Photographs That Don't Make The Cut

Fishing boats, pleasure craft and a ferry fill this busy port in rural Iceland.

Here’s an example of an image that, to my mind, won’t make the cut. It is what it is: a photo of some fishing boats and a larger ferry in a seaside town in northern Iceland. Most of that description is immediately evident in the photo, the rest can be accepted without too much trouble.

That’s All She Wrote

But that’s all there is, there’s not too much else to get excited about. It’s a record of being there which, is often the reason most folks make photos but, to my mind, that just isn’t enough.

I could have done better but this photo was made very much on the run, during a long day on the road. It wasn’t a day for photography, more a day of exploration and the clock was ticking.

So What Do You Do?

Okay, I made an image that didn’t excite me greatly but, for some reason, I didn’t want to delete it, at least not yet. Sometimes the act of deletion or rejection is neither a quick nor a straightforward process.

I converted the image from color to black and white which brings out the shapes of the boats and clouds. And I think that helped, but it wasn’t enough.

The image is technically proficient being sharp, well exposed and with a full range of tones from black to near white. So, it’s an acceptable image, but no more than that. And, from my point of view, that’s just not enough.

Composition Underpins Great Images

I could consider cropping the image into a panoramic format with the hope that, by eliminating most of the sky, a more dynamic composition might result. I think it would, but the problem is we’d be left with an overly complex image. The composition is a mess where it should be simplistic. This is the first reason why I normally wouldn’t publish this image: poor composition.

Concepts Of Beauty

The second reason is that I don’t feel this image has any intrinsic artistic merit. Now, while the value of such concepts have far less weight in our current contemporary world, I still believe that there are underlying concepts of beauty that unit subject matter, artist and viewers all over the world. Beauty may very well lie in the eyes of the beholder, but I still believe in universal concepts of beauty. It’s one of the things that unites us regardless of age, gender, race or religion.

Story Telling And Beyond

My third reason for dismissing this image is that it lacks any strong communicative powers. It tells a story, and a pretty obvious one at that, but it fails to take us beyond the obvious: boats in a harbor. But there’s no metaphor, no meaning to take us beyond the obvious story that’s being told.

So, looking at this image objectively, we have a well exposed and well processed image that is deficient compositionally and lacks any artistic merit or communicative power. Is it difficult for me to talk about my own photography in this way. No, not at all, I’d rather celebrate and be remembered for my best images, rather than the failures.

The Exception To The Rule

Now, there is a case for holding onto less than great images, even if they lack artistic merit, great composition and even technical proficiency. They’re the images of people and places that hold special meaning for you, regardless of their quality. Perhaps it’s an image of your elderly mother, your child taking their very first steps or a picture of the tree under which you and your partner had your first kiss.

These may or may not be images that you publish or share with others, that’s your choice. What matters is that you have these images, even if they don’t meet your own high standards of excellence. In this case what matters to the heart is what matters most. Just don’t use that as an excuse for failing to delete all those other photos that have neither artistic nor personal value. That would be my advice.  

Surround Yourself With What You Do Well

To become a better photographer I believe it’s important to surround yourself with your best images, not your worst. This ensures you learn from what you do well. It will become second nature and, as a result, you’ll make more good images, more often. That’s a great reason for deleting the image that illustrates this post. Don’t you think?

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru