The Trouble With Choosing Your Best Photos

When I edit a batch of photos from my latest photowalk, I’m sure just like you, I only want to keep the very best.

I’m fairly ruthless with editing, so it’s not unusual to take 100 photos in a couple of hours then delete 80 or 90 of them when reviewing them.

But picking those “best” photographs is a constant challenge. 

Here are three of the biggest traps I fall into, and how I try to avoid them –

All photowalks are not equal

Sometimes a 20 minute walk might yield five photographs I love. Sometimes 120 minutes doesn’t return a single one.

It’s unrealistic to try to always pick, say, your best 10% from every session, because the best 10% from some sessions might be far better than the best from another.

Sometimes the best 75% of one walk are better than 100% of those on the next three walks!

The solution

Try to be mindful that all photowalks will not produce the same standard of images, for a whole host of reasons, from the weather conditions, to your choice of camera and lens, to how much you were feeling the flow (or not).

Don’t be afraid to delete every photo from a batch if they’re not any good.

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Your latest photos are not always your greatest

For as long as I’ve been making photographs with intention (about 13 or 14 years), I’ve always enjoyed getting back home and seeing the results – whether that’s been immediately, in the case of digital, or when I arrive home from the processing lab and the scans, with film photos.

Quite often, the best images of that most recent batch feel the best photos you’ve ever made, just because they are so fresh and recent.

But the here and now robs you of virtually all objectivity, and only time can give you the space you need to be more discerning, and make a less urgent and emotionally charged judgement on where these new images fit relative to your past standards.

The solution

One thing I’ve tried is to leave it a few days, even a couple of weeks, before reviewing a batch of photos.

It’s amazing how, after the immediate emotions have cooled, and memories of the photowalk have faded, some photos look so ordinary again, and sometimes (ok, often!) I wonder why I even made some of them.

This approach does work, but you do lose some of the feelings you had when taking the photos, as too much time has passed.

So generally I default back to viewing the images as soon as possible after shooting them!

I think something else I could do here, and that I’ve done shockingly little of, is have physical prints made of some of my favourites. Then, by living with them “in the flesh” more, I could gain a better feel of how good they are. Or not.

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Camera passions cloud judgement

Over the years, because I’ve used so many cameras, at any one point, my favourite camera has been the one I’m using right now, my new great love that’s showing great promise in surpassing all previous loves I’ve known.

This means though, that you want any photo your latest flame produces to be amazing, to justify your feelings towards it, and possibly to justify the money you’ve invested in it.

The solution

Well, to avoid this, it’s the same simple fix as for so many struggles I’ve had with cameras in the past.

Use fewer cameras, and get to know the few you do use inside out, over a long period of time.

Know their strengths and how to play to them, to create photos perhaps no other camera you have can.

Once the novelty of a camera being new is gone (perhaps put another way, once the honeymoon is over), you can down to perhaps your best work with it, rather than just moving on to yet another new fling with yet another new (old) camera.

How about you? Are any of the above pitfalls familiar to you? How do you judge which are your best photos?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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7 thoughts on “The Trouble With Choosing Your Best Photos”

    1. I think this is wise, and even a few days break from the photos seems to increase one’s objectivity. Plus if you review larger batches at a time, you have a larger pool to draw from, when gauging what is “good”. Thanks for your input!

  1. Over the years I’ve quite unintentionally adopted the practice of putting off close examination of my work until much later. I’ve turned into the digital equivalent of the sad sack who has a couple dozen rolls of unprocessed film in their sock drawer sitting in there since last year although it’s not always my fault because I’ve got computer problems, noisy children, nosey neighbors, good books, chores, etc., you just name it and I’ve used it as an excuse. But the funny thing is I’ve come to swear by that buffer period. The step back makes it feel more fun and magical, like opening up a surprise birthday present. I love the feeling of gathering up my stockpile of memory cards and wondering what I forgot about from weeks or months ago. I don’t always do it that way. But a lot of the time I do. It’s part of my unconscious workflow and it’s probably a far more disciplined way of doing things than it may seem. And I could go on and on about how doing it this ways helps me to look at my photography more objectively. That’s a very appealing element to me.

    1. Very interesting J, not least of all because it’s not how I do it all with digital!

      With film, I generally used to wait until I had four rolls, as I could get them processed and scanned to one CD cheaper than doing them individually. Four was the maximum per CD at the lab I was using (Asda!), so that dictated my batching.

      This didn’t give me much of a delay in my film “heyday” though, as I was typically shooting at least six, sometimes up to 12 or 15 rolls a month.

      In my last days of film, I was shooting at a much slower rate, and had a couple of half-finished rolls sitting in cameras for ages, and another couple finished, but not processed, rolling around in my car. By the time I shot the last of the rolls in cameras I had really lost interest.

      Even once I got them processed, I remember downloading the photos from the CD to my computer, and instead my usual review and edit there and then, they sat on my HD for weeks, some of them months.

      So somehow I need to keep that timeframe between shooting and seeing the final image quite short, so I’m still connected with the experience.

      Also with digital, I don’t like images building up on memory cards. I often use quite small capacity cards to limit my shooting, or rather make me more discerning, much like it is with film. So I might half fill a memory card on a single photoshoot (I’m only talking perhaps 100 photos, not 1000s), and want it cleared off ready for the next shoot when I get home.

  2. I see mine coupe of weeks later, sometimes months or two. I don’t delete any. Just pick some that are best.

      1. I have never shooted analog (only in the beginings before digital era). So this is my digital work worflow. It is that I shoot a lot. And I have many photos to choose from. So it takes time until I go throught them.

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