Why I Don't Let My Pictures 'Marinate' In My Street Photography Recipe

Why waiting until the mood is right to post-process your images is a bad habit.

The idea of marination in street photography is that one shouldn’t feel compelled to immediately edit (select the best pictures) and post-process (enhance via software) their pictures after producing them in the streets. One should instead wait – or let the pictures marinate’ – in order to distance one’s self from the subject matter. This in turn would lead to better objectivity and thus turn out better work in the long run. Or so the theory goes.

I think the theory is seriously flawed. I also believe that those embracing the concept blindly are doing themselves a great disservice and potentially committing the equivalent of photographic suicide, especially if you have any inclination to make money with your photography.

Consider my Flashback:

During the first half of 2015 I had discovered street photography and was out in the streets of Mumbai taking shots. For me, it was just a hobby. I was a struggling writer working abroad and scraping along by selling articles to Indian publications. But then out of the blue an art director of a well-known European magazine approached me on Flickr and offered to buy one of my images, which would be featured on their front cover, no less! I was elated. Of course, of course! Who wouldn’t?

This was to be the dawn of my professional career as a photographer. I decided right then and there that I wanted to pursue not only street photography but also whatever genre would earn me a living doing what I already love doing – going out and photographing people. Funny that my career achievements were somewhat reversed. I got my start with the cover of a magazine. Now I had to work my way down the ladder and earn a living!

The important thing was that I got my start in photography as a budding professional because I allowed my images to be seen, almost immediately. They weren’t marinating somewhere in the I’m-With-Stupid vault.

Herein lies my question to those of you who may be letting their street photography marinate.

Are you only a hobbyist or are you an aspiring professional?

If you’re a hobbyist and couldn’t care less about a photographic career for whatever reasons, then it really doesn’t matter. You make your own rules. You decide what works and what doesn’t work for your workflow and best practices. I’ve got not judgement to pass on your decision to lock your pictures away until you want to deal with them – if you’re a self-proclaimed hobbyist, purist, whatever. Professional aspirations have no say in your passion for photography. And let me just say what a wonderful place to be! I’d love to be there too when I retire.

On the other hand, I have a dire warning of epic, earth-shaking proportions for those of you who are aspiring or budding professionals. If you let your pictures sit and not let them be seen by the world, you’re flirting with sheer obscurity. Letting your street photography marinate as a standard practice is akin to Vivian Maier’s fate as a photographer: Discovered after death. Or you just won't make any money if clients and buyers can't see your work.

I’m not saying this will happen to you if you let your pictures marinate. I’m not saying that you will become a professional photographer if you edit and process your images right away and then share them with the world. What I am saying specifically is this:

Letting your pictures marinate away could deny you the right people from viewing your work. Letting your pictures marinate could deny you a positive, life-changing moment.

I can hear the lawyers among you piquing up now at these statements. But this could happen to you too if you let your pictures marinate too, you quite rightfully point out. Who says when the right people will come along, if at all?

But why shoot yourself in the foot right from the get-go?

I’ll offer up another rebuttal as a challenge to you: name a single photographer who let their pictures marinate before being discovered, while they were alive. Now in bold italic: Name a single photographer who let their pictures marinate before being discovered, while they were alive.

Because I have a Google-load full of examples of those photographers whose careers began because they got off their asses and got their work out there for the world to see. There are always exceptions, and maybe you will be able to name me someone in the comments below. But I’m afraid it only proves the rule.

So who’s your marination hero? Because Google doesn’t produce a single one in its top search results.

Because I guarantee you it’s not Eric Kim. There's a large, hollow space between his recommendation for marination and what he had to do to launch his photography and YouTube career. His dedication to taking a lot of pictures and working his ass off (18 hour days, according to him) helped make his career what it is, or what it used to be, anyway. Marinating his images had nothing to do with it. Very few working professionals can enjoy the privilege of marination.

I just wish that people like Eric Kim would be a little more careful with their advice and at the very least offer up a caveat when it comes to important subjects like marination - like if you're a hobbyist, it doesn't matter what you do. If you're an aspiring professional or just want to earn a little money, best to share your work as soon as you're capable.

What’s wrong with working your ass off anyway?

I never accepted the legitimacy of the core concept of marination to begin with. Why would I need to wait to gain objective distance from my subject? On the contrary, I want to be affected by my emotions when I’m editing. I want to be there – in the moment – feeling like the images are hot off the press and burning big, ugly bright holes on my computer screen!

