11 Mar 2008 Observations from Gallery Pruning (Podcast 129)
For some months now I’ve been meaning to go through all of the photos in my online gallery, and clear out all of the ones that no longer really appeal to me, or are no longer in line with my current vision. Over the last week or so I’ve been through my online gallery one image at a time and cleared out many of these photos. When pruning a tree, we cut away unwanted branches and parts of the tree that may even appear necessary, but this has to be done to enable the tree to grow more healthily in the coming year. I’ve decided that each year I am going to prune my gallery to enable healthy growth, and today discuss some observations from the exercise.
Like I said, for some time now, I’ve been meaning to go through my gallery and remove some of the old images that I really wasn’t very happy with any more. At the start of this exercise I wasn’t really sure how heavy handed I was going to be. I actually have been in a bit of a dilemma for some time now when it comes to removing my lesser images from my gallery. The main reason for this is because some of them still sell. I am often surprised by some of the images that people chose to buy prints of. There is a good chance that some of the images I have just removed might bring me some income in the future. Why then did I go ahead and delete them? Basically, I’m thinking that our photos are representations of our vision and photographic style. I have been in a position a few times where people buy prints of images that I really no longer particularly like myself, and I wished that I had removed them from the gallery making the sale. This does seem counter-productive, but as I define myself as a photographer, I really don’t want to be known for images that no longer match my personal vision.
I have found that as my style has developed over the years, and I started to concentrate more and more on nature photography, many of the Japanese daily life, or festival photographs that I quite liked before simply did not appeal to me anymore. I have received requests to post more street photography for example, but although I can appreciate that some people like street photography, there are few times that it actually appeals to me, just like some people don’t particularly care for nature photography. With this, I found myself removing a lot of the shots that I took of festivals here in Japan. Also, many of the shots from temples or just everyday scenes went. Some remain, but mainly these are images that still appeal to me, at least to some degree, as standalone photographs, and not just a document of the event.
By the end of the exercise, I’d deleting 437 of the 1689 images in my gallery, which is just over a quarter of the images. It would have been a little more, but I have actually spoken about 8 images that I wanted to remove in this Podcast, so I just moved them to the example photos album instead, as I didn’t want to create any dead links.
In addition to not really matching my current style, I found a fair few images that weren’t bad, but composed in a way that I simply would not have composed them had I shot the same scene today. I also noticed way too much depth of field in many shots. Generally, apart from Landscape work, I have systematically increased my range of wide aperture lenses in the last few years to enable me to shoot with very shallow depth-of-field, and so I really just don’t shoot images with lots of depth of field these days. When I saw flower shots that had lots of depth of field, they just had to go. The same went for shots with distracting background elements. Partly due to having too much depth of field, but even when shooting wide open, I try to take great care of keeping the background simple, with few distracting elements, but I found many shots that I found I hadn’t really done this very well at all, so out they went.
As I visit the same place multiple times I often find that I am shooting similar scenes. This was difficult, but to a degree I removed the older versions of shots that I had replaced with similar versions from future visits. I also found myself removing some shots that really could just do with re-processing. The tools and my techniques for RAW processing have changed significantly over the years, and I saw many shots that I know I would just not have processed that way had I worked on them today. For the borderline ones that I left, I added a keyword so that I can easily find the ones that need reprocessing when I get time to do it. If I find they still don’t look how I want them too, I’ll remove them later.
Many shots I think got uploaded because of the fresh memory of the event. I mentioned in a recent episode that we tend to view our images with kinder eyes when the memory of the shoot is still fresh in our minds. We associate so much more with the image than the image actually contains. Of course, that means that the information only in our memory never makes it to the impartial viewer, and the image really isn’t that successful. Another reason I sometimes uploaded lesser images is because I put so much into getting the shot, that to a certain extent, I just felt I had to share it. Kind of like going to an expensive restaurant only to find that the food is not very good. You have to pay for it, so you’re damn well going to eat it, right?
For some time now, I’ve been aware of the tendency to go ahead and upload stuff because of the lingering memory of the shoot. Because of this, I try give myself enough time to live with the images for at least a few days, or a week or more when possible, before deciding on my final selection from any particular shoot. I find that while doing this I remove a few shots each day that quickly start to fall from grace. Doing this also helps us to get a better feel for what we will eventually remove from our final selection, and enable us to remove them much earlier in the process in future editing sessions. Because I’ve been doing this, I find that my editing skills are now so much better that when I need to, I can get rid of most of the questionable images even when looking at them on the same day, if I am pushed for time. There’re still a fair number of shots left that I’m not that happy with. If I had been totally brutal, I could probably have remove half the shots, but I just couldn’t quite pluck up the courage to go that far in this first pruning session. Now that I’ve cleared about 28% of my gallery though, the next cull should not be so painful and hopefully truer to my real vision. I’m definitely going to schedule this same exercise at least once a year from now on, and I’m sure that when I do this again, what is borderline now will be unacceptable then, and I’ll end up with an even more streamlined collection of images.
