Culling images: the sure-fire way to improve you photography

As I mentioned in my first post, I’m in the process of redesigning my website.  I’m starting from scratch, so I’m taking this opportunity to cull some of the so-so images from my online portfolio.  Oddly enough, as I continue to gain experience, my portfolio seems to shrink.  This is no accident, of course; it’s the result of a dedicated effort to stay critical of my own work.

I admit that I shoot a lot of photographs.  Memory is cheap and I’m still learning the art of composition.  What I lack in skill, I’m occasionally able to compensate for by shooting from a variety of angles.  Experimentation is the name of the game.  I’m definitely shooting less than I was a few years ago, but I typically return from an outing with hundreds of images.

A quick review of my hard drive is shocking.  192 gigabytes of data (35,954 individual images).  If I don’t count the photos of friends and family, restricting this list to landscape, nature, and travel, I’ve still got 19,021 files.  Only in the digital age, I tell you.

My first website showcased some 185 images, most of which were captured between 2006-2008.  Last year, I culled this list down, but again it swelled, to 103 images.  Now, as I prepare to upload my new site, I am considering 85 images for display.  At this rate, I should have a very respectable portfolio of 5 images in a few years from now!

Culling images can be difficult, but it’s one of the sure-fire ways to improve the overall quality and impact of your portfolio.  By eliminating the so-so images, you effectively raise the bar on those that remain.  It’s not always easy, though.  I often find myself emotionally invested in an image, which makes this process especially difficult.

"Sun Tarn", Jefferson Wilderness, Oregon

The image above is a fine example.  This is a photo I shot during a recent backpacking trip to Oregon’s Jefferson Wilderness.  After scouting the area all afternoon, I discovered this wonderfully photogenic tarn.  A perfect little island decorated with grasses, young pines, and red huckleberry – surrounded by icy crystals and Mt. Jefferson in the background.  I literally spent hours investigating this scene, in an attempt to photograph it well.  I am not displeased with the result, but it definitely lacks the visual impact that I had envisioned in my mind.

Macaws

Several years ago, I photographed these macaws at a forest reserve in Panama. Though technically wild, they had been baited to the area by the owner of the lodge where we stayed (all you can eat fruit and nuts).  I’ve always liked this image, but I decided to eliminate it from my online portfolio.  I have a small collection of wildlife images on display, and I am happy to say these are wild animals, photographed in their natural habitat.  That isn’t a knock against shooting captive animals, however.  I do, in fact, have a large collection of images made at the San Diego Zoo, which is near my home.

Oregon Cattails

Another example of an image I decided to cull.  The out-of-focus cattail in the foreground is too distracting, no matter how much I like the rest of the image.  Again, I find myself emotionally invested in this image, since it was taken on one of my very first photo outings.

Learning to be a better photographer involves a laundry list of different skills, and culling images is right at the top, in my opinion.   Or, to spin this from a more positive perspective, it’s learning to identify the gems from the ordinary or lackluster.  The next time you return from a photo shoot with dozens (or hundreds) of images, try to identify those 2 or 3 gems that stand out from the pack.

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