Tell the Story With Fewer Photos

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Louis Cahill Photography

Louis Cahill Photography

By Louis Cahill

This is the easiest way I know to become a better photographer.

It’s been a while since I posted a photography tip, but this is a good one. I had a conversation the other day that made me think about photographic storytelling. I took a really nice photo of a friend with a big fish. In the process I actually shot about fifty photos. That’s easy to do in eight frame per second bursts. Of course, everyone is excited about having a photo of themselves holding a nice fish. In his excitement my buddy told me,

“Send me everything!”

“Ok,” I replied. “Which shots do you want? The ones that make the fish look small or the ones that make you look bad?”

He immediately realized it was a silly request. The point of fishing with a professional photographer is not to tell him how to do his job.

One of the first things I learned as a photographer was that the best way to take a good photo is to take a lot of photos. That doesn’t mean that you show a lot of photos. Each photo of any given event creates its own unique reality for that event. That’s the nature of freezing a moment in time. Every moment is unique. Since the photographer, whether they realize it or not, always has their own interpretation of that event it is generally best represented by one, or at most, a few images.

It’s a common flaw in new photographers to be enamored with the process and want to share every image with anyone who will take the time to look.

What the photographer doesn’t realize is that they are eroding the image of the event, and even their own skill. The greater the number of images you show, the less special they are. One perfect image can spark the imagination, while a handful can spoil the illusion.

Take this iconic image of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima.Easily the most recognizable photo of World War 2. This photograph has inspired patriotic emotion for over half a century and is one of the most perfect documentary photos ever shot. Due to some confusion, it was widely thought for many years that this photo was staged.

flagNot that it would have been any less significant had it been. In fact, it’s arguable that it was to some extent staged, even if only because the marines knew they were being photographed. Logically, it does not take six men to raise a twelve foot flag pole. At any rate, it was later proven to be genuine by the series of photos surrounding it on the film. So why not show the sequence?

Because the sequence of photos does not capture the feeling captured by the single perfect image. In this image you see, not the literal raising of a flag, but the struggle and sacrifice which lead to the event. Some would call that misleading but I think of it as a greater truth. A truth which would be destroyed by context.


When I was teaching advertising photography, I used to tell my students that I could make them twice as good a photographer in five minutes. They were all eager for this kind of instruction. Their excitement usually changed when I told them to bring me their portfolio and a trash can. Regardless, it works. The strength of an image, or of a portfolio, is often not in what is shown, but in what is not shown.

Be a merciless editor.

Better to show one great image from a trip than a hundred so-so images. I’m generally brutal in my first edit, producing only a handful of images from a trip. After a while, maybe a year or two, I’ll go back and I usually find something I didn’t see the first time around. An added benefit to this approach is that you will become more thoughtful in your approach as you spend more time analyzing your images during editing.

Try this for yourself and see if it doesn’t make a difference in your photography.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline 
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3 thoughts on “Tell the Story With Fewer Photos

  1. Louis. Great advice here. Less is more. After a big fishing trip I’ll have 1,000’s of images to run through sometimes I’ll release only a handful to public. Great advice! I would also agree that years later I have found some gems.

  2. News flash! The commonly shown Iwo Jima flag raising is staged.It was done a second time, with a larger flag and a new set of Marines. The original was with a far smaller flag. It’s pathetic that after seventy two years of this being easily accessible knowledge people don’t know this.

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