Another observation, which I was hoping for and kind of expecting, is that the number of images that I removed dropped dramatically as I got closer to the present. Particularly when I moved to the shots I from the end of 2005. Although I really do feel that my photography has been getting better in the last few years, I thought I’d theorise a little about why this might be the case.
The first thing that came to mind is that I bought my 5D in October of 2005, with the finder that is brighter due to the full-size sensor. This might have helped, but probably only a minute factor. Then as I continued through my images I started to recall how I’d gotten to the various locations, and realised that something else had significantly changed at the end of 2005. I’d bought a car. I had been travelling to locations by train and bus, and the odd time by rental car, but at the end of 2005 I bought a car and for the first time in five years was once again totally mobile, and on my own terms, which without doubt changed my photography.
Another thing that changed is what you are listening to right now, the Podcast. I started doing this Podcast about a month before I got my 5D. Indeed, the fifth episode was my review of the 5D. Many people think that this Podcast is all giving on my part. Sure, I pay for the servers and invest many hours a week into the Podcast and maintenance of the Web servers and Web sites etc. I have never received money for sponsorship either, always channelling that back into prizes for the Assignment, so in many ways this is a labour of love.
However, as I have mentioned before, at least in the forum and maybe in an episode, one of the key benefits that I get from doing this Podcast is that it keeps me on my toes photographically. Firstly, just the act of putting down what I know about photography in words, in an understandable form to relay to you via the Podcast has helped me no end in understanding my photography from both a technical and artistic perspective. As you know I have a policy of not talking about stuff I am not confident in myself, and that has always been and will always remain the case. The point is though, that some things that I just did, kind of as second nature, became much more structured and purposed after putting it down in words. Another part of this is that I started to shoot with much more purpose than before. I often have it in the back of my mind that I will talk about my photographic adventures in the Podcast, and this again keeps me focussed. I’m often thinking about how I’ll talk about a certain subject in the Podcast and even take some shots with the specific goal of talking about them here. Without doubt, being more focused on your work will always help you to produce better results, and this is exactly what I believe has happened to me over the last two and a half years since starting this Podcast.
By the way, I found that once I got into the last twelve months, I hardly removed any images, probably less than ten. This once again reinforces my belief that your last year’s work should always be your best. If it isn’t, you are probably stagnating and may need to take a change in direction. It also probably proves that I have got better at removing the images that I’m more emotionally attached to during my editing process, before they are uploaded to my online gallery.
You might be wondering why I decided to share this information with you today. If you are, I apologise for taking your time, because it means you probably don’t have any of these problems yourself. If you found yourself thinking about your own online presence though while listening to this, be it a full blown Web gallery, online portfolio or flickr account, I’d like to propose that you bear some of what I’ve said in mind, and take a look at your own collection of images. It is highly tempting to leave shots up indefinitely; after all it took time to prepare and post them, and give them titles and comments right? I really can’t talk, because it took me so long to get around to this myself, but I really believe that leaving images that no longer represent your photographic standards or current artistic vision, can damage our credibility as photographers. If there is any truth in the saying that your portfolio is only as good as your worst photo, I think we owe it to ourselves to weed out as much of our lesser work as possible from our online image collections.
I actually created my portfolio slideshow to enable me to showcase my best work, and have tried to segregate it out from my everyday galleries, which is one of the reasons why I left this pruning session for this long. The other reason of course is time. It was quite time consuming to go through all the images with a critical eye. With regards to the portfolio slideshow though, it is great, and I will continue to develop that, but I am really kidding myself to think that people will look in my galleries and see my lesser work without it reducing their appreciation for what I consider my better work. Most people go straight to the galleries too, and never even notice the slideshow, which I still have to do something about.
So, I hope that my sharing my own thoughts while clearing out my online gallery a little has helped you in some way too. I have a couple of pieces of housekeeping before we finish. Firstly, I have family coming into town for a few weeks from the 20th of March, and although I’m going to try, I might find that I cannot create a Podcast during the week of the 24th. If I can, I certainly will, but I imagine even during the time that I have free, my apartment will be a little too noisy to sit down and record a Podcast. My better half actually sits with headphones on watching the TV while I record normally, but I don’t think I’ll be able to ask my brother and his wife to do the same. Anyway, I will try to figure something out, but if it doesn’t work out, please accept my apologies.
Also related, the current Assignment which is on Nostalgia will close at the end of Sunday the 16th of March. Voting was planned to go on for two weeks until the 30th or March, but due to my family visit, which I failed to take into consideration when I decided the dates, I’m going to increase the voting period by three days until the end of April 2nd. This means that on the 3rd of April my time I’ll stop the voting and prepare a Podcast to announce the winners and the next Assignment theme, which will probably be released on the 4th of April. The week after that I should get back on schedule, so at worst we should only skip one week.
And that’s about it for today, so all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.
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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.