How to Become a More Objective Photographer

Make a stronger body of work by becoming more ruthless, objective, and exacting from your own photos:

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1. Let your photos marinate

An idea:

You never know how good a photograph is, unless you let it “sit” and “marinate” for a long time.

For example, generally speaking I must wait at least 1 year before I can make an honest, critical, and objective appraisal on a photograph.

This means:

Often look at your old photos, and keep applying the hammer to your photos. The weak photos which cannot withstand the power of the hammer must be discarded.

2. Time is the wisest judge

Generally speaking,

The longer you let your photos sit and marinate, the more wisely you can judge your photos.

This is the problem: it is very difficult for us to be objective with our own photos. To us, our photos are all our babies. And it is difficult for us to judge our babies and children; they are all so beautiful.

Yet we must be ruthless, and “kill our babies“; or “kill your weak photographs.”

3. In praise of object-ifying your photographs

To be more objective means to look at your photos as objects. Don’t think of your photographs as living entities with “feelings”. No, they are cold slabs of marble, which have been crafted by you.

Thus, treat your photographs objectively. It is good to objectify your photos.

4. Do your photos interest you?

You shot the photos, but just because you shot them doesn’t mean the photo is good.

Yet, you are still the ultimate judge of your photos. You are the only one who dictated whether a photograph has worth and value, or doesn’t.

Thus, be ruthless and exacting towards your photos.

Ask yourself:

If someone else made this photograph, would I still like it?

If so, it is probably a strong photograph.

5. Weigh your photos against the other great photographs you’ve seen

You shot the photos, but treat your photos as separate to you.

Like Josef Koudelka says,

Once I made a photograph, it no longer belongs to me. I detach myself from my photos.

This is a simple suggestion I have for you:

Don’t call them “my” photos, call them “the” photos.

Treat the photos you shot as separate from you; this will help you judge them more objectively.

6. Small thumbnail test


Look at your photos as small thumbnails, and this is the test:

If your photos look strong as small thumbnails, they are probably strong photos.

Often we get suckered by looking at our photos full screen. But this is my thought:

Strong photos don’t need small details to justify themselves.

A strong photograph scorns details; a strong photograph prefers to be simple.

If you must justify the existence of your photograph by pointing out the small details, it probably isn’t good.

However, if a strong (simple) photograph happens to also have interesting details, that is just an added bonus. Like a high quality cut of steak, that also happens to have some delicious truffled mushrooms on the side.

Next: Photography Assignments for You

  1. Look at your current portfolio of photos, and prune away the weak photos. Only allow the strong photos to survive.
  2. Study contact sheets to better understand what makes a great photograph.
  3. Strive to make photos that are even stronger than the masters of the past!