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Monday, 10 January 2022


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I think there's a tremendous tendency for serious amateurs to show off the images that are either technically most proficient or, a slightly more pernicious issue, that are derivative or reminiscent of famous photographers' work, not those that are necessarily their own strongest statements of an individual vision or voice. It probably feels like the former are more likely to resonate with the professional reviewer. OTOH, many of us also fail to heed the advice, often attributed to Faulkner, to "kill all [our] darlings." I know I have some favorite images that no one else seems to see the charms of.

That’s really sad.

I think a big part of the success of my late commercial glamour site was my strength as an editor. I have always had a very strong sense of what works in a picture.

Eolake Stobblehouse

The simple answer is the flippant, "There's no accounting for taste." The real answer is that we're all different, we've all had different experiences and ... no two people are the same.

Vive la différence!

Great photographers are great editors. Which is why I don't subscribe to the spray and pray technique I see so many digital photographers using, because if you can't find it in the shoot, how will you find it in the edit? And with thousands to go through?

I've often said that editing is one of those skills that is less touted, but of utmost importance that we get right. One of the more significant differences between an amateur and a pro.

This goes back to your post about switching cameras. Some people just want to play with gear and not make photos their first priority. That's fine. I call them camera enthusiasts.

The photographers spend less time on gear, and more time making photographs, learning how to put together photos in a series, tightly editing, and finding places to show their work.

My biggest pet peeves are when a photographer shows two similar photos--"Why are you repeating yourself?" And when they post two versions and ask people which they like better--"Be the storyteller, the authority! You pick!"

I don't see this as a dilemma personally, if you back your own judgement over that of your viewers. I work on the basis that the only person I should aim to please is myself; if someone else likes my pics, that's a bonus. Otherwise you are constantly second-guessing what someone else might like and that's hardly compatible with artistic integrity, it's chasing likes. The great thing about having the internet as your gallery, is there will always be someone out there who likes your stuff.

I’ve long read, heard, observed, and know from my own calls that artists aren’t at all reliably objective in judging their own work and the work of others.

Have been a juror for art & photo specific exhibits. Hardest part is that so many equate difficulty in getting a shot or producing the artwork with how it should be appreciated.

Worst was jurying Student shows where parents were not hesitant in voicing opinions as to your poor taste in not choosing their kids work.

Add in that three State/Regional student shows had to change rules after our jurying to say "no copywork, all must be original" - as too many were copying ads and art from others. Some beautifully crafted pieces but we could pull out a magazine and show the original ads - so we hope it helped these budding artists to move towards their own vision using what they had learned.

This is one of those fundamental problems of all the photography-sharing sites and social media platforms, I think. We all get "programmed" to respond to certain kinds of photos, because we are clicking on to the next one without spending enough time looking. So aesthetically pleasing but bland photos win out in the attention deficit. We don't spend enough time looking and thinking to appreciate more unique compositions and subject matter. Then, we take that into our own curation of our work, so we take what soul our photos had right out in what we choose to edit down to. Ugh.

When I'm doing race photography, it's pretty easy to pick out the 'best' shots, and it isn't necessarily the finish line shot, though that's what most racers want.

Then I shot an adult theatre workshop, taking more than 6,000 photos in 3 days. I had a brutal time editing them down to a set the client would look through.

One example. The exercise was to show different emotions. I had a great set of photos of one guy within a minute showing me a bunch of different emotions. All 'good' shots, but which to show the client? There were about a dozen people in the workshop, all doing the same thing.

In the days of pre-covid and I walked one of the crazier streets in Austin I stumbled across a situation between a man with a top hat and a homeless man. The man wearing the top hat was amusing as he had a strange cartoon like voice. He claimed to be helping the poor homeless man who was obviously disabled. Things escalated to the point of near confrontation. I took a photo on B&W film but I think no one but me could understand the moment and appreciate the photo. If It was suggested that I edit it out I would protest as viewing said photo brings me back to that moment in time.

One of the things I have learned over the years, slowly & painfully, is to edit down my photos. You take thousands and then have to weed them like a flower garden.

