The importance of Culling

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As with most things in the world, when it comes to photographs, more isn’t always better. I didn’t always believe this, but recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that giving my clients as many photographs as possible is the worst thing I can do.

This isn’t a dig at people who give a ton of photos. In fact, some of the photographers I admire most give so many photographs to their clients, I’m in awe. And they’re all good.

I used to think that if I gave my clients thousands of images per shoot or wedding that they would have choices. They’d share more. They’d be excited to digitally leaf through them, reminiscing over the moment or the day. I also used to think that the more photos I could deliver, the better photographer I was. If I could deliver more, I could prove that 90% of my photos were coming out well. In the world of photography, so many people talk about how many useable images they took, how many shots per roll they are giving to a client. It seemed important to me.

But what happened next, always made me cringe. The client would post one or a few of the photos I hadn’t actually intended for the public to ever see. The photos were slightly underexposed or out of focus. The composition would be off. The emotion would be lacking. So why had I delivered those in the first place? They were filler shots. Pictures I had taken that didn’t come out quite the way I had envisioned in my head, but instead of scrapping them, I fearfully put them in the gallery. These are usually not images that are necessary. They are duplicates, slightly different angles, slightly different crops, slightly different hand gestures. They are not images that had to be in the set. I hoped the client would pass them by, but instead, the client had posted them.

The question here is: did the client actually like these images or were they so overwhelmed by all the excess of images I had given out that they stared at them too long trying to choose and inevitably chose the one of the group that I had just flung in there.

One more thing that I learned, the hard way, was that delivering a few extra photos could also be the end of a relationship between a client and me. By not paying enough attention to my client’s desires, as I was editing photos, I had included ones that they had already given me hints to not include. It wasn’t that they had said “don’t include those” but rather the stories they had told during the session, the body language they had exhibited, the way they had given instruction to their kids, should have tipped me off not to include the images. And while the rest of the gallery was incredible, and they loved all of those images, the few they didn’t like ruined the entire gallery and thus my ability to serve as their family photographer again in the future.

I have recently come to realize that it is not my client’s responsibility to choose the best image of themselves or of their event. Aside from taking the photo, the most important part of my job is to choose the best image. It’s my job to cull. I used to think culling was just to remove absolutely unusable images, but the more I study, the more I realize that I need to choose images as if I’m thumbing through pages of negatives, circling the one that makes the biggest impact and making notes on the others, delivering only the few that stand out.

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