Creating a New Photography Portfolio (Podcast 662)

Creating a New Photography Portfolio (Podcast 662)

This week, I decided to create a new portfolio, and share the process with you, in the hope that you’ll find it useful. I am literally going to write this article as I work so that you can see my process blow for blow. Note that this is not at this point going to be a printed portfolio. For my thoughts on that process, check out episode 330.

Just like when we do our yearly top ten selection, I believe there is always a lot to learn about our photography, our progress, and evolution as photographers, and how we view our work, from going through these processes. In any capacity, the ability to whittle down a selection of images from a larger selection helps us to become better at what we do.

Even if, for example, you are just going to sit down and share your work with people you’ve invited over for a house party, I’m sure at some point you’ve noticed people get bored of your work as the 300th image fades out, giving way to the 301st. People don’t want to sit through hundreds of images, and depending on your goals, you may actually have to whittle down to just 10 or 20 shots from literally hundreds of thousands of images! It’s a skill that enables us to be better artists and prevents us from boring our audience to death at the same time, so let’s get to it.

The last time I updated my Nature of Japan portfolio was 2017, and at that time I greatly reduced the number of images from 80 to 55, which was quite a drastic change. Before that, the last update was 2015, and I believe that my 2017 change was more pruning than adding new work, so I am going to at least skim through my 2016 and 2017 Japan work again, before taking a more in-depth look at my 2018 and 2019 work. So, that’s a total of 12 tours, each containing two to three-hundred images that I consider good enough to show people. That is a lot of images to go through, so we’ll discuss the process a little, as well as preparing my current portfolio.

During this process, ideally, I’d like to get this selection down to around 50 images at most, but the only way I’m going to achieve that is to give up on my idea of keeping one master portfolio for all of my Japan nature work. I’m going to split my portfolios into two, starting by removing all of the Landscape images from my current portfolio, and I’m going to put them into a Japan Landscapes or Hokkaido Landscapes portfolio for now. I will decide what to do with my landscape work after this, but for now, just put them aside in a new Landscape Collection in Capture One Pro.

Actually, as I did one last run through this year’s photos from my Japan tours, I started to think that I might go even more granular, and split my wildlife into snow monkeys, cranes, sea eagles, and whooper swan portfolios, but I think that might be too specific and unvaried, so for now, I’m going to try to complete a new The Wildlife of Japan portfolio, and then later do a Japan Landscape portfolio, and see where I stand after creating each of these.

Use Collections Instead of Folders

I have heard people talk about outputting all of your images into a folder, and then deleting the ones you don’t like, etc. but I really do not recommend this method, because it doesn’t easily allow you to leave a record of what was done, because there is no linkage between the images in your folder and original work. The software that we’ve had for the last ten years or so pretty much all support collections, with easy ways to add and remove images, and make copies of our selections to help us keep records.

I keep all of my portfolios in collections in Capture One Pro, so that I can easily manage and edit my selections. Occasionally as I modify images and delete copies etc. something gets removed from my portfolio collections, but in general, I can get back to the last copy of any portfolio just by selecting the collection in Capture One Pro.

Before I started work on this update, I made a copy of my Nature of Japan portfolio with the 55 images, just so that I can compare what I’ve done later. There are times when despite our best intentions when you get to the end of an exercise and look back, you find that you’ve made some really bad decisions, and need to just throw it out and start again. You can’t easily do that if you don’t keep a record of your changes.

Nature of Japan Portfolio Before Update
Nature of Japan Portfolio Before Update

Split Away the Landscape Work

I then created a Japan Landscape Portfolio collection, and made that my selects folder, so that now I can just hit the Q key on the keyboard to add new images to that for a while. That makes it easier to filter out the Landscape images, but I also have to hit the delete key in the Nature of Japan collection to remove the images from that collection. I might end up removing some of these landscape images in that update, but keeping them in a collection, for now, will give me a headstart.

It was difficult to decide what to do with my cranes in the river photos, because these are both landscapes and wildlife images, although more landscape, so I moved these to the landscapes folder for now. After clearing out the landscape shots, I was left with 26 wildlife images, of which I was able to remove a further two, because they didn’t match my current expectations.

