Editing a photographic portfolio – part 1

Such a simple word, yet so difficult to put into practice. But one word that more than most makes the best of any set of images.

And I realise that this word “editing” has two possible meanings – editing an individual image (as in processing it) or editing a batch of images to prune out the weakest of the selection to leave just the strongest images remaining. I’m talking about the latter here – editing a batch of images. (The former is a massive subject in itself that I’ll save for another day – or possibly year!)

Early on in my career (that makes me sound far longer in the tooth than I really am!!) I was told that folks won’t remember your best images, just the worst ones. So it was drummed into me only to show the best. That rule seems to be changing these days – some of those that I didn’t think made the grade are still saleable and useable – and that’s a much harder line to figure out. But that’s where editing comes in.

As I write this I’m currently trying to whittle down a set of more than 35 possibles for a 15 strong portfolio. I don’t have the luxury of saying “But they’re all as good as each other!”, as the rules of the professional competition I want to enter them in won’t allow more than 15. And in truth that’s a good thing, 35 is far too many for a portfolio. But it isn’t easy when you want to get a range of images that show many different facets of the theme without getting odd-ones that have less relevance to the theme as a whole when they’re one of 15 rather than one of 35.

So how to edit. It’s a topic that baffles many, but there are some straightforward guidelines to get you started with.

Rule #1 If it isn’t compositionally strong in its own right without relying on the others to hold it up, it has to go. No question. Such images simply aren’t strong enough to add to the portfolio.

Rule #2 If it isn’t technically excellent, it has to go. That means badly exposed, noisy, unsharp in the wrong places, wrong depth of field, depth of field in the wrong place. I could go on for quite a while here, but if it’s not a straightforward correction at RAW processing stage, then it doesn’t make the grade. The other entries will all beat any image that doesn’t meet this one, and so any image that isn’t technically excellent will not make the portfolio the best it could be. If that results in not enough images, either more need to be shot, or a different topic needs to be considered!

Rule #3 Don’t duplicate unnecessarily. A while ago, I entered an amateur competition with a 4strong portfolio of an Australian bush fire. I thought it was a fantastic portfolio, sure to win on the strength of each of the individual images, and I’d never before had such closely matched images! I learned a hard lesson that day. The judge deemed them to be too closely matched – mere duplicates of the same scene. (They weren’t, but they were all taken of the same scene on the same occasion – just from different angles.) It wasn’t enough to be a strong portfolio. 4 photos of 4 different bush fires, or the same fire in 4 different sorts of light might just have swung it. But not 4 of the same subject in the same light, even from different viewpoints.

So now you’ve whittled your images down to a short list that may well be 2 or 3x as many as you actually need. What now? Well that’s the question I’m currently asking myself, so it’ll be a later post! But go back and reconsider all three general rules of thumb above again, now that the number of images is down to a more manageable level, and you may well find that several more fail to make the new grade (getting tougher on quality is easier with fewer images!)