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Friday, 14 September 2007


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Mike, Lightroom, and some of the other image management packages make this painless.
I'm as disorganized as anyone, but when I empty my card after a day's shoot, I do two things as I take my very first look at the content: deleting the pictures of obviously little merit, and the assignation of stars to the ones that stand out. Lightroom gives you the choice of five stars. I tend to go with 5, 4, 3 and zero stars, though. It's a great discipline, and although you're free to change your assessment at any time, it helps you immensely later in terms of knowing what you've got.

Spot on. And this is a major deficiency of Flickr. I upload, well, everything, except the weakest of 3:s. Flickr isn't just an exhibition place, it's my offline backup, my repository, my safety in case of fire or disaster. Everything I don't want to actually just delete will end up on Flickr; that's what it's there for.

But, as you say, it means I show people a lot of crap. Things whose only value lies in its meaning to me, but not to anybody else. Near-misses. And - not to forget - truly bad pictures I upload simply because it's the fastest, easiest way to distribute the image as part of some discussion (why, for example that image fails so badly, or about the chromatic aberration evident in a corner of the image or whatever).

I try, and I notice a lot of other people do too, to post images so that the last couple in a batch are good/least bad. Those are the ones that will end up last in the photo stream and those that random people will be most likely to see. But that is a weak mechanism.

I would really, really like FLickr to have a separate, higher-visibility stream of pictures that you tag for it. I could upload thirty so-so images that end up in the normal stream, but then the two images that I "star" or whatever will end up as the latest two images in my "exhibition stream" or "gallery stream" or something. That gallery stream would normally be the one your contacts see and the one added to the system stream of images.

Right on, Mike. I do a similar sort of sieve on my own images.

I've taken to looking at my shots in Aperture. I go through everything very quickly in full screen, and give the ones I like 3 stars. I then go through the 3 stars, and then add or subtract from each depending on how much I like or don't like the image in context of what I consider the above average shots from the day. I now have a bunch of 2, 3, and 4 star images. I then go through the 4 stars, and repeat the process. That leaves me with just a few 5 star images that I can as genuinely good images. Essentially, my star ratings are subjective to the group. I can then gather all of the 5 stars from my library, and do a further sort for my all-time favorites, the A's.

For example, the image in the article might have gone through my first sieve, but on the second pass would have been downgraded, and not made the keeper list.

This is a reasonably quick process for me, mostly because I'm fairly critical of myself, and also because I usually (well, now at least ;-) don't take 100's of pictures at a time.

A sailboat?

My 3s are on my contact sheets, my 2s are those that got printed but now sit in boxes under the bed or in piles, somewhere. My 1s are on the wall.



There's a white vertical smudge at the horizon (roughly on the left-hand third). I assume that's a sail boat...



There's one peculiar thing about editing that I've noticed over the years. I've judged several photography competitions, and most of them have a 'Portfolio' category, where the entrant has to submit a set of prints that are themed in some way. However many prints the rules stipulate have to be entered into this category, somehow the entrant is often unable to make up the numbers in terms of good pictures. That probably isn't terribly clear, but what I mean is this: if the rules state that five prints must be entered, very often you'll see four very good photographs, and one mediocre one. If four pictures are required, then there will be three good ones and one that is completely off beam. And so it goes on. I've never quite understood how so many photographers seem unable to quite make up the numbers in what's often an otherwise high quality submission.

It's odd but was just writing on this, but in a different context.

The problems with Flickr et al is that we really don't take the time to work with one photo. To tweak and refine, think about how to frame it (online and off). To spend time with the work.

Now, there's almost a frantic interest in getting home, going through the photo quickly, putting them online. They're not going to spoil if they sit in the computers, but it's such a "do it now" world.

I've been going back to some older photos and found 1's among the 2's and 3's because I've really looked at the photos. I put them into a slideshow and played them on my TV. I thought about each, and how it could be salvaged. Even worked with combining photos into a set, taking three 2's and turning them into a 1 combination. The process has been quite enjoyable and, as you mention in your writing, educational.

The only part of your writing I disagree with is, "Admit you can't do better." I don't think there's any of my pictures where I can admit I can't do better. I'm not sure if it's because my skills aren't up to snuff, and I'm honest enough to know it; or that I'm over picky.

A friend of mine says everybody has only so much organization in their lives. So if you're organized in one area, it means other areas will suffer.

I still have to reach the 1-2-3 stage. I've got a 140GB partition with 117 GB of photos I took during the last couple of years. With all the other stuff on it, the partition is close to overflowing. I have to go through all the photo directories and weed all the misfocuses, people/things intruding into the frame, accidental duplicates and so on and so forth. Then we can talk about 1-2-3. And sometimes it's hellishly difficult to see the difference between 1 and 2. You see what you intended on the finished photo, not what really is there. The situation is made worse by the fact that sometimes you can save a photo with a bit of judicious cropping or even a stylizing action or two in Photoshop. Now, try to guess which ones will work in advance...

Isn't it funny how many people develop a solution for a similar problem and they all come up with the same thing.
Since using Lightroom I have warmed to the star-rating. It slightly differs in being a 0-1-2-3-4-5 system but it's still the same idea.
I have about 10 photos with 5 stars in my IMatch database. Quite a lot more have 4 stars - My 3s and 2s are just different grades of "also good, but not perfect". The majority has no stars - They are kept merely for the collection - a bit like your 3s.
Good article!

I agree with what erlik says above; it's hard to separate what you intended from what you got. I think that's a good part of why Garry Winogrand didn't look at his pictures for a good year after he shot them; to forget the intentions and be only able to see the result.

