Contact sheet. Laughing Paris.
Contact sheet. Laughing Paris. I took two photos of this man, obviously the second photo of him laughing is better.

One of the most challenging parts of photography: the image-selection (culling) process. How do you know which photo is your best?

When you see an interesting scene, always ‘work the scene’ (shoot lots of photos of the same scene)

The other day, I went to Dollar Tree with Cindy, and on the way out, I saw this dad and daughter near the entrance, playing with these toys.

I thought it was a great moment, and I asked if I could make a photo of them together. The guy said ‘sure’, and I started to shoot these photos with my RICOH GR II (positive film preset mode, with a flash). I shot 9 photos in total. Here are all the photos I shot:

Now the tricky question is this:

How do you know which photo is the ‘best’?


Is there is such thing as a ‘best’ photo?

Technically, there is no such thing as a ‘best’ photo of a given scene.

Also, who is to say you must only choose 1 photo of a given scene?

This is my favorite photo of the scene, because I like the girl looking at the toys, and the man looking outside of the frame. Santa Ana, 2018
This is my favorite photo of the scene, because I like the girl looking at the toys, and the man looking outside of the frame. Santa Ana, 2018

Remember, there are no rules in photography. All the rules in photography must be self-dictated. Make rules for yourself in photography for fun; rules which are self-directed are good ‘creative constraints‘.

You can publish as many or as few photos as you want. For myself, I like the creative constraint of choosing your 1 best photo from a given scene. And of course, the concept of having a ‘best’ photo is up for you to decide!

The ‘best‘ photo of a scene is the photo that you like the most!


How I select what I consider the best photo of a given scene

An example below of a photo I shot in the Korean Market, a man at the seafood counter. I shot several photos of the scene, but these two were the best candidates:

Consideration 1: He is making eye contact directly with me.
Consideration 2: He is looking up. I prefer this photo, because you can see the catchlights in his eyes, and you can see him looking up at the ‘seafood’ sign.

Often it is easy to cull your photos down to 2-3 choices. But still, you must edit ruthlessly (kill your babies) and choose only 1.

But this is a tip:

Sometimes when you’re trying to decide two photos; there is a possibility that neither photo is that great.

For example the two photos above: neither photo is that great. Thus the right decision is to kill both photos!


Always work the scene!

I will say this until I get hoarse:

Whenever you see a scene that you find compelling, ALWAYS work the scene to the maximum!

You never know which version of the photo will be best.

Furthermore, you never can predict what interesting gesture or decisive moment will occur. The best thing is to just shoot a lot of photos of a given scene, and allow serendipity and randomness to occur!

You cannot predict what will happen: In praise of randomness and chaos

Leica M8.2, shot on RAW, processed with Eric Kim PRESETS
Leica M8.2, shot on RAW, processed with Eric Kim PRESET

For example, let me use the above photo as an example. In this photo, I asked for permission to shoot a portrait of this man. I was ‘working the scene’, and out of nowhere, his girlfriend took out a napkin and started to wipe his forehead. There is no way in hell I could have predicted this! Furthermore, the lesson is also that often interesting things can happen because you are interacting with your subjects.

How to make better street photos

You cannot control whether you will get a good photo or not. However, there are ways you can increase the likelihood of making a good photo:

Vietjet. Saigon, 2018
Vietjet. Saigon, 2018
  1. Work the scene: Whenever you see something interesting, always work the scene and shoot lots of version of the photo. For example above, I first was just taking photos of the plane, and then I saw this nice family enter the scene, and started to shoot a lot of photos.
  2. Always have your camera around your neck or on your wrist: This will allow you to be ready before something interesting happens. Discover the perfect HAPTIC strap for yourself >
  3. Keep shooting until your subject notices you (linger in a given scene, and wait until you get eye contact with your subject).

How to choose the photo you prefer the most

Contact sheet. Laughing Paris.
Contact sheet. Laughing Paris. I took two photos of this man, obviously the second photo of him laughing is better.

Generally when I am determining which photo to choose, here are some criteria I use:

  1. Which photograph evokes a strong emotional response in myself?
  2. I generally prefer photos with people laughing, hand-gestures or body-gestures, or eye contact.
  3. ‘When in doubt, throw it out.’ When I am not sure which photo is the best, there is a chance that none of the photos are good.

EDIT RUTHLESS!

ERIC

CONTACT SHEETS

Don’t just take 1 photo of the scene: ‘Work the scene’!

Articles on Contact Sheets


LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from MASTERS
LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheet
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:

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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.

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Learn the importance of “working the scene”: Which Photos Should I Keep or Ditch? Contact Sheet Books: Contact Sheet Articles:

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