I have what I refer to as my "portfolio" (for lack of a better word) at https://wlewisiii.500px.photography/

There are 4 galleries ranging in size from 4 images to 24 images. When I add one now, another has to (in my mind at least) come out because I am trying to maintain it at that size. These are, after all, supposed to be my best images. Some possibly are :)

If you were to go through my uncurated images you might chose different ones based on your aesthetics. That's fine but these are the ones I chose based on my aesthetic tastes and I share them with anyone willing to look.

I have made several photo books.

The publisher/software allowed no more than 100 photos, so I was self editing. Some "deals" might allow only say 20, and I would choose a subject/theme with limited source, but still requiring editing. When I made the first couple, my unstated goal was to include photos that would please everyone.

I have also had the pleasure of watching quite a few people go through one or more of them. With some, it was an interactive process, comments, discussion. More common has been simply observing, noticing which photos get attention, which are just glanced at.

What I observed is that the famous words from poet John Lydgate, later adapted by President Lincoln are true:

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

Some photos attracted full attention from everyone; some from almost no one. In the middle, different people were attracted and pleased by different pix.

With the first book, Three days in Brooklyn, one photo never clicked, just passed over without more than a glance by everyone. I had decided if I reprinted I would replace it.

Then a friend going through that book broke out crying when she saw that photo. It was deeply moving to her.

There is indeed no accounting for taste.

If I selected 30 or 40 from the ~850, I'll bet there would be little or no overlap with his or your selections.

In response to Brian's comment:

I remember hearing that Garry Winogrand wait a year before developing his negatives so that he'd forget personal associations with particular images. Or is this apocryphal?

I would bet that with modern technology, an algorithm could be trained to match your 'eye'. You could go through a few sets of 850 photos, starring the ones you like best (could be 30 in one set, 45 in another, just 5 winners in another). Then the algorithm could look over future sets and do an edit that it thinks is tailored to your preferences.

I think a good strategy is to use keywords/tags to comprehensively describe each photo you upload to the internet. You never know what someone is looking for. Tags and keywords help them get found. They're the editing tool of the internet. Albums or subject-specific galleries are helpful, but not as powerful as tags and keywords.

One of my favourite things about putting a project out in the open or asking my wife's opinion on photos is that I'm generally surprised which ones people react to or prefer*. It never fails to make me look at these photos differently.

I would love to hand a large set of photos that pass a certain technical/aesthetic threshold to a few different people and see what they could pull out of it - either with carte blanche or with some kind of direction on intent, etc. It would be very interesting to see where they end up.

*This perhaps explains the dearth of sales when said projects are on display.

Re: Kenneth Wadjia’s comment - EXCATLY! In my view, if it’s « spray and pray » it’s not actually seeing the scene at the time. To me spraying is the antithesis of observing.

Mike: re your experience judging several camera club presentations.
This (judging) is something I have experienced over the years as both the photog "in the dock" being "judged" and as the judge. I've concluded that the only reasonable expectation from a volunteer judge such as yourself is that 1) you have some clear opinions, tastes, preferences and 2) that you can talk about them effectively. You then have a basis on which to assess photographs and the ability to explain your assessments. That seems to me to be something club photographers should value.
Anyone with experience of photo clubs will know that my view is not the conventional wisdom; often there is a "dog show" approach with judges looking at whether various rules have been complied with (i.e. like the breed conformance element of judging at a dog show).

PS re the upside down thumbnail editing idea, of course that happens during shooting with a view camera...

You can't pick a good photograph (ie- your own good photographs) unless you first know what a good photograph looks like- technically and aesthetically. Too much of what's featured on the internet is NOT the best photography or photographers have to offer. The most popular, the most liked, the most over edited- Yes!

In pre-internet days one had to seek out commercially published books and curated galleries to witness the pinnacle of work that endured the trials and tribulations of professional judging and publishing. Now anyone can throw stuff up on digital walls just about anywhere with no serious consideration or evaluation- to the immediate, worldwide applause of everyone who doesn't know better... And the best stuff, so often less flashy and less popular, although crucially more nuanced and sublime, lies forgotten or ignored.