I’ll do a separate post on this at some point, but I feel that as we grow and evolve, it’s natural that we fall out of love with some of our older images, but some seem to almost demand to be left in, and that is probably our strongest, most timeless work. For example, the photo of the Ezo Deer that I shot on my first visit to Hokkaido in the winter remains one of my favorite images.

Disconnect Your Emotions

What we have to be careful of is the reason for keeping these images in our portfolios. I hate to use the grandmother example because I know grandmothers are very special to most people, but when I see a photo of a grandmother in a selection of images, 9 times out of 10 I can tell that it’s only there out of the love that the photographer feels for his or her grandmother. Most of the time, artistically, the grandmother shot brings nothing to the table, and more often than not, it actually reduces the overall beauty and impact of the selection.

Now, I’m not going to tell you what you should or should not do. It’s your photography, your portfolio, your top ten, whatever; but I do want to reiterate the importance of removing your own emotional connection to your photographs when working on a selection. This goes for all images, not just grandmother photos. The reason I raise this at this point is because I know I’m close to this in my decision to leave in my Ezo Deer photograph. When I look at this image, I not only see a proud animal bearing the elements, but I recall the sense of wonder and amazement that I had in my late-thirties, as I sat in the snow, just meters from this deer, and watched him draw his head back like that, seemingly relaxed and completely fine with me being there.

I have not been this close to a deer since, and I’ve never seen one this relaxed in the presence of humans, and I really feel that this was something special. I also though feel that to a degree, you can see that in the photograph. The sense of closeness to this animal is there, and to me at least, he looks relaxed, so despite this being one of the oldest images in my portfolio, I think I’m good to leave him in there for now at least.

To wrap up my ideas on this thought process though, my advice is to always question your reasons for having each photograph in your set. If it’s because you worked hard to get the photo, or the subject is someone or something you love, anything related to your emotional response to the photo, just ask yourself if these qualities are actually visually represented in the photograph.

I’m not a big believer in the popular mantra that every photograph has to have a story. It’s nice when they do, but not a prerequisite in my opinion. What I do want though, is for every image to at least change my emotional state, at least a little bit. And I’m talking about based on the visual merits of the photograph, not my memories of the shoot. Even if I just feel my heart lift slightly as I view the image, it has merit and can be considered for inclusion. The hard part is gauging which images move me more than others and ranking them accurately enough to only leave in a specific number of images that won’t completely bore any audience that I put my work before. The more images we include, the greater chance we have of diluting our message to the point that it’s too weak to move anybody.

Adding New Candidates

My next job is to go through and add all of the new images that I want to consider for inclusion in my Japan wildlife portfolio. I actually have a collection into which I’ve already dropped a few images, so I’ll check that out first. Note that if you are just starting to build a fresh portfolio from scratch, this is where you start going through your images.

Note too that I keep all of my final selects from each shoot in a single Capture One Pro catalog. Whenever I finish my selection process, I not only have the ability to filter out my selection from my original image folders, using the star ratings that I use, but once I’m done, I select all of my chosen images and copy them to the appropriate year in my Finals folder. This means that I can open one catalog, and see all images that I believed were worth a hoot in one place, separated out by years, starting with a 2001 and earlier folder, I then have a single folder for each year since.

Whether you keep your final selects separate like I do, or just reference your rated images in your shoot folders, It’s really important to keep track of your selects, to make this kind of process easier. I shot 16,000 images over my three Japan winter tours this year, but because I have my final selections already whittled down, I only have to skim through 500 of them to find my candidates today. The same goes for the last few years which I’m also going to check. I’ll be back in a moment…

OK, so after going through the folder of candidates that I’d already been building, I ended up with 43 images in my new working folder. There were also lots of landscape shots in there, so I’m going to keep that aside for now, until I work on the new landscape portfolio. Now, I’ll quickly go through my Japan work from 2016 and 2017, followed by my 2018 folder.

196 Candidates

I was hoping to complete this sooner, having started on Monday, but it’s been a busy week, and it’s now Friday, and I’ve just got back to this process, and completed a run through my 2019 folder, and now have a total of 196 images that I need to start and whittle down to 50 or so. As you can see from this screenshot of the entire set, there are lots of groups of similar images, such as two sets of similar shots of the northern red fox on the second to last row, and three similar swans shots before them.