I feel my job as a photographer is not to distance myself at all from my work. Why would this make my photography better? My job is to be a professional photographer, which means putting out quality work as soon as possible or as required. This means that I’ve worked my ass off learning how to use photo editing software like Photoshop. I means that I’ve studied what makes images ‘good.’ It means I’m still learning both of these things – and that I’m not willing to let the time tick-tock by because some famous street photographer told me that marination is a great thing. Because it’s clearly not. Not for me, anyway. And I’ll bet not for a whole lot of people who would like to see their work sustain them professionally.

Here's an excerpt from a previous work about the subject of marination:

"...do you think the photographers shooting the 2016 Olympics had the luxury of sitting on their asses for a few weeks to let their images stew to perfect fermentation? Do you think the two photographers who shot near-identical epic images of Hussein Bolt turning and smiling at the camera as he cruised easily to another gold medal, turned to one another after the shot and said, “Gee, I know we were hired to get these shots, but let’s agree to sit on them for a few days and really let the iconic vibrations sink in before we do our color correcting and touch-ups. And then we could wait a week or two before submitting them to our screaming editors.” Where are the standards, man? Did you know, Father Streettog, that photographers there in Rio shot, edited, and shared their images in as little as 120 seconds? What the holy shit-fuck, Batman?! Why are the streettog prophets telling us to sit on our collective asses waiting for post-processing lightning to strike? That might be nice since a couple of them already make a comfortable living and can make up any old shit they want to tell you in order to fill a blog post. Hell, one or two of them could afford to wait a decade to process and share their images if they wanted to. But not the rest of us...”

Stay with me. My rant-quote is nearly finished. And this is the point I want to make in regards to the genre of street photography as a genre.

“...My question is, are we not doing the genre of street photography a great disservice by not holding ourselves up to a more professional standard? Shouldn’t we be telling each other that we should learn post-processing thoroughly, and we should be able to crank out an image quickly, professionally, YESTERDAY even, if called upon to do so by a magazine editor? Or why not just because I fucking can, because I wanna do it because I fucking can and I like to think that I’m fucking good at it?”

Bullet Points I Live By

* I edit/post-process my pictures as soon as I can

* I seek to get closer to my work – not distance myself from it

* Being professional and successful means being timely

I know this piece will rub some of you the wrong way. I can live with that. But what I cannot live with is advice which isn’t sound from a logical or a professional standpoint. Marinating pictures for the sake of better images produced perhaps days, weeks, months, or even years down the road from when the original pictures were taken just reeks of shitty advice to me. One learns by doing it, not by putting it off. Strive to master editing and post-processing. Striving to wait for the stars to align isn’t a privilege most working professionals can enjoy. Marinating pictures in no shape or form would survive Occam’s Razor, my friends. Kill the idea and move on to mastering your craft. Besides, ever hear of re-editing your images at a later date when you have a better understanding of post-processing? Yeah, you can do that! It's allowed.

The concept of distancing one’s self from his or her work is not the same as letting pictures marinate. That’s to say that pictures that I’m excited about may turn out to be complete crap once I get home to view them on a larger screen. Likewise, pictures that I’m not excited about may turn out to be the best ones I took that day. This realization comes from brutal experience. So what I do is not get too excited until I know the entire scope and quality of any picture I take. So my distancing from my images is not really a process as much as it is a state of mind. I say develop this state of mind and ditch the idea of picture marination, which to me is code for procrastination and being a lazy for the sake of a flimsy ideal.

Now, I may be tired or not feel like editing my pictures right away. Maybe I’ve other things on my itinerary. Not the same thing as marination. It’s only prioritization, something everyone must address when it comes to making time to edit and post-process their work. This stands in stark contrast to letting images marinate for a better day, for when all the stars align and the sunshine smiles upon us to create magical images we couldn’t have possibly created the week before. This alone is the silly-absurd domain of marination.

I’ll be the first to tell you that very few photographers make a living solely off their street photography shots. I know of no one who does. But street photographers do get noticed and get assignments because of their street photography work. This is why I cringe when name street photographers out there push dicey ideas without clarifying for their hobbyist and aspiring professional followers. Because I feel nobody should be pushing picture marination to aspiring and budding professionals. Our product is our pictures, not our unprofessional stance about delaying output.

If you were an editor of a magazine and had two photographers vying for the assignment, who would you place your confidence in, all things being equal? Would it be the photographer who could get you the pictures as quick as possible, or the one who wanted to let their pictures marinate first?

Maybe it’s an unfair question. Maybe the marination process for the one guy is a day. Or a few hours. But do you think an editor wants to hear silly shit like this in the first place? Ask one. I don’t think we need to think too hard on this question.

Be professional. Treat your street photography as a professional. Do so, and you’re already ahead of the marination crowd. That’s my message and final words on the subject.

Now, I gotta do something about this sudden urge to have spaghetti.

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