Yes it’s true. Everyone. All the top editorial photographers take bad photos.

They just don’t show it to me. Ever.

Thing is… I know everyone takes bad photos, it happens and it’s not a big deal… I just don’t wanted to be reminded of it when I’m looking for a photographer.

The promo, website and portfolio are all places where the possibility exists for you to remind me that shoots can sometimes turn out bland and then I suddenly get the feeling that the shoot I was about to hire you for will turn out bland.

I think I know why you do it. You don’t have enough material yet or you want to show me how you can shoot portraits, food, B&W, color, holga, photoj, etc…

I want to live in a fantasy world where every single shoot is perfect. The best photographers let me.

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  1. It must be a real nice bubble to live in. All that power at hand to use in playing god over the groveling photographers at the bottom.

    Bland portfolios are bad judgements, not padding the book. If so, that photographer should not be there until a proper book is presented. Less is extremely powerful.

    The story of Alice in Wonderland also had an ending. Let us project your current warm Monday fuzzy feeling 20 years into the future …. Still warm and fuzzy, with a great bank balance?

    Good for you!!

  2. 6tc’s reaction was everything I hate about the anonymous poster.

    When delivering a shoot, I often have a hard time balancing showing too much of the take or just not enough. I guess it could come down too something as simple as not letting the PE see all of my mediocre photos, but many times they’re seeing something useful on the design end that I can’t predict.

  3. But are we talking about your book or an assigned submission. These are two different creatures… a cream versus whole milk thing.

  4. what about “contrary to fact conditional?” You seem to be saying you would have liked the book/photographer if you had not seen the bad picture, in other words, if in your estimation, the bad photograph was not there, you would be satisfied as a whole.

    The problem is not the bad photograph, but your not being open to the possibility that either the photographer is trying to explore something you don’t get, or is showing you something you’ll never get. It does not mean it is “bad.”

    I am not talking about people who throw the whole kitchen sink into a book and call it a portfolio. I am talking about a strong portfolio where one or two images are not working. This could be about editing, lose the pic, and often photographers are not the best editors of their own work. (otherwise, you might not have a job:))

    back to contrary to fact: it is like when you are in a critique, and someone starts to say, well Iike it, but it would have been better if…etc. It is a way not to deal with the work.

    If you like 90% of what you see, why throw that baby out with the bath water when 10% of the book lets you down? Just go with what they are showing you. I think I would be suspicious of a book where I liked all the pictures. Then I would think, are my own biases just being confirmed? Has this person really showed me something new? Where are the “hard” pictures? The ones I don’t like now, but I might come to like a year from now?

    I think your post was talking about truly “bad” pictures, as in what were they thinking…but taste is a funny thing, and working for a variety of magazines often requires you to regress to what the magazine wants, and their taste varies considerably. A photographer often shows what he or she gets after a while, it is self-reinforcing, personal work aside. You and I both know the photographer has far more range than assignments will allow.

    What the problem is is that magazines are public companies, they have to turn profits like never before, which means regression to the mean, which means the most conservative-like decisions will get made, and photo editors like you are having their functions reduced from actual editing and sourcing to being producers of shoots. Shit flows uphill as they say. Creative/Art directors are making more and more of the decisions so that magazines look as much like advertising as the advertising they carry. Forget the content…

    Everyone takes bad photos, they have to, otherwise we would all just repeat the “greatest hits” of photography over and over. And to my eye, that is what the majority of work today looks like in most big media magazines. If I knew that every photo I took from this day forward was going to be “good”, what would I ever learn?

    I also think photographers should show you their bad photos, because if we had a good system, you and I would talk about the failures with more interest than the successes…that is where the ideas for good photos come from.

  5. Thanks for your insights. Without even going into just what exactly is a bad photograph, you have basically told people that among other things great photographers are great editors. Quality over quantity , how novel. I think the frustration comes when folks haven’t developed the right formula for their images, basically the synergy between, concept, content and delivery and are willing to show inferior work in the hopes that someone will bite, meanwhile not recognizing the damage done by this delivery. I think menus, what can you do that everyone else does and add your own thing to it. Look at Bobby Flay, he’s the sauce King, most people can knock out crab cakes and Ribs, he just makes them tingly. I don’t go back to restaurants that are mediocre when I have sooo many other options to choose from and I always look for something on the menu that shows some creativity aimed at my taste buds. Back to the kitchen! Thanks again.

  6. Nice comments Robert. Yes. I’m talking about throwing the kitchen sink into a book and/or not doing enough editing of the work. Also, I’ve experienced quite a few portfolios with only openers and no secondary shots and that can be concerning… unless you’re pitching a pure fashion that doesn’t run secondary shots.

    I fully understand that my taste in photography is subjective and that I’m always learning. Always. Photography that’s difficult for me to comprehend is never discounted and in fact draws me to a photographers work so that I can learn.

    Bottom line is this. People will put crummy photos in books and promotional materials for reasons other than to represent their best work and I don’t think it makes a good impression.

  7. Hmmmm – isn’t that the whole point of a portfolio review?

    My thought: Regardless of a photographer’s editing decisions, a portfolio should give you an overall feel of ability and style. Looking at Nadav Kander’s book I’m sure I’ll see quite a few images I don’t care for, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s talented.

    My point: if a photographer knows something is bad and they decide to leave it in their book to show you, I’d suggest not hiring them – hence, one reason for reviewing a portfolio in the first place. True?

  8. Nice post, good comments.
    I have an incredibly hard time deciding which of my photos are ‘good’. I often will edit a shoot, then weeks later find my favorite photo from the shoot sitting in my outtakes folder. The definition of a good photo is so variable, and a persons preferences and needs for an image are also so different that it leaves a photographer like me feeling somewhat hopeless when it comes to editing my own images. Usually I try to fall back on “what do I like” well, unfortunately that changes too often to be a steady guide. Perhaps this is why I’m a photographer and not an editor.

    Thanks for sharing, I’m enjoying the blog.

  9. I once had a great professor tell me that in order for a photographer to make a strong edit, sometimes you have to “kill your babies.” Tough, but true.


  10. Ha – Matthew, that’s great – and sooooo true.

  11. “A photographer is ALWAYS estimated on his WORST photo, not on his BEST one”
    (true for other professions as well …)

    It’s always a good idea to keep the showcase (folio, website, whatever …) on the VERY TIGHT end

    To seperate the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ (as seen by others !) is another story :-)

    The interpretion differs from viewer to viewer – it depends on age, education, experiences of life, origin or simply on the gender ….

    As mentioned above in the post of Matthew ‘Kill your babies’ is a very good point to start …

    Best, Reini

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