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Saturday, 31 May 2014


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Maintenance of Way? Ministry of Fish Wealth?

[Sorry. Man of few words. The last time I used this I got questioned too, so I should have remembered that it's not a common expression even though I think everybody knows what it means. --Mike]

Reminds of when I received the proofs from the photographer of our wedding. For some reason that I can no longer remember, my wife and I did not look at the together when they first arrived.
After we had both taken a look we were discussing the pictures in general. We both agreed that there were some we loved and some that were good but we weren't taken by.
When we sat down to order the pictures for the album, we found that the two sets of 'loved' images had few overlaps!

should it not be that the photographer edits for the potential audience sought? so if the 30-40 photos contain what the photographer likes, then that is not considering an audience — which is fine — and so the consequences are readily apparent.

the tougher part, and the onus is on the photographer, is to consider and understand the potential audience that they can service and curate towards that goal.

the question is: is 30-40 too much as well? I would consider that a main page with 10 photos, and then 3 or 4 categories with 10 each, in separate pages would be a more welcome approach: the potential client may need to look at no more than 20 photos.

Nice point.
But yesterday we were reminded of the wise advice:
"Take photographs to please yourself".

When teaching digital photography to middle school students I became very good at skimming through a set of 100-300 photographs and picking the few worth talking about. I do the same with my own work, but that doesn't mean I don't accumulate a huge mass of "keepers" over time. It's this pile that is more difficult to sift. So mainly I don't, unless forced to. Sometimes I make a personal book, or participate in a show, but for the most part I am happy with my less than perfect pile. When I get more time I will try more sorting in different ways.

Photography is like love: so often we are blind to what is best about ourselves, it is only through the eyes of another that it is revealed.

I have a problem when I look at my own photos, which is that I took them.

So I know more than is evident from just looking at the rectangle.

So I would listen to anyone who likes different images to the ones I like.

Fantastic subject!

I think Richard Tugwell's comment is on the money, but it also opens another big ol' can of worms. Statcounter and others provide data regarding viewer's preferences at online galleries, but it's remarkable how often the results conflict with my own opinion. Do we photograph to please ourselves? Yes, of course. Do we photograph to please others? Yes, we do because there are very few other reasons to make photos.

Effectively winnowing the dregs likely means knowing where to place the fulcrum to balance each end of the seesaw. Good luck with that, however. Probably simpler to just throw darts and hope for the best.

Hilarious, actually. When I sent my first submission to my agency, the editor's comment was, "Where's the rest of it?" Haven't made that mistake since.

Do people become more objective about their own work after some time has passed? I sometimes look at my older online galleries and can't remember why some photos are there.

Aside from culling the obvious mistakes and/or technically flawed photos, how does one successfully edit a collection of photos without first having some purpose in mind? I only edit my photos when I have a need to do so, such as when finishing a project or preparing for a show; otherwise, I leave them alone so we (me and them) can ripen and mature over time...

Ah, I assumed that Kim was a woman. Apologies. And BTW, Ministry of Fish Wealth is listed in an online acronym decoder I consulted*, I wasn't making it up.

*It's in Yemen.

Mike, I'll bet what happens on the tight edit is the photog gives you what they think "you" will like as opposed to what they really like.

My first photo book had 100 images, plus cover.

Although limited to a particular time and place, I choose specific images almost entirely to please myself, which, I think, gives the collection some overall coherence. I included some that I simply liked, and wanted there, but suspected no one else would much like.

I've shown the book to quite a few people, family, friends, acquaintances and a handful of essentially strangers. Most times, I've been able to at least watch, often interact, as they thumb slowly, speed hastily, etc. through it.

The lesson learned, and reinforced with subsequent books, is that tastes vary over a vast range. One person would enthuse over an image that some others would skim past. There were a number that elicited a response, comment or long look from almost everyone, but none that were universal.

After quite a few viewers, I thought I'd only failed with one image, which no one had viewed for more than a second or commented on. Then a friend was moved to tears by it. Interestingly enough, it was an image I had kinda included because I though it would have wide appeal.

My conclusion is that, absent client requirements, externally imposed theme, etc., a book/portfolio/set of ones images is best when chosen to please oneself.

Two later books have solidified this opinion. Setting a theme, time, place, etc. may be a help in making the project manageable, but the choice and order of particular images should be to please the photographer.

Oscar Wilde said "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

BTW, apropos recent posts, making a book and sharing it with people is, at least in my experience, a way to have an interactive relationship with viewers. A possible antidote, for folks who feel isolated, un-viewed and unappreciated on their web sites.

A sense of appreciation and fulfillment may be closer than you think. Most people are still best engaged by people and tangible things. People who pay little or no attention to a web gllery can respond quite differently with physical book in hand, pages to turn, and so on.


I think it would be interesting to trade off guest editing with other photographers. And it would be excellent blog content for both.

