How do you sequence photos?

It’s one thing to pick your strongest pictures. It’s another to sequence them. The two actions are either side of a coin. If both aren’t done well the result sucks. Ok. Maybe it doesn’t suck, but the result won’t be what it could be if you pick lesser pictures or don’t put them in a sequence that sings.

And that’s the goal, creating a song with your pictures. Every good image creates a sound and elicits a feeling. Putting images next to each other that pass one feeling to the next creates the song.

Here’s a process by which you can put the sounds together to make a song.

Start by selecting the most successful images. Make more than one pass through the group you’re editing. On the first pass keep any image that works as an image. The second pass elevates the more successful of that group and a third pass elevates the best of the second group. That usually produces a working group. I do all of this in Photo Mechanic, or Aperture.

Then print proofs of the working group. Depending on how many there are, you can either begin to create pairings straightaway or sort them into like groups of images and then pair from there. The larger the group, the more likely you’ll have to create subgroups of like images into rows. That's a helpful step regardless.

Subgroups come from similar types of images in several ways. They can be similar activities, similar feelings, similar objects or things, a progression of time ... Each body of work tends to produce different types of subgroups. Arrange the subgroups in rows going away from you.

Once you’ve created rows of subgroups, you’ll have a better sense of the scope of the work, of the pictures you’ve made. You can move the groups around to create relationships between them that then form chapters or natural associations. Then move the stronger images in each of the rows toward the front.

Now stand back and admire your work. Ahhh.

Then begin to pull images that work next to each other (pairings) and move them to another area where you can spread out all the selects. These pairings should happen mostly on the visual qualities of the images, with consideration for the informational layer. There should be at least three visual connectors between the images that can come from how negative space flows to positive, how colors relate, quite vs. noisy, close vs. far, alike but different, this then that - any number of qualities.

Then connect pairings with each other. Two becomes four, becomes six, becomes eight until you’ve created a sequence that is so interlinked that you can’t pull one image out without this house of cards falling down.

Sometimes you’ll know what image should be first or last and that puts down an anchor in the space you’re working. It’s a lot like leaves falling in a perfect order. They just look and feel right next to each other. It’s like the third effect squared by the number of pairings. (The third effect being a third thing that happens when two images sit next to each other.)

Sequence like this as your project or story progresses and you’ll see how it’s going. Gaps and strengths will become apparent. It helps you step back from the immediacy of the work and evaluate your work more clearly.

Do this for your portfolio and you’ll learn what kind of photographer you are and are not.

What's your Plan B?

Two Pictures: Thomas Patterson