I don't have that kind of patience. What I do do, though, is go back through my older photo posts on Flickr, and my older folders on my hard drive, and take a second look at things.

I also agree that there is really no need for more than three ratings plus the trashcan. I tend to use between one and three stars in Aperture (same five-star system as Lightroom, AFAIK). I trash obvious failures immediately (totally missed focus, unsalvageable over or under-exposure, etc).

I use Lightroom and the star rating system.

2=keep for reference as a jpeg buried on the hard-drive
4=my photoblog
5=portfolio (not many of these)

Works well for me. Except a month or so after the fact and I may lose emotional attachment to an image and I think, "Why did I bother with that?" Maybe it was a great image/place/circumstance in 'real life' but not such a great photo - it can take me a while to see this. Then it may get downgraded. And the opposite can happen too.

Thanks for reminding me that I have a website full of #3's Mike

I think I need to let someomne else filter out what is on it and edit the 100 pics I have that I want on it.

Your system seems logical in that you actualluy have a system.....

My photographs are mediocre, so the #1 category rarely appears.
As for number 2, it gets split into 2 eh and
2 be or not 2 be. In actual fact when reviewing some of 2 eh make into numeral uno.

As for number three, most of my images qualify for that III; being neither note worthy nor
very happy images. They are just shots.

There is final category, one which has appeared with the advent of digitals.

That is called goodbye, erase now, before the
rest of the world sees your errors.
Maybe that's what different about digital, the image exists only as something viewed on a screen. If you don't like what's on the screen, change channels.

The 1-2-3 method seems to be what I use in iTunes. I only have a few five star tunes (maybe 30 at this moment) and then maybe 10 times as many four star tunes. The rest are unrated.

This way I know I can easily find music I know I'll enjoy without having to remember a specific tune. And the rest sits quietly on the hard drive, waiting for their 15 seconds of fame

Funny you should mention it -- I use virtually exactly this 1-2-3 approach in my own photo editing. I shoot RAW + JPEG, and use Cerious Software's ThumbsPlus for my image management.

Upon uploading a set of photos to my PC, into their own folder, I create a sub-folder called "JPEGs for Review," putting in it the full set of JPEGs from the shoot.

I then create a sub-sub-folder called "Best." Into it go the "2"s or better from my review, leaving the "3"s in "JPEGs for Review." I finally review the "2"s in "Best" and move the "1"s into a sub-sub-sub-folder called "Selected."

It may sound involved, but it works surprisingly smoothly and is a method I've been using for over five years. It's too ingrained in my procedures to switch over to the "ranking" and "sorting" methods of newer programs like Lightroom.

Dear Mike,

A great description of your methods.

I hit upon a similar one for myself, out of desperation. When I need to put together a group of photos to show someone, I take my portfolio and start going through it looking for the "oh my god, I have to show that one or I'll just curl up and die" emotional reaction. When I get that, it goes in the "1" pile. If not, it goes in the "2" pile.

I try to keep all other thoughts out of my head-- how I felt when I made the photo, whether it balances the selection, whether it's a great photo or a REALLY great photo. I wait for that "must show" feeling.

If I'm lucky, I end up with a "1" stack that's around 80% of the number of prints I'm aiming for. If I'm not, the stack has 200%, and then I have to make some hard choices. It's more often the latter than the former. But it's a lot easier to deal with 200% than 1000% of the number, which is what I started with.

pax / Ctein

Mike, your 1,2,3 system is exactly how I've been organising my cameras and lenses. I haven't gotten around to organising the photos yet.

holy jumbled sock drawer...what's next, how y'all sort your tea bags?

Reading this post actually made me realise I do already use the '1-2-3' system sub-conciously.

I have my 1's on redbubble (http://www.redbubble.com/people/gumtree). My 2's on Picasaweb (http://picasaweb.google.com/Sam.Gundry) and 3's, well, they're hidden away on my hard drive and hardly ever looked at...

Follow on question: when is the best time to make that judgement, in what state of mind and should we revisit once in a while to re-validate; if so, what is the best interval?

I'm here to second your subtle suggestion that people keep stuff that belongs in category three. Digital storage gets cheaper very quickly, making it sometimes seem short-sighted to delete any photos, even the most awful. A single external drive could replace all of my current externals, cost much less than they did and offer five to ten times their combined storage. All those photos that seemed expensive to keep just a few years ago are now almost free to store, even including backup costs. This is something like the opposite of the old "take out a mortgage when inflation is high" adage - ever-cheaper storage is a digital photographer's dream. It mostly just takes a rating system like the one you've described to make it all work, together with a bit (not much) of keywording.

The sight of a photo (even one that might have been considered awful) from years ago, particularly when it includes mundane items like billboards, adverts, shopfronts that no longer exist and so on can provide the unexpected delight of memories from a previously forgotten day and make it worth storing everything.

Those who, like previous commentpr Janne, use a Flickr Pro account to back up and store all their shots could easily use their uploading tools, even Flickr's new and much improved web uploader, to set all photos to be private by default, later choosing to make individual photos public. This still allows all everything to be tagged and easily retrievable by the photographer. That said, if Janne's current Flickr stream is an unedited stream of everything he ever shot, I envy him.

I do this too. 3s stay on my hard drive; 2s go on flickr (about 1 in 5-10) and 1s go in a 'my favourites' set on flickr (about 1 in 100 of what I have up there).

You can use flickr as a backup, while sharing only the good stuff by making photos private.

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