The first thing I do when I get to this point is to hone in on those obvious groupings and remove the weaker images. There’s no guarantee that the strongest of them will have a place in the portfolio, but this is the next step in condensing the set down, so let’s see where that leaves us.

Japan Wildlife Portfolio Candidates - 196 Images
Japan Wildlife Portfolio Candidates – 196 Images

I should also mention that the reason I leave these small groups in until I’ve finished my run through my images making my selections is because I don’t want to break the flow of that process. If I jump into my candidates collection to reduce those groups down as I work, it’s harder to get back into my flow of just banging images into that collection. I find I work faster by throwing in everything that appeals to me as I work through the set, and then whittle these groups down later, as I’m now doing.

135 Candidates

In a pretty short time I was able to reduce my selection down from 196 to 135, a reduction of 61 images, but these initial passes are always the easiest. I work with those groups, and also as I navigated through the entire set, could identify a number of images that I knew would not stay as I really started to cut down the numbers. It’s actually more a feeling, as the image appears on the screen, that it was not as good as the last, and if I’m honest with myself, doesn’t really make the grade.

Japan Wildlife Portfolio 135 Images
Japan Wildlife Portfolio 135 Images

Of course, this is all my personal preference. I won’t even bother my wife with looking through the images at this stage, because it’s still possible for me to reduce these numbers further on my own.

Gathering Groups Together

The next thing I start to do is to gather groups together of similar images and remove the weaker candidates. For example, I still have a lot of snow monkey shots, so I gather similar images in small groups to work on those. For example, there are a fair number of cuddling shots, so I ran through and selected all of these and removed one of a similar pair, but the others at this point all seem to have a place. I removed some of the small groups of monkeys shots, and also picked one of the two images of the mother and baby heading down the snow together because they were very similar.

USE Shortcuts

I also recommend if you haven’t already, to try to remember your photo editing software’s keyboard shortcuts, to speed up your process. I use Capture One Pro as my raw editor and catalog management tool, but the same goes for any program you might use. For example, to add images to a collection, I first right click it and make it my Selects Collection, and I have specified the Q key on the keyboard as the shortcut to add images to the Selects Collection. I use Q because it reminds me of something being thrown into a pot.

I also like to switch between the large Viewer mode and the Browser mode, so that I can see my whole selection in thumbnails. To do this, I use the predefined Capture One Pro shortcut OPT + COMMAND + V. That essentially just hides the Viewer, which is the large image view, and fills the screens with my Browser, which is the thumbnail view that I’ve been showing you in the screenshots.

Another trick that I like to use is to select similar images that I want to compare from the full screen of thumbnails, basically clicking on the images while holding down the COMMAND key, then hit that OPT + COMMAND + V shortcut to bring back the main Viewer, and that gives me a screen with multiple images selected, as you can see in this screenshot.

Sea Eagle Selection Process
Sea Eagle Selection Process

This method works best with a large display of course. I’m doing this process on a 32-inch high-resolution display, so each of these nine eagle shots is about as big as an iPad Mini image, so you can still appreciate the detail etc. One thing that I struggled with for a while after switching to Capture One Pro is that I could not figure out how to simply remove an individual image from this selection.

To remove an image from a collection, I usually just hit the Delete key, but if you do that while in the multiple selection view, it removes all selected images, and that’s a pain. Then I found the shortcut COMMAND + Delete, which only removes the currently selected image from the Collection, leaving the others on the screen, and that is really useful. The point here is it’s important to learn your shortcuts or define new ones if you use a program that enables you to do that and use them to speed up your workflow. I got the nine eagle shots above down to three for now, then moved on to work on another grouping.

66 Candidates

After another hour or so of critical examination and decision making, I found myself down to 66 images in the selection. One thing that I struggled with, is my decision to kick out some of the images that I like, but I know won’t be popular with many people. I actually really dislike doing this because as I always say, my photography is first and foremost for myself, and I’m not too concerned about what others think about it.

Japan Wildlife Portfolio 66 Candidates
Japan Wildlife Portfolio 66 Candidates

People buy my work on stock sites and buy prints from me, and my images help me to sell seats on future tours. This really is all the validation I need, but when push comes to shove, and I have some hard decisions to make, general acceptability, unfortunately, trumps the images that I know will be met by more shrugged shoulders than the others.

