The Overlooked Yet Most Important Step in the Process of Creation: How to Choose the Right Images

Careful selection is the first and most important step in our creation process that is often left out of conversation. Nearly every client I photograph asks me "How do you choose?" It's actually a great question. After perfecting this process, I guarantee your solid and confident answer will blow their mind.

Although my OCD is mostly to blame for my process, it's easy to learn once you know exactly what you're looking for (and not looking for) in an image. Winnowing through an entire array of photographs to narrow it down truly requires your full attention and devotion; It's the reason I can never do this while a model or anyone is around my screen with their opinions. Discovering the right ones to edit and share is crucial for our work to reach its full creative potential. Thankfully it is a talent that practice enhances and anyone can learn.

I examine every inch of the new images as I scroll through them, but I only need a few seconds to determine whether it’s a keeper or not. With these three tricks you will quickly be able to rule out the unappealing shots from your shoots.

Photography By Gabrielle Colton. Models: Alex Gaines And Chelsey Malm

The Hands, Small and Important

The first place my eyes drift to while reviewing a photograph are the hands. They're a small part of the human body in comparison to the rest of it, but can become extremely distracting in your images if they are posed in an awkward fashion.  They're delicate and complex making them one of the hardest body parts for anyone to place beautifully. It can even take years for models to perfect their muscle memory in their fingers. 

Let the focus tell the story. I personally adore a vivid closeup portrait and I often bring the hands in to them to accentuate the storytelling. Closeup portraits are often challenging to get right. We have to be thorough because the small area of focus causes viewers to see every tiny detail, whether they realize it or not. I like the fingers to be staggered, bent slightly, sideways to the camera, and evenly spaced from one another. This creates small negative spaces between the fingers which allows their place in the image to flow evenly and softly. If a hand is facing flat towards the camera, it's an instant eye-sore, and your image now has a stopping point for the eyes to focus on rather than flowing in a continuous full circle.

Photography By Gabrielle Colton, Models Alex Gaines And Chelsey Malm

Although I love the model's expression in the third image, the index finger is too stiff and distracting. This seemingly minute detail can completely sabotage what a photographer may consider as a perfect image. I chose the middle image after an analysis of the symmetry because her index finger is closer to the rest and much more balanced. In the right image the space between their heads is more appealing to me, however I can use photo editing software to combine the images should I so choose.

The Limbs

The arms and legs are a larger piece of the puzzle, and can quickly alter a woman's appearance if they're too straight or at an unflattering forward angle to the camera. It's always important for our subjects to love the way they look in our final images by using our knowledge of posing and angles to sculpt them to show their true essence. It's a sad truth that women already feel a ton of pressure to be skinny, sexy, and tall every day. Pay attention to the longest and most outward extensions of their bodies: their arms and legs. We say that the camera adds 10 pounds, and that may be true, unless you know how to carefully sculp her.

Photography By Gabrielle Colton, Models Alex Gaines And Chelsey Malm

In the three images above, the adjustment of the models' poses are slight, but they are pivotal. I will confess that I had a tough time choosing between these. I love the expressions in the first image, the upper body posing in the middle image, and the purse placement on the third image. Originally I chose the first image. It could have ended there, but as I stared at it a while longer, Chelsey's right arm (left model), although beautiful, started to bother me in its position. I admired her arm placement most in the third image, the bend and angle of it in front of her body are slimming and balanced with Alex's left arm. However, I illuminated the third photo due to the head and lower body space appearing too crowded and stiff. I changed my mind and chose the middle image, both of their right arm positions here bring out a connection between them that wasn't present in the first image. The placement also create an appealing X shape to fill up the frame.

Facial Expression

Last, but not least, is the expression. Expression is what causes women to take dozens of selfies before liking one. When we see photos of ourselves it can be the make or break moment; “Oh my gosh, look at my face,” “My smile is too big,” and “My eyes are too squinty.” Humans are often naturally able to follow direction when told to pose their body, but expression is a whole different story. So how the heck do we direct a subject to make a face that they're completely uncomfortable with and often have no idea how to do on command?

Photography By Gabrielle Colton, Models Alex Gaines And Chelsey Malm

If you're not working with an experienced model it's important you show them what you want throughout the shoot, otherwise you may end up with a variety of poses to choose from but little variations in expression. The expressions you aim to capture will vary based on theme, client, and experience level but you can apply a version of these techniques to everyone you photograph. To assure you'll end up with different expressions to choose from in post-processing you have to think ahead and talk your subjects through it while you shoot.

While capturing the images above, I threw directions out for the models. I asked Alex (left) to bring her chin down a tiny bit, showing her how much by moving my own head. This slight movement made her naturally change her expression as she changed positions.  

In the second image, the extremely difficult yet enthralling pose Chelsey (right) was balancing in, amplified the difficulty of maintaining a flattering facial expression. I loved this pose and I knew it would end up being my favorite set, so I asked her to lean her head back in line with her body. The change transformed her from uncomfortable to flowing effortlessly.

When your subject starts to get uncomfortable I recommend turning their focus away from the camera. In addition to fixing a pose that wasn't complete with a forward-facing expression, turning a subject's focus in a different direction also refreshes them. They loosen up after taking a break from your intimidating lens. Whether your subject is staring straight into the camera or is gazing elsewhere, the power of their expression will have the gravity to capture your audience's attention.

In conclusion, in your final selections your eyes should be able to move in a circle around a photo. And unless it's intentional, your eyes shouldn't stop and get stuck on one piece of a photograph. Our eyes are incredible machine-like processors. Even when we aren't thinking about it, movement on the periphery of our vision jump out at them, alert them, compel their focus. You want to make sure you're not unintentionally diverting the attention from your focal point to a distracting piece of a photo. It's important to pay close attention to what your eyes cling to and linger on in them. Trust what you see. If something bothers you in an image, whether consciously or unconsciously, your mind, your inner photographer's voice, is speaking to you to pay attention.

Log in or register to post comments


Kirk Darling's picture

Good article, but I'm still of the opinion that pressing the shutter release is the "most important step in our creation process."

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thank you for reading. And yes you're right, I was thinking after we have the initial photos :). In my previous article I talked about how important it is to just take your camera everywhere.

Ben D's picture

Good stuff here. Yes, hands. So problematic sometimes. Especially in close-up shots.
Thanks for this.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thanks for reading! They are very problematic, but once you get the hang of posing them they add another dimension to your photos!

Bruce Hargrave's picture

Thank you Gabrielle! A very informative article and it will help me with my work. At the moment I know which shots I like, but I don't know why I like them!
Your article gives me some answers to the 'why'? and should help me shoot more 'keepers'.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thanks for reading Bruce, very happy to hear you can put some of these tricks to use! There's always a reason, it's that natural feeling that makes us artists. You are in the right place to find those reasons, I didn't understand my instinct until learning around other photographers. Keep up the hard work!