What is the most common mistake made by the armies of amateur photographers roaming the planet these days? Arguments could be made for a myriad of things, from composition errors to poor exposure to bland subject matter, but to me there’s one thing even more grating.
People need to learn to edit their damned collections before sharing.
You know what I’m talking about. Your buddy sends you a link inviting you to view his Flickr gallery of the shots he took at a party that ended about 30 minutes ago, and even though you know better, you look at it. Sure enough, all 543 shots he took are there for your enjoyment, spread across several pages of thumbnails. You’ll probably look at the first few, then scan the thumbnails for anything that might appear interesting, then just go back to whatever you were doing before you clicked that link.
Dumping the entire contents of your camera’s card for the world to see is a very bad idea for two major reasons:
1. It’s rude. Uploading your entire card to Flickr and then sending out a link is the equivalent of dumping a shoebox of Polaroids into someone’s lap and saying, “Sorry, I couldn’t be bothered to organize these so you’ll have to wade through them yourself.” You are making your viewer do all of the work, sifting through piles of garbage to find the occasional treat.
2. It greatly diminishes your work. You probably have some really great pictures in that collection, but their value goes way down when surrounded by dozens (or hundreds) of similar yet slightly flawed versions. I can guarantee that if I show you one great image all by itself, you will appreciate it much more than if I showed it to you alongside a dozen others, all taken 1/2 second apart.
Fortunately, the solution to this is very simple. All you have to do is make a couple passes on your collection before you upload them. First knock out the ones that are obviously bad (out of focus, etc). Then look for similar ones and pick the best one or two shots, nuking the others. At this point you will have probably reduced your original collection by 70%. I would recommend still making a couple more passes, but if you’re in a hurry go ahead and upload; you’ve already improved your collection immensely and your viewers will thank you for it.
When I do one of my underwater photo sessions, I end up with 1000-2000 shots. If I dumped all those into my galleries, it would be a freaking mess and no one would ever bother looking through them. So, I employ a simple process that typically gets me down to a gallery of about a dozen shots. That’s right, I typically keep less than 1% of what I start with.
I use Lightroom to manage my images, but you can use any number of applications. If you don’t want to spend any money, install Picasa and have at it.
- I begin by importing all my shots into a new folder on my hard drive. I prefer to organize these folders by date, but you can do whatever works best for you. I also have Lightroom convert the raw files to DNG and rename them to something relevant.
- After the images are all in Lightroom, I make my first pass. This involves going through the images very quickly, and rejecting any that have obvious flaws. Anything out of focus, poorly framed or incorrectly exposed is out. This is when I’ll also ditch anything that has subject flaws, such as closed eyes or a sneeze caught by the shutter. This pass can eliminate up to half of my original shots. I delete these immediately because I know there is nothing in there that I will ever need.(Disclaimer: When I’m doing underwater photos, my vision is very limited so I error on the side of taking a LOT of shots. As a result, I might take a dozen shots where the model’s eyes are closed because I didn’t notice it when it was happening. I’m sure I end up with a much higher percentage of immediate throw-aways than when working in a more traditional setting.)
- On the next pass, I’m looking for similar images, ones that were taken very close to one another where the subject is not changing much from shot-to-shot. My goal is to find the best shots from within that range and ditch the rest. This can easily chop my collection in half again.
- On my next pass, I try to view the entire remaining collection to look for any other commonalities that I may have missed before. For example, some shots that happened toward the end of the session might be almost identical to ones I took at the beginning. Again, I’ll pick the best and lose the rest.
- By now my 2000 original pictures are probably down to less than 100. I will probably end up keeping all of these images long term, but I still want to distill them down to the very best for what I show to the world. For this, I start doing a lot of A-B comparisons, pitting one image against another. I may have two images that are both strong, but if one conveys a certain look or mood better, it’s going to win.
- Sometimes I’ll put the whole thing aside for a few days and work on something else. It’s amazing the new things you will see when you return with fresh eyes.
- At some point I’ll finally have a collection that I like. There’s no perfect number of final images, but it should be a reasonable amount for your viewer to enjoy and to leave them wanting to see more from you.
My process can take me days if not weeks to work through. Obviously, this is not possible or practical for everyone, but that’s OK. What’s important is that you make some effort to edit your collections before you ask others to view them.