A 36:1 ratio is actually pretty good

05 Sep
Matt via Signal vs. Noise shared by 4 people

Labor Day recently passed. That means you may have received a shared photo album from a friend or relative. You know the type: It’s usually dozens (or hundreds) of shots of vacation fun.

But you’re not into it. Now, it’s not that you don’t care; It’s fun to peek in and see what happened. But who wants to sort through a glut of 200 photos of someone else’s vacation (or baby photos or whatever)? What actually happens: You wind up deleting the email with the link and don’t even bother seeing any of them.

The power of editing
It’s about the power of editing. What if these people picked out the five best shots instead? The five photos that are the cream of the crop. The five that undeniably kick ass.

Then the whole thing shifts. Instead of it being a chore to see how their vacation went, it becomes a pleasure. It only takes a few seconds. Plus, that means they can just attach the photos to the email, instead of forcing you to visit (and sometimes register) at some random photo site. It’s only five photos, no big deal.

I had a photography teacher (Richard Stromberg at The Chicago Photography Center) tell me once that if you get one good shot on a roll of 36, you were doing good. That’s the ratio: 36:1. When you edit ruthlessly like that, you come out with great results. People think you’re better than you are. It’s not that you became a brilliant photographer, it’s just that you started exercising taste and restraint.

It’s one of the biggest challenges in the digital age: When you can bombard people with everything, it’s tempting to do so. That’s why taste, restraint, and editing are so important. Sometimes it’s about throwing out the 35 bad shots and revelling in the one great shot.

Omit, then submit
What you leave out is often what turns good into great. What you leave out is the difference between something that is either 1) never seen or used or 2) simple, clear, and actually digestable. It’s true for photography. It’s true for features in software. And it’s true for plenty more too.

P.S. Fun bit about Stromberg, the photography teacher I mentioned: He required all students to purchase a fixed 50mm lens for their camera. Students would invariably ask if they could use a zoom lens instead. His response: Every lens is a zoom lens. Just walk closer or further away to zoom. I always loved that.

Eureka: We’re editors [SvN]
Ask 37signals: Is it really the number of features that matter? [SvN]

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