Monday, 9 June 2014

The art of selection

Having spent the last few days going through the photos I took at Mallory park I have faced one of the problems that occurs when you do an event like that is, namely how do you go about reducing the mass of photos to the few pictures that you wish to share?

In total I took 625 photos in a mad 3 hours at Mallory. It would be wonderful to believe that each one was a gem of photographic perfection that should be cherished and celebrated, but that is never going to happen. Instead I have 625 photos of varying quality each which need to be ranked and in most cases simply deleted.

The easy job is getting rid of the ones which are just plain bad, such as they are out of focus or have the wrong exposure. Others are just badly composed with faults like chopping part of the subject off or a similar composition faux pas. These are the easy ones to find and once these have been removed you are left with about half the photos you started with.

There are also the duplicates; photos taken in quick succession but basically show the same scene. These can also be whittled down to just one photo (I used to save all the photos even the bad ones. This was a hang over to the days of film, since after paying for them to be developed you felt beholden to retain them. I also used to believe that even bad photos could perhaps be saved in the future. But now I realise they just take up valuable disk space and need to be exiled to digital hell),

After this process you are left with a core set  of photos without any discernible technical faults. Then starts the next challenge. You need to go through them again and judge whether there is a decent photo trying to escape. If you are lucky you will find some flawless gems which stand by their own merits,but more likely you will find photos which don't quite make the grade. This is where you start up the photo editing software

In the old days of film (unless you owned a developing studio) photography was a strictly WYTIWYG affair (What You Took Is What You Got). Nowadays unless you are very skillful (or in my case, lucky)  this is just the start of the process. Virtually without exception, all photos can be improved by some tweaking in Photoshop and the like, but some need more major rework. The next stage is to see what can be done to take a photo to that next level.

The things you can do to a photo are only limited by your time and your skill levels. It could be anything from playing around with the white balance(if taken in RAW mode), changing the levels, tweaking the color curve, converting it to black and white or just cropping it to produce a different viewpoint. On top of that there are numerous effects you can play with such as filters or just removing annoying distractions via clone stamping. The list is endless.

These range from the easy to the difficult and of course there is a philosophical debate to be had about when a photo stops being a photo and becomes a Photoshop construct. To me it is when the photo becomes something that could not have been achieved through the camera alone, however leaving that to one side for now, generally you start with the changes that have the maximum impact for minimum work.

Cropping is always a good place to start. In some ways it is the simplest one to achieve, but the most difficult to master. A good crop can add enormously to the photo, but the issue is what to crop and how much. This is an artistic call rather than something that can be legislated

Cropped, possibly cropping more would work????

Converting the photo to black and white is also simple to do and can sometimes have a huge impact. It is a strange thing that removing the colors can improve a photo, but the colors can sometimes prove a distraction from the subject. By removing them you end of with the subject coming to the fore, which is why portraits are so often better in black and white.


In black and white. Now the intense expression on the lead rider comes to the fore

Once you have picked out those photos that can benefit from extra processing and retained those lucky ones that need no or little enhancement, the rest can be deemed unworthy and can be relegated to the also ran pile (although still retained waiting for that unlikely day when maybe your Photoshop technique has advanced enough or a different requirement makes them useful again). The rest are to be cropped, clone stamped or otherwise digitally manipulated.

You may now be left with 5% of your original photos and hopefully those left are worthy of extra critical attention. In my case this was still 20 or 30 photos. Of course you could stop here, kick your feet up and have a cup of tea, but since we are in a never ending quest for perfection we need to continue our search for excellence. What we are looking for now are those few photos you would be happy to share to your peers and the world.

Here is where the real challenge begins...

So you have 30 photos. The obvious defects have been removed. They have been buffed up with Photoshop to the best of your ability and you wish to pick those most likely to propel you to glory. Unfortunately this is a bit like choosing which of your children you like the most.

The question then is how do you subjectively judge a photo? The truth is there is no easy way. Like art, ones persons Picasso is another persons set of pointless squiggles on a canvas. In a few precious instances a photo just leaps out from the screen, but mostly we need to be more subjective.

In order to do this I tend to use 3 criteria.

Criteria 1 is whether it add a new angle to the subject? So many photos put on sites such as 500px are of the same scene, taken in the same way. This to me is not photography, just advanced copying. To me a good photo does something different, an unusual angle, a different shutter or aperture setting. The list is endless which is why it is hard to understand why so many photos end up just as clones of earlier work.

Criteria 2 is whether the photo tells a story to me.  Especially with  photos involving people, a good photo is one that captures a moment in time and tells the narrative of that quantum second. A look on someones face, the body language, something that indicates what was going on at that never to be repeated moment in time. The problem is however expressing that story to the person who sees the photo in a unambiguous way. As in all art, its quality can often be down to how well the photo connects with it's audience.

This lad turned up in a few photos and I wanted an image of him watching the cycling, with his bike. In my mind he is thinking of the glory days ahead when he is old enough to race
Same lad on the way out. I thought it was a nice way to end the day
Even after applying these criteria there is still room for doubt. There are photos which you think may have merit but others dislike making you doubt your photographic sanity. Are they good in your head only? Will releasing them show your artistic judgement is fatally flawed?

These are difficult dilemmas and at the end of the day while getting the opinion of others can be a useful exercise it is your photo and if you like it you should be willing to stand up to your convictions. Sometime the rest of the world is just wrong.

So the 3rd Criteria is that you like it and at the end of the day that is the most important test of all.

I am not sure about this photo. In some ways it is a mistake, but i like the energy and movement

Similar here. This was more by accident than design but I like the feeling of movement. But is it a good photo?  I don't know, but I like it

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