Will Seippel | April 17, 2023

man eating hamburger while taking selfie
We are drowning in a sea of meaningless photos.
Image: Shutterstock

Today, we are drowning in a sea of meaningless photos. Like the gunslingers of Western lore, we are quick on the draw—but our holster holds a smartphone rather than a pistol. When something grabs our attention, we draw and shoot. Then we share the result on social media, as if to say, “Isn’t my life fun and interesting,” when, in fact, all we have photographed is our food or a pet.

Chances are, you’ve taken hundreds of such photos, and they are jumbled together on your device. Few, if any, inspire nostalgia for a moment. Here’s the quandary: No one dwells on your junk photos. Your friends and loved ones scroll past them, perhaps acknowledging you with a “like.” But they don’t care—their social feeds are clogged with such photos. The more painful point is that you won’t remember it, either, in a few weeks. You’ll stumble upon a photo of a great meal or a funny thing your dog did, and the memory will be fuzzy because you weren’t present when the photo was taken. Of course, you were physically there because you took the photo. But you weren’t “in the moment.” You were looking but not seeing. You were hearing but not listening. Your thoughts were focused on getting the picture and posting it online. The act of taking and sharing the photo was more important than the quality of the photograph.

Before and after gears
Photo curation can be done before and after a photo is taken.
Image: Shutterstock

Photo Curation, Before and After

I often speak about the importance of photo curation. Generally, curation happens after a photo is taken. We sort, categorize, and archive. Doing so is essential because it builds better collections and solidifies memories. Photographs capture moments, and photo curation captures the essence of these moments. American photographer Aaron Siskind said:

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things long after you have forgotten everything.”

To create photos that capture the moments of our lives, we must pay attention while taking them. Such photos reflect our lives and tell our stories long after we’re gone. Achieving such photographs is a three-step process: Look, See, and Compose.

  1. Looking is easy; it’s simply pointing your eyes in a particular direction. You glance, and something captures your attention. Too often, we look for a split second, and then the phone comes out. We line up our shot, click, and share.
  2. Seeing is a bit harder. Seeing is dwelling on an image. One must appreciate a scene’s nuances to communicate them in a photo. A well-crafted photo tells a story in ways that words cannot.
  3. Composing isn’t about avoiding blurry images. These days, all smartphone cameras can achieve image clarity with little input from the photographer. (Unlike old-fashioned analog cameras, in which shutter speed, lighting, and film decisions all had to be made by a photographer). To compose an image, ask yourself what captured your attention in the first place. What is it about this scene that you find compelling? Why would someone else want to view this? Will this photo have meaning for my loved ones or me in a few years, or will it be discarded?
man with a slow sign
Photo curation requires slowing down and paying attention to details.
Image: Shutterstock

Slow Down, Be Mindful

We create more vibrant memories by being mindful in our photo curation. In photography, as in life, the pleasure is in the details.

Will Seippel is the CEO and founder of WorthPoint®, the world’s largest provider of information about art, antiques, and collectibles. An Inc. 500 Company, WorthPoint is used by individuals and organizations seeking credible valuations on everything from cameras to coins. WorthPoint counts the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the IRS among its clients.