As a budding photographer hoping to crack into the then nascent stock photo industry, my friend and colleague, industry icon Tom Grill provided me with the most sage advice I ever received– and that every photographer needs to know, but often don’t have the ears to hear: “Edit ‘til it hurts.”
Like many photographers, I would often take on an assignment, edit out the images that were obviously flawed or sub-par as compared to my “keepers” and like a proud father beaming over his newborn, submit them to my editors as if every frame were pristine objects worthy of praise and honor. Thankfully, Tom disabused me of this notion and righted my course.
In his deceptively simple phrase, what I understood was that rather than trying to impress my audience (whether that be clients, editors or friends) with my productivity and ability to shoot “good images,” my goal– dare say, my purpose– as a photographer, if I aspired to have an impact and create a lasting impression with my work, should be to present only my best work.
And, whether intentional or not, his advice also released me from the physical — if not psychic– burden of cataloging, storing and “carrying” a lot of weak images in my portfolio and in my head giving me the freedom to relentlessly pursue, invest in and truly celebrate only my best work.
To this day, with few exceptions, almost every time I view a photographer’s portfolio, stock photo website, Flickr gallery, etc Tom’s pithy words ring in my ears and only wish more photographer’s – and editors– would heed his advice. All too often the truly memorable and powerful images are buried among the merely good or acceptable. This fact is even more glaring and, frankly, diluting the value of all images, when photo buyers search the Web and have to wade through countless, boringly “good images” when all they really want to see are the truly great ones.
So next time you’re editing work– whether for a portfolio, stock submission, or assignment, rather than be diluted by the merely good images, showcase only the best. Let those rare gems truly shine and receive the praise and value they deserve. What the world needs now is less, not more.
Edit ‘til it hurts. It will set you free.