What I Learned from My Best Photographs of 2016

I’ve decided to share my ten best images of 2016, and some thoughts on each. I wanted to narrow it down to just five images, but it was too difficult to choose! Before I reveal the images, and their associated insights, let me explain the “Why” and the “How” of a yearly image review.


Why You Should Review Your Images Every Year

When you pick, and evaluate, your best images, you can discover things like:

  • What your strengths and weaknesses are
  • How you’ve grown, improved, and evolved
  • Trends in your work, both good and bad
  • Valuable insights which are only revealed in retrospect
  • Renewed inspiration

You’ll also recall some of the most fun, exciting, or otherwise memorable experiences of the year. Reflecting upon past events can unlock hidden revelations, and lead you in new directions.


The Important Differences Between an Annual Review and a New Year’s Resolution

It might seem that conducting an annual review of your images, and then determining what to do next, is the same thing as making New Year’s resolutions, but it’s far from it.

New Year’s Resolutions are usually made because it’s a tradition, and they are sometimes used as an excuse to postpone working on a goal until January. Please remember this: If a goal is worth doing at all, it should be started as soon as you recognize it. For that reason, I don’t recommend New Year’s Resolutions.

So, why wait until the end of each year to do a review of your best images? A longer period of time is necessary to clearly see gradual progress and trends in your work, and the end of the year is a useful checkpoint. However, annual reviews should be used in combination with more frequent evaluations, such as monthly image reviews and personal project checkins.

As you can see, annual image reviews are used to see subtle changes over time, and are just one part of a continuous process, whereas New Year’s Resolutions are made by tradition, with little attention to the importance and urgency of constant progress.


How I Find My Best Images of the Year

Using Lightroom, I can easily find my best images of the year.

  • I have a permanent and always growing Collection of my best images, which I call “Portfolio.”
  • I filter that folder down to just show the images from the current year
  • Then I add all of those images to the Quick Collection.
  • In the Quick Collection, I review the images as thumbnails, and delete them one by one, culling those that don’t excite me as much as the others.
  • I normally select five to ten “Best of the Year” images.


My Ten Best Images of 2016, in Random Order


Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus - with Midshipman fish - Copyright Matthew Schwartz

Bald Eagle In Flight With Prey

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

I was a fraction of a second away from missing this image. I was changing my camera battery just as the eagle grabbed the fish.

What you can learn from it:

Change batteries quickly, and always be ready for action.



A killdeer surveys its territory


Killdeer Surveying Territory

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

The grass was raised up on an embankment, so I was able to get this “low point of view” without laying on the ground.

What you can learn from it:

Use everything to your advantage.




Geranium with Dew Drops

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

It was shot indoors in a studio setup

What you can learn from it:

How you make a photo doesn’t matter, only the resulting image matters.



Yellowlegs in Evening

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

I was wearing waders and kneeling in two feet of water and mud to get it.

What you can learn from it:

Being extreme and working hard are worth it.




Curious Rabbit

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

This shot is not cropped. I was laying on the ground, wearing camouflage, and the rabbit had no idea what was going on.

What you can learn from it:

Camouflage can be very useful in wildlife photography.




Dragonfly on grass stem

Damselfly on Reed

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

It’s a focus stack of five images, each of which was shot between a breeze.

What you can learn from it:

Going for a difficult image, even when success seems unlikely, is a smart move.





Killdeer Portrait

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

It was shot in someone’s front yard.

What you can learn from it:

You don’t always have to be in some far-off place to get great images.




Mating Flies

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

The sun had already set before I took this photo, and the weather was windy.

What you can learn from it:

Artificial light is a powerful tool, and determination will take you very far.




Grass Blade with Dew Drops

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

The background is artificial. It’s printed by inkjet on a piece of photo paper.

What you can learn from it:

You don’t have to accept things as you find them; you can create your own reality.





Adorable Gosling

One thing that might surprise you about this photo:

It was shot at ISO 2000 on a crop sensor camera

What you can learn from it:

Proper exposure, and post processing, can help mitigate the effects of high ISO noise, and result in a surprisingly detailed image.



What I Discovered This Year

I’ll preface this section by saying that I wish I had more time to do photography this year. Having a full-time job, and a busy life, means that I don’t get out in the field nearly as much as I’d like to. That said, when I do get out, I give everything 110%.



I’d say that one of my strengths is the ability to get technically excellent captures; that is, my images have good exposure and sharpness.

I also excel at creating images with clean backgrounds that are free of distractions, which I see as a critical element of fine art photography.

Overall, I think I have “an eye” for seeing things artistically, and creating pleasing compositions that work well with each subject.



I’m noticing that most of my top images are similarly lit, so I will definitely need to introduce more creativity and variety in lighting as I go forward into 2017.


Growth, Improvement, Evolution

Upon review of my best images of 2016, it is clear that they are the finest images I’ve ever created. That’s good, because one of my goals is to always be improving.


Trends in my work

My images have become more visually simple and artistic, which makes sense, because I purposefully clarified the exact attributes of what type of images I want to create. That clarity gave me something to mentally reference as I planned and created the images.

I tend to make images with the subject taking up a lot of the frame, whereas in the past, I kept the subject smaller. Currently, I prefer the more close-up style.


Valuable Insights

I need more variety of subject matter in my top images. In order to get that, I will need to travel. I’ll also need to put down my 500mm lens on occasion, in favor of doing more macro work. There’s also no doubt that I need to do some landscape photography.


Renewed Inspiration

The things I’m most looking forward to in 2017 are:

  • Dynamic action shots of wildlife: insects in flight, animals jumping, etc.
  • Landscapes: wide angle, long exposure, etc.
  • Dramatic lighting: backlit, rimlit, etc.
  • More Macro: focus-stacked, insects, flowers, etc.


Final Thoughts

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy looking through this year’s images, but I also gained some useful insights which will help me as I move forward into next year.


Your Challenge Assignment

Go find your best images of the year, evaluate them, then email me and let me know what you learned!


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By | 2020-11-10T07:52:55+00:00 December 25th, 2016|Categories: Articles|Tags: |

About the Author:

I'm Matthew Schwartz, the founder of Nature Photography Mastery Academy™ I specialize in fine art nature and wildlife images. I spend much of my time learning new photography skills, techniques, and equipment, as well as developing further mastery of Photoshop. I am a member of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), and several local Meetup Groups. View my photography on flickr