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Saturday, 13 June 2009


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One of my earliest mentors tried to teach me to ruthlessly edit and to "only show people your best stuff". He opined that often the "good photographers" are considered "good" because they never show their screw ups and near misses, but only "the good stuff".

Great Timing Mike!

I do this for fun and the challenge of making me think more than I would if I just sat and watched TV. I am fortunate in that I take the easy way and have a day job that pays the bills and affords me an occasional lens etc.
Well, of course, family and friends with my my wife leading the charge push me kicking and screaming into doing an occasional "Art" fair. You know, a bunch of people with "easy-ups" hawking their wares to people walking by. I have one today and looking at the pile of stuff I am bringing, I wish I was a better editor. I did a couple last year and sold a thousand bucks worth. (Cost me $2000. to do it!)My wife thought it was great, so I am signed up for a couple more this year. Before I saw this post I had already decided to let public comment today (and last years sales)edit my selection to a "Top 10-20". I have also learned that "popular" does not necessarily mean anything more than sale-able. In my case, that means more Lighthouse pics than anything else.

Have fun, I am bringing "Looking at Pictures" with me for the quiet times!


In a news segment about the Official White House Photographer (whose name I've already forgotten), they said that he shoots between 700 and 1000 images daily. (CBS Sunday Morning?)
That is OBSCENE!

I don't know about agencies, but there are places that ask you to submit all of your photos for an assignment, errors, misjudgements and all...

I couldn't agree more. In fact, it was my last thought of 2008:


That said, I would *LOVE* to have somebody willing to do the editing work for me. Please understand: I *know* what I like, that's not the problem, it's finding the photos I like that's the problem. Maybe if I quit my dayjob I'd have more time for editing...

Interesting timing. I was doing just that, yesterday, editing a pictures from a wedding party. I was just another guest, there was no professional photographer anymore, just the general request for people to take pictures and send them to the couple.

I found myself in a bit of a bind this time. How to balance between posting just the visually interesting ones (about 10) with the request to cover more of the story of the party because I am also pretty sure I'm the only one who got anywhere near interesting shots of it. Adding another 23, basically, snapshots.

The best I could come up with is a flickr slide show, interleaving the interesting ones with the snapshots. I'll probably drop the snapshots from the set later on.

So. 33. I'm not going to bore you with them. I was experimenting with long exposures too and learnt a lot. Especially that you need to take even more pictures if your shutter is 1/8th if you want some with sharp features in it.

I had heard about the 650 rolls for 16 used shots and it ruined National Geographic for me! This was back in the day when I could barely afford one roll of film at a time. I thought it was an incredible waste. If you use the "machine gun" approach to photography, who wouldn't get a decent shot every now & then?

I love to wander through Flickr pages. I find myself sending more time on an individuals favorites page than I do looking at their work.

It often tells me as much about their aesthetics as their own work which is hardly ever edited.

Photo editing is a lost art.

I couldn't agree more. As an occasional contributor to an on-line photographic forum, I (tactfully, or so I thought) made this very point with reference to a picture thread that was getting bloated with what looked like the unedited contents of a few people's hard drives. Needless to say, my ill-judged post caused a storm of bad feelings and the inevitable flaming. Ah well.

I couldn't agree more. I have never articulated why it is I do not even bother looking at 99% of the photo websites I encounter, but your observation sums it up.


"we might like to believe that all the creativity in photography is in shooting"

That's a very important point. The mechanics of shooting is the easy bit. Editing starts before the camera is even picked up continues through the shoot and all the way through to the final finished edit. Every choice that's made from concept to delivery makes the edit. And not editing the final work to make something meaningful is lazy - but then maybe they are avoiding the hard bit altogether and are just stamp collecting.

Wouldn't it be interesting if us trusty readers who like this idea went ahead and select what we feel are our 10 best pics, put them up somewhere and post a link here in the comments section of this post?
I for one think "this I like" is a good idea and will put a "This I Like" link up on my blog sometime soon.
It's almost as inspirational as "Yes We Can" Mike!

Amen to that. I'm not sure there's another craft in which editing is such an integral part of the creative process itself.

Do out ten favorite photos from the year count? :p

[My ten favorite photos of 2008]

The horror, the horror, poor pixels, mouldering away in the trash.

