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Thursday, 08 October 2009


There's something in what you wrote that I think jives with messages in Carl's posts and the replies - I think that method of displaying prints and viewing them repeatedly over a period of time has the same effect (if not the same final result) as going back and looking at your pictures much later, to isolate yourself from the memory of shooting. I don't worry about that with most of my pictures since they're primarily family memories; casual stuff. But I need to do a better job of flagging photos to put together in a better online portfolio (I've downloaded some videos on working with Lightroom from luminous landscape and hope that it helps me come up with a scheme for flagging photos). Anyway, from experience I know that I can't make a good judgement about pictures I want to share with strangers (i.e. my 'good stuff') until (a) some time has passed and (b) I've had a chance to go back and view them a number of times. So part of my labelling scheme has to include not only potential 'good stuff' but maybe a flag to say 'potential good stuff that needs to be reviewed' or something like that.

I'll make it mine.

so, after reading this, getting into the mindset of every workflow is unique, what do i rush off in the middle of reading to go look for? A full-frame negative carrier for my enlarger, 'cause after seeing those black borders on your workprints, i'm reminded that I'm just too lazy to file out mine. I do find that nothing is real until it's a print, including negatives I've scanned first. (Digital contact sheets, it seems, are fine).

So your 37th Frame was, in reality, the 36th frame?

I developed and printed my b&w work for about 35 years. I switched to a totally digital process 7 months ago.

In the film days, I hung about 6 work prints at a time on a wall or shelf, and moved them about to keep them fresh. This would better enable me to decide which ones to "fine print." And, once in a while, I'd spend the time to mat and frame a print...usually to give as a gift.

Old habits die hard. My digital process works basically the same way. I'll look to find about 6 images to "develop" on my computer and print. Then the prints go on wall or shelf same as before. After living with them for a while, I decide which to further refine. I just bought a better mat cutter to take the next step with a few deemed worthy.

The print's the thing.

And, the "lightroom" is proving to be a fun and better than expected alternative to my darkroom process.


I had to (re)subscribe again after reading this post. I like digital photography but I tend to treat these photographs as ephemera. Your post made me realize why and I have to thank you. I recently found a public darkroom so I'm really excited.


Winnow.... Now there is a word I could use rather than cull. It might cut down on the time I spend explaining myself.

Great article!

The most elusive thing in photography is to be able to create pictures that are both emotionally satisfying and have good formal composition. But composition is such a complex matter that the "goodness" of it is not always immediately obvious, and sometimes, adjustment (burning or dodging) will really nail it down, as in Ansel Adams' "Moonrise."

I would bet that what was happening when you were editing, with the pictures up on your wall, is that you were assessing the compositional potential of your work. If you look at the work that most people who read this blog are most enthusiastic about, it's the "composers" who get the attention -- Stochl and Bergman, from the post a couple of days ago, are notably good at this, as is Fred Herzog. Robert Frank's "The Americans" had terrific compositions; Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson are all about composition, in a very academic way. There have been a number of books over the past few years of "prairie photography," and the subject matter means that the photos are almost always well composed -- heavier, darker land on the bottom, lighter, softer sky above, automatic atmospheric and geometric perspective, and natural colors. Almost can't lose...unless you do. The prairie-type photos seem to me almost like painterly minimalism, where composition is about all you've got.

One reason that photo people almost all take wonderful photos of their kids is that they are deeply involved on an emotional level, and that comes through; and they take a lot of photos of the kids, which gives them the chance to nail composition, at least some of the time. I think if people really studied composition and design, in a formal way, they could automatically boost their percentage of serious keepers (especially of their kids.) Composition is hard, but once you get it going, and you begin to see it, you've made a huge step. It's one of the thing that separates James Nachtwey from other war photographers. His photos are not only powerful for what they show, but for formal structure; the structure adds enormously to the impact of the shots.

Golf? You are using our hard earned subscription money on golf? Hmmmm!

Or you can mill out a Beseler Negatrans , nail a board with some felt pen marks to the enlarger baseboard so that you can slide the easel back and forth and print negatives 3x3 or 3x6 on a 11"x14"


But all the cool kids get Saltzmans.

Great article Mike! I'll be one of your first 1000 True Fans. If you ever publish a book of your B&W photos I would love to buy a copy. You really ought to consider this project.

So Mike, are you printing those digital files for prints to hang on the wall?

Well said Mike! I include a clip from a discussion on another site re the editing process where speed editing seems to be a key factor - but not mine.
''On multiple copies I can choose the direction from the saved files(images) as I progress. Having just one file to make a choice does not fit with an artistic way of working. One has to see a flow, a direction, get a feel for an image, give it the chance to become what you saw in the camera or as a scene in front of you. Perhaps that is the problem. Too much art in my genre, . . . .

