If Your Photography Could Only Be Remembered by Just One Image, Which Would You Choose?

If Your Photography Could Only Be Remembered by Just One Image, Which Would You Choose?

The concept of a one image portfolio is difficult to imagine. But what if you had to only display one image? Which image best represents you as a photographer?

During a conversation with a fellow full-time photographer, we discussed the notion of heavily selective portfolios; how some photographers have just a handful of images to represent mountainous bodies of work. I'm always conflicted over the idea of potentially sacrificing evidence of consistency and social proof from having a wealth of past clients to browse through. I'm in the minority here — I know that — and even the research that has been done contradicts my views. The conversation moved on to just how small do you think you could get your portfolio if you needed to.

I wouldn't know where to start. For one, I'd need two portfolios. Then, I would have to spend far too long thinking about something not worth that time, I imagine. However, the next question, while only in jest, was more interesting. If you could only show people one photograph you've taken, which would you choose?

It seemed an inane question at first, asked tongue-in-cheek, but it can be very telling, particularly if it's re-framed slightly. Imagine your photography could only be remembered by one image and that's all that will ever be show, which photograph would you choose and why? Firstly you need to decide whether you're choosing the image you're most proud of, or the image that best represents your work, presuming they aren't the same. Then the information from your answer can be vast. It shows the sort of style and genre you're most attracted to, what sort of photographer you identify as, what you want to be known for, and potentially the direction you want to continue going. It could identify a direction you want to go when in fact, your current trajectory is unfocused and erratic. 

Then of course, perhaps it's nothing to do with direction or how you want to be seen at all. Perhaps it's about a moment; a photograph so rich in emotion and memory that if you had to narrow down your body of work, you would happily forgo the technically superior images or the images with mass appeal in favor of that special shot. I wrote recently about an event in my life that was extremely difficult to discuss, but that an image I had taken offered a small silver lining that I cherished. It's an image that simultaneously breaks my heart and warms me.

I'm not sure I have an answer to this question, but I do have an established thought process now. My gut reaction was for the first image that ever did well for me. It went low-end viral, received a lot of attention, unimpressive awards, and was displayed in a few galleries dotted around the globe. It even threw me in the deep end with image theft, copyright, and strangest of all, someone copying the concept very closely and then selling the image when I could prove they used my image to create it. That image, taken many years back now, was part of a series I shot called Innominate:

Adversity, part of the series "Innominate".

I don't love the image anymore; the concept is no longer innovative or unique, there are lots of things I would change, but it did do something important. It acted as propulsion for my interest in working in photography full-time and it was confidence building. For that alone, I'd be tempted to have it as my only image. That said, I've never written about one of my most successful images on the very platform I've been a writer for years, despite there being a story of costly mistakes attached.

Interestingly, while going through my work trying to narrow it down, I only looked at portraiture. While I have done a lot of commercial work and I'm immensely proud of some of it, my love for portraiture has always been an anchor tethering me to photography no matter how jaded or tired I might get in those occasional times of creative drain. The lead image for this article is another contender and an image I've always had some sort of connection with; it just works for me. I was shooting on a beautiful day with a good friend, I had a Russian manual focus f/1.5 85mm on the front of my camera and was firing off shots wide open. I looked on the back of the camera and saw this tack sharp image, with the butteriest bokeh I'd ever seen, engaging reflections, and crisp light. But I still couldn't pull the trigger and make it the only image I'm ever remembered by.

I can imagine that area being particularly difficult for you photographers out there who passionately and regularly shoot multiple genres. The question over which sort of photographer you want to be seen as is trickier for some that others. Very few photographers I know shoot exclusively one genre (landscape, portraiture etc.), but most shoot one predominantly. Sometimes that is the fruit of enthusiasm for the subject, but sometimes that is a monetary decision.

To be truthful, I don't know the answer to my own question. But the inquest was worthwhile nevertheless, revealing a lot about my true ties to photography, and my relationship with my body of work. Perhaps it shows that I need to push myself in portraiture more and try to achieve a unicorn shot. Perhaps it shows that I always chase an image holding the concept in high esteem, only to discard its importance once it's captured. It's quite unexpected that such an innocuous and frankly sarcastic comment could send me so far down a rabbit hole. I'm one for self-reflection and growth, but perhaps I wasn't ready for something quite this challenging.

So if you had to choose just one image for your photography to be remembered by, which image would you choose, and more importantly, why? Share the photograph and story in the comments below.

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Alex Cooke's picture

Its a tough exercise, but I would think this image. First off, it shows my love of drones and finding perspectives that wouldn't be possible without them. Second, it shows my love of simple, clean landscape images. Third, I'm proud of the effort I made to take the image; I saw a local news story that mentioned a boat that had drifted out into the lake during the middle of winter (thus the ice), and spent a lot of time reconstructing where the boat must have been based on the vague details and figuring out the best day to visit for good light, interesting cloud cover, and for when the boat had drifted to an interesting position. Fourth, it's near a location where I took some of my first images, and it makes me proud to see how I've come. And last, I'm proud of the edit. I think it represents both who I am as a photographer and what I love.

Robert K Baggs's picture

I do love the simplicity of this shot. The whole scene is just so tranquil. It kind of has everything too; good light, good colours, interesting sky, strong foreground interest, and so on!

