Back when I used to go to a photography club, they used to have competitions. One evening I heard some straight but powerful advice. It was in response to someone who had entered two versions of the same picture. The advice was “why are you competing with yourself? If you can’t decide which of these is the better picture, why should I?” Followed by ‘you get three entries, so why did you waste one?”.
If you’ve ever looked at the contact sheets of a published photographer you can see this selection process working. Compare the images taken with the one published. An amateur may take many different scenes – which is the old joke about getting the film back from the lab with your holidays in the middle and Christmas at each end. A pro may take many pictures of the same subject, so you can see the development of what became the final image. You can ask yourself why the final selected image was the one. Indeed, there’s a useful exercise here: put together an explanation of your own pictures that you would make to another person of why one image is better than the others. The better you can explain it, the better your discrimination. It also links back to the question of why you took this picture in the first place.
What the pro doesn’t do is to publish two versions of the same picture, inviting you to compare them. Not unless the two pictures tell a story. The pro is supposed to be able to assess their own work and select the best image. Their camera is a target rifle, not a shotgun.
There’s bad pictures too. Why would you show someone a picture you consider bad or you don’t like, unless to make a point (ok, so I’m perhaps making a point quite often in this blog)? If there is a chance that someone else might see your work, make sure it’s the good stuff.
Digital photography makes taking extra shots effectively free, so why not use that to explore variations of framing and position? With people, their expressions and eyelines change. Take a picture of a group and you’ll be lucky to get them all facing the camera with their eyes open. There may still be a decisive moment, but the ones before and after can be useful too. Sports and press photographers take lots of pictures to get that one moment when it all comes together. Only one picture gets published though.
Talking about changing expressions, there’s an old trick used by wedding photographers when they had to do those big formal groups, of leaving one frame at the end of the roll or at the end of the shoot. Tell the group it’s over, give them a moment to relax, then take that picture. Just make sure to edit your work and only show the best.