In the film days I think most of us followed a similar pattern when choosing the so-called "keepers".
On the computer it's a simple matter of putting the pre-selected stuff one has worked on to get the best from initially, into a folder (mine's called "rough") and then returning to it after a few days and then a few more and so on. Those that don't get binned are then ready for printing and the final cull ...

Mike I believe my method in digital is not too different to what you did with film i.e. I also need to print off an A4 print and keep it around for a few days before I'm sure if it is something I can live with, it would be interesting to know how many share this way of working.

It's not too late for platform diving as long as you stick to the cannonball.

"Golf? You are using our hard earned subscription money on golf? Hmmmm!"

Well, sort of. I have only actually played three rounds this year...I play in Michigan when I'm with my brothers. But I've been going to what's called a "driving range." (Although I don't own a driver--I use a 3-wood, and mainly practice with irons at the range.) At least twice a week, and sometimes more if the weather's nice. A "bucket" of balls costs $4.50.

It's very decadent, I will admit.


P.S. Also, two of the rounds I played were on a so-called "Par 3" course, where the optimal number of shots per hole is thought (by some) to be 3. However, the notion of going around the entire course in 54 shots is a lofty goal that is beyond the scope of my ambitions.

P.P.S. As you can probably sense from the above, I am actually a good candidate for lessons. [g]


Thanks for this!

Any chance to see a quick edit of some of the prints on your wall? I want to see the top-center and center work prints in the picture above more closely as well.

Also, I would be very interested in seeing a 'reference' print of yours—I think you've written about this here before—a print you consider is what a good black and white photograph looks like, mostly in terms of its tonality.

I know we are all different and 'guru-worship' must be avoided, but I do enjoy what I've seen of your photography here on TOP very much.


"So Mike, are you printing those digital files for prints to hang on the wall?"

A fair question, and the answer is no, I haven't integrated digital workprints into a workflow. Why not? I can't really say, other than that the expense of running a printer all the time seems off-putting to me. That's not really it, though. I guess it seems superfluous in some way, since the pictures are so easily viewed onscreen.


Actually, I've been considering rebuilding my darkroom and embarking on a several-year-long project to print small editions of my best 100 or 150 pictures. I could indeed finance that work by offering small numbers of prints for sale on the site, and then, presumably, that would also give me a body of work on which to draw for a book. It's backward-looking, and artistically you naturally want to look to continue moving forward, but maybe this is the right way to "move forward" at this point. I haven't made the decision or the commitment yet, but it's definitely been looming in my thoughts.


I find other photographers' editing methods fascinating. No two are alike. One's editing procedure needs to conform to the realities of the work, equipment/software/workplace limitations, time constraints and (probably most importantly) our individual psychopathologies. We all have our quirks.

I have a hard time letting go of images, even when they objectively suck. I shot slide film for many years, and was painfully aware that every click of the shutter cost about 60¢ for film and processing. Getting processed slides back from the lab was like Christmas morning, spreading those little glowing gems out on the lightbox. This was often unhelpful, because that vivid backlit color made them look better than they were. I'd mark the edge of the slide mounts of the best shots, but never threw enough of the bad shots out. I still have hundreds of boxes of slides collecting dust, with a depressing wheat-to-chaff ratio because my editing wasn't ruthless enough.

Digital by comparison was a liberation for me. I never try editing on the Camera's LCD, except for deleting the obvious fiascos. After a shoot I bring up everything on the compact flash card in Adobe Bridge, and copy the images into a folder organized by subject first, then date. On a calibrated monitor it's a simple matter to delete the gross failures. Then I mark the images that show promise at first glance, and move the best to a subfolder for further editing-sort of the equivalent of a workprint. I go back again a few days to a week or so later and look again; often the best photos of all don't catch my eye the first time through. It's only a tiny minority of images that warrant the full Photoshop curves/layers thing.

I still don't delete enough of the mediocre images up front; but I'm always worried that I'll toss something that's really good, that I can't see right away. But at least so far digital storage is cheap, and lots more convenient than a closet full of slide boxes or endless books of slide pages.

Interesting POV - and I think there's a lot in it. The problem with digital editing is that your mind is in active mode - you're looking too hard.

With prints on the wall, you look at them in all sorts of mental states, and they have time to work into your subconscious.

But I hate digital printing - I always get it done commercially. Too expensive for the number of work prints I would like.