The Trusted Critique

At this point though, I decided to use my secret weapon, my trusted critique, and I can’t say enough how fortunate I feel that my wife, despite not being a photographer, has a very good eye, knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and most important of all, is not afraid to tell me what she thinks. If you have a partner that can help in this respect, you’re a lucky person like me. If you don’t, it’s really important to try and find someone.

The most vital thing though is to find someone that shares your sense of the aesthetic and enjoys your work when it clicks with them, but really, I can’t stress enough the importance of enabling that person to be open and frank with you when they don’t like something. Having said that, quite often, by the time you get to this point, the chances are that they don’t necessarily dislike any of the images, but without the need to remove their own emotional connections, they can be instantly unbiased, and I feel that just having that person sitting next to me as I look, helps me to focus my decisions as well.

Japan Wildlife Portfolio Final Fifty
Japan Wildlife Portfolio Final Fifty

We just sat together and literally in twenty minutes removed the final sixteen to get my portfolio down to the goal of fifty images, but the final decision on what to remove was a joint effort. Just with her being there, I found it easier to cut the chord on a few of my straggling doubts.

Mother & Child
Mother & Child

Perhaps the hardest decision was to remove the mother and baby snow monkey shot from my very first visit back in 2009. I have really enjoyed that shot over the years, but my wife and I both agree that the sentiment of the caring mother in a harsh environment is now better embodied by this image from 2015.

I then did a couple of passes on the final selection in my usual final test, which is to select all images and just watch them all go by in a slideshow. If I get a sinking feeling as any of the images are displayed on the screen, I would instantly remove them, but at this point, I’m really happy with this selection. I feel that it accurately represents where I am in my Japan-based wildlife photography as May of 2019.

Ignore the Untrusted Critique

I’d also like to advise you to try to ignore the untrusted critique. There are many ways to learn what people think of our work, but asking the wrong person for feedback can be more harmful than helpful.

My wife can literally tell me anything because I trust her. I might not always agree, but because I trust her, her words are never daggers, even when they are sharp and pointy.

There are many people that will offer their thoughts on your images, and this is fine as part of the growing process, but we must learn which voices we can trust and heed, and which we should not take so seriously.

One last word of caution on this though, is to be careful with family members that want to protect your feelings. My wife, probably my most trusted critique, will tell me when she things something sucks. If you ask a family member or friend and all you hear is that everything is beautiful and you are an amazing photographer, you may need to find a new trusted critique. Of course, you may be an amazing photographer, but in my experience, even the best of the best need some external direction from time to time, and it’s vitally important to find someone that can give you that.

Update Raw Engine and Rework Images

I also wanted to quickly mention that going through this process is a great opportunity to update the development or processing engine used to process your images. Many of the images I selected during this week were processed as far back as Capture One Pro version 9, with many still at 10 or 11.

It’s a great time to click on the button to upgrade the processing engine to the latest version, and although the difference is often minimal, sometimes you see a bit of additional quality that you were not aware of snap into view as the preview is updated.

I also reworked some of these images a little bit, bringing them into line with my sense of the aesthetic as of 2019. We change, and I am fine with the idea of reworking images as we use them sometimes years after we originally shot them. This is one of the core reasons that I like to work on my images in a raw editor, and in a non-destructive way.

Since switching to Capture One Pro in 2016, I have only edited a handful of images in Photoshop, requiring me to save my edits baked into the file. Everything else is still in raw format, and therefore I can continue to change it easily without losing my changes and benefit from the updates in the raw processing engine as I have done today.

Creating the Gallery

Now that I have my photos selected, it’s time to prepare the portfolio gallery. I’m still using NextGEN Gallery from Imagely for my still photography galleries, although there has been a problem with their Lightbox that causes the first image in a post to display sometimes even when you click an image other than the first image. I’m finally making some progress with them on this, but this issue has been outstanding for an embarrassingly long time. I have looked for alternatives, but currently, the only thing that comes close is still not as feature rich as NextGEN, so I’m still using it.

I ran through my final selection and ensured that all of the images had titles and keywords, then exported them as full-sized JPEGs to a subfolder in my Portfolios folder in Dropbox. From there I uploaded the full-sized images to a NextGEN Gallery on my website. They have to be full sized because people can buy the full-sized image for commercial and editorial use directly from my portfolio galleries. Then they are automatically resized to my web size and watermarked by the NextGEN Gallery plugin. I then embedded the gallery in a new Wildlife of Japan Portfolio page.

