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Choosing Your Best Shot

May 29, 2009

Last week’s newsletter was all about Keepers vs. Rejects — how many of your shots you can realistically expect will be ‘good’. Expanding on that thought, suppose you’re like me and you take a bunch of shots that are all essentially the same and you think all of them are ‘good’. What then? Do you show them all?

Definitely not! That would be very repetitive. When you read a magazine you don’t see the same picture seven times but you can bet that the one you do see is not the only one the photographer shot. If you want magazine quality photos, follow this method for ruthlessly killing off all but your very best stuff:

  1. Very important: make a backup copy of all photos before you do anything else.
  2. Working from my ‘working copies’, select all the ones that are similar.
  3. Open the first one in Windows Picture and Fax Viewer. (You could use any program that will let you view full screen versions and easily navigate from one to the next.)
  4. On the first pass through I note (and then go back and delete) all the rejects. Any that are not sharp, have weird shadows… any little thing wrong will cause a photo to be rejected and deleted. If I delete all of them it just means I didn’t take any decent pictures in that set.
  5. After the first pass, and assuming I still have some that made the first cut, I begin comparing photos in pairs, toggling back and forth between two shots.
  6. Even if two may look ‘the same’, there is going to be something different about them. A hair may be out of place, a breeze made the leaves flutter, the ball is turned so the threads are more visible in shot one than the other. Trust your instincts but definitely pick one that is “better”.
  7. Repeat this process until you’ve narrowed the whole set down to just one “best” photo.

This beat out something like twenty other shots that were essentially identical. It all came down to very nitpicky things like the degree of blur in the background, how people were standing, what directions their faces were turned, how shadows fell and so on.

Once in a while you may have more than one “best” photo from the same set but which are substantially different from one another. (Having more than one is okay only if they are very different.) In such cases I may keep both/all of them but treat them as if they were from different sets. You may also find “flaws” that are artistically pleasing. The shot below is one of those “mistakes” that I just loved too much to delete. I didn’t know exactly how I would use it but I knew I wanted to show it off. This shot just reminds me of an alien abduction. Compare this to the winner, which is closer to my original vision. This just goes to show how even photographic mistakes can sometimes be beautiful.

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