Be The Best

June 02, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Rhapsody in BlueRhapsody in BlueTracy Arm Fjord (Near Juneau, Alaska) Photographers are their own best curators. They're also their own worst.

As the creator of the images, you know what you're trying to convey; you're intimately acquainted with the locations at which you often work; you know how you want to represent yourself as an artist. Who could be better positioned than you when it comes to identifying what ought to be included in your portfolio?

Still, it can be tough to make such decisions. 

A single photograph can evoke all sorts of memories. You recall the hours spent on location. The effort and expense required to get there. People you were shooting with or that you met along the way. What the weather was like. How long you had to wait before you could make the photo. Interesting travel adventures and/or mishaps on the way to or while on location. All sorts of things.

To be a good curator, you have to forget all of that. Emotions cloud judgement. You must be dispassionate and unbiased; easier said than done. 

Good curators are good editors. 

Step one is learning to overcome emotional attachments to images that don't represent your best work. 

  • It's a really strong composition - but there's some sort of technical issue which can't be addressed in post-processing. You want to love the photograph (you DO love it) but you see that problem staring back at you every time you look at it.
  • You drove a crazy number of miles to get to the location. Or invested a crazy amount of time to try to get those shots. Or spent a crazy amount of money. Or all of the above! The results weren't what you'd hoped for; still you want to have something to show for it. 
  • There may never be an opportunity to return to the place where you made the photo. The image isn't your best, but....
  • Your skills have improved quite a bit since you shot it, but the photograph brings back sentimental memories of something or someone.  

Does any of this sound familiar? These are the types of images that can be hard to cut but probably ought to go. That doesn't mean you can't continue to enjoy them; it's not like you're tossing them into a black hole or purging them from your hard drive. Consider them treasures for your permanent private collection.

Reserve the finest for your portfolio. You know the old saying, "You're only as strong as your weakest link." The idea is worth thinking about as you review your images and make decisions about which best represent your body of work.

[Note: there's a big difference between removing an image with flaws or which no longer stands up creatively versus pulling a photograph simply because it didn't generate a lot of "likes" when you posted it to Instagram or Facebook. Art is subjective. You will never please everyone. Some people love abstracts. Others dislike them. Some are drawn to grand vistas while others prefer intimate scenes. You say potato, I say.... Don't let social media dictate the measure of your work.]

Good editors also know when enough is enough: there can be virtue in brevity. Should your collection showcasing (fill in the blank with a location or specific subject matter) include hundreds - or thousands - of images? You may have many terrific photographs - but will people wade through it all? Are there redundancies? How many images are necessary to convey the message? Are they all equally good? Photographers must learn when, what and how much to remove. 

Portfolios evolve over time. Skills improve. We learn new post-processing techniques. Over the years, perhaps we look at the world differently, or pursue divergent subject matter. Creativity evolves. Add a few new images, remove a few older ones.

Quality, not quantity. Leave the viewer wanting more.

Remember - there are other avenues in which you can utilize some of the images you've opted to trim. Books. Presentations. Instruction. Articles. Licensing. Save them for another time or occasion.

It can be tough to curate your own work, but it's a skill that can be developed. As you become more proficient, you'll see that it's you who is best qualified for the job. 


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