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?
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:
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
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:
- 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.
- 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 >
- 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
Generally when I am determining which photo to choose, here are some criteria I use:
- Which photograph evokes a strong emotional response in myself?
- I generally prefer photos with people laughing, hand-gestures or body-gestures, or eye contact.
- ‘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.
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Articles on Contact Sheets
- Lingering Technique: How to Work the Scene in Street Photography
- The Future of Photography is Editing
- 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:
DOWNLOADFor 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: open-source; meaning, feel free to print, distribute, remix, or share them with others.
- Debunking the “Myth of the Decisive Moment”
- How Studying Contact Sheets Can Make You a Better Street Photographer
- Book Review: Magnum Contact Sheets