Propagating the Portfolio to Devices

The final step is getting my portfolio onto all of my devices so that I can show people the sort of work I do. I’m still using the Portfolio for iPad App that I talked about in Episode 585, but the developer of this app is apparently nowhere to be seen, which makes it doubtful that it will be maintained or improved, which is a shame because it’s a good app. Because I have it set up automatically sync with my Portfolios folders in Dropbox, when I opened the app after exporting my images, it took a few minutes to sync, but then my new Wildlife of Japan portfolio appeared in the app, and I updated the background with a shot from the new set, as you can see in this screenshot.

Portfolio for iPad App
Portfolio for iPad App

The last thing I do is import the full-sized JPEGs into the Apple Photos app, into a Wildlife of Japan Portfolio Album. This automatically then gets propagated out to all of my devices, so I not only have an easy to access way of quickly showing the images in the Photos app on my computer, but I automatically get the same album on my iPad and iPhone, as you can see in the following two screenshots.

Portfolios on iOS Devices
Portfolios on iOS Devices

You may not want or need your portfolios on all of your devices, but I’ve found over the years that as I talk to people about my work and my tours, it’s very useful to be able to pull out a device and share the photos. I know I’ve managed to get people to sign up for tours and sold prints by doing this, and now, for example, using a Square credit card reader, I can actually process print or stock license sales, and even tour sign-ups, directly from my phone or iPad, so it’s worth me doing this.

Self Doubt

To close, I’d like to talk just a little about the self-doubt and vulnerability that we face as creatives. During this week, I’ve come back to this project a number of times and felt pretty confident that I was moving in the right direction. Then, last night, as the fatigue of the week caught up with me, for a while I felt really negative about the results. I actually felt like deleting the new portfolio and gallery and writing a new post about something completely different.

Knowing how being tired can affect our appreciation of our own work, and that it’s kind of natural to doubt your own work, I closed my laptop and watched a movie with my wife, before getting a nights sleep. When I woke up this morning, and completed the synch of my images and flicked through the work again on my iPad, a knowing smile grew on my face, and I felt happy with the set again. It’s not the best portfolio in the world, but it’s a good representation of where I am in my own photography with relation to Japan Wildlife work, and that’s the whole point of this exercise.

It’s natural to doubt our work, and being self-critical is an important part of this process, but it’s important to understand how being tired can affect our emotions and try to avoid doing anything rash during those periods of doubt. I feel the portfolio has worth, and I’m happy today that I spent the time to do this during this week. I’m not sure that I’ll have time to do the Japan Landscape Portfolio before I leave for Namibia in a week’s time, but that’s the next thing that I would like to do, then maybe when I get a little more time, compose some background music and create a new video slideshow of each set with some video clips interspersed as well.

Check Out the Wildlife Portfolio

So, that’s it. We’ll wrap this up here. If you are interested in checking out the new Wildlife of Japan Portfolio, or any of them for that matter, select the Portfolios menu item above and you should see a dropdown menu with thumbnails for all of my portfolios. If you have any comments about the process or the portfolio, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Japan Winter Wildlife Tours

And of course, if you’d like to join me on the tours on which I shot most of the images that we’ve looked at today, please check out my Tours & Workshops page for the latest tours with availability. At the time of writing, there are just two places left on the 2020 tours, and I have just started taking bookings for the first 2021 wildlife tour so check that out if you are interested.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour & Workshop 2021

Show Notes

Check out the new Wildlife of Japan portfolio here:

See all of my portfolios here:

Music by Martin Bailey


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Selecting My Top Ten Photos for 2015 (Podcast 504)

Selecting My Top Ten Photos for 2015 (Podcast 504)

As has been my tradition since 2007, I have taken some time over the past week to reflect on the images I have made during 2015, and worked through the process of editing down my favorites to just 10 images. Today I’m going to share my thoughts on the process, as I believe this is a valuable exercise for photographers to do each year.

