In writing and filmmaking, there’s a term called “killing your darlings“. In Journalism, it’s the slightly more macabre “killing your babies“, but the end result is the same. It’s trimming the fat from the content in order to make it efficient and bring it to the point. For a writer, it means cutting out unnecessary large passages because they distract from the story. For a filmmaker or editor, time and budget constraints might mean cutting out scenes you love just because they don’t add to the story. For Journalists you’re often cutting the story short simply to make it fit in the allotted space.
Full-time photographer and part-time nomad, Adrian at aows believes that this principle also holds true for photographers. We need to often need to delete (or at least hide) some of the work we’re most proud of, because it’s just not very good – no matter how we might feel about it. And I’m inclined to agree with him.
One of the most difficult things for a photographer to learn is that of self-critique. Almost every image we shoot is meaningful to us in some way. Every time we look at them, we’re immediately transported back to their creation. We remember the environment, the sounds, the smells, how we felt and everything else that made that moment so special to us that we wanted to capture it. For others, though, and especially potential clients, those images often aren’t all that special at all.
You see, it’s all about context. The viewer or potential client looks at that image completely independently of the day’s events. They don’t know the funny thing that happened to you on the way to the shoot, the challenges you faced when creating it, or the thousand other things that go through your head when you look at it. And those are the images you need to kill from your portfolio. Ultimately, nobody really cares about them except you.
The images need to stand up on their own, void of context and speak to the viewer. And spotting that in your own work can be extremely difficult. So how do you do it?
Adrian offers up a few suggestions on how to pick your best images and figure out what to hide, but his biggest one, I think, is time. Take your shots, get home, give them a quick edit (or a full edit, if they’re being delivered to a client) and then set them aside. Leave them alone. Maybe for days, but potentially for months or even years. After a while, a lot of those memories will start to fade or at least not have quite the impact on you that they did originally. While you can never truly remove those feelings, time helps to disconnect you from them to look at the image a little more objectively.
After all, how many times have you gone back and looked over a shoot you did years ago and spotted an extra image or two that you now love that you completely ignored right after the shoot? It goes both ways.
See, the thing is, when you add an image to your portfolio or on social media, nobody really knows when you shot it except you. I post images to social media all the time that I shot a decade ago. Nobody knows that they were created that long ago. They just see work that they haven’t seen before and whether you shot it ten years ago or yesterday, they’ll still see it the same way. I’ve still got a handful of sessions here from the last ten years that have never seen the light of day outside of delivery to the client. The images have never appeared on social media or in my portfolio. One day they might, but I need to be sure it’s not just my memories talking.
Keeping those images in your portfolio that you love for all the wrong reasons could be doing you more harm than good! Does your work need a cull?