The LEICA M Photographer: Photographing with Leica’s Legendary Rangefinder Cameras (2015)
Chapter 8. Trash
Selecting the Right Images
You just got home with a fine set of images and here I am talking about which ones to throw away. “Kill your darlings” is a phrase often heard among photographers, and perfectly describes the dilemma we face when selecting images. It goes without saying that you will discard obviously blurred and poorly exposed photos, or portraits in which the subject’s eyes are half closed. Such images are not even second best and definitely belong in the trash.
How to Classify the Rest
When it comes to selecting images, all photographers have to overcome their own subjectivity. We tend to attribute a degree of quality to photos that is roughly commensurate with the effort put forth in capturing them. An insignificant snap can suddenly appear important if you walked a mile or climbed 400 steps to shoot it. Using complex gear, too, can make visual results seem weightier than they really are.
So, how can we work around our own preconceptions and avoid errors in judgment? If you are not working against a deadline, it’s a great help to simply wait. I find that images I consider to be good (or even great) when I view them immediately after a shoot have often lost their appeal when I review them a couple of weeks later. By that time, the effect of the effort involved in capturing the images has lessened and photos that are nothing special reveal their true character.
Unfortunately, you won’t always have the luxury of waiting a month before you make a selection, so experienced but impartial help is essential. My best judge is my wife. If I am undecided about whether to keep an image, I can be sure my wife will give me an honest opinion without the slightest consideration for my feelings! Luckily, she is also able to explain why she thinks a particular image isn’t up to snuff.
You can ask other photographers to help you too, but don’t be disappointed if their comments aren’t always positive, especially if you are working hard to develop your own style. Photographers often find it difficult to acknowledge the value of other styles, so you need to find open-minded people who have a genuine interest in your work. Comments like “It’s never been done that way before” or “I’ve never seen anything like that” don’t rate as qualified feedback.
If you post your photos on a social network, the comments you receive will often be skewed. The fact is, if you don’t dispense enough “likes” to others, you won’t get “liked” back. People with extensive networks of “friends” collect plenty of “likes,” regardless of the quality of the work they show. The other problem with social networks is that the people who post the most get more attention than others. Legitimate opinions tend to get drowned out in the noise.
Having said all that, online discussions about photographers and photography can be enlightening. Some images get slammed because the photographer has managed to produce something unusual; also, legitimate compositions can quickly become objects of derision. Such discussions often have nothing to do with the content of the images or the stories they tell and instead concentrate almost entirely on superficial visual effects.
A good example of a discussion getting derailed was the one surrounding Jacob Aue Sobol’s images of the Trans-Siberian Railway, shot for Leica using a pre-production M Monochrome. His gritty, high-contrast images gained him entry to the exclusive club of Magnum photographers but were the subject of heavy online criticism. As I followed the discussions, I had the distinct impression that as more critical comments were posted, more copycats joined the bandwagon. Challenges to these comments were simply brushed aside and the overriding tone of the discussion appeared to defend established values and to vilify an unfamiliar approach.
Professional photographers don’t have it any easier. Many newspapers and magazines have strict guidelines concerning what they print and what they don’t—a situation that often leads to dull publications without a hint of variety.
Despite the criticism your work might receive, I encourage you to break away from the norm and to experiment with new ideas.
Photo Exercise #8
Select 10 photos from a pool of at least 100 and get one or two friends to make their own selections. Compare the images you each have chosen and discuss your reasons for making the choices you did.
Make 10 prints and show them to five people. Try to find out who likes or dislikes which images and why. The comments you receive are sure to be just as distinctively individual as the people making them.
The Karneval in Cologne
While selecting the images for this book, I discovered that I prefer to shoot my own private stories in black-and-white. I don’t really know why this is, although it could be because 95 percent of my commissioned work is in color. Or do I simply prefer to avoid the challenges that shooting in color presents? The images shown here come from a side project that ensued from my German Angst work. I was traveling around the country around the time of Shrove Monday in 2012 putting some of my ideas into practice and, as always when I am on the road and working in “wide awake” mode, plenty of unplanned opportunities were presented to me on a platter.
The Karneval celebrations in Cologne were the final highlight of my tour. Hotel prices in Cologne shoot up around Karneval time, so I drove to Cologne on the morning of Shrove Monday and left my car in a parking lot were I knew I would be able to leave that evening without getting snarled up in traffic. I shot within a 500-yard radius of the famous Cologne cathedral and concentrated on capturing “darker” images for my German Angst series alongside the colorful antics of the partygoers. This wasn’t an easy balancing act, but I think I managed to switch successfully between the two concepts. It was certainly easier than when I used to shoot with two analog cameras loaded with different types of film. On such occasions, I always seem to end up capturing my planned color images with my black-and-white camera and my monochrome ideas in color.
The images reproduced here were all captured using my M9 with 35mm and 50mm lenses.
The colorful nature of the clown’s costume is underscored by the monochrome background, and the cathedral door frames the subject perfectly
The effectiveness of this image revolves around the limited number of colors it contains
This is simply funny
Shallow depth of field and repetition of the main colors in the background draw the viewer in
Deliberate use of the low late-afternoon sun and suppression of shadow detail give this image the necessary punch
A monochromatic color image in which a banana relieving himself is the most conspicuous detail! The less prominent “monk” underscores the humor of the situation.
Back to reality at the car park. The success of this image relies on the presence of the gentleman in the foreground.