A basic idea: the future of photography is going to be editing (the art of selecting your best work, and not showing your weak work).
Debunking the myth of the decisive moment
The best thing I learned was from contact sheets–discovering that the great photographers from the past always ‘worked the scene’ and took lots of pictures of the same scene. Yet, they only chose their best 1-2 pictures from any ‘contact sheet’ (all photos shot from their 36 shots on 1 roll of film).
I discovered the same in my photography: I had to take a lot of pictures and work the scene in order to capture one “decisive moment”. And this was the interesting lesson:
You create your own decisive moments, you don’t capture them.
There is no one ‘decisive moment’ — this is a myth.
You’re only going to see an interesting scene once in your life. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.
So first and foremost, you must hustle hard and work the scene to try your best attempt to make the best possible picture in a scene.
On top of that, you need to have the skills and wisdom (AFTERWARDS) once you go home, to have the skill to choose your best pictures (editing).
You must be able to determine this:
- Which scenes are interesting.
- For a given scene, which picture is the best?
How to become a better self-editor of your work
To be clear, when I say editing, I mean to say ‘the art of image-selection’. I don’t mean to say post-processing — that is post-processing. For post-processing, I just recommend you to use presets (use free ERIC KIM PRESETS).
Why is editing hard?
Editing is hard– because:
- We have so many photos to look through.
- We get FOMO (fear of missing out), that perhaps we don’t have the skill to identify our best work. Thus, one of our masterpieces might be hidden in our digital rubble of photographic pebbles.
- We don’t have enough visual skill to determine which our best pictures are.
Is there objective measures for a good picture?
There is no objective way to say if a picture is good or bad. It is all subjective.
Thus the tip is this:
Decide what your personal aesthetics are, and make pictures that you like to look at.
If you’re curious whether others will like your pictures or not, or whether they think your pictures are strong or not, upload your picture to ARSBETA.COM, my new photography feedback startup I’m building with Cindy and my friend Kevin. We are trying to create a productive online learning community for photographers, where we can actually give real and honest feedback (via ‘keep’ or ‘ditch’) as interesting information to you.
Because ultimately if you look through all your photos, your binary decision is:
Keep or ditch this picture.
What is a good keeper rate?
- For me, if I can make 1 good photo a month, and 1 great photo a year, I’m happy.
- For film 35mm photography, for every 100 rolls of film I shoot, I get 1 picture I really really like.
- For digital photography, for every 50,000 pictures I shoot, I get 1 picture I like.
Everyone has a different ‘batting average’. Even the best baseball players in the MLB rarely hit the ball, and even more rarely hit home runs.
But the way to increase your keeper rate:
- Shoot more often.
- When you find a scene you find interesting, shoot 25% more pictures of the scene than you think you should.
- Be more aware of the environment around you, to notice more interesting things which are probably already happening around you!
When in doubt, throw it out
If you’re not sure whether a picture is good or not, throw it out. It is like milk in the fridge– if you’re not sure if it is past its expiration date, you should probably throw it out.
In simple terms when you look at your picture, it is a “fuck yeah!” or a “no”. Don’t keep any pictures which are ‘meh’ or you feel luke-warm about.
Shoot more, edit more.
I encourage you to shoot a lot. As much as possible.
But also, become a more effective filter of your work. Keep your Lightroom workflow as simple and effective as possible. You don’t want to fall behind on your editing; keep your production of new images, and your editing of those images in-sync.
Never stop shooting. The future of photography is this:
We will have more cameras and picture-creating devices, and thus, we will make more pictures.
But this is the stress we will face:
How will I have the time and energy to plough through all these images, and cherry-pick my best ones?
I see the future of photography as being a combination of AI, machine learning — to help us better cull through our pictures, and help us edit down our work to our best.
But to simply say, what are your 5 most meaningful pictures you’ve ever shot? Keep that in your portfolio, and keep your portfolio dynamic; keep changing it and editing it.
If you want to learn more in-person about how to edit down your portfolio to your best work, attend one of my upcoming workshops, where you will learn how to “kill your babies” and learn how to develop the visual skills and acuity to determine your best work, and display yourself as the best possible photographer.
But when in doubt, just shoot it.
Don’t just take 1 photo of the scene: ‘Work the scene’!
Articles on Contact Sheets
- The Small Thumbnail Test
- How I Took These Photos: Contact Sheets of my ONLY IN AMERICA Project
- How Did They Take that Photo? Behind-the-Scenes Contact Sheets of Famous Street Photography
If you’re curious more about how to “work the scene” in street photography, download my full-resolution contact sheets for your own self-education and learning with the links below:
For your convenience, I have a selection of my contact sheets as a .ZIP file (very big at 2.5GB) available for you to download via Google Drive or Dropbox below:
All of these photos are open-source; meaning, feel free to print, distribute, remix, or share them with others.
Learn the importance of “working the scene”:
Contact Sheet Books:
Contact Sheet Articles:
- Debunking the “Myth of the Decisive Moment”
- How Studying Contact Sheets Can Make You a Better Street Photographer
- Book Review: Magnum Contact Sheets