’t he a handsome fellow?

Black and white photo of an elephant face on

So now it’s your turn. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s choice of three favourite shots. By pure coincidence Sandy (of the Sandy Chronicles) has chosen a very similar theme for her Friendly Friday Challenge this week. So maybe you’d like to ‘double-dip’ and link to her post too?

Thank you again to the Lens Artists team for inviting me to host this week. Thanks too to Tracy for hosting that interesting Surrealism challenge last week and to everyone who joined in; it was great to see the variety of responses! Anne will be our host next week, Saturday, August 6. Her intriguing theme will be What’s Your Groove.

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