Have you heard of the 80/20 principle? If not then don’t worry, I’ll explain in a second, if you have then I’d love you to consider with me, “How does the 80/20 principles apply to your photography?”
To summarize it, the 80/20 principle was first noticed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto when he observed that most of the yield from a fields of produce would come from only 20% of the crop. He then went on to observe that this was true in other areas as well and that if you invested in that 20% only, you’d get much higher returns. In sales, that means you focus on your largest clients. But it’s not just true of economics and business, there are a wide range of other applications in our lives.
For example, if you tidy up an area where you spend most of your time, you’ve dramatically increased the time of your life spend in a clean and tidy area. Or if you want to learn a language, you can get VERY far by learning the top 20% of most common words in that language. But I think it also applies to photography.
Share only your best images
One of the classic ideas I’ve tried to embrace is sharing only your best work. If you share your 20 best images not your 100 best, then the quality is going to be higher. Let’s say we gave them all a rank out of ten, if your top 20 are all 10s, and then the next 80 are 9s, your average value is 9.2, but if you share only your 20 tens, your value is 10.
I haven’t always kept to this, as I feel there is some value in sharing our work, or the ideas we are playing with, (just like an artists sketchbook can be a wonderful thing) but when you show off your work (in a show or portfolio) only share your best.
Share in your most popular network
All these social networks demand our attention
- Google+ (just kidding, who uses that anymore)
It’s overwhelming. Sure we can set up an instant sharing tool and automate our “social media presence” (if you don’t see irony in that sentence…) but it’s much better to really invest in one network and tune in to that one. Which one? I don’t know. People like different things and you can get great value out of each one. Even Google+! It’s not growing but there are great communities and people on there. Choose one, and invest, learn and give.
Shot what you love the most
It’s fun to experiment with different styles and I’ve recently started playing with portraits but you get more results by honing in on your style and subjects that you like and shooting them more. I’ve recently started sharing an album I call “Boring Krakow” on Facebook. It’s mundane and random things in Krakow that I saw and thought were interesting for some reason. I really enjoy this idea of trying to shoot the boring and make something interesting out of it. I don’t always get great results but it’s fun to try.
Shoot at the best times?
This is one that I’m not sure about, the “best times” are traditionally seen as the “golden hours” when you get a softer light in the sky with more warm tones (as the sun is lower in the atmosphere and passes through different layers of cloud? Or something like that.) plus it is more directional so you can get some interesting shadows to play with. However, there is usually an opportunity in lighting when the light is “bad” such as evil “raccoon eyes” when the sun is bright and overhead, or using streetlights at night. So maybe work out your “best time” and shoot then.
Shoot with film?
Film makes you more selective with your shots as it costs money to shoot. This can be a way to make you more selective with your images and focus on getting more out of them. Yes, you can do this without having film but why would you? I think there is a good argument against doing this with digital and instead just selecting the images which you then develop and edit, with film, it is expensive to just shoot a ton of images, so you have to be more selective.
This is a statement I’m not sure I really agree with, but it does seem to conform with the Pareto principle and I have found that I usually end up with the same number of keepers from my time shooting film as digital but instead make the most of my images….but it is expensive.
[Updated thoughts: this also seems to run counter to the idea that quantity beats quality and that you should focus on making a large quantity of work…]
Develop and edit the gems
Don’t waste your time editing bad or average images. Instead spend the time you’d waste on those images working on those “meh” images but spend that time you would spend on those images, on your great images. Really iron those images out.
Spend more time promoting your best work
The 80/20 principle also suggests that you should try and maximise your results from the best stuff you make. So you should promote your best work more. If you spend time focusing on a smaller group of work, you can work on sharing it to new places or connecting with different people rather than just sharing new (not as good) work to the same people. Try and find more people to connect with or different opportunities to reach out.
But, there’s definitely value in “showing your work”, like a scrapbook or a sneak peak behind the scenes. While the 80/20 principle may have some very interesting applications in our work, maybe it’s worth not doing it? That’s up to you to decide.
What do you think?
This was inspired by Yuri’s recent post and a comment I wrote there.