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Tuesday, 06 October 2009


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Brilliant. I was in that same trap and now I'm not. Thank you!

Excellent point. The best photo I've ever taken is of a moving train shot through the (closed) window of a moving bus -- at dusk. It's terribly out of focus, but it works!

Not sure I buy the fact that there is only one proper way to edit (just as there is no single proper way to tone an image or shoot a photo). It's a process that is subjective and personal, and as such is at the mercy of the individual's personality and habits.

It just so happens that I find the presence of "loser" images to be a distraction, clutter. Getting rid of them early in the process allows me to better see the images I want to keep.

Will my process eventually cause me to toss an undiscovered diamond-in-the-rough? Most assuredly so, but the benefits I get from separating out the chaff early in the process more than make up for that possibility. Plus, as was mentioned in the previous comments, there will always be more photos around the corner.

I follow the same approach you do Carl and, like you, I've been doing it for so long I find it easy to assume that everyone else does it the same way. Thank you for clarifying your approach to editing and for helping others to become more aware of their own unspoken assumptions. It's truly a case of "what you're looking for determines what you'll find."

This is another reason (besides the one I posted on the other thread) not to edit by deleting in the camera. There is no camera function for "look for good stuff to hold on to".


Ok, so I find something good but it has a distracting background or a key element is out of focus or it's too noisy or whatever... I veto the image. I realize you're talking about a different approach, a state of mind, even. But it's hard to look past the mistakes particularly if they are from lack of execution, prepration or timing. Right?

Great point! Consider me righteously zen-slapped!!

I like that.

We generally tend to criticize more than applaud - it somehow comes easier. But to improve it makes so much more sense to stengthen one's strengths than to exterminate one's weaknesses (which will never happen anyway).

I am still pondering though, what to make of "editing by fault-finding traps you" into rules or "foregone conclusions". Aren't there as many rules about what constitutes a good picture? They are probably the exact reverse of what makes a bad one. So, instead of weeding out the out of focus, underexposed shots as before, one would keep the perfectly exposed and focussed shots. Looking for the good instead of the bad may be only half the point. The rules bit you mention is another, separate point, dinstinct from the what to look for question - How versus What.

It is just as important to forget about the rules and the foregone conclusions, hard as it may be. To rid onesself in a way of your experience, accustomed views to gain, time and again, a fresh approach.

(Talking 'bout moving trains: I have this blog to thank for learning about the "RFK Funeral Train" book, which doesn't do well by the rules, but is probably the most moving [sic!] photography book I have seen.)

This is so true. I was at the Met recently to see Robert Frank's exhibition based on his book "The Americans". It's a great exhibition and I found it fascinating to see the contact sheets and his choice of pictures. If he had gone for the fault finding approach then how different would that book be?

To me a "good" photo is about a feeling, a mood or an unusual take on a common theme rather than technical perfection. Of course, if you have both, then great!

So thanks for this post..a great reminder.

This is very true, and something I've only just been starting to appreciate myself. However, it's reassuring to see other more experienced photographers taking the same point of view. Thank you for summarising this important concept so well.

I think you can combine the two approaches where it makes sense ... like some here, I'm an amateur who likes shooting some stuff just for the sake of taking pictures, but also shoots friends & family (more of that than anything else) and school events, vacations, day trips. When I edit that stuff, I make one pass to get rid of the obviously inferior photos; those that are technically bad, those that caught a bad moment, those that it's plain to realize are the worst of a series. Then I make another pass comparing photos to others, but I'm not too critical. I keep a lot of pictures; maybe too many, but they're enjoyable to look through. I put them in family photo books and sometimes I'll make a page of similar shots - like my then-4-year-old-daughter hitting a hole-in-10 playing mini golf. 10 similar shots on one page doesn't demand that you look at them all, but makes for a fun page.

At the same time, I use the 'stars' feature in Lightroom to flag those photos that stand out for one reason or another. I haven't thought it through too well, so it includes those I might print big to hang on the wall, those that I would like to one day put in a 'nice' online gallery (as opposed to my slipshod random assortment) ... kind of a photograpers portfolio.

So I'm weeding out the bad or looking for the good or both at once depending on my purpose.

Thank you.

