Cull or Keep your Images – now that’s the question!

The Creative Camera > Compositing Images > Cull or Keep your Images – now that’s the question!

When I first created this post I called it “Don’t be afraid to Cull Bad Images”. However, as the post evolved I felt that I needed to look at keeping versus culling in the round. This article therefore discusses my take on what stays and what goes in my photography.

Now, I’m pretty good at deleting images that say nothing of interest. To me they are obvious to spot, they either suffer from poor composition, a lack of meaningful content, duplicate others that are better or just fail for some technical reason, for example poor focus, blown out highlights or over or under exposed. However, I know that many of my photographer friends struggle with this important process with the result that they fill hard drives at a frightening rate with images that really should be binned. While you may have a dozen SSD disks to play with, I prefer to work light so I rely on just two drives for my archives. As such, drive real-estate is at a premium.

The key here then is to be able to make conscious decisions about what has any real value and what is simply clogging up my drives. This basically means is it good enough to share with others. That might be in the form of a photo book, a project, a competition or even as a give away under Creative Commons. This latter option is something I have recently started to do as I know that bloggers etc often need access to images. If the image fits none of these then the axe needs to fall and fall swiftly. Having said all of this, there is one last check that I do undertake and this to ask the question – does the image have any mitigating features? For example, is there a picture within the picture or does it have merit if converted to art. That has to be done on an image by image basis and for me at least, it’s the last throw of the dice!

Now, the first of these tests is obvious. I will know immediately if I like an image enough to consider it suitable for books, projects or competitions. If you are a club photographer then you will know that this doesn’t necessary mean that someone else will like it, just that I like it sufficiently to use it in one or more of the contexts mentioned.

Starting with The Good

So let’s start with something I do like. This example, from a fairground shoot at the weekend, combines a lot of elements that I like. For example, here we have the juxtaposition of static and dynamic items within the frame, the inclusion of people (one of my favourite subjects) and muted colours rather just B&W. That being said, I really don’t think that this image is going to win any competitions, judges with their strict guidlines just won’t get it, but I can see it in a photobook or perhaps as a future project. It’s also the type of image that could be post-processed in a mirriad of ways so again, it has merit.

Now the Bad

Now let’s take a look at an image, which apart from being shown here, has been discarded. Timing as they say is everything and this image demonstrates a complete lack of timing alongside really poor composition and, I hate to say it, poor technical skills. The content is OK, perhaps a little busy and if I had panned left to include the leading lines of the path along with the fairground items to the left of this ride, then perhaps things might have turned out better. However I didn’t and so alongside the blown out sky, which is unforgiveable, the overly busy composition and poor subject matter really didn’t help this one. RIP. By the way, on the issue of the blown out sky, you might like to take a look at my article on highlight roll-off as this is one way to combat digital burnout from bright lights, sun etc.

Of course, bad photos aren’t limited to tricky locations. You can take a bad photo anywhere – I often do! So let’s look at some more images where to be honest, nothing really works. In the first image below there’s plenty of potential and some technical skill in freezing the water. Sadly though, there’s nothing of interest beyond this but fortunately, I did shoot better on the day. The second image fares pretty much the same, nice but bland and unexceptional and again, I certainly have better in my archives. The seaweed image could perhaps be saved – I often photograph objects – but once again, on that particular day, and from other days I had much better beach dendritus shots. The last two images simply lack good composition even though the subject matter, especially of the first of this pair, has some merit. As they are they though, they are simply fails.

Let’s Finish on a High Note – Some Examples I Enjoy

In this next shot I think I have nailed what makes a good photo. Here, we have an almost perfectly symmetrical image, which the eye loves, great colours, an analogue feel plus movement in the chairs which creates an excitement and a contrast to the perfectly still framework. The other thing I like is that I can dive into this image and take out snippets, for example some the riders on their chairs. It just depends on the resolution of the camera being used and the IQ of the RAW file.

This next image is something that I really liked when I shot it, but was not so happy when I viewed it. The colours really detracted from the subject which is clearly the guy in the middle playing with his mobile phone. I couldn’t however bring myself to delete it, too good for that so I decided to try B&W as a way of removing some of the complexity created by the colours in the shot. My go-to favourite for this type of work is Nik Silver Efex and while I don’t think Nik saves it as a competition photo, it works really well for a photo book or for use on the web. Well, to my mind anyway.

In this next set of images the composition is good, the content is good but it’s not quite working for me. I feel, as I so often do, that the colour is making it difficult to see the story. I am so focused on the bright greens and yellows so as to forget that the piano player is the star of this shot. Again then, B&W, with a little brightening of the face, saves the day by forcing attention on the piano player and away from the bright background. An easy but effective fix.

Earlier I talked about how the seaweed image for me just didn’t work. Well, on the same day I captured that shot, I also captured a few others which I have kept and which form part of my archive. Here are those images for reference. Hopefully you’ll agree that these are somewhat better shots.

A Note On Post-Processing

All of the images shown above, except the B&W versions which were edited in Nik Silver Efex, were created using On1 film presets. I personally love analogue film and when shooting digital, I strive to achive this look both in the SOOC jpegs out of my trusty Fuji x-T1, or by converting the RAW images to something less digital as here. For those seeking to do the same or similar, these images were all post-processed using a Classic Chrome in-camera film simulation that I created for SOOC shots. IN some cases here however I chose to use RAW images passing these through a Classic Chrome preset.

That’s it for now, I hope that you found the meanderings of my mind of interest. Either way, drop me a comment below and let’s create a dialog on how you guys deal with the images you take.

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