Developing the ability to whittle down a collection of images to a finite number is a skill that photographers all need to develop or maintain. If you haven’t tried this yourself, you might think it’s pretty easy, but it really isn’t. I often ask people to provide me with say 5 images, and the majority of the time, I get 1o or 20 back. In an informal situation this is fine. I sometimes provide more images than I’m ask for to give the other party options, but I only do this when I know that the other person will be OK with that.

In a professional situation, if you are asked for 5 images, and you provide ten, it shows a lack of discipline in your work. It also sends a message that you think your time is more important than the person requesting the images. After all, if you don’t spend the time required to get your selection to the required number, you are pushing this task onto the other person, and that’s disrespectful. Generally, in a professional environment, if the person requesting the images wants options, they’ll include that in the number that they request. They might ask for say ten images, but only intend to use five. Either way, develop the skill to provide the number requested.

If you are going to do this “top ten” style exercise for yourself, I recommend you set your number before you start. I like ten. Top ten lists are popular, and it just feels good. You could do more or less, but the most I would go to is twelve, as that’s one per month. A dozen. It’s another good number. If you go for a larger number than twelve, you’re being too easy on yourself and won’t learn as much from the process.

Another thing that I’ve done in the past is done multiple top tens, one for nature and wildlife, and another for people photography, but if I’m totally honest, that was just a cop-out on my part. It was probably too difficult to get my selection down, so I gave in to the temptation to increase my numbers. I won’t be doing that this year, although if you do work in a number of totally different fields of photography, it could be an option. I just recommend that you set your goal before you start, and stick to it.

My Lightroom Selection Process

To start my selection process, I created a Collection Set simply numbered 2015 in Lightroom under my Top Tens Collection Set. Under that Collection Set, I created my first Collection called First Pass, and made it my Target Selection, which adds a + symbol to the right of the Collection name. With that set up, I navigated to the folder that contains all of my best work from 2015, and filtered out all of my two star images, because they are the originals of any photos that I have made a copy of, to work on them in Silver Efex Pro or Color Efex Pro, or in Photoshop etc.

Anything that causes me to create a copy means that I also copy my original raw file to my 2015 Finals folder and mark it with two stars. So, showing three stars or above, I went through this folder hitting the “B” key on my keyboard for any image that I like enough to consider it for my 2015 top ten. The B key adds the selected image to the Target Collection, which we just created and specified. Once I’ve gone through the entire folder, I’ll create a second collection called second pass, and repeat this process until I reach my final ten.

My Thought Process

As I went through the images for my first pass, I had a few feelings that I’d like to share with you, as I think this is an important part of the learning process.

I started making my decision based on the thumbnail view, which I found really easy to do for images that I’ve continuously gone back to through the year, but this didn’t work so well for my wildlife work. I felt that to make a decision for my wildlife work, I had to go in and view the images at full size to feel the connection needed to add them to my First Pass. There were a few favorites that would have made it to the first pass just from the thumbnail, but I felt compelled to add more when viewing the wildlife images larger.

What I noticed though, was that even as I was adding some of these wildlife images, I knew that they wouldn’t make the final cut. My thought process was, OK, so I really like this shot, and I’m going to add it for now, to see a collection of all of my favorite work from 2015, as an initial starting point. If I was sitting down without a lot of time to select my 10 images, I would have been far less likely to add these images at this point. Which way you do this is totally up to you of course. I feel as though at least adding them once is like giving them an honorable mention.

I have 870 images in my 2015 Finals folder, of which 693 are the actual Final images. The others are original raw files for images that I’ve done something to. After my first pass, I ended up with 124 images in my Collection. That’s about 20 more than I can even show in a single screenshot from Lightroom, so I’ll move on to my second pass. To start that process, I created a new Collection called 2nd Pass, and left all 124 images in there, then started the process of removing the lesser images. This is where it starts to get difficult.

I have a few sets of images from the same location, so at this point, I start to select similar images and hit N to display just these images in Survey view and flicking back and forth between them, then press the delete key on my keyboard to start and remove the lesser of these subsets from my Collection. I also removed a few of the honorable mention images, to get my set down to 97, and these can be seen in this screenshot (below).

2015 Top Ten 2nd Pass

2015 Top Ten 2nd Pass

OK, so I’m under a hundred, but still have 87 images to remove from my selection. Time to start getting ruthless. The next thing I did was to select images of the same subject. For example, I have five snow monkey shots, and at most I’m going to have only two in my final selection, so I try to take the knife to at least three of these. The first two weren’t so difficult, but with these three little monkeys on my screen, I had to differ the decision until later.

