So what exactly is pruning?
Many of us have been posting our images online for years now. We started with a SmugMug account, a Squarespace portfolio, or a flickr account or 500px, or maybe even a custom portfolio site of our own, and we put up whatever our best images were at the time. Of course, over the years we’ve gotten better at photography and we’ve uploaded lots of newer, better images, right? In fact,  if you were to look back now at those images you posted five years ago, you’d probably cringe, right? (I know I would â” sadly I wouldn’t have to go back that far).

The problem is (and I was reminded of this vividly while doing some online research for a trip), that although our images are much better today than they were five years ago, there’s a good chance those cringe-worthy images are still alive and well on your portfolio page (or on Smugmug, or flickr or whatever). I ran across this so many times â” I’d find a photographer’s site or 500px page and his stuff was amazing, but on page two it wasâ¦wellâ¦less amazing. By page three it was stuff he had done a few years ago and those images were  just OK. Page four was even worse â” you could tell he posted these when he first started, and they’re not bad, but they’re not real good.

The first question: Why is there a page 4?
It’s probably because you really haven’t thought about it in a while, and now you only look at page one where all your “best stuff” is, but other people often dig deeper, and the deeper they dig, they less impressed they become. For example, when I would see the front page of a photographer’s gallery and think “Man, this guy is good!” by the time I got to their 2nd page, I’d start thinking⦓Wow, I guess he isn’t as good as I thought” and by page three I’ve lost all interest in this guy’s work because his stuff is getting worse and worse (and really, it’s just his earlier work, which just simply isn’t as good as his current work).

If your best work is on your first page (or first set of images), then what’s on your 2nd page? The shots that weren’t good enough to make the first page â” where you put your best work. So, page two is your second rate work, right? My question to you is: “Why would you show anybody your 2nd rate work?” If that’s the case, what’s on page 3? See where this is going? Prune it big time, and leave them wanting more.

Don’t use this the “age old” excuseâ¦
When I’ve talked one-on-one to photographers about this, the one persistent excuse I’ve heard is “I think potential clients would be interested to see how my work has progressed over time, and how much better I am today.” That only works for your mom. She’ll be proud of how far you’ve come. But a potential client is about to see some really cringe-worthy work from you â” why would you chance that? What do you have to gain by keeping cringne-worthy pictures still up online for everybody to see? We know the downside. Where’s the upside?

That’s why I’m proclaiming today as “Prune Your Port Friday”
Take a few minutes right now â” dig through your SmugMug account, your flickr account, squarespace, 500px â” you name it and delete any shots that make you cringe even just a little. If you’ve got galleries that are more than a page deep, it’s time to prune. If you have shots in there you know aren’t that good, but for some reason you can’t explain it but you “just like ’em” it’s time to prune (keep those on your computer. That way if you miss them, you can still look at them. Do this when you’re alone).

Those old shots aren’t helping â” they’re hurting â” and you’ll feel so much better after cleaning house a bit and leaving just your new stuff, your strong stuff, your best stuff out there for the world to see. This is who you are today as a photographer. This is what you’re capable of. This is what they can expect from you. This is the real you, now. Let them see the real you and what you can do. I’ll bet they’ll be impressed.

If you’ve got a lot of images, this might make a great weekend project, and man is that a perfect segue segueway for me to wish you an awesome weekend of pruning, and we’ll see you back here on Monday for a very important announcement (one that many of you have been waiting for, forâ¦ohâ¦about a year).

Best,

-Scott 

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About The Author

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books.

24 Comments

  1. Thanks for pointing out both the photographer’s excuse–er, point of view–and the potential client’s. That’s helpful. So is the advice to let cringing be your guide, and the implicit suggestion to have two pages max. Max.

    OK I’m gonna weed out my Flickr account some RIGHT NOW starting with all those pics of the seals on the beach, which I shot and processed before I knew much about contrast.

    I can’t wait until Monday.

    Have a good weekend Scott. Thanks for all you do and see you at #PSWorld14.

  2. I saw you make the same comment on The Grid. At that point I cut my portfolio from dozens of unrelated images down to ten very specific topical images.

  3. Scott, I’m not sure if you should be encouraging people to “prune your own port.” Might be something best left to the medical experts, no? ;-)

  4. I think I got this tip from you, Scott…but I decided to only allow 12 images per portfolio type. When I want to post up a new image, one HAS to go…and trust me, it’s hard to do! I’m often tempted to say..”well, maybe I should make it 13″…..but in the end, my portfolios stay fresh and current and the “survival of the fittest” takes its natural course….

