On a recent photo tour I overheard my co-guide Mark Hamblin being asked about his favourite image. Mark replied that he tended towards images he’d recently taken, implying that ‘freshness’ equated to enduring ‘quality’. It’s inevitable that when photographers, even established pros like Mark, acquire new images, especially from a place that they’ve never before photographed, there is an emotional attachment to those images: we can still sense being there, we can re-live the moment through the image. Moreover, if the images were hard won, perhaps through hours of waiting or days of travelling or even thousands of pounds of expenditure, we are easily tricked into imagining those images are at least compelling, if not ground-breaking. But of course our audience is dispassionate, cynical even. For them, the image is what it is, irrespective of the back story.
There’s a bit of the trophy hunter in all photographers and there’s nothing better than showing off a newly-acquired, brand new shiny trophy. But in an age of excruciating competition I’ve noticed a trend of late, a trend that I’m part of, but one which does nothing to relieve the ubiquity of wildlife imagery. Social media in all its myriad platforms allows us to shout from the rooftops about our new trophies, but are our trophies really as impressive as we think? Are we mistaking image freshness for image quality? And are we falling into an even more self-destructive trap – that of bludgeoning our audience with quantity rather than quality? In some cases, I think that is the case and it’s becoming ever-more difficult to ‘surprise’ the viewer.
I’ve recently completed my second ebook and although an emotional attachment to the images was in fact, an integral part of the narrative, I nevertheless found it very difficult to objectively judge whether an individual image ‘worked’ or whether I just felt it worked. I adopted the most trustworthy barometer that I could think of. If I was considering a recent image, I asked for a colleague’s opinion as I didn’t want ‘freshness’ to blinker my objectivity; for older images I was more confident, as if they’d endured the passage of time, if they were still amongst my favourites after months or even years, then they must have appeal beyond just being ‘new’.
I’ve had a bit of a rethink of late. I have now adopted a simple approach to avoid confusing freshness with fodder: Take the image and wait 6 months before processing it, longer if possible. Without the immediacy of the experience screaming in your head, you can judge your images objectively. My guess is that far fewer will get past the editing knife and fewer still will find their way onto Facebook!