(Getting here late. Sorry.)
Clipped all the “best” images, eh? I wonder if he knew your objective? Did you tell him what you were “…looking for”?

Perhaps this brief video by Wired Magazine might be helpful editing tips to readers? (Cute.)

In this context, Mike, I am looking for some good advice on how to put together a photo book (probably starting with a couple of 32-page 'zines first, then on to a 100+ page book). Any Google search leads me to loads of articles about software - not the creative "select and sequence" process. Any hints ?? Thanks !!

I've increasingly come under the sway of Brooks Jensen regarding editing, keeping the images organized and keyworded, saving most, and then the editing (selecting) happens for projects (ideally). That doesn't stop me from putting up ones I particularly like on Flickr, which I view as a sort of "favorites" diary.

I think I understood your point of view ('He Edits Out All His Best Ones!') and seen from a certain perspective, it is a frustrating, almost tragic situation, but strictly speaking I don't see it as a dilemma.

Because the only entity that is relevant in the process of creating a photograph is the photographer as the creator. He is responsible, the photos are his children.

But the special thing about photography is that through the very technical form of image creation and the fateful "happy accidents" that are only possible through this, images can come into the world for the photographer that are legally attributable to him, but which do not always have to be an expression of his artistic abilities or his consciousness.
In other words, through technology and through coincidences, a photographer can end up with photographs that he, as a creator of images, actually does not deserve.

If this photographer discards these good pictures in the selection process, this is proof for me that he had not recognized the potential of these pictures either when taking them or when selecting them,- they are not "his pictures" at all, not his children at all.
I think that in the world of music, literature, painting, sculpture, such a thing is rather unlikely.

In the practical life it can now quite happen that an outside observer has a higher competence in the picture evaluation and he recognizes these rejected, not adopted children, what is painful for the observer. -

The whole thing reminds me of the situation I used to have very, very often when taking portraits: I wanted to be nice and let the sitters choose their own photos and almost always they chose the wrong ones, the really good ones were sorted out.
This happened so often that then as now under no circumstances do I show all the photos to the sitters, but my own selection is the only relevant and only these are my children.

This is very much a dilemma in the commercial space as well. When a client asks me to edit it down, I have to explain to them that what I'm looking at may be very different than what they are looking at. I'm often shocked at the "select" that is chosen from various shoots. In many cases a shot that I would have discarded. But then showing a loose edit can be a mess and overwhelming for clients.

Brooks Jensen relates the story of attending an event early in his career at which experts provided portfolio reviews. One reviewer told him half his photos were great, a second told him the other half were great, and the third told him he should consider giving up photography. In the end it all depends on the role one wants or needs others to play in one’s photography.

In response to a previous comment, "You’re a good man to sit and look through 850 photographs to find the strong one(s). No editor or museum curator or gallery owner would do that." I'd say you should see what the editors at National Geographic or Sports Illustrated do.

I believe it was Joe McNally or Steve McCurry who talked about the brilliance of the editors at Nat Geo who would sift through hundreds of rolls of film to find the images that would grace the story.

At the Super Bowl there is a truck outside the stadium that receives a constant barrage of images from many many S.I. photographers in real time. The editors have a second or two to evaluate the image before their picks get sent to the home office. This goes on for hours.Only a couple of dozen will make the magazine.

I am not great at whittling down my takes of several thousand images shot in Nepal or India but I do know my picks resonate with me. I also find that I usually need several images to "tell the story" and I justify that by convincing myself that is how they used to do stories for Life Magazine.

If you edit according to what pleases others, you will never develop a personal style

6500 undeveloped/edited rolls = 200,000+ negs and exhibition was 100 images.
Makes you think doesnt it.

i've never considered myself a writer nor a photographer

when i have a submission in hand i give it to my wife for review

she tells be what she likes and doesn't

if i listen to her there is high probabilty of publication

if i submit the product the way i envisioned it the probability drops to 50/50

that said, those that survive the process unscathed bring me much more joy

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