Three Monkeys

Three Monkeys

I started to remove red-crowned cranes, white-tailed eagle and whooper swan shots. I think the reason that I had to look at my wildlife work full size is because of the eyes of the animals, but it was these same eyes that made it really difficult to remove the wildlife shots once in the selection. Even when the eyes are closed, the feeling that I get from looking at animals makes this really tough.

Of course, even more difficult was removing some of the photographs of the Himba people from Namibia. I had a real cultural exchange with these people, making it incredibly difficult to remove any of these. I removed a few but still ended up looking at this set, and was stuck again.

Namibia Himba People Photos

Namibia Himba People Photos

At the end of my third pass, I was down to 64 images, and by this time, I need a break. This is hard! Here’s a screenshot of where I stood at the end of this third pass (below).

2015 Top Ten Third Pass

2015 Top Ten Third Pass

Starting from the beginning of the Collection again, I still have eight photos from my January Hokkaido Landscape Adventure, so I went to work on them. The first three minimalist tree shots are all strong favorites, but I removed two of them, going for the lone tree on the hill, which has been a favorite since I shot these. The Boat Graveyard shot was definitely going to stay too, so I removed the other boat shot with the clouds radiating out. That left me with three tetra-pod shots, which I really like, but I left only the one with the suns rays, as that’s also remained a favorite. I then removed a few more eagle shots, and removed three of the four sky full of swans shots.

Of the two fox photos, although I think the one of him just sitting there is a prettier photo, the one of him yawning is more unique, so I removed the first of the two. I removed a white-tailed eagle shot and the black-eared kite shot, and then selected all of my crane shots, with a mind to leave only one, which I managed to do.

Back in Namibia, I removed the milky way shot, which I like, but it’s not brilliant, and then removed the single point perspective shot of the room at Kolmanskop, leaving the sausage boilers and slats for now. I knew that I would only leave one of the two camel-thorn tree silhouette photos from Namibia, and because the first of the two was a retake of a 2013 image, I went with the new composition, which I actually prefer anyway, so that was easy enough. Of the two dune shots, I went for the less cluttered of the two, but I’m still not sure I’ll leave the other one in. There’s still a long way to go.

I really like the pink pelicans shot, but it’s not my best work, so that’s gone now too, and I have to say goodbye to the Himba lady dancing, because I prefer the other two low key images of these three. I can’t remove the goat herding shot. That’s still a firm favorite. I removed two of the three desert elephant shots, because they aren’t that good either, but I left the one of the elephants walking into the distance as I love the feel of that image. At this point I still have 13 Namibia shots left in the selection, which is not good, but I go back to Iceland.

I remove the shot of Gullfoss from the end of the gorge, because it’s a 5Ds R reshoot, and as much as it hurts, I remove a few more of the Iceland landscapes, because I have better images from previous years. The Icelandic horse shot also has to go. It’s not that special. That’s the end of the fourth pass though, and I’m still at 36 photos. Aargh, this is hard!

2015 Top Ten Fourth Pass

2015 Top Ten Fourth Pass

I actually found the fifth pass a little easier, because I now know that I still have to delete almost three out of four images. I have a specific number to work with now, and that was kind of liberating. It meant that I had start to really sacrifice images that had made it this far in my process.

I quickly cut a bunch of stuff. Swans in flight, sausage boilers, slatted room, the cave shot from Iceland. I kept the Landmannalaugar cotton grass reflection in as long as I could, but it just isn’t as good as many of the other shots, so that went too.

It’s a toss-up between the Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfall shots, but in the end, I leave the Skógafoss image in, because it’s landscape as opposed to portrait orientation, and therefore will look better on the blog. That’s my final thinking on that one, and this is a valid consideration. If I was selecting something for the cover of a magazine, I’d have gone with the portrait orientation image.

I’ve still only removed one in three images though by the end of my fifth pass, so I take another quick swing at it and get my Namibia images down to five, four Iceland images left, and still ten Japan shots left. By this time, I’m at 19 images, and it’s the end of my business day. I will go down stairs for dinner now, and try to pick this up again later. At this point I’m actually happy to walk away from the process for a while, to reset.

