Finding Your Best Photographs

“Amy Touchette is a master of street photography in the busiest of all concrete jungles,
New York City.”—BuzzFeed

New York City street photographer Amy Touchette’s workshop, “Photographing People & Life in Oaxaca, Mexico,”
takes place March 11-16, 2018.

Story and photos by Amy Touchette

 Lady B looking at polaroid outtakes from her Diana

Lady B looking at polaroid outtakes from her Diana

Even though it’s easier than ever today to operate a camera and produce a picture, it’s no easier to recognize the most compelling images among your outtakes and to make collective sense of them. In fact, it might be even harder; because digital technology lets us produce so much, there’s more to choose from—more pictures to confuse us, more pictures to get in the way of us uncovering a theme or narrative in the pictures we make. 

However, being able to find the best pictures among a group of images and understand what links them is one of the key skills that distinguishes photographers from people who take pictures.

Finding our most compelling images is an elusive task, but as my mentor, Karen Marshall, Acting Chair of the Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism program at the International Center of Photography, puts it, “it is a muscle you can strengthen just like any other.” 

Exercising those muscles starts before a picture is even produced. You begin by setting an intention, having a goal, because that reveals what you care about, and maybe more importantly, why. 

Later, that intention can be abandoned or revised if it doesn’t work out, but it’s important to have a jumping off point, to make a conscious decision about where you are headed when you set out to photograph. 

From there, you let your photographs respond. Marshall, who has taught personal vision courses for over 20 years, likens it to a conversation. You say something by setting an intention, and the photographs you produce as a result of that intention say something back. You make more pictures in response, extending the conversation, and again your photos reply to you. And this conversation goes on and on.

As you look at your outtakes, put aside your intention and your backstory. It’s easy to think an image is compelling because we had a compelling experience making it, but often none of the details of our experience are evident to viewers. Likewise, we can cling so strongly to our reason for making an image that we can’t see what is really developing through the lens. 

 At home editing for my exhibition next month at Cal Poly University Art Gallery, February 22-March 16, where I’ll be debuting The Young Series, portraits of teenagers in New York City, O’ahu, and Tokyo

At home editing for my exhibition next month at Cal Poly University Art Gallery, February 22-March 16, where I’ll be debuting The Young Series, portraits of teenagers in New York City, O’ahu, and Tokyo

So, to a large extent, becoming a good editor is about holding on loosely: being open and patient—but also playful. Placing the images you like the most into categories or piles based on similarities is a great way to start listening to what your images are saying, as well as what they say about each other when they are in a certain sequence. The point is to start making associations, and casting a really wide net when you do so, so that you can jostle yourself out of your own thoughts and make room for new, novel ones to occur to you.

It’s not enough to make successful or compelling pictures. You have to be able to recognize them, or else it’s like they don’t exist. To learn more ways to sharpen your editing skills, read the article I wrote for Envato Tuts+, or better yet, join me in Oaxaca, Mexico, March 11-16 for my workshop “Photographing People & Life.” I would love to meet you!