In my last article “Photography is Curation” I made a case for curating your work. I had many deep conversations with many photographers about this very subject. One of the most fascinating exchanges I had was with my good friend, Ibarionex Perello. Ibarionex, with whom I had an opportunity to lead a photographic workshop, wrote about this subject in the July 2019 edition of the Medium Format Magazine. Today, I would like to share with you Ibarionex’ article and his stunning imagery. Enjoy!
You can’t discern how talented a photographer is by looking at a single photograph. The image could be the result of skill, but it might just be luck. Only by evaluating a selection of work can you make an honest assessment of a photographer.
However, that selection of images should not be a random selection of what the photographer thinks is their better photographs. Such collections often consist of hits and misses and others that fall somewhere in-between.
When a photographer asks me to critique their images and they want me to look at hundreds of their photographs, I know it will be little other than a fishing expedition. They hope I can make sense of what they’ve created, affirm their talent and make recommendations on how they can build on that.
I completely understand that desire as I have experienced such feelings myself but among the many things I’ve learned, any feedback that I receive is just an opinion. Some of it may benefit me, while some of it may not. The feedback, opinions and recommendations I receive from people will often be contradictory, leaving me more confused than when I started. Reliance on someone else’s point of view has never served as a stepping stone to take my photography to the next level.
Quantity Doesn’t Translate Into Quality
I learned that the making of photographs alone never made me a better photographer. I could take tens of thousands of photographs, but quantity alone doesn’t guarantee improvement. I could increase my familiarity with my camera and improve my technique, but that doesn’t mean better quality. I could read countless books and view hours of video that would increase my knowledge of the craft. None of this naturally segues into understanding how to apply that information to my creative practice.
That kind of thinking eventually led me to moments of disappointment and frustration. I looked at my work and compared it to that of the people I admired and only saw the disparity between their photographs and mine. Although I believed I understood the photographic process as well as they did and used equipment much like theirs, I couldn’t understand why my body of work didn’t measure up to theirs. I too-easily assumed that it was an issue of natural talent and that I was lacking.
Becoming an Editor
But it wasn’t that I lacked talent. The real reason I struggled was that I missed an essential skill—I didn’t understand how to be my own editor. And by editor, I don’t mean my skills in Photoshop, but rather my ability to cull my images. Editing is the ability not only to choose which images are better than others but to organize them into a body of work that demonstrates vision and a clear point of view.
Despite the reliance of photography on technical knowledge, equipment, and a repeated methodology, the ultimate driver is the mind. Our subconscious gives us the means to recognize the potential of a subject or scene for a photograph. It is where that spark of inspiration is born that boosts our heart rate as we raise the camera to take a photograph.
The challenge lies in making sense of what the subconscious was up to when it prompted the photograph and that understanding comes through the process of editing.
Despite the wealth of educational material on photography, there is very little to be found on the process of editing one’s own work. The lack of a clear and methodical approach makes the editing seem like something out of the Wild West: anything goes. From the lacklustre results I have seen in the portfolios I have reviewed, it’s a challenge faced by most photographers.
Becoming a good editor is an acquired skill so here are a few suggestions that may help you to become your own best editor.
Create collections of the category of photography that you practice, e.g., landscape, portrait, close-up, street photography, etc. If you favour only one type of photography, create sub-categories. If you enjoy landscapes, the sub-categories could be water, sky, close-ups, sunsets, etc.
When reviewing your images from a recent shoot, rate your better images with a pick flag, a star or a colour rating. It doesn’t matter which, as long as you remain consistent. Put your highest-rated images in the appropriate category or subcategory.
Limit the number of images in each collection to approximately 25. When you reach this number of images, you can begin making comparisons.
Contrast and Comparison
Look through the 25 images and choose one image that you believe is the stand-out, the best of the best. If you struggle with making this decision, simply choose the image that best represents what you are aspiring to create as a photographer. Assign this image a higher rating such as a single star. This is your benchmark image.
Next, compare this image to the other 24 and make a judgment call. If the next image as good as your benchmark, it stays. If it doesn’t, remove it from the collection. If you have multiple versions of a scene or subject, narrow down your choice to just one. Continue this until you have eliminated 10 images from that collection.
This can be hard to do, especially if you are emotionally attached to your photographs, but it’s a necessary part of the editing process. You have to learn to make those hard choices. Remember that the choices are not permanent. This doesn’t delete the images from your hard drive. It’s just a necessary part of the editing process.
As you continue to produce more work and again fill out your collection to 25, repeat this process to see which new images find a home in the collection and which need to be eliminated.
The Survey mode in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC provides the perfect tool for doing this easily and efficiently.
Getting Your Core 8
As you practice this process throughout the year, you will begin to discern which images you favour and why. You will teach yourself how to recognize the visual elements you gravitate to, your strengths in composition and even themes and ideas. That clarity will help you edit your images at the end of the year to your Core 8 photographs.
The Core 8 are the photographs in each category that best represent what you’ve accomplished as a photographer that year. It is the means by which you not only make a judgment call on the quality of the individual images but how they came together as a body of work.
It is the same practice that you applied previously but instead of narrowing down the images to 12, you are choosing a final eight. Again, choose a benchmark image, which will likely have changed from earlier in the year. You then contrast and compare until you have culled the images to a final eight.
This can be the most difficult part of the entire process as you are hopefully looking at some exceptional photographs. But this time, you are looking at the photographs as a body of work. One of your favourite images might be beautiful and striking, but does not fit or flow with the other images that you’ve selected. That doesn’t mean this image won’t find a home somewhere. It just means that in terms of your Core 8 it isn’t appropriate.
When you are done with each collection, you will have a representative body of your very best images in each category or subcategory for the year. If you have created four categories or sub-categories, you will have compiled a selection of 32 images, an ideal size for a portfolio or web gallery.
The most difficult thing when going through this process is to detach emotionally from your work. Sometimes, you become so invested with the story behind the images or what you went through to capture it, that you lose your objectivity. The story may be great and the challenge commendable, but the image and the collection can’t be about that. The work has to stand on its own.
After practicing this approach repeatedly over time, you will find that such detachment comes more easily. And as you see that your body of work is stronger and more consistent, you will trust not only in your ability as a photographer but also as an editor.
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, writer, and educator. He is also the host of The Candid Frame photography podcast which he has been producing since 2006. He has authored half a dozen books on the subject of photography including his latest, Making Photo- graphs: Developing a Personal Visual Workflow. Find out more about him and his work by visiting www.thecandidframe.com
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