2015 Top Ten Fifth Pass

2015 Top Ten Fifth Pass

So, after writing the last paragraph, at 19 photos, I actually left this selection for four full days, as I visited in-laws over the New Year, and came back to this on the evening of Sunday the 3rd of January. One of the best ways to finalize a selection like this in my mind is to take at least a day, or a few when possible, to let the shortlist sit.

The Shortlist

I was able to within a few minutes pick 11 of the 19 images remaining that I absolutely felt I had to include, and the last two were a toss-up, so I basically had to decide between my shot of the elephants walking into the distance and the blue glacial water flowing around the iceberg. My other nine were set.

I’d decided to go with just the little Himba girl, and leave out the photo of the Himba man, as although I love both of those photos, I don’t have room for two of these, and I feel that the little girl photos is the stronger of the two, with a richer sense of culture. I also decided that I could live without another red-crowned crane and eagle shot, as these have dominated my top tens over the years. I still totally enjoy making these photographs, but for now, I need something a little more special to make what is to me, a pretty important selection of images.

I also decided to drop the tetra-pod image and keep the boat graveyard image, because again I think the latter is the stronger image, although I do really like both. I’ve had a shot of Skógafoss in my top ten a few years ago, and the 2015 version doesn’t do any more for me, so I dropped that too. Also, although I like the church shot, there is a definite aspect of been there done that, so I dropped that too.

I’ve also had monkey face close-ups, so I dropped the adult monkey in favor of the six week old baby, because it’s  fresh work for me, as I visited the snow monkeys in the summer for the first time in 2015. This was a tough choice though, as I find the strong human like expression on the thoughtful adult snow monkeys face hard to resist.

Finally, the bright and vibrant green shot of the pond from Fukushima has been a favorite throughout the year, but I feel that the misty tree and pond shot is a better image and closer to my overall style than the first pond shot, so I went with the atmospheric misty shot.

I was back to my decision as to whether or not to leave the elephants shot in, or go with the glacial flow and ice shot. I love the story behind the elephant shot, but I think the glacial flow shot is closer to my style, and perhaps a prettier photo, so I’m going to go with that.

For my final selection of 10 from my 19 image short list, I used the P button to add the Pick flag to my images, and then hit the U key to Unflag the elephant shot after making my decision, leaving me with my 10. If it’s important to keep a record of the selection after each pass, you can just right click and select Duplicate Collection, or create a new Collection and drag your images into it, and just repeat this with each new pass you make.

2015 Top Ten Final Selection

2015 Top Ten Final Selection

I honestly find it really sad to remove any photo from these selections, but as difficult as this process can be, I really do think it’s an important process for a photographer to undertake at least once a year, to help us to become better editors of our work. By editing, I don’t meaning modifying the individual image, I mean the act of editing down a selection to a finite number.

As I mentioned earlier, photographers seem to find this difficult to do, but in some situations it is a necessary skill, that we should practice, as often as we can, so that when we are asked for selections of images for any reason, we can go through the process relatively quickly when necessary. When time allows as well, it’s pretty much always going to help you to be more objective about your final selection if you can step away from the process for a day or more as you reach your last few passes.

If you don’t use Lightroom, you will of course have to figure out a way to actually select the images and whittle them down. I haven’t used any other tools for so long now that I can’t offer any advice, other than make it simple. If the process gets in the way, or becomes a pain to manage, you need to look for a better process.

Next week, I’ll share the actual Top Ten images that I was left with one by one, along with a little bit of information about each image. I’ll also talk about how beneficial it is to keep these Collections, to enable us to view our progress over the years.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I hope it has been on some use to go through this process with me, and if you do this too, remember that it is important to stick to your number, be it five, ten or twelve, once you’ve decided a number to shoot for, don’t allow your emotional attachment to the images force you to increase that number. If you do that, you’ve failed to learn from the process. It’s supposed to be hard. That’s why it makes us better photographers.

Share Your Top Ten

And of course, as usual, if you do post your selection of images anywhere, drop a link into the comments for this post. I know that many of you go through this process, and I love seeing how you are progressing as photographers, and even if it’s your first time, let me know, and include a note on what you learned from the process too if anything.

Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


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Observations from Gallery Pruning (Podcast 129)

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.

Show Notes

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Michael Rammell

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.

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