David Love's picture

Wouldn't really matter to me since my work is limited to a certain style. What keeps me honest is thinking if people only saw one image of mine, would it be enough to make them want to see more or hire me? That is also what I tell models when we are going through their images since most will choose all of them instead of finding the best of the best.

Robert K Baggs's picture

I mean as far as cosplay images go, this is about as good as they can be, surely!

David Love's picture

Considering most cosplay pics look like red carpet photos of people in costumes outside a convention, yeah. You spent all that time making yourself the character, now put the character in their world is my thought and not many do it so competition is low. A little harder with landscape if everyone shoots at the same places and waits for golden hour, to stick out.

Crystal Johnson's picture

Looooove this so much! Such amazing tones and lighting. Your work is awesome!

Steven Magner's picture

Man I really hope I can be remembered by this gem from 3 years ago haha!

Mike Gillin's picture

That is an awesome shot! I can't help feeling that in some ways it is a commentary on modern society. :-)

Steven Magner's picture

Haha! All the universes beauty slowly ending up in the shitter!

Przemek Lodej's picture

Although I dab in portraiture I'd love people to know that travel photography is what I absolutely love to do...unfortunately time doesn't always permit it...so every once in a while I get to go to some remote place and share its beauty with the rest of the world. Peru will forever be in my heart.

rafael maduro's picture

I know is not a pro level photo but this day i captured my kids happiness and while in the following years i have take lot of photos of them this one remains close to my heart


Simon Patterson's picture

I would have to choose one where I forgot to remove the lens cap, if I wanted an honest representation of my photography... 😁

Omar Burgos Dättwyler's picture

Well this is one of the few pictures i take for a trip to canada, and this is personaly the best for me because it was made with intention, applying everything i know and learn in my years loving this hobbye

michaeljin's picture

Pretty much the only positive thing to come from my life.

I forgot my digital camera battery on the georgia trip and had to shoot the scene with film. It helped me prove to myself that I can capture the image I want by slowing down, thinking of the image I want to capture, and executing. No need to take 200 exposures to get one image.

David Pavlich's picture

Some neat shots here, guys! I have a real love for New Orleans and its street culture. I've spent a lot of hours in and around the French Quarter and river front with a camera. This shot pretty much projects the feel of the city. Taken at French Quarter Fest in 2016.

Crystal Johnson's picture

This because it is already widely known(album cover for Motionless in White), but also because it represents a very emotional time in my life. It has me in it, my very soul much like all of my personal work. It is also my son, who gives my life meaning. If it's all that I'd ever be known for, I am happy it's this.

Sanket Khuntale's picture

It's always the toughest call to choose your best image to date. But one such image which I think will be impossible for me to make again, is 'The Indifest', the image of a Hindu festival of Dahi Handi, also known as Shri Krishna Janmashtami celebration in Mumbai. To be on a perfect spot at a perfect time is a matter of luck. This is a few of those instances in my life when I got lucky and managed to capture this precious moment of just a second. It won me many prestigious awards one of which was Sony World Photography Awards in 2012. This is my favorite because I don't think I was able to make a better image than this till today.

eric krouse's picture

Easy one for me: Jack the Lab, my best fur friend. It's nowhere near a perfect execution (I obsess over seeing the background) but I love his determined face. This pic also keeps us in kibble, doing well on Shutterstock. The latest place I found it was as the mascot for Zipsa, a HUUUGE hyperboutique pet store in Seoul! They PS'ed a monocle on him :) If anyone is in Korea and can send me a pick of their wall art, I'd be grateful!

John Mallory's picture

People aren’t my usual subject, but I’m a Vietnam vet who went back for a visit in 2001. I photographed this young woman on a boat in the Mekong Delta; unlike the scenes I remember from the war, this conveys peace. It actually hung in the Currier Museum of Art for a couple of months—my mother, an art historian, would have been proud!

Jürgen Rockmann's picture

I think I would choose this image. I don't know exactly why, but maybe it is the composition.

Michael Holst's picture

It's really hard to pick a photo that I would want to be most remembered by... There's a real big difference between what I find most interesting and what others like more and I would want to be remembered by a photo that I love without influence from what others think.

It would probably be a photo from one of my trips to the west coast because I was so very inspired by the people and daily happenings around the ocean. California was a place that immediately felt familiar through the years of pop culture exposure. Being there in person was awesome.

A close second would have to be something from wondering New York or Chicago.

This is one of two photos I took when I was in the Navy that define who I am as a photographer. I used to go up on the flight deck and shoot photos first thing in the morning and I captured an F-14 sitting on the waist cat with the "Free The Hostages" painted on the buffer bar, but the paint had faded and the shot was lackluster. I showed it to a few people and one of my friends started talking to me about creating a far better shot using leading lines and better framing.

We contacted the Waist Cat shop and they repainted the buffer bar and a VF-2 F-14 was placed on the waist cat and I was given two hours to shoot. I used 35 mm and 6x7, both black and white and color. I made a few test prints and one got to the Admiral who wanted it released to the press. His Public Affairs Officer waited while I produced the prints and he took off in an S-3 for Guam, the nearest facility with a teletype machine. The PAO was turned down by the Chief who ran the Comm shop saying they needed three days notice in order to send anything over the teletype.

To this day I have no idea how the Admiral got one of my prints.

Anthony Preciado's picture

Mine would definitely be this shot of my baby sleeping peacefully while my wife recovered in the background after giving birth.