    • You and Scott are so right about it being tough to prune I’ve found it difficult to separate the emotional attachment to an image from a reality-check view of the image. I think the “rule of 12” is a good one to follow.

      Harry

  5. Wow… I was going over My Flickr and 500px earlier this week and having these same thoughts going over and over in my head. I looked through my work and it was tough to get past the emotional attachment to some of the images, or letting them go because they still had relevance and interest to draw people to my photos. I get a lot of entries to my stream from google searches and have millions of views, but in my mind I attribute the views to the number of items in my photo stream. They come in, and go through them and I get lots of views. But my mind was telling me one thing… They see the better stuff at the top and as they go back the stuff isn’t as good, and only goes down hill from there. I suspected folks would think less of my work and me as they delved deeper into the older stuff as Scott says. So I wanted to “prune” things out, but haven’t been able to get myself to do it yet. And now I find this article, reiterating my thoughts back to me. I think I will have to do it… It just makes too much sense… Thanks Scott for helping me truly see the light…

    • Danny — it’s harder than most folks realize, but everyone who I’ve talked feels so much better after it’s done. It’s not easy making those tough class, but you’ll be glad you did, and people will think more of you as a photographer for it. :)

      • Thanks Scott, Phase 1 (the easiest) is done. 2/3 of the stuff has been pruned away, now the hard part… Cutting the rest down to the finalists. Feel better already!

  6. Good advice Scott. I did a bit of this with 500px after I closed my “Awesome” account. I use 500px to showcase what I consider my “best” work. If the image doesn’t at least reach Popular status on 500px then it most likely shouldn’t be on any portfolio page.

    I also post the same images on Flickr, but I also post a fair bit of “good” images on Flickr too. I use it more as a photo diary. “Dear Diary, here are the nice pictures I took this week/month.” I also connect with more photographers on Flickr and I find that I’m able to give and receive suggestions more freely there than on 500px.

    Having said all that, it was though Flickr, not 500px, that a magazine found an image of mine they liked and asked if they could license it for $150. That’s why I post on both sites.

  7. What resonated for/with me was the ‘hanging on to old images that I used to like’ comment….50% of my portfolio disappeared….and it’s better for it! Thanks Scott.

  8. Good point Scott, thank you.

  9. Scott, this is a huge dilemma for me. I can’t pick favorites!

    How many images should one have in their portfolio… and I’m sorry if you’ve given the answer a hundred times before :)

  10. Oh, and I can’t wait to meet you at Photoshop World!!!!!!

  11. I been living by the “no more than 25 photos rule” ever since I saw it on The Grid. It works beautifully!

    I shoot a lot of different stuff, so I have different galleries in my portfolios, and I know that can be frowned upon, but I shoot for a hobby, so I don’t need to display the “type of photographer I am” to potential clients. (I’d submit all the same type of photos to the Blind Critiques though :)

    I’m still working on getting to the 25 photos in all my galleries. I’m there in my Travel & Landscape gallery though, so the only time a photo can get added is if it’s better than one of the existing photos, and the weaker photo gets deleted. Even now I know which 2 will be replaced once I’ve shot something better.

    The Blind Critiques have opened my eyes to how I view my photos, and it’s helped immensely while I’m shooting and while I’m evaluating the photos later on for addition to my portfolios. I’ve never had my own images critiqued as yet, but I’ve still learnt so much from watching the critique of others.

  12. I really have to sit down and do this. I normally only post what I “think” is the best to 500px but as time goes on, that needs pruning. FLickr… that will take some time. The thing that should be noted for people worried about deleting is that you can make the images on Flickr “private” and no one but you will see them.

    The cautionary story that I have on this is that a little while ago, Huff Post did a story on “James Bond Island” in Thailand. As soon as I saw the article and saw that they sourced their images from Flickr I started to worry. I had shots from there when I first started HDR. You “know” what that means… electric blue skies and colours that would make the trix rabbit envious. Yup, sure enough THAT shot popped up in the article. Prine away people!! prune away!!

  13. I also need to reprocess them too.

  14. Great Stuff. I finally figured out that I can comment using my iPhone. None of my PCs will open your comments page no matter what browser I use.

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