The most difficult aspect of Photography to master is Picture Image Editing. You can learn to shoot better, to expose properly, to capture composition, achieve perfect timing, master the light, focus on details and blur what you don’t want. You will have to ensure you are in the right place at the golden hour, always coaxing gesture from subjects and understanding the camera you hold in your hands, these are all hallmarks of a great photographer. You can learn these things by shooting a whole lot, or you can fast track an be taught in schools and workshops. However there is one skill that can’t be taught, its importance is paramount, yet is seldom discussed in the arsenal of photographic skills, that of picture editing.
I’m not referring to post editing, as in using Light Room, DxO, or even Photoshop to crop and adjust, I’m suggesting editing in the sense of “I have these 748 pictures and which ones are the best”? Self-editing is very difficult, I see poor editing while reviewing photographers work frequently and especially among the new photographers. When you have to choose 3 images from your archive, it’s an art all itself to make the right picks.
The following seven elements are what I have learned to use over the years. They have served me well and this post is populated with images I found in my archive, never before published pulled up just for use here. Some go back 12 years.
One: Take a page from Ansel Adams and pre-visualize the best shot that can be made from the scene before you. Ansel worked with large format cameras and they force you to get it right with an economy of shutter snaps. Contemplate the image in front of you and take time realizing the elements that will make a solid photograph. Resist a haphazard approach like overshooting in the hopes that one image will have a correct horizon and cloud will be in the just the right place. All this creates is a clutter of files and essentially- a bigger haystack to find the best shot.
Two: Archive or develop as soon as possible. Get the images off the card or the film processed before image anarchy occurs. Cluttered memory cards, unprocessed rolls of film in drawers, make bad for editing.
Three: Soak up a good look at what you have shot. This can start a healthy review of work via the playback button the camera. Don’t be afraid to pixel peep (zooming into the image) to check for proper focus. You have a succession of very similar shots, and one or two missed the mark for focus, but the other shots are tack sharp, feel free to delete the softies right out of the camera. I have found that I can edit very well right off the camera in most circumstances. I like to use a Hoodman Hood Loupe if I decide to pack it, it’s fairly cumbersome but it’s great at isolating your point of view when using the camera LCD.
Four: However you archive, be it Adobe Lightroom or manually like me, do it the same way, set up a consistent file structure and keep two hard drives or a raid as a back up. Name the shoot, and I also will date it too. Once the images are off the card, or processed and scanned, run through them again. Pick out a few favorites. Open them up and do a little post editing.
Five: Show them off and get some opinions. Throw them up on Face Book, tweet ‘em, Instagram them (even though I hate Instagram). My rule when I put up a shot on my Facebook if it gets over 100 likes then I know I nailed it.
Six: Move on. Forget about them. Work on your next shot. When you are ready to do something with them, and need them, make sure you have them properly cataloged on your drives so they are easy to locate for when you need them.
Seven: Dive back in fresh and do what really is your third edit. Based on your internal instinct and some reactions from your network look at your edit again, and also, the un-edited archive. You might very well have missed something. Become friends with this edit, improve on them with post processing. If you need to narrow them down further, set them up in folder for your screen saver and then your monitors become a “familiarization device” to better understand which are the strongest images. I learned this trick from Jock Sturges.
In summary, don’t shoot so much, go for quality not quantity and ask your network what they think of the images, then sit on them for awhile and keep shooting, return to them and look at your edit and the un-edited again. My last tip is that frequently, a crop is in order. Many a good image can be overlooked but stands out with a good crop. They say it’s all in the eyes.