The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Pick One - and Episode 77 of Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres

It's not uncommon, when participants enter a photo for one of the Challenges in the Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres podcast, for them to put forward a selection of two or three and ask me to pick my favourite, saying they couldn't decide.

My answer now is always to reply that they have to be the one to decide which one they are going to submit.

It's not about me being insensitive to their struggle, rather I'm trying to get across the point that making difficult decisions about our own work is extremely important in the development of our photographic style.

I completely understand the difficulty in trying to choose.

Especially in this digital age, we almost never only take one photo – we take several and then pick the best. But what if more than one is good? What if they each have a different quality that appeals? How do we know which one is the best?

The answer is usually to be found in thinking about how the photo is going to be used, who is going to be looking at it, and what kind of reaction we are hoping to evoke in the viewer. Given these variables, each of the images might work better in a different situation.

But sometimes there is only going to be the option to use one, and our fear that we will pick the weaker causes our decision making process to freeze.

Getting it wrong feels like the worst of all possible outcomes.

And yet, very often making a bad decision is still better than making no decision.

Or as someone once told me, not making a decision is still a decision. We are making the decision to hand over responsibility to someone else in the hope that if it goes wrong, we won't get the blame.

But all that means is we have relinquished control and then have to live by the consequences of someone else's agenda.

However, the key thing when it comes to developing our photography is that we learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.

Our successes bring us praise, and that's lovely, but we rarely learn anything from them. But when things go wrong – the image is blurred, it's too dark, or the composition isn't right – then we have to find a way to correct it. And the multiple decisions we make each time this happens helps us to grow and improve our understandings of the processes.

And then when it comes to our aesthetic choices, not everyone is going to make the same ones. One might prefer a slight blue shift in an image where another might prefer an orange one; or maybe they prefer a more textured, gritty edit where someone else would go for a softer, more ethereal look.

So it goes on – ever single step – from the settings of the camera, to the angle it's held at, to the crop, and the 10,000 possible micro-edits, means that even if 2 people stood in exactly the same place with the same camera and took a photo of the same thing, they would end up with different images.

And that's OK!

Our style develops over many, many photo shoots, through a million small decisions, influenced by a million different thoughts and experiences, which accumulate over the years.

The more comfortable we become with making decisions – especially the hard ones – the more our own "authentic voice" is heard.

And so the more our photos become uniquely ours.

So pick one.

Any one.

Flip a coin if you have to, but select just one of the images, polish it up in the editing, and submit it.

And if 10 minutes later you see something that makes you think you should have chosen a different one after all, then you have learned something and will make a different decision next time.

And that's OK.

Meanwhile, enjoy Episode 77 where we review the images submitted to the Shadow Casting Photo Challenge I set last week.


2:00 - Welcome, what's coming up, greetings and comments
06:40 - Wedding Anniversary photos at the Shed Café
10:30 - The Shadow Casting Photo Challenge
11:23 - Roy - inverted image to emphasise the distorted shadow of the dog
14:30 - Erich - when the shadow looks more 3D than the object
15:50 - Understanding the notion of "off topic"
22:48 - Inga - sun shining through a crystal vase with shadows and light refractions
25:02 - Jacqui - bridge and pedestrian - shadows from above
31:25 - Jim - shadow of a figurine
33:55 - How gaps become exaggerated in photos
36:06 - Ben - coloured shadows - understanding light
47:33 - Viji - using a sketch to interact with a shadow and refracted light
52:22 - Why it can be a good thing to copy someone else's idea
55:15 - Nicola - shadows of branches cast on the trunk of a tree
55:08 - Robert - shadows with a missing subject
1:05:55 - Rose-Marie - Candlesticks - creating a mismatch between object and shadow
1:10:01 - The importance of selecting your photo - curating your own work
1:13:30 - Sophie - bird on the concrete floor
1:16:26 - Vandana - eggheads
1:19:02 - Garry - Polo mint shadow crown
1:26:05 - Nurije - shadow of a bicycle
1:29:52 - Chris - the shadow of a chair, without the chair
1:39:15 - Coming up next week
1:41:07 - End

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And, or course, if you would like to submit a photo for feedback, or just ask a photography related question, then either email me or join my Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres Facebook group and I will put it into the following podcast:


neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Choosing one is very much like editing a book. As a writer, I have to get rid of the 'darlings'. The words, phrases, I'm in love with. If I don't, then that's a choice too.

We're so afraid of making mistakes these days. All we see online are the perfect photos on Instagram; on youtube, the fabulous influencers. Well, they had to make choices too.

Pick and learn. Experiment no matter how bad it looks to others. I miss people experimenting, going all out with the mistakes.

So, to support Kim, I'd say, Pick one and enjoy the ride.

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - I agree! I've heard of writers removing characters, or even chapters of a book that they really love, because it improved the flow of the whole book (with similar decisions going on in films too).
But if we still love the photos/characters/story plotlines, we'll always find a way to reuse them another time :)

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