However I've just had an idea - perhaps this where I could finally find a use for one of those digital picture frames. Just load the "workprints" onto a card and stick it in the frame - perhaps put it somewhere so others could comment.




If you decide to go ahead with the project I'll certainly buy one of your prints. Maybe editing pictures is looking "backward" and "forward" at the same time?


Mike, if you ever do put together this book of workprints, I would be the first one on the list to buy it. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people here who would be similarly interested.

I definitely find that my version of this process (which is virtual and without prints: the key element for me is going back and looking again) is very helpful at weeding out the 'nearlys' and also choosing between two superficially similar shots. I don't find it so useful for 'technical' issues which I can (normally / hopefully) spot fairly early on in the process.

I think that this has something to do with the observation that has been made on this site before: the more one looks at photos the better one gets at photography. This can apply to one's own shots as much as anyone else's.

For me, I find that I rarely accidently throw a goodie, but I often have more that I think are keepers than I really do. I could really do with being more ruthless. Time to review the portfolio (again...), thanks Mike...

"A fair question, and the answer is no, I haven't integrated digital workprints into a workflow. Why not? I can't really say, other than that the expense of running a printer all the time seems off-putting to me. That's not really it, though. I guess it seems superfluous in some way, since the pictures are so easily viewed onscreen."

Where casual observance isn't allowed! Isn't that the oxymoron of the digital age?


the irony is that we now have the ability to push out workprints with the click of a button, but we just look at images onscreen.

I think the prints are a necessity-a photograph is a physical object, and the image of that onscreen is not a photograph. You need the physical part to interact with in editing, sorting, sequencing. There is a physical part to the intelligence in editing you can't get at with a mouse.

Did you catch ART:21 recently where they showed William Kentridge? He talked about his torn paper animations and how this process doomed him to spending an inordinate amount of time moving small pieces of paper around. But he enjoyed it, and he said how for him part of the process was he could recognize forms as they physically appeared but needed the tactile to do it.

I think there is something similar going on with workprints and sequencing. It is a hand process.

You are in good company with your workprint work flow.I was fortunate enough to have taken four semesters of "Art Photography" with Garry Winogrand while he was a visiting instructor for five years. Often never developing his rolls until months had passed after he exposed them, Gary edited strictly from work prints. He would mark all the images he wanted to see as work prints, then make his final selections from those.
Like others have already posted, I can see that for film but I have no work prints in my digital work flow. The ONLY prints I make are final ones.

"I could probably write five long posts about it. If not ten."

I couldn't have been the only one who got very excited there for a moment. (Could I?)

Mike, its not completely backward looking. The photos you choose, and the way you print them will be different today, compared to the ones you would have chosen in the past. The differences will probably be eye-opening to you. Plus, you can keep making new photos while you are working on the project. Your work on the project will probably impact how you see things today as well.


If you haven't already seen this, you may be interested: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2009/10/up-in-smoke-burn-past.html


Well. Refreshing post. And this may be the only area where I can count myself in the august company of both Gary Winogrand and Mike Johnston. Even with the small amount of digital I do, I also have to make final selections from workprints: 6"x9" on 8"x10" paper.

re: "casual observance" of digital images - could that (finally) be a positive use for those digital picture frames? Stick some image thumbnails onto an SD card, load it up, leave it running as you go about your life. Even a postcard-sized screen would do. Just a thought.

Mike, you don't say much about what you were taking photos FOR. I deduce from your methods that it was primarily with "artistic" intent, but given the importance of goal and audience as frequently mentioned in the previous thread, you really should have included something on that.

I never quite had a habit of putting photos up to look at. But mostly my photos went to clients wanting them immediately for publication, or into my own snapshot albums; where "my best photo of x" was needed rather than photos that were a higher order of good regardless of subject.

The idea of using one (or several?) digital frames for examining digital workprints isn't crazy, but anybody doing that, look very carefully at the frames you're considering. I've got one that looks kind of okay on my desk, and other people looking at it seem to like the photos as it shows them, but you do NOT want to use this one to evaluate workprints!!! It's several years old and was cheap, and I believe there are frames just as good as your computer monitor available if you choose to buy at that level, so it should be workable.

Here's another idea that I just thought of, and may try to use myself: wallpaper on your computer. At work I've got two 21" monitors or some such, that's quite a lot of space (though it seems to duplicate the wallpaper across the two of them; haven't played with alternatives). If you make a file with four images in it and then put that up as your wallpaper, it's easy to glance it in spare moments, to keep the images in your mind.

Mike wrote: "I could indeed finance that work by offering small numbers of prints for sale on the site"

I want the floating canoe on the clear water!

