I’m finishing up a big project this week – going through my photo catalog (which has just topped 140,000 images – yikes!) and choosing images to include in my limited edition collection for sale on my website. It’s a project that’s been on my To-Do list for quite a while and I know why I put it off a bit – it was time and emotionally draining!
I often get asked if I have images for sale and I’ve tried a few photo online platforms for selling my photos (that’s a post for another day). I’ve decided to select a relatively small number of images and focus on these for sale at art shows and on my website.
I knew that choosing the images I would feature as limited editions would be a challenging process. I do a smaller version of this every year when I update my portfolio and I often make photo books following big trips. It’s the same sort of process, just a lot larger with many, many more photos to choose from!
The process is difficult, but well worth the time and energy. If you haven’t gone through your photos and chosen your best, now’s the time!
Here are a few tips for curating your own photo collection and finding your best.
1. Set your Limits
If you’re anything like me you have a lot of photos of a lot of different things. Curating means choosing so you need to set parameters for what you want to show in your collection. I go into the project with at least a few characteristics that I’m looking for in an image.
When I make a photo book following a trip I think about the memories that stand out – places or events that were impactful. I want to show the essence of the trip in about 30 photos so I can’t include everything. Once I decide on the images, I use Blurb to create a book, but there are a lot of other options out there. The hard part isn’t printing the book, it’s choosing what to put in it!
In Tuscany for instance we drove around to a lot of towns and villages, but not all were that interesting to me. Sure I took photos of the countryside and while we walked around the towns, but I didn’t necessarily connect with these places. I did connect with the farmland surrounding the castillo we were staying in near Asciano so I made sure to include a few of these images in my photo book.
For my limited edition collection I decided to include colorful images that showcase my love of minimalism. Not only do I think these will be popular for sale, but these images make me happy when I look at them. I have a lot of landscapes and nature photos, too but I decided not to include many of them in this collection unless they also were minimal and colorful.
I started by selecting all the images that fit into my parameters, but that still left a lot of images to choose from. I needed to reduce the number of photos.
2. Group and Prioritize
The next step I take is to group like photos together. This helps me not to get overwhelmed in my decision making process. I make decisions within each group – choosing from a dozen like-images, not a hundred.
Back to my Italy photo book example, I put all the photos that I liked of the Tuscan farmland together. I was only going to include one or two images, but I had about a dozen that I liked. Grouping them meant that I could look at them all at the same time and make a decision on this group. Which did I like better? Best? I sometimes even rank the photos. Do I like this photo better than that photo? When I’m doing this process, I’m only looking at two photos at a time and making a decision.
I do a similar process when I make a portfolio book at the end of each year. I select my top photographs and group them into like images – all the architecture photos go together, all the landscapes, and so on.
At the end of the process, I’ll select only the top 1-5 images to go forward. This process helps me limit the number of photos that come into the “finals”, but now it’s time for the tough decisions.
3. Kill your Darlings
The phrase “kill your darlings” comes from the literary world and really means that we sometimes have to let go of something we really, really love.
I always set an image limit before I start any curation project. For me it’s 25-30 images for a photo book of a trip or for my end-of-year portfolio. For the limited edition collection I decided on no more than 36 images.
The number is arbitrary, but I set this in advance because I know that when I get to this stage, I’ll be negotiating with myself on which images to include and exclude. If I’ve set a hard-and-fast limit, I can be strong with myself.
There’s no reason I couldn’t have stretched my limits, but it’s important that stick to my guns and I really think about why to include this image and not that image.
Though the process of selecting your best photos is daunting, it is well worth your effort. Going through the process allows you to revisit your old photos and look at your progress and priorities. There have been years where I’ve been surprised by what I’ve photographed – I remember doing more or less of one type of subject.
The process allows me to look at where I’ve come from and where I’m going and it allows me to produce a clear, cohesive collection that I can show others.
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