Remember when you used to shoot a lot of film? I’m sure some of you don’t actually, some of you may have begun photography with a digital camera and have no idea about the joy of film. (by the way that last sentence wasn’t meant to be sarcastic, shooting film really is a joy). I digress…. You would buy a roll of film then carefully compose & expose, savouring every click of the shutter. Even if you had a continuous mode, you would be very choosy about what shots you would shoot. Then once you finished your roll you would either process it yourself or take it somewhere to be done & wait anxiously to see the result. You would agonize over the contact sheets, trying to decide which images to print. It wasn’t very often you would love a whole roll, let alone 1/3 of the roll, no matter how careful you were when taking the images. Have you ever seen photographers looking at contact sheets & circling “their images”, how many do you see circled? 3-5 maybe. So why is it now, because we can shoot 1000 frames in an hour at no extra cost, that we feel the need to display & share so many damn images we shot from a session??
One of the things that most photographers are very weak at is editing their work. I’m not talking about taking it into Photoshop and healing and cloning until the batteries die in your wireless mouse, that’s for another post, I mean choosing & displaying your strongest images. Just because you shot 200 images at an event or a session, doesn’t mean you need to be showing that many. If you shot the same person, or the same look, or the same event, pick only a few of the best & show those.
Now some people are saying, “but they’re all my best images”, if that’s the case you just aren’t being picky enough. Have someone review your work. Bring them what you think are your best images & have them choose what they think are the best in a 10% ratio. If you have 50 images, get them to choose 5. It’s always interesting to see what other people’s tastes are. I always find it fascinating when posting images on Facebook which ones other people “like” or comment on. Sometimes my favorites get nothing, while ones I almost didn’t include are very popular. Just don’t let that sway you when making decisions. You need to do photography for you first, base your decisions on what you like. If you’re putting together a portfolio don’t just include an image because it had 50 “likes” on Facebook.
If you take a look at some big photographers websites, who do this everyday for big clients, how many images do you see from certain shoots, 1-2 perhaps? The reason for this is, as a viewer, attention span is generally very short. We always want to see something fresh and new. So if they have to scroll through 50 or so images from the same event or shoot you will lose their attention very quickly and they will move on to the next thing. I recently opened a gallery from an event a photographer shot & after 2 minutes of loading (doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re watching the wheel spin on your screen it is) and they had over 100 images from that event. Many shots from the same angle or even virtually the same pose, needless to say I became bored very quickly and moved on. You always hear “put your best foot forward”, and you need to put that to use when showing images. Whether it be to a client, on Facebook, or wherever, these are the images people will be judging you on. Anything you read about people who are sending out portfolios is that they are usually including 25-35 images at the most. Wow, think of all the images you have taken…. now pick 25 that you think represents your best work…. it’s quite the daunting task. I know because I’m just about finished re-vamping my website, and I’ve decided to really scale down the amount of images. Trying to decide on 30 or so images for a gallery is very difficult, I’ve learned a lot about my work in the process as well.
Many of us have some sort of emotional attachment to our images. There are always those images that you simply agonize over, the shoot you worked for weeks planning, the one where right after the image the model fell in the water, but the viewer won’t know these back stories. I used to play a lot of music and a quote that always stuck with me was “don’t just perform a difficult song as a justification for the months you spent learning it. The audience doesn’t care that it took you 6 months to learn it, they just want to be moved by it”. You need to choose on a purely visual level as everyone will interpret your work differently, not the emotions that they trigger within you. Images that speak to certain people will be completely mute to others.
Be very selective of what proofs you send to your clients. Obviously they will have different tastes than you & while they may want to see everything, you can influence their decision by only sending them your favorite images. I deal with a lot of photographers at work and one comment I hear over and over is “I don’t know why my client would pick that image??”. Well if you don’t think they should choose that image, why did you include it when you sent them proofs? You need to control what your client will want to print, as it is those prints that everyone else will see. Think about who may see these images on your client’s wall. You wouldn’t want a client’s friend seeing an image that you don’t necessarily think is overly strong, as there may be less of a chance that they would consider hiring you.
Be very selective in what you display & put out into the world. These images are your heart & soul. Make sure they reflect your best work, quality over quantity.