Editing is painful work.

I sort of figured with colour slides and my own photography, using ten slides as the base number:
first cull would remove half, and these went into file 13; next cull would drop two more and the third edit would leave one slide. The slides on each side of the chosen one would be kept, for trading with other photographers.

With digital the same criteria applies although the file 13 is easier to use. Only when I get down to the last two or three do spent time tweaking the image;
which didn't happen with colour slides.

Now here's the irony for me: have gone back to K64 more than ever. Yes digital is nice, but doesn't quite serve my purposes.
My friends and I enjoy slide shows, and as these images are almost all railway based...K64 is the preferred mode.

And from here in Canada to Dwaynes in the USA, it's about a three week turnaround, same almost as it was in the days of Kodachrome II.

Thank you. Thank you! THANK YOU!

Once again, a TOP post has joined the ranks of Required Reading for Photography 101. There are good photographers out there but you would never know it from browsing their online work. Sometimes I think people should just name their portfolio "My Life in Excruciating Detail" and be done with it.

Couldn't agree more, Mike.

If you have a group of photos you want me to see, give me a reason to look at the next photo.

" don't know about agencies, but there are places that ask you to submit all of your photos for an assignment, errors, misjudgements and all..."

That's if they want to do the editing themselves and are prepared to do it. They have picture editors in their employ. That's a different thing...it's still not an excuse for an amateur posting pictures online to be lazy.


"In a news segment about the Official White House Photographer (whose name I've already forgotten), they said that he shoots between 700 and 1000 images daily. (CBS Sunday Morning?)
That is OBSCENE!"

Pete Souza.

Seems kinda light to me. He can shoot all he wants, and if you want a dozen good shots a day, 700 isn't a lot of shooting to get them from. I mean, I can shoot 150 shots during an evening at the lake when I'm not even shooting!

I would imagine he's probably a fairly economical shooter. Probably wants to stay relatively unobtrusive, too.


"If you use the "machine gun" approach to photography, who wouldn't get a decent shot every now & then?"

That's what a lot of amateurs think, but it's not really true. If you're shooting at 1/125th sec and you have a 5 fps frame rate, you're still missing 120 shots every second...never mind the effectively infinite number of potential camera positions you're also missing. The so-called "machine gun" approach does help your take somewhat, but it's still no substitute for smart shooting. It's all too possible to get 650 rolls that are 100% junk if you aren't "working it."


"Do out ten favorite photos from the year count?"

Well, I went to look at yours, which I guess answers your question.


This is why we like TOP. I know, often stated but nonetheless true.

Not my work, but I came across this web gallery recently, and "I like this" as an example of decent editing (at least I assume he got there through editing)...


Wow, In the 70's thought I was shooting a lot of film when I exposed a 100 ft. of Tri-X in one day at the races at the Elkart Lake racetrack. That was with a Pen F so was about 1400 frames. Now I get tired waiting to shoot through one roll! Sometimes it's nice to take out the 6X9 folder, eight exposures. Yeah!

I always thought Lee Friedlander could use a slightly tighter edit...

The Nat Geo guys are not typically illustrating a story that is already written. They go to some part of the world they've never seen, and shoot and explore as much as they can in the time allotted. Some times the story comes from the shots the photographer discovers. I wouldn't call that a "machine gun" approach.

Back when I was shooting K64, I was painfully aware that every click of the shutter cost about 60¢, compounded by the time required for editing, labeling, cataloguing and storing the resulting slides. I would look over slides on the lightbox with a (large) trash can next to me, instantly tossing any slide that was out of focus, underexposed, blurred or otherwise a failure. Life's too short to waste time on bad images.
With digital capture the marginal cost of each additional exposure is nil, other than storage space and editing time. Paradoxically, this has tightened up my editing process. Obvious failures are deleted in camera. There's no need for bracketing exposures anymore. I do shoot a lot of 'series captures' for later merging into stitched panoramics or HDR images, but these really can be seen as one extended image, and I edit them as such.
To my great surprise, I have found my wife to be an invaluable editor of my work. She has essentially no photo skills and doesn't know a JPEG from a TIFF; but she has a fine eye, and to my great dismay she's a far better judge of what other people will respond to. She'll look at my favorite image from a shoot, one that really excites me. "Meh. I like this one over here much better." Invariably other people do, to.

