Images of the World from Andrew Johnston

The "Tenset"

A recent post by Mike Johnston on The Online Photographer decried the frequent difficulty of quickly reviewing an online photo collection to understand the photographer's interests and style, in order to decide whether to invest more time in studying the content in greater detail.

Mike's solution to this is to suggest that each photographer's website should start with "A photographer's ten best, or ten favourite, or ten most characteristic pictures, up front." He gives this concept the excellent name of the tenset.

Suitably chastened and inspired, I've taken this suggestion to heart, and my website now contains my very own "Tenset", as the first grouping on my gallery page. If you're not sure what makes me tick as a photographer, the subjects which interest me or the style I am trying to develop, look here. If you like what you see, continue browsing. If you don't, then go no further.

However, regular readers of my ramblings will know that I don't have a great track record choosing top tens of anything. A few years ago I tried to list My Top Ten Films, which led to a protracted and frustrating exercise in over-analysis as I switched rapidly from too few candidates to far too many, and eventually got back to ten. If you want a laugh at my expense - follow the link. Frances and I have also been trying to make a list of our top ten concerts, but with similar results.

I certainly didn't want the tenset to frustrate in the same way, but nor did I want to cheat and deliver a tenset with other than ten items, especially since a set of ten thumbnails displays rather neatly in my gallery.

However, this time I applied a bit of analysis to the process itself, and managed to produce my tenset in rather less than glacial timescales. Here, then, is Andrew's patent method for choosing your tenset:

  1. Make a short list of the things you want to demonstrate. I ended up with two component lists: my favourite subjects; and my key techniques, especially those which separate me from other "landscape" photographers (such as my preferences for HDR and a hand-held camera).
  2. It helps if this list totals less than 10, but it's not a disaster if it's a bit over, as you may be able to "kill two birds with one stone". It is a disaster if the list is much more than 10 items - I toyed with adding favourite locations, but realised that this would be very likely to "blow the budget". The thing is that at this stage you're just working with concepts, so you can add or reduce quite easily.
  3. Go through your portfolio and select your favourite pictures which demonstrate one or more of the features on your list. If you're working digitally the simplest approach is just to make copies or shortcuts by dragging and dropping to a new directory. At this stage if you're anything like me you'll end up with a lot more than 10 items!
  4. Sort the pictures so that they tell some sort of story about you. This will typically mean putting pictures which cover the same themes together, but you should also look at things like the flow of colours and styles.
  5. As you now have pictures which cover the same themes together, you can start choosing between adjacent or near pairs which cover the same theme. This is always going to be the difficult bit, because you'll end up with competing favourites, but you have to choose. Immediately remove those which fail a choice, as otherwise you'll end up with too many half-made decisions.
  6. When you get down to 10, you're done. Now you just have to write the captions...

This isn't perfect. Like any process where essentially random pairs are used for elimination it's quite possible to and up with a number of anomalies - just ask anyone who follows an all-league knockout championship like the UK FA Cup. In this case what you'll find are some pictures get through which are not your "best", but representative of key concepts.

The alternative is that when you have your "shortlist" (which might not be that short), you have to somehow rank all the candidates in order and just take the top ten. This might deliver your "ten best" (more likely your "ten favourite"), but probably won't deliver any sort of thematic coverage.

In my case, I seem to have ended up with a lot of pictures from Venice and relatively few from other favourite locations, but then I deliberately chose not to try and cover locations as a theme. It was also very hard choosing between some of the pairs, and I had to eliminate some which I think are good, eye-catching images. However, if it does the job the tenset will draw in enough viewers that will then go and explore and find my other pictures. Here's hoping...

And if you want to develop your own tenset, I just hope the above helps. Good luck!


If you'd like to comment on this article, with ideas, examples, or just to praise it to the skies then I'd love to hear from you.

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