I spent some time recently selecting photos I’d taken over the last year to make prints from. Photography is not my business right now and I don’t have plans to make it my profession. So why spend several days analyzing and selecting and hemming and hawing over what really amounts to updating a portfolio? One of my favorite photography bloggers, and all around internet personalities, Derrick Story of thedigitalstory.com has done several podcasts, posts and even a whole lynda.com title on the subject. And he’s gotten me excited about my own archiving process. I’m so excited in fact that not only am I convinced of its intrinsic value but I’m writing this post to share my experience.I believe that this archiving or portfolio process has two primary areas of value:
- Creative Growth
- Security and Longevity
Creating and evaluating a portfolio of my work has been an interesting exercise for its own sake already. Even though I do not and will not consider myself a professional (at least for quite some time), photography can be an expensive hobby for an enthusiast. So I’ve decided to try selling my work as fine art prints this year. And seeing which of my best shots looks good in print was, I figured a good place to start that project. And this leads me to the way time can add a certain, fresh (and perhaps more realistically critical) perspective. From time to time, looking back and examining your work, looking at the phases of your exploration whether in-camera or editing exploration, can be instructive. It can remind you of techniques you’ve enjoyed in the past but have wandered away from. I went out last week to shoot some HDRI scenes after looking over a group of pictures from last year which I really liked. Using a decent photo management application for this (like Adobe Lightroom or Bridge, or Apple’s Aperture) can make this experience a lot better and more interesting. Not only do programs like these make it easier to find your work and organize the best of the best, but they offer you a clearer vision of your past self. By using things like star ratings and the unique abilities of Lightroom and Aperture to view originals and edited versions instantly, you can start to get a feel for changes in taste as well as improvements in technique. I love star ratings and I use them every time I ingest a set of pictures. They are helpful and make it easier to cull down and view only the pictures worth working on further. But then when you come back around to archive they make a huge difference. I sat down to do this and opened Aperture to discover 8,374 photos linked to this library… daunting. But by filtering to view only images star rated 4+ I had a list of just over 100… doable. Then then as that lovely extended perspective kicks in some 4’s are promoted while 5’s are demoted and I come in at 62 shots I really like a lot. I start to get a feel for my style, which is more color-driven than I thought it was. Then its time to start deciding what to get printed, which black and white images might make nice fine art cards or which pictures I’d like to hand up around the house. Finally I’ve come down to about 21 or 22 shots and it’s time to order prints. The big news is that after doing this I felt more confident about the possibility of selling one or two of these this year.
Security and Longevity
While I do my best to maintain a fairly robust scheme securing my data against eventual hardware failures, nothing is as good in terms of longevity as a print. Kept in dark storage, (like an album or portfolio) archival inkjet prints on quality paper are often rated to last more than 100 years! And that longevity requires no upkeep, unlike digital files where drives must be spun up from time to time and optical disks can fade and start losing bits. Knowing that these expensive and sometimes mystifying pieces of equipment are prone to failure and contain many hundreds of hours of my work on fleeting and irreplaceable moments is definitely scary. The prospect of regularly checking an ever growing library of many thousands of files for degradation is daunting. Prints on the other hand do not suffer such complications (doable). Even in cases where the bits of individual files are perfectly preserved there can, years later, be problems of antiquated formats being unsupported by new software. On the other hand, so long as there is light your prints are still compatible. I haven’t invested in a portfolio book just yet, but a good one will extend the life of prints and of course has the added benefit of being a simple, portable way to show your best work.
As I said before, I’m not a professional. But photography has been a passion of mine and it feels good to know that one day my eventual grandchildren (or even great grandchildren) may get the chance to put there hands on something I invested my heart and my attention into making. When I get around to assembling a portfolio book I will probably do another post on this topic showing my final product. I will also be creating a gallery page for this site. Until then, remember its sometimes good to look back before moving forward.