One thing that I have learned…

Photography is, amongst other things, about learning, and over the 13 years that I have been shooting I have learned a lot about photography. Most of the things I have learned I have learned in the last year since I have gotten more serious about my photography. Learning is also the main reason I started this blog, to share what I have learned about photography.

One thing that I have learned… is a series about things that I have learned about photography or through photography. This first post in the series is about Only showing your best photos.

Sometimes the best photographers make some bad photos, and mediocre photographers make some good photos. So why are the best photographers still considered the best even when they make a bad photo and a mediocre photographer is still considered mediocre when they make a good photo? The difference is that a great photographer never shows the bad photos, the failures, they only share their best photos. A mediocre photographer sprays and prays then shares all the photos they made in the hope that some of them are good. I learned this from reading and looking at Magnum Contact Sheets.

Magnum Contact Sheets

When film still reigned supreme photographers would develop their photos then print a contact sheet containing all of the photos from a particular role of film. The contact sheet was an editing tool used to select the best photos to print. Contact sheets contained the good and the bad photos and it’s for this reason that you hardly ever see contact sheets because nobody wants to show their failures. A contact sheet is a private thing so to be able to see the contact sheets from famous Magnum photographers is a wonderful and rare opportunity. Contact sheets let you see how a photographer works a scene, how they think, edit, and select which photos to show. You can learn a lot from contact sheets.

“Ruthless examination of the contact sheet, whether one’s own or another’s, is one of the best teaching tools” – Magnum photographer David Hurn (Magnum Contact Sheets Pg. 159)

Contact sheets are no longer needed with digital photography. When you dump your photos from your cameras memory card onto a folder on your PC that folder becomes the contact sheet, other programs like Light Room, DxO Optics Pro, Capture One Pro, XnView etc… digitally generates a contact sheet on the screen so it’s even rarer to get the opportunity to look at and learn from a contact sheet which makes Magnum Contact Sheets an even more invaluable book.

Because contact sheets are such an important teaching/learning tool and seen so little I decided to make a contact sheet (admittedly it’s half arsed, and not as sexy as a ‘real’ contact sheet but it’s just to illustrate an idea) of my last photo shoot, and show how I chose to edit all the photos I took, how I chose which ones to develop (I shoot RAW and develop the photos in DxO Optics Pro), and post to my Flickr stream. All of these photos were taken on Sunday, December 28, 2014.

James Ingles - Digital contact sheet -
Digital contact sheet from my Melbourne shoot on 28/12/2014.

After going through all the photos I made there were only about five worth processing. All but one of them had to be B&W. I prefer B&W because sometimes colour can be distracting, specially if there are too many jarring colours that clash, photos can look like clown vomit. The colours in the fourteenth frame of the plant behind the metal wall/divider was the only one I felt that the colours worked well together, the colours weren’t garish, jarring, or overpowering at all. The man on the train had to be B&W because of the light and shade, I love the way the light highlighted the man’s face converting this photo to B&W I felt only makes the difference between the light and dark stronger. The cloud shots definitely had to be in B&W to bring out the tone and texture of the clouds. Below are the before (the JPGs SooC) and after shots of two out of the five photos. I haven’t included a before and after of the fourteenth frame because I didn’t have to do much to it, the exposure was already pretty spot on. And I have only included one of the three cloud shots because you get the idea with just one before and after shot of the clouds of how converting a colour photo to B&W can make it an even better photo.

Lessons learned from Magnum Contact Sheets:

  • Share only your best photos.
  • Not every shot is going to be a keeper.
  • Just because a photo is in focus, well composed, and exposed doesn’t make it a good photo.
  • Part of being a good photographer is knowing which photos to show and which ones to discard.
  • Mediocrity isn’t something to aspire to.


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