Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Can You Pick Your Top 5 Photos?

Taking photos has undergone a change in the digital age. We no longer have to carefully consider before we press the shutter button, and we don't have to wait for days before we see the final result. It costs nothing to take picture after picture after picture, seeing the result immediately, then deleting the ones you don't like. What people perhaps often don't realize, is that the digital revolution of photography has also changed the way we are viewing photos.

If you remember this older article of mine, you will recall how I mentioned that digital cameras have caused damage to the way we appreciate family moments. A slightly blurry photo, a photo with an unwanted reflection, or every other flaw - perceived or imagined, such as "my nose looks too big" - means an immediate deletion. As a result the photos we keep (which are no longer printed and hence most are just forgotten in some hard drive or on the cloud), are all a heavily edited sample of what kind of photos we make.

A 'nice' image, but without seeing
the ones I deleted, how can I study what
worked and what didn't?

This obviously has the detrimental effect I mentioned earlier, meaning an often clinical, soulless approach to family moments (or moments in general). But there's also another element, which is the topic of today's article: When you snap so many photos, and when you edit them heavily (both in terms of deleting most of them, and editing them photographically) can you really pick your top-5 photos? Can you discover which are better than others, when they have all undergone such processes? Let's look more into this, and see why it's important.

The inspiration behind this article came when I faced such a situation myself. When I came back from my last trip to Greece, and after I'd finished editing my photos, I realized I felt a bit peculiar about their quality. Not because I wasn't happy with them. Rather the opposite: I was happy with many of them. But their consistency troubled me. Let me repeat that again, because it's important:

The consistency in the quality of my photos troubled me.
Ansel Adams had once said, If you take a dozen great pics per year (or one per month) you're doing great. It was that quote I had in mind when pondering on my images. I could pick none that took my breath away, but then again, none that was an utter failure either. And then it struck me: having sanitized my (digital) images so much, I'd lost a sense of reference.

When you delete images in-camera, then in Photoshop (or whichever program you use), what's left is, supposedly, the top of the bunch. The thing is, without the photos you deleted, it's hard to see what went wrong in those, so that you know what went right in the ones you kept. To an extent, this did happen with film as well: you didn't print all your photos. But in the vast majority of cases, you did develop all of them.

And so, to go back to my original question (and title of this article):

Can you pick your top-5 photos of a given set?

I suggest that you try it for yourself. Gather the photos you took at a party/event/walk in the forest (let me rephrase: the photos that you kept from those you took at a party/event/walk in the forest), and try to pick your top-5. It might be harder than you would've thought. Now, try the same thing with a new set from a new occasion, but this time make sure to not delete any photos. Is it any easier to make qualitative comparisons? If yes, it should really make you think about your procedure. At the very least, it should inspire you to slow down, take your time, think your compositions through.

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