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Curating your own photography

Posted: March 14th, 2014 | Tags: | Posted in: General, Photography, Tutorials
Note: This tutorial was originally published in 2014. The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.

Curating your own photography is a difficult thing. You take your entire collection of “keepers”, potentially thousands of images, and condense it down into a very small collection of around 15 that say the most about you, and more importantly, about you as a photographer.

In my opinion self-curation for photographers is difficult for four specific reasons:

  1. We take so many photographs.
  2. The photographer in us wants something “different” to what everyone else is doing.
  3. Our keepers are all fairly precious to us.
  4. Social networking sites like Facebook make us want to share everything we capture, mostly for the instant, ego-boosting feedback – I’ve been particularly guilty of this!

Thinking about the ego boost of social networking sites, I can’t help but think that in the past I have let that rule the type of photo I’ve taken. Essentially I was capturing images with the sole purpose of Facebook “Likes”, over taking the type of photo I’d really like to take. Continuing along that path of taking photos solely for impact would have meant that I’d have a massive collection of sunset photos with bucket loads of colour and vibrancy, but I’d also have a large collection of photos I had no personal connection to, and of a style that I didn’t particularly have any love for.

Style vs. impact

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have come to love long exposure photography, and neither is it a secret that I mostly take photos of the sea and things related to the sea. These things combined make up the vast majority of every photo I’ve ever taken over the past two years. If you add to that a smidgen of desolation, isolation of subjects, “dreich“, faded colours, and then perhaps something completely unrelated to the sea, you have what has become my “style” of photography.

My photography is not everyone’s cup of tea (but neither is anyone’s.) Some people may find it boring, repetitive, not colourful enough – but that’s OK. What’s most important to me is that it’s mine, and that it reflects the style of photography I like to produce – even if it lacks the instant impact of more colourful, vibrant subjects.

Style is one of those things that sounds a bit “arty-farty”, indeed it sounds arty-farty to me, too. However, photography is an art, and even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist you’re still thinking like one: composition, texture, colour, contrast.

In fact, I often think the fear of being tagged as an arty-farty type is what prevents a lot of photographers from developing a style of their own, or even experimenting with abstract styles of photography – instead adopting the mantra “It’s just a hobby” and sticking to safe, colourful images of things like sunsets, which have instant Facebook friend appeal.

Curating my own personal favourites

Curation of your best photos is one of the best examples of where a “less is more” approach is critical. The more you show people, the quicker they get bored. The process also dictates how people remember your work, and if you’re a commercial photographer this is even more important than it is for a reasonably humble enthusiast like me. Being identifiable by your work is pretty cool.

With those things in mind, I used the following criteria for choosing my photos:

  • Appropriate to my style (Sea, strong isolated subjects, long exposure, moody, desolation and a bit of “dreich”.)
  • Varied subjects  (Multiple images from the same location or subject make the individual images less memorable.)
  • Mood and style over impact (That’s just me, maybe you prefer impact)
  • Quality (How good the image is overall)

I chose these “rules” because, quite simply, they are the things I like most when I manage to achieve them in a photo. I have a lot of photos outside this criteria, but they’re not my best, these are:

(Click the images to see larger versions)

Herring Gulls are elegantFindhorn BeachLittle IslandsWallace BandstandWreck of Jean Stephens on Reiss BeachBay of Sannick, CanisbayMy fave rockThe horse that lives by the riverKirsty cautiously peering at the seaNairn's East BreakwaterSunset in Wick BaySouth Pier taking a hammeringLifeboat ShedGreat Black-backed Gull - one of my favourite creaturesKirsty

Final thoughts about curation, style and sharing your images

This falls under the list of things I wish I knew when I started taking and sharing photos publicly, but better late than never.

  • Don’t simply go for crowd-pleaser shots, there is a life to be had away from sunsets and the extreme right of the saturation and clarity sliders.
  • Find a niche and take the photos you want to take (particularly if it’s your hobby!)
  • Admit to yourself that you’re slightly arty-farty – because you are, otherwise you wouldn’t be taking composed images.
  • Only share your best photos.
  • Don’t share multiple shots of the same subject from the same session at the same time – ever. It just dilutes the overall impact of any really good one in the set.

That’s all, and I hope you liked my photos, even if the rest of it was waffle.