Good news for anybody interested in trying the idea of putting workprint images up as your wallpaper even across multiple monitors in Windows.

Looks like it's easy to set up one wallpaper image crossing both monitors in Windows XP, at least. Make a single image file in your image editor that's exactly the size of your two monitors, save it, set it as wallpaper, and select "tiled" mode. That's the magic; in tiled mode it repeats the wallpaper as needed and covers both monitors. If you made it the size I said, exactly one instance neatly covers both monitors, and you've got what we wanted.

I also found a number of utilities that let you separately install wallpaper on each monitor, but the one I tried isn't working; I've posted a question and am waiting for answers before proceeding or saying which application.

I appreciate especially TOP posts on editing, perhaps because I feel this a particularly underdeveloped aspect of my craft (and personality). Thanks (again), Mike and Carl.

Some related but untagged TOP posts:


OC Garza, I read your article about Garry Winogrand recently. Thank you for putting it together and sharing it. I can't help wondering if you got a sense of his "hit rate" at the time--meaning those photos that rated more than a work print?

Colin, you can also have your monitor become a picture frame on its off time via some screensavers (e.g. google screensaver). Might be a better option for editing-by-magic purposes.

Have you thought about ordering your digital workprints, rather than printing them yourself? Prepaid packages of prints from Adorama are very affordable; there's lots of other places where you can get an 8x10 in the neighborhood of $1/each. 5x7s are even cheaper.

I have a "To Be Printed" folder. Once I get 6-8 images in there, I place an order for a stack of 8x10s. WHCC has free shippping, with a $12 min order, which eliminates my main barrier to mail ordering prints more.

About the print vs. screen display to assess images, two things come to my mind :
- first a reflective surface is less forgiving than a backlit one, as said Geoff Wittig in his comment about slides - it's helpful in this case to toss away any "eye candy" parameter, with ordinary matte paper in the instance.
- second, a print is really more convenient to stare (gaze?) at, so that you really nail down what's the image about (if any) : my personal workprint exhibition is in the closets, to give me plenty of meditative time to do the editing.
It's the final one, in my case : I use the screen to give 1 star (don't throw away), 2 stars (showable to friends or relatives), 3 stars (OK for a workprint) but the 4 stars (shall go to my website) is only awarded after the closet test.

About the dilemma of editing first and taking the risk to throw away a good image that needs work, and doing some preliminary work before editing, that's where something like Lightroom saves the day : you can make the first adjusts while editing (the 'quick develop' mode of the library), without losing the momentum of the editing.

I suspect the reason you think your editing process was "magic" is that it was nonverbal. There was a reliable and repeatable process taking place, but it was visual. For an articulate writer like you, that constituted magic. You could never get at what was going on with words.

PS—You really should make work prints of your digital captures and put them up on the wall. Give that magic a chance to work again.

Your workprint method brings to mind my photoblog method (at least for one of my photoblogs). In that case, my "workprints" are the ones that I put up on the blog. I consider them "good" (in the context of that particular project) but not necessarily "great." Having them on a blog means other people can see them and comment on them, but more importantly it means *I* will see them over and over again, which helps me decide which ones are stronger.

At some point, I intend to extract the finer ones and make a gallery site, or maybe a Blurb book from them. That would be equivalent to your finished prints.

I also keep folders for work prints on my desktop, and make make a 4x6 for every 35mm frame I scan, and 8x10s of every 4x5 negative I scan. Every so often when they get full I burn to disc and drop it off at our local lab. When it comes time to edit for a showing or anything else, those paper prints are what I reach for to do it.

Screen editing bugs me, can't see enough at one time. I like to have a sense of what the actual hung show will look like.

What Ed said. Photography is a fairly recent thing for me. I've never used film seriously, and I've never made a print of any of my digital photos. (Embarrassing, I know, and I promise to fix it soon. But I don't think I’m atypical of people who are new-ish to photography.)

But like Ed, photoblogging helps me with some of the editing and reflecting that's built into the more traditional workflow (so far, anyway; I'm new to photoblogging too). Posting semi-regularly is forcing me to make some initial edits and decisions about my photos that I might otherwise put off; it's like a quick first cut. And once they're up on the web I find myself browsing through them regularly, and slowly getting a sense of which ones might actually work.

All this is more public than the traditional print-and-stick-on-the-wall workflow, and it's an interesting question how that publicity effects the process of editing and selection. I guess that the two people a year who stumble across my photoblog will see more of my misses than they would if I had a more refined gallery. But so far it has been a good discipline. And it stops me from getting too precious about my photos.

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