Do you ever wonder how many photos you should deliver from a session? Here is why I believe that you are giving too many.
“How many photos do you deliver from a typical portrait session?” I recently noticed this question in a photography group on Facebook. The answers varied widely. Several people commented that they gave somewhere between 25 and 35, with a few saying even less than that. My thought was that this seemed reasonable. However, as I continued to scroll, I was surprised to see the range of answers. The majority claimed to give right around 100 photos and from there the replies just seemed to keep getting higher. People insisted that they provide 150, 250, 450, or 600 or more pictures. Is it just me, or are those numbers shocking?
I wondered why this was, but there was one comment that seemed to continually pop up that gave insight. It went something like, “I wish I could deliver less, but I can’t seem to get it under 150 photos.” Photographers, if you find yourself saying this, you should take a break and learn how to cull your photos. It should be one of the most developed skills you have.
Less Is More
There is probably always a “to each their own” argument to be made for things like this. If you want to be a photographer who delivers hundreds of photos from a short session, then go for it. But first I want to give you the other side of the argument of why less is more in photography.
The first question you need to consider is what is best for your client? From their perspective, is it better to have more? Sure they might think so because as a consumer receiving more for your money is better. But is that true in photography? If you are giving your client hundreds of photos, do you ever wonder if they even have a use for that many? They won’t share that many on social media and they definitely won’t print that amount. They will pick out a few that they like and share those.
I believe there is actually a stronger argument to be made that a large number of photos would prevent a client from enjoying them. Have you ever been to a restaurant that has a menu with hundreds of items on it? It’s impossible to know what to choose and giving your client such an abundance of photos is the same thing. It’s overwhelming. As Dr. Suess wrote, "So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
When Great Photos Get Lost
“Good is the enemy of great.” This quote by author Jim Collins leads into my point. Good smothers, dilutes, and often ruins great. If you give me your best 20 photos from a session, I will likely consider you to be a very talented photographer. If you mix those in with 100 average ones, my thoughts about your talent change considerably.
Including too many photos that are only good enough prevents your final product from being great. Some photographers can’t weed down their photos because their threshold for what’s acceptable is decent, or even worse, merely usable. Why isn’t great your cut-off line? Why not put only your best work out there and let it truly shine without being watered down with hundreds of mediocre photos surrounding it?
In his book, “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” My point is simply that in photography, sometimes your forest is so abundant that you lose the beauty of the individual trees. The more ordinary trees you have surrounding the great ones, the more the great ones will blend in with the rest.
Fewer Photos, Less Editing
My last point is simple, and a little selfish. Photographers are notorious for making a minimal income per hour. I believe that other than poor pricing, poor culling is the direct cause of this. Editing takes a considerable amount of our time. For most of us, it is probably the bulk of what we do. When you can’t cull a session down, you are multiplying your editing time. Editing 150 photos takes five times as long as it would for 30 photos. There is an argument to be made for choosing fewer photos and using the extra time to improve those, and if nothing else, get some of your time back.
So I ask you, would you prefer to deliver 150 alright photos or 25 great photos?
Three Tips for Culling
If you are buying into the 25 great photos argument, let me finish by giving you three tips for culling:
1. Remove Duplicates
This is probably the most common issue I see. You are editing an engagement session, and you have a great photo of the couple. The next picture is similar, but their hands are in a different place. The third photo is the same except for you are zoomed out a little more. You can’t decide which one you like the most, so you deliver them all. And my response is: if you can’t choose as a professional, do you think your client is going to be able to?
You making the decisions rather than your client is a good thing. You are the professional. Use what you know of posing, lighting, and composition and choose the one that is best.
2. When in Doubt, Cut it
This thought has been at the forefront of my mind when culling for years now. If there is anything that makes me hesitant about a photo, then get rid of it. If I notice something I don’t like, from experience I know that my client is likely to notice it as well. Photos that are slightly out of focus, have body parts cut off, or contains distractions of any kind usually get cut. I don’t try and salvage it. I just move on.
There is one thing that trumps this rule for me, though, and that is the importance of the moment. For example, as a wedding photographer, I might capture a great moment of the bride with her father that is less than perfect. In photos like this, the moment rules all and I do my best to make it work.
3. Kill Your Darlings
My friend and fellow Fstoppers writer Aaron Patton said one time that when editing you need to “kill your darlings,” quoting author William Faulkner’s popular advice on writing. It applies well to photography. There are times in your creative work that you have to remove something you are personally attached to so that the final product remains excellent. It’s hard to get rid of photos. They are yours after all. Sometimes you can’t get rid of a photo because you know once you do, no one will ever see it again. But that’s alright. Sometimes a picture is so close to being what you wanted, but you just missed it. Often, the best thing you can do is let it go.
Culling is a painful process, and few do it well. Remove a little here and there so your client can enjoy each photo well. It’s an art that takes practice. But eventually you will take a step back and look at the beautiful forest that remains, where each tree can be clearly seen, and you’ll be glad you did.