Back in the 70's when Dick Cavett interviewed Ansel Adams I remember him asking Adams why old photos look so sharp and clear.
If memory serves Adams started on a discourse on how well we have understood optics and for how long. He also touched on the fact that back in the day you needed a tripod and the process was more difficult and then he paused and said something to the effect of "and all the duds have long since been thrown away".
I think he could have started there.
Last year I decided to give away some pictures over the holidays. I printed up a collection of ten greeting cards, boxed them up and send them to a few selectd chums.
I'm 59 and have been at this a while. I thought pulling up ten pictues would be a snap. In fact it was a humbling experience.
Try it and you'll see what I mean.
I think the cards are going over pretty well. The only hitch is that people keep telling me they can't bring themselves to send any of the cards out.
I hope I'm not flattering myself by thinking they are holding on to the cards because they like them.

Random Thoughts -

I take a lot of photos. Editing is very important, but it is complicated. I do delete a good portion of the photos I take, but there are a lot left. I also edit by choosing to do post production on a limited quantity, but I am still left with tens of thousands of photos. I also have about 10,000 negatives (unprinted) that I haven’t even scanned yet from the 60’s to the eighties.

I don't post my work, so I do not subject others to the prospect of looking through my pictures. I am not sure why I don’t post. It might be because when I used to go to photo sites and comment on a photo, the response would be, "Well, your photos suck, so why should I listen to you." Now if I comment they say, "You don't post any of your photos, so your opinion doesn't count, Put up or shut up."

Of course, I strongly disagree that you have to be a photographer or take good photographs to critique someone else's. Most movie critics have never made a movie, most book reviewers have never written a book and most art critics do not paint. Anyway, that is another story.

I like the work I do and that is what matters to me. If a photographer concentrates on portraits, or landscapes, I think it is much easier to pick the best ten. But if you photograph everything and anything, it is more difficult. The best ten what? Landscapes? Portraits? Comparing different genre is very hard. So, I would end up with the best ten of each type. Then I would really have the best 100, and it would be hard to narrow that batch down.

Even if I could choose a best photo, my thinking would still be crippled a bit by trying to guess what others would like. I try to get that thinking out of my mind, but it lingers no matter what.

I have had others look at my photos, of course. In fact I have had some gifted photographers rave about many of my photos, but they don't seem to rave about the same ones. You would think that everyone would agree on which is best, but people don't. Professionals don't either and neither do editors. Some always look for "the lines and shapes and crop." Others look for subject or emotional connection. Others like color, focus, bokeh, etc.

Look at the winners of photo contests. Even when they are judged by photographers and professionals, one is often left unfulfilled when viewing the first place photo; (Especially when the one that came in third was obviously so much better).

Mike – once you offered, for a small fee, to critique portfolios. I thought about it, but then thought that I consider you a friend, and even though you may have thought my photos were great, I didn’t want to risk hearing you tell me that you thought they sucked, so I passed.

I do photography for myself. When I get enough photos that I like I print a book. I have a box of prints, too for my family to go through when I am gone. I just don’t need any validation from anyone else. (Although if I knew I would actually get validation, I would probably share). I realize there is some contradiction there.

I have painstakingly edited my favorite photos down to approximately 2000 photos. But that is after 40 years of photography and, since digital, I have averaged more than 100 shots a day.

Oh well.

I was amused a few days ago to see that some guy on Digital Photography Review put up a photo, but then put a controversial title on it -- a title that had nothing to do with a photograph, but rather was an attack on some favored piece of camera equipment -- to get people to look at it. They did, and a few of them took time to express their unhappiness with the trick. Not a good way to solicit editorial opinions.

Now I want to see the link of the rangefinder forum guy's 10 favorites!

I remember that you posted a very interesting SMP essay about editing some time ago... Here it is, for everyone interested...

One way to force yourself to edit is by publishing your photos in a photoblog format, one picture each few days. You can't upload 34 photos of, let's say, your cat. You have to select just the one you like most...

You have to ask: Who is your target audience; and what's your objective?

