Wikipedia describes a swipe file as a collection of tested and proven advertising and sales letters. The idea is you can replicated these for future success. My wise friend and life time photographer, the late Walter Chandoah, used the term to describe a collection of clippings of published that have made the cut and been selected by editors or advertisers for their impact. By collecting these samples you teach yourself about what works, photowise.

I find that creating a swipe file is about finding photos that I like which in turn leads me to think about how they were created. What skills were needed and what techniques were used and how can I incorporated these techniques into my own work?

One of my specialties is business portraits so I gravitate towards these kinds of photos. I especially like the style of portraiture employed by New York Times photographers and often browse the paper with a pair of scissors in my hand. The Times is a world class publication and its portraiture photography is very consistent despite being taken by many different photographers. These photos have made the cut for worldwide publication and represent some of the best currently work being done often under rushed conditions with people who are probably very uncomfortable being photographed. (Sounds a lot like my clientele.)

Creating a swipe file can be fun and rewarding. Basically you are simply looking for photos you like and creating a collection. As you look back on the collection (which you should do often) you’ll notice certain similarities among the photos that will reveal what you like about photography. By seeing what you like that works for others you’ll find what works for you. You will develop a style. Your stuff will never be like their stuff, but that’s not the intent. It’s mostly a matter of liking what you’ve created and learning how to get better so you like your photos even more.

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