A fantastic photo editor, Maggie Steber, once spent a week with me editing 5000 of my photos of Honduras families down to 150. She did a wonderful job and I agree with most of her choices but, after an intense week, I still have no idea how to edit my own work. I can't do it. I know the stories behind each photo and my emotions get in the way of my objectivity. I think most photographers are their own worst editors and I don't know a solution to that. I wish I could employ an editor full-time!

I have problems editing. Often I find people are attracted to images I felt missed the mark, good photos but not quite what I was trying to do. And the ones I think are my best? They are often not the ones that get attention. I chalk it up to my having a personal attachment to the latter that doesn't come across to others.

Regarding your Chris Bailey story:

I remember one time I went to an info session for a photography program at a college, entirely on a lark. Little did I know that there was an entrance exam and interviews/portfolio reviews included as well. Luckily, I was unwittingly prepared with a collection of small 4x4 proof prints that I happened to be carrying around in my bag. I guess the program director liked them well enough, as I was offered a seat, pending a review of my transcripts. I didn't end up going to that school, but it's nice to think I could have, all because I had some prints in my possession entirely by chance. I like the idea of carrying around even smaller prints, I could carry around even more.

This is a very important issue. I have come to understand—and other photographers agree with me—that we are the people least qualified to edit our work. Everyone else on the planet sees our work differently than we do since we find it almost impossible to look at it without recalling the events and ideas surrounding its creation and we alone know the intent behind the work.

A friend of mine had a show at a well-known gallery in Carmel a few years ago. (He is one of the photographers with whom I have discussed this issue. I believe you have sold his work through the web site.) On the last day a few of us were in the gallery before the show came down, and he asked each of us a very difficult question: "If you had to remove one photograph from this show, which one would it be?"

First of all, he did not have an answer to that question, since all of the work in the show had passed that test. Second, he asked because he wanted to get at, in a slightly different way, the heart of how other saw his work. Third, and perhaps not very helpfully, everyone picked different photographs! (Think about it. That was a Good Thing.)

Best is pretty subjective.

I made a blog post looking for people to trade guest editing with: http://www.ersatzhaderach.com/blog/2014/05/31/looking-for-guest-editors/

I do most of my editing when I decide to make an exposure. That's why I like to use a roll film camera with 8 to 12 exposures. It forces me to be selective in the taking of a photo.

Funny thing is, this intersects perfectly with the discussion of the photography is dead discussion you had earlier in the week.

Why do you edit a portfolio? Because you want to show what it is you want to sell. What does the person looking at the portfolio want? Things they want to buy. The two do not always intersect.

If you make the portfolio too big, you risk the reviewer not taking the time to find what they want (which is why metadata searching is useful, at least if the files have been keyworded well).

However, back to the making a living at photography thread: you have to present yourself as an expert at something, not a generalist with everything. That means that you won't make the sale 9 times out of 10. And that's the thing that most people don't understand about being a professional photography: most of your time and energy is spent marketing and selling yourself, not shooting.

You can try the "available to all" approach, but your hit rate is going to go down to 1 out of 100. You know what your specialty is, it's up to you to recognize who the appropriate clients are, figure out their needs, and approach them correctly with the right portfolio.

Tugwell has it right. In terms of Robbins comment I'd say this: you're mistaking the need to please as many as possible with the need to please a few. Yes, our reason to make photos is to please (or sell) others. However, there's no need to have a massively wide audience unless you need to have your self esteem increased, and there are better solutions for that.

Photographers (and all artists of any type) really need to find A audience, not the complete audience. If you can grow that audience over time, great, but thinking that you need a large audience is the wrong way to approach having a unique vision.

Excerpt from an Joseph Koudelka interview:

"...I need three people who I have as a reference, if my pictures are good or bad. I need somebody who knows something about life, maybe not much about photography or about composition. Then I need somebody who knows something about composition, and then I need the third one just for correction who knows something about both."

Full interview:


I heard Alex Webb once say that the tricky thing about asking other photographers about your own work is that it depends largely if it is either too different or too similar from theirs.

Both very sound pieces of advice.

It's a slightly different scenario from the one you describe above Mike, however, the phrase that stuck with me from University, concerning the editing of a selection, was: "Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings". We had a visiting photo journalist review our body of work before we started the final edit. His advice was invaluable as it helped me learn that while something may be a great shot on its own, in the context of a story it needs to add to that if it is going to be included. So several of favourite (and best) shots never made the final edit because they didn't add enough to (or in some cases), detracted from the story being told.

Then I guess, that's the difference between editing a story and editing a folio.

In the newspaper business we had a saying; "The only people who know anything about pictures are editors because editors don't know anything about pictures".

This is something that I've been struggling with for the last 5-6 months as I try to edit down my work to a portfolio of around 20-30 pictures (considering going back to school for an MFA).

I believe my views align with Richard Tugwell's in that I am editing based on my preferences and don't consider any other audience.

When I have photographed for someone else, I consider their needs/desires (and even then may miss on what they will really like in the final selection). When I an thinking of my own work, I don't feel the need to consider any other audience. I've had debates on this with close friends who hold different opinions about the importance of the audience with regard to personal artistic work, and still haven't come to a firm position.

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