This amateur has done several large scale uploads of the majority of shots taken in a particular session. But these were at sports events, where the target audience is the participants, and the objective was to try and capture a reasonable shot of each one. If possible, I’d aim to give them a choice from a couple of pictures. They can then decide what captures their perceived best features! Prior planning, practice, preparation, and test shots, will help to cut the number of "duds". Filtering prior to posting still happens, as does batch processing, along with some individual shot tweaking. But posting fifty out fifty? That’s just laziness.

To some extent the large scale uploads by some amateurs, may be because of a lack of confidence about their work, and a desire for constructive criticism to help them find their way. Then again, when photo hosting websites give their users a Gigabyte or more space, there's a tendency for some to think they have to fill it!

Jeff S - thank you for the Matt Stuart/In-Public link (...and associated laughing).

>> The desire to have help is not an excuse
>> to inflict unedited masses of work on
>> casual, innocent viewers.

My understanding of the phenomenon (people dumping whole folders onto their Flickr accounts) is that it's so backwards, and so obvious, that it's considered impolite to actually say it.

But you said it, so I'll chime in: We need to be able to separate the good from the bad in our own work, and to resist delegating that responsibility to the mob whenever possible. When I take a whirlwind series of fire hydrant pictures, I don't upload all eight of them and let the mob decide. I pick one, I explore the convictions that led me to that choice, and I stand by them.

Why? Because it's a creative decision, just like choosing an f-stop or shutter speed. It ceases to be my own work when I let someone else make it for me.

Here's another thought: If we can't tell the good from the bad after the picture is taken, how can we ever expect to do it before the picture is taken?

I think that there is a misunderstanding with the geographic photographer statistics.
I am confident that given the caliber of NG photogs the hit rate is well into the hundreds of excellent shots out of the 650 rolls exposed. Its just that an editor selects the 16 images that best serves the story.


"That's if they want to do the editing themselves and are prepared to do it. They have picture editors in their employ. That's a different thing...it's still not an excuse for an amateur posting pictures online to be lazy."

Oh, definitely. I thought that was understood and was just responding to Sam Tinson's comment.

Although I'm not exactly the one to talk about culling. I was asked recently for 10-12 shots to showcase something in a slideshow. I couldn't really get them down below twenty. :-/

Definitely a lot to this. I present a lot too many especially in what's labeled my "snapshot album"; however, when I've tried to cut down, I get push-back from people important to me that I'm getting rid of too many.

I do try to exhibit better editing behavior in stuff I'm not labeling up front as "snapshots". I'm also working towards using a two-layer structure, so in theory I can keep the top layer to a more tightly selected set, and still have the others there for people who want them.

I recall someone writing about posting the images of masters and people writing to critique them as if they were amateurs. (Perhaps it was Mike). This was certainly amusing to read and a lesson on how slippery and fleeting the digital world has become. It may be a good market strategy, but as an amateur I just don't bother with 10 best. I look at a small cross section and move one.


Danny Lyon comments in his recent "Memories" book that his reaction to the Gene Smith Pittsburgh material when he first saw it (in Popular Photography's 1959 Annual) was that it was far too loosely edited. His own preference would have been to present only the pictures with standalone visceral impact.

Well, maybe. Smith wanted to do so much (and never got his thoughts organized) and saw so much that I can open any of the dozen or so chapters in the eventual "Dream Street" book and spend an enjoyable hour. And the first picture inside the book, a Pittsburgh hillside with deep focus and a tiny protagonist in a spot of light bottom center surrounded by interesting detail (not unlike the children entering Paradise Garden) -- didn't make the cut to appear in the Pop Photo album.


Jeff S,

somehow I believe that this was rather contrary example of "over-editing". You may look at his own site for many more good and funny photos


I'm only a hobbyist and wouldn't think of putting together a "portfolio", but your post inspired me to try and limit my site www.aminsabet.com to just 10 related (documentary family) and mostly recent photos.

Thanks for continuing to challenge all of us! In fact, I'm still thinking of taking up your call to 'Leica as Teacher'.

I agree, editing is real work. You and I spoke about it recently, remember, Mike? For a short while on my commercial site (the one behind the "Joyful Nudes" banner) I bought stories, but found out that editing (selecting and correcting) them was almost as much work as writing them myself.

I'm also proud that I can say that I *do* edit the pictures on said site. My competitors seem to just dump the CF-card contents directly onto their sites and let the customers sort them out. But then it seems most collectors of nudie pictures want quantity rather than quality, so maybe I can't blame them.

