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The “good enough” trap

September 16, 2009

For me, this summer has been a photo extravaganza. I’ve managed to fill my summer with many short little day trips to interesting and photogenic places and events. (I have even more planned for the remainder of the year.) In most respects, this is a good thing.

As of this morning, I had well over 1,000 photos in my “to be processed” queue. I’ve taken many more than that. Generally speaking, I’m pretty quick to evaluate and grade my photos. At least a first pass. I am diligent about deleting the lousy ones right away so, with each successive pass, I have fewer (and better) ones to focus on.

Here is my problem: although I don’t always come back from an outing with great photos, I seem to come back with an extraordinary number of good photos. Certainly far more than I think I have a right to expect. I teach that, realistically, only around 10% of your photos will actually be good enough to show off. I firmly believe that to be true. However I have hit 30% so often this summer it’s almost freakish.

So now I have this huge backlog of decent photos that I need to spend time with. Worse, many of them, good as each one might be on its own, are duplicative of one another. This morning I started the emotionally wrenching task of killing off some of my babies.

It’s too easy to look at a photo, think it’s good and leave it in queue. (After all, I’ve already gotten rid of all the bad ones.) Instead, I must look at groups of similar photos in succession and determine two things:

  • Which ones are unique enough that they don’t really belong in the set.
  • Which is the very best one of the set.

Those meeting the first criteria are removed from the set, but not deleted. (They may belong in a different set.) Those meeting the second criteria are removed from the set so that they are spared. Everything that remains gets deleted, no matter how good it may be. Also note that there can be only one best photo in each set.

I’m not always diligent about doing this. Sometimes I fall into the “good enough” trap. I’ll convince myself that if it’s good enough to not be embarassed showing it off, I should show it off. That way lies mediocrity. So just this morning I rededicated myself to properly grading and culling my photos.

Wish me luck!

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