Backgrounder 4

Thoughts about my portfolio and some opinions

As I said in an earlier backstory, my first attempts at the general genre of ‘nature photography’ started from my earliest shooting in 2007 with a pocket camera. I didn’t take photography seriously so I didn’t have a proper filing and editing system. Result: I don’t think I have any images from that year, but I know I don't have any in RAW file format (at that time, I didn't understand what RAW was and why it was important).

I bought my first DSLR camera in 2008 and began to use the ubiquitous, defacto-standard editing and cataloging application in 2009. In the early years of 2008/09/10, I don’t have many images I considered personal “keepers,” let alone much I would deem worthy of being displayed. I wasn’t spending much time shooting, in part because that well-known filing and editing application had a steep learning curve.

In fumbling around trying to master the cataloging and filing system (or more accurately, failing to do so), I managed to have disc corruption issues and lost a lot of images — a few quite good. There were some painful lessons learned: Always have backups of raw image files, on more than one backup medium and stored in more than one location, including one “off-sight.”

Here is what my catalog was holding as of the day I originally wrote this:

This was on Jan 23, 2021, showing the number of images in the catalog for each year. Shortly after, I switched to a different cataloging and editing app. Note the paucity of images for the period 2007-2010. The diminished number in 2018/19 was for a reason that was mentioned in another post.

These numbers represent raw files saved after culling through a shooting average of at least 10,000 taken per year (2020 was not yet fully culled).

On days I shoot, I usually take 50–200 images. Of that total number, I would probably keep about a third after the first cull, whittled down from there as I feel less attached and more critical over time, or as better images of the subject are captured later.

I have probably displayed less than 0.25% of my portfolio over my entire web presence all these years. I would call less than 0.01% “best works,” suitable for entry in competitions or offer for sale as finished photo products such as prints or other wall hangings.

If you want to be taken seriously as a serious photographer, the pantheon of photo gods will give their “best practice” advice that you display only your best images (cue speedlight flashes and thunder). Always.

I have to respectfully disagree.

They may be gods of sorts, but I, being of lesser mere-mortal status, have always kept selected less-successful images — quite a lot of them — for a few reasons:
• Some might be part of a series documenting* something of interest to me, helping me to remember and understand a subject about which I was not very knowledgeable. My photography is, first and foremost, for me.
• Another would be due to the metadata embedded in the file (the technical information the camera records about each image) that is useful in comparing the details of various shots when evaluating and understanding what made some more successful and others less so, or failures.
• Photographers can be like any other pack-rat type who just can’t bring themselves to get rid of anything. I admit to a little of that. Maybe a lot. Sometimes images that are technically or artistically lacking are kept because they captured something I might not ever get the chance to capture again—sort of like those blurry Nessie or Bigfoot shots. And there's that "feeling-attached-to-your-work" vibe. They're your babies. That sense seems to fade only as time becomes distance, diluting the emotional attachment while I (hopefully) develop a healthy, ever-maturing, unemotional, self-critical eye.

I would like to always display only my very best shots, but sometimes it is more important to show images that document a unique situation, regardless of their quality. I do a lot of serial and sequence shooting, so rather than have a blank spot in a progression of images, I might include a less stellar image because sometimes showing continuity of the series is more important than image quality.

Sometimes, later when I’m culling through the day’s files, full-screen in editing software, I see something in the background or at the edge of the frame I didn’t see in the viewfinder (a reason not to do any deleting in-camera based on what you see on the little camera screen). Those “rejects” often inspire a different approach or new subject for the next shooting session. A few examples will likely pop up in the course of events here.

I have developed opinions about what I think is good photography based simply on what I like or don't like, and why.

I do like to see technical skills on display. I divide this into knowledge and use of the camera, general knowledge of photography principles, and post-processing—within limits.

I appreciate "artistic vision" — to a point — provided the vision meshes organically with the technical aspect of getting that vision produced as an image, i.e., I enjoy the image rather than feeling it is over-produced and I find myself trying to figure out all the tricks used to make it. Which ties into...

I also have strong opinions about what is not photography. Much of what I see when I enter competitions are lots of bizarre composited images. The judges tend to eat that crap up as displaying technical and artsy-fartsy virtuosity. To me, that's 'graphic arts' in the same vein as some old darkroom tricks, not photography.

I hate gauzy running water and waterfall images. No, flowing water does not look like milk! STOP! A small tweak in ISO and reduction in shutter speed is usually all that is required to depict water in motion that actually looks like water in motion. This falls squarely under the category of technical skill.

As it should be in most human activities, when it comes to photographic expression, just because something can be done (e.g., gauzy "water") shouldn't become carte blanche that it should be done. Another example: I don't like HDR (high dynamic range) imagery the way the vast majority of photographers use it. I think most people sense in a millisecond that something is off with over-contrasty, over-pumped colors (such as deep blue-purple skies and water), and otherwise over-produced and processed, fake, HDR dreck. HDR processing should be used to correct for the differences between the way our eyes/brain process light vs. the limitations of what cameras are capable of capturing when it comes to dynamic range. I used to think (and hope) HDR overprocessing would be a fad. Sadly, it is not.

It is incredibly difficult to produce an image via camera and software or darkroom processing that duplicates what the eye saw. Actually, it might be the ultimate challenge of photography. All other is an artifice that may or may not be art.

I am also tired of the latest photographic cliché-genre-du-jour: Staged pictures of newborns asleep on a blanket, curled up in the fetal position, naked, except for the required knit skullcap prop, as if that's keeping them warm! [I actually lampooned this practice in a post of mine presently up on another platform. Ask me about it and I might show it here.]

 *  I was once criticized as being nothing more than a nature documentary photographer. I'm fine with that. It's what I chose to do. I don't do weddings. I don't do school portraits or studio shoots. I don't do street photography. I don't do much landscape photography. I set my own challenges (i.e., the purpose of this site) and shoot to please me. If others enjoy what I do, great. If not, I don't care.