VK, Thanks for pointing me to Matt's site...indeed, the hits just keep on comin'.

By the way, I've followed your magazine editorials for many years, and you were kind enough to speak with me a couple of decades ago (yikes) about Leica. I've been happily using M's ever since. I'm sorry it took me until about 6 months ago to discover this site...not just for photo stuff, but for jazz, commentary, great insights and lots more. You make my day!

Jeff S

As far as I'm concerned amateurs can post as much of their work online as they bloody well want. They're amateurs and they enjoy show-and-tell and they are in no way obliged to live up to my standards.

Of course if they want to get anywhere as a photographer they'll have to bloody well learn and employ critical thinking but until such time ... fill your boots. It's entertaining.

This is so timely, as I've spent the last few days culling, culling and re-culling for my best 10, 25 and 100. Or was it my *favorite* 10, 25 and 100? Are the favorites going to be the best?

One of the inspirations for the project was Mike's story, related in a recent comment, about a photographer who assembled a mini-portfolio of 3x5's to satisfy people's curiosity about his work and his own curiosity about what worked. Can't recall at the moment what post it was attached to. It might seem to contradict the "edit yourself" ethos presented here, but not really--it wasn't as if the guy dumped 1,000 pictures in a box and passed it around.

I also appreciate Borf's link back to the SMP article on editing. And here's a more recent TOP piece called "Reify and Redact":


Mike, if editing is so important (and I agree that it is), shouldn't it be a tag?

Anyway, this post and comments and references are just what I need to keep me going and give me fresh perspectives on the process.

Once again: Thanks, Mike and TOP!

Oh yes, another TOP gem, "The 1-2-3 Method", suggested a profoundly simple approach to ranking one's work:


Edward Taylor,

A very nice explanation of the whole ball of wax. Photos are easier for me to edit, because I use them as precursors to paintings, and the paintings are edited severly before they are painted, and then they are still subject to total disdain from many quarters.

I like the idea of the books, and in fact am beginning to think of SOFOBOMO myself, for one project I've been doing, that is photo only.

Oh well, indeed.

I consider my self fortunate, that some of my "art" has been able to find good homes, with people who do appreciate it.

William Eggleston is famous for saying he only ever takes a photo once, because he hates having to choose which is the best. So we think every picture he takes is brilliant. Yet how many of his pictures do we ever actually get to see ? I would guess we see maybe 1% at the most. Edit, edit, edit,edit, edit, edit, edit.

I believe I read somewhere that no one remembers more than a hundred photographs even from the greatest photographers.

How about a TOP readers' gallery? 10 spots for each reader - I'd visit that all the time I reckon :-)

Well, I'm hardly likely to disagree with this post as I frequent RFF and was an early adopter of the "RFF top 10" concept in my .sig file. In mine, I reference my top 10 (which are my personal favourites) and, in keeping with the forum gallery format, are actually 12 photos and are limited to photos taken with a rangefinder camera, so they're not really my 12 favourite photos, only my favourites taken with particular equipment.

I also reference my flickr gallery (as my "day to day" photos) and a gallery at DeviantArt as "some of my better stuff".

The reason for "day to day" photos is some things, such as photos I wish to reference in forum posts, aren't my best work at all. Some are positively dreadful (when I need somewhere to host a photo to illustrate "positively dreadful") and many are, well, just illustrative. If I'm making a forum post regarding, say, a camera bag then I need a place to store a photo of said bag. If I'm posting about a lens, then I may wish to show a 100% crop selected to show the detail recorded by the lens. I may post a few photos of an event to a forum, then point to a bunch of other photos (perhaps not as good) for those with an interest in the event itself and so forth.

I've found there are many reasons to put photos on-line that aren't because I think they're particularly good.

I try to keep them separate from photos I do think are good or, at least, good enough.

But aside from the purely illustrative, I do try to keep to a personal rule that if I haven't printed the photo and put it in an album then it isn't worth posting at all. To at least a first approximation I figure that if I haven't printed it then it isn't a photograph.

