I take a lot of photos – some good, some bad, some ugly. Any photographer will tell you they have more rejects than prize-winners, and I’m certainly no exception. Often, I’ll be in the right place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time.
So what do you do with your bad photos? The out of focus, the poor composition, the bland – you delete them, right? Sure, that’s easy. But what about the ‘okay’ photos? The ones that aren’t terrible but just don’t wow you.
I like to call these photos “meh moments”. The maybe pile. And trust me, I get loads of these. Sometimes I’ll have a whole bunch of meh moments amongst one or two awesome shots, or sometimes my whole shoot will be meh. So, what should we be doing with them?
First and foremost, have a go at editing them. It could swing one of three ways: either you realise it’s rubbish and delete it, it turns out to be better than you thought, or it stays as a meh moment. This will help you cull a lot of those beefy raws off your hard drive, but don’t feel the need to be too hasty at this point. Sometimes I’ll just leave them in Lightroom unedited. This way I can come back later with fresh eyes and have another go (but more on that later.)
Once you’ve determined that it’s not worth deleting straight away, it’s time to keep them somewhere. Depending on how you store and organise your library, I recommend two things:
- Either keep them in a dedicated folder, or
- Mix them in with your main library
Keeping them in a dedicated folder will let you be more intentional with your sorting, and will give you a designated place to review them at a later date.
Mixing them in with your main library (which is what I currently do) will let you review them with fresh eyes, as you won’t be telling yourself they’re meh before you take a second look. But again, it all depends on how you currently organise your library, or how you want to in the future.
There’s two reasons I suggest storing them, and comparison is one of them. Being able to compare your work against each other will not only show your progression over time as a photographer, but it will help you determine what worked and what didn’t, and help you understand what you like and don’t like. This way, you can take that knowledge into the field (either consciously or subconsciously) and improve upon your skills.
The term “what can’t be measured can’t be managed” rings true here. If you can’t see your progress by looking at your older and not-so-good stuff, you can’t actively focus on improvement.
Opinions change and fresh eyes see things differently. Maybe those ‘okay’ photos actually aren’t as bad as you thought a few days, weeks, or months down the track. I constantly find decent photos I took months ago that I deemed unworthy before. Sometimes we can put too much pressure on ourselves to deliver perfect snaps straight out of the box, and it blinds us to what is actually quality work.
Or sometimes our initial thoughts were true, and you can now safely delete the files to free up more storage for your next shoot’s batch.
I’m throwing this one in just to cover all bases – why not share them? It’s not something I normally do, but I’ve definitely shared some work that isn’t my best just to make sure I meet my social media schedule – and it’s been received well! This all comes back to the discussion of how seriously you treat social media, and whether you consider it a portfolio or merely a platform for exposure.
I think it’s perfectly healthy to share them in blogs like this where you’re addressing your thoughts and welcome outside feedback. Or better yet, share them with the world… for a price.
Here’s a crazy idea: chuck them up on a stock photography website. If they sell, you won’t be directly credited for them, so you don’t have to be worried about “damaging your name” (if that’s your concern). Not to mention that what you might think is only ‘okay’ could be worth big bucks to someone else. As the saying goes, “one man’s okay photo is another man’s treasure,” or something like that.