(Or How I Culled My Summer Vacation)
by Jessie Parker
Whether you’re a professional or a talented amateur, deciding how to archive and display your photos is always a complicated question. When you’re talking about your personal photos (the record of your travels and your treasured family memories) the question is even more fraught. You have to choose what to print, which is hard.
You have to choose what not to print, which is even harder. And you have to do it all while life just keeps happening and more and more photos keep building up. Sound familiar?
The question of which photos to choose is probably the most daunting part. So much so, that I suspect that many photographers (myself included) are guilty of just throwing up our hands in frustration and saying, “Forget it! I can’t choose and I don’t have time for this!” Then, they abandon the project entirely without making a single print. That’s why I suggest trying to get prints made as soon as possible after the shoot. If you don’t stay on top of it, you run the risk of creating a ridiculous backlog that you’ll never sort through. Ideally, each time you photograph an event, you’d come home and make your selections immediately. Unfortunately, life and procrastination have a funny way of getting in the way of logical, but lofty goals like that.
My solution is this — I’ve found that I can manage my personal photos best if I set aside a couple of hours at the beginning of each new season to choose and order prints from the previous season. Right now, I’m browsing the almost 3,000 photos I took of my family between June and August of this year. I plan to place an order for prints tomorrow morning, so I can move on with enjoying (and photographing) fall without feeling guilty that I still haven’t finished with summer. It may seem like a little thing, but it helps a lot, particularly if you find yourself getting stressed out about things like this.
Here’s my step- by-step process for managing my personal photos and choosing which ones to place in an album:
1. Set a Date
Literally set a date in your date-book, Google Calendar or Outlook (whatever works) to go through your photos. For me, just allocating the time to do this is half the battle.
2. Decide What You Need
How can you choose if you don’t know how you’re going to use them? If you’re going to order an album with 15 pages and one image on each page, you’d better narrow it down to 15 photos. Make a plan and stick to it.
If you’re going to put together albums, I suggest sticking to one event per album. Remember how your parents had those huge photo albums full of hundreds of 4x5s, covering months, if not years, of your family’s lives? These days, I suggest making your albums more manageable. Stick to one event per book, if possible. That way, when you pick up the book with the brown embossed leather cover, you know you’re going to be looking at your trip to the Grand Canyon (not the Grand Canyon, your sister’s baby shower, your cousin’s graduation, a random beach day, and your honeymoon). Give each event the respect and space it deserves and treat yourself to knowing exactly what’s in each album. To showcase really special memories, I like the quality and simplicity of the Hudson albums.
3. Go Through Your Images
Do it all in one sitting, if possible. Just get it done. Sometimes if I’m having a really hard time picking, I’ll cull out everything obvious first (bad expressions, poor exposures, etc.). Then, I go through them a second, third or even fourth time until I’ve gotten it down to the absolute best of the best. How do I choose what’s “best”? It’s completely subjective, but honestly, my best answer is to go with your gut. If you love it, it’s the right one. If you aren’t sure, it isn’t. Be tough with yourself and make tough decisions.
Once you’ve decided which ones you like best, narrow down further by choosing photos that will complement each other, but are diverse enough to be interesting. If you’re putting together an album of your summer vacation to Tahiti, don’t make every picture white sand, turquoise sea, and blue sky. Lovely as it is, it’s not interesting to look at 15 photos featuring the same color scheme and subject. Instead, choose one wide shot of that perfect beach day, a silly close-up of your sweetheart splashing in the water, a breathtaking sunset, an interior photo from the fabulous restaurant…you get the idea. To summarize- go with your gut, pick the best of the best, and avoid uniformity.
4. Order it Right Now
Once you’ve made your choices, don’t take time to second guess them. You’ll always have your digital files, so you’re not giving anything up by choosing to print one photo over another. You’re getting things done and moving on with life!