...Mike F

Wouldn't it be interesting if us trusty readers who like this idea went ahead and select what we feel are our 10 best pics, put them up somewhere and post a link here in the comments section of this post?
Posted by: Nick | Saturday, 13 June 2009 at 08:15 AM

Here are my ten favorites from the last year or so: link

Getting here late, I've nothing especially unique to add to this excellent discussion.

Editing is tough, especially when you're editing your own recent work. My own preference is to have others make their cuts of my work whenever possible.

My secondary, but more common, method is to set aside the screening task for months or even years. I just this past week worked through a set of images from 2006 and feel I've made the best possible final cut of that set. The emotions of the shooting experience have long since evaporated leaving only the residue...which is all that's really important.

While I agree with Robert Howell, that amateurs should feel free show anything they shoot --which sites like Flickr will confirm they do-- I also believe that he may be point-missing. Editing one's photographs isn't something done purely for the benefit of the viewer. It's an essential aspect of learning the photographic process. Distilling one's strongest images is the last step that brings the process home.

Benjamin Derge's comment also strikes a resonant chord: "If we can't tell the good from the bad after the picture is taken, how can we ever expect to do it before the picture is taken?"


Separately, thank you to Jeff S. for pointing out Matt Stuart's wonderful work. Now THAT'S "street photography". For those who want/try to pursue such work be sure to also look at that brief bloggy interview with Matt. Take note of how much time he will spend at a single spot waiting for something to happen. I observe that many, probably most, pursuers of this type of photography don't understand this key aspect to the art.

Once again, Mike, you've challenged us to be selective and to publish. I'll be editing my signative line and settin up my own ten best gallery. It will be difficult enough to select those initial ten pictures but even more difficult to replace one of them!

I want to see your 10 favorites.

Thank you , Mike. A revelation for sure.


You keep hitting nails on the head...

I've had to "unlink" several Flickr contacts because they uploaded every single image their camera had shot, expecting, as you put so nicely, me to edit their stream for them.

But no, indeed. Just because it costs you nothing to shoot 32Gb of images doesn't mean it's free for me to look at 50 slightly-different versions of your pet splashing about in the pool, or whichever subject you shot dozens of time and never bothered to work through yourself.

And yes, it's great when someone does the actual effort of carefully selecting what they believe is their best, and those are the people I will give the most time to.

I want to see your 10 favorites."

Tom K.,
Thanks, but, for better or worse, 90% of my work isn't digitized, and isn't likely to be.

I really do need to get my act together and try to do a book, but unfortunately the likelihood of that is fairly slim too, if I have to be realistic about it.


Ruthless editing is great for an artistic photographer, but it's maybe not so much the thing for a journalistic/snapshot photographer (they're the same thing, right? Just, one is working for a wider audience than the other). Often the best picture you have of some important bit is much better than having no picture of that bit. (There's still no excuse other than laziness for 8 near-duplicates getting exhibited. Close examination of my snapshot album, especially from 2000-2002, would probably show me to be lazy, or at least half-lazy.)

Since I do both, it's even more complicated. My primary identity is definitely on the "documenting things" side of the fence, if I had to choose.

One benefit of doing your own darkroom work was that you had to stand there and make each print, which was a pretty strong incentive to be selective.

I'm sure I've read a rumour somewhere that the next installment of my favorite pencanikon dslr will have AutoEditor 1.0. I'm sure of it.

You're talking about me, aren't you? Darn it, I know; I need to edit more; my Flickr account is too full. Sigh.

(But I'm keeping all the pictures of my dog!)

"If you think about it, one thing that's more important to photography now than ever before is editing.... So editing—self-editing as well as editing filters applied by publications ... is even more important now than it was in the past."

Speaking of which, some useful TOP editing seems to be getting burried; your latest camera recommendations are not yet provided on the relevant "resources" link. (I should think your selection work could be a better source of link income if it were not languishing in the archives.) As you say, I'm just saying . . .

I was just trying to be cute, but thanks for looking; it's a great idea--thanks for passing it on. Now that I have actually edited my ten favorites, I do have to say that mine feel a bit scattered, with six Ethiopian people-shots, three landscapes, and one black-and-white interior. For those of us who are a little less-consistent in our photographic subjects, perhaps a good variant might be to link to our current favorite portfolio of our images?


(Who needs to get to arranging portfolios, as soon as his research trip is over. . . )

[My ten favorites]

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