Avoid the mundane in street photography

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This principle applies to all photographs: show your best, throw the rest away.

Imagine browsing through someone’s portfolio of 100 photos:

Boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, good, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, good, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, good, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring boring, boring them, boring, boring, boring.

Did you notice there were three good ones in there? No?

Take a look at another portfolio of just three photos:

Well well well.

Now, have you spotted the three correct ones?

Tip: If you want someone to see your good photos, don’t hide them among your mundane or boring photos.

Why we do it

If someone shows pictures to others that are mundane and boring, it is usually to inexperience and or attachment. They may not know the difference between right and wrong either, at least not yet.

Few photographers do their best at the start. They might try hard, but inexperience and lack of skills tend to result in generally poor photos. We love our own work for sure, but we just don’t know enough about it yet to recognize that they’re not very good, at least technically. If you do it just for yourself, it doesn’t really matter. But if you are thinking of showing them off to the world, it really is. The good news is that practice makes perfect. We get better as we go, even if some faster than others.

The other problem is attachment, which may be more difficult to solve, but there is an easy way to deal with it.

Emotional attachment

Have you ever looked at someone’s vacation photos thinking ‘get me out of here’? The person showing them remembers the wonderful vacation they had and each photo brings back a memory of something special; they have an emotional attachment to everyone. For the person who has to sit in them, unless there is something special or of interest, they may very well find them mundane and boring, simply because they have no attachments. Emotional attachment, or lack of it, is why you find your photos interesting and others not; why you see good photos and they see trite.

Have you ever heard of the statement “he has a face that only a mother could love”? Well, we often have photos that only the photographer could like. We love them because they have meaning and an emotional connection to us; they are our own creation, even though they are in fact garbage.

I can tell you that all of my photos are like my kids (not really, but sort of). They were created by me, they are mine and I am proud of each of them in my own way. Sometimes I don’t care if it’s garbage, I like it anyway; they talk to me about something, I invest myself in them. However, because of my attachment, I am also partial and this is what leads to worldly blindness.

Separation is the cure for worldly blindness

If you’re anything like me, when you take a good photo you want the world to see it. However, your enthusiasm to show it can be your worst enemy.

I created my own website a few years ago to display my best photos, my portfolio. I went through all of my “good” photos and placed them up there. I was happy and proud. Over the months, I kept adding to it. I don’t remember what prompted it, but I decided that 786 photos in my portfolio must be too many. Very few of us are this good, to have so many great photos, myself included.

So I went through each of them for slaughter. I hadn’t seen some for over a year and was watching them again. I was a little shocked at how many I now considered mundane rather than thrilling. If it wasn’t raising an emotion at the time, they were probably mundane and should be discarded. After all, I don’t want you to look at my portfolio without a spark of interest; I want you to be excited by what you see, each of them.

I got rid of what I considered mundane then and ended up with less than 100. Why did I think they were good then, but mundane now? The answer is the separation of time. To be honest, they were still commonplace, but at the time I was too emotionally attached to see it. Coming back to it again, I could look at them more objectively. This time I asked, “Have they spoken to me; Was there a hook, something to excite, engage, thrill, inspire or create a desire to come back ”? If the answer is no, they have the ball.

I felt ruthless and there were a few that I was definitely attached to, but I knew others wouldn’t get it. I still have them on my hard drive, but my portfolio is for others to see and be excited about and this is the test I used when I removed the mundane from my website.

A few months later, my portfolio shot up to over 200 again; it’s time for another review. It’s hard to do, but if I want to avoid boring you or missing out on my best work, I have to do it.

How to do

To help you decide what is good and what is not, try the following exercise. Do it a few times until you understand.

Look at your photo; Now describe in your head what is catching your attention. Then imagine yourself standing in front of your photo club or whatever, telling them what makes this photo stand out:

  • Is there visual evidence of what you are describing or is it just what you imagine?
  • Would anyone else see for themselves what you are describing or would you have to tell them?
  • Is your argument for what’s interesting a little flawed and unconvincing?

If you can’t convincingly demonstrate what makes your photo stand out, it’s probably not that good. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t love it, just don’t inflict it on others. After the process, you might end up with only half a dozen photos to show the world, but it’s way better than showing them a hundred mundane photos that no one really wants to see. Seeing half a dozen great photos will leave the viewer wanting more without running for the hills.

However, at the end of the day, you can do whatever you want with your photos, all of them. If you like them and don’t care what other people think, you don’t need to spend too much time thinking about which ones to display. But if they bothers you and matters to you, then you need to invest the time to sort them out and choose your best. Sure, enjoy what you’ve produced, but don’t expect us to find them interesting or engaging if they aren’t. You can rest assured; we won’t be fooled even if you manage to get it wrong.


About the Author: Rick Corbishley is a Leeds-based photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Corbishley’s main job is photographing people and events, and his hobby is street photography. You can find more of Corbishley’s work on his website and Blog. This article was also published here.



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