I guess that in my first pass I just get rid of photos that I don't think are wither interesting or useful or needed for some specific purpose. If the former, I don't worry at all about technical quality on the first pass, at all. If the latter, I do. In both cases I flag the pictures that I like. For me it's that simple.

It pulls both ways for me, I think. I'm pretty ruthless with the chaff. In my haste, I may inadvertently throw out diamonds disguised as coal (or rhinestones as roof tar, if you like). With the keepers I become more solicitous of the surviving material. Some pictures, I'm an instant fan; I would never delete those recklessly.

Does Zen allow for that or should I duck my head?

I tend to keep the shots that make me go "Oh!"

I'm utterly bamboozled by your (quite needless, imho) complexities.

Surely, a photographer's edit of his own material need only consist of a single, simple process - you look at each image in turn, and you ask yourself, does it work?

i edit from that grey area you mention. speaking in ratings, every image gets a 2 on a 0 to 5 scale. most images stay there, some are really bad and drop to 1, the good ones are allowed to climb the ladder, some reach the 5-star-excellence.

Chuck, one way browsers improve on the classic contact sheet is that after flagging the promising shots a click of the mouse hides all the rest. When 'the rest' feels like clutter, you can make it go away. When you want to see it as context, it comes right back for you.

"I tend to keep the shots that make me go 'Oh!'"


I take the point - and have in the past found good images in what I had initially discounted as dross. I think one reason for this is that when I am out shooting for a specific purpose, my initial edit is based on how well the images match that purpose - blinkered editing if you like.

Much later, when the point of the exercise has been forgotten, the images tend to stand and fall on their own merit much more clearly.

Nonetheless, I still think there is scope for "negative editing". For me, every image I keep has a cost - OK the disk cost is negligible, but the time spent indexing an image (something I've forced myself to be very disciplined on) isn't - but indexing is a whole other issue.

So I guess I work on a 2 pass system - 1st pass is a quick edit (using Breezebrowser - very fast) to delete obvious dross, reduce clutter and save some time later.

Subsequent edits (usually in ACR) are more considered, and while I had not thought of it until now, are generally in 'positive mode'.

I had actually been seriously considering a major purge of the majority of images which survived the first cull but have not yet managed to inspire me to do anything with them. This posting has probably put a halt to that!



an essential thought and excellent written!

Agreed! That is an excellent fundamental approach and one that will make you more effective at finding, in the heap of images, the few that will keep your work alive and growing.

It will also help you hone your own sense of what you are looking for when you make photos.

If nothing else this idea underscores (for me) the importance of including others during the process of judging/editing one's own work. A simple but deft change in point of view that can re-energize and uncover the often subtle thinking required to advance. Thanks for posting it!

I appreciate your sharing David Vestal's comment on editing. I take a slightly different approach and eliminate all the obviously "bad" photos first, which results in about a 60% reduction. Of course I'm looking at "good" ones too and comparing along the way. Then, I'll go through the photos again and again, rating the photographs I like best and ones which have possibilities with a 1. Later I go back to all the "1s" and edit for final choices. I use Lightroom with 2 screens--a 30" for Grid mode and information panels and a 23" for full screen viewing of each image.

With regard to earlier posts on the amount of photographs one takes...As a professional, I recall taking between 15-25 rolls a day on my book/editorial projects and now shoot, on average about 900 photographs/day with digital. A bit more, especially because I'm not bracketing more than a few percent of my shots, but editing time is similar to film and no trips or costs to a lab or time
spent in the darkroom. An advantage to the "digital" cost is that I'll shoot more variations and thus expand my coverage.

Lately I have been going through a lot of old frames that I had dismissed as duds.
I'm glad I didn't pitch them back in the day. I am regularly finding interesting images that even if they didn't stand up on their own may still be useful in some digital hash I may cook up the next time I find myself in a great free mood.
Anyway, before I pitch an image now I stop and remind myself, "you took this for a reason". Go back and revisit that reason if you can before tossing away your work. You may be shocked at how much better you are than you thought.
Since going digital I now wonder just how many worthy images I may have "chimped and chucked"?

Interesting. I do see myself actively pardoning faults if I see reason to do so, but directly approaching it from the other way around will still give different results. I will try to work with this.

It does leave out the situation where I've spent most of my life -- I want or need to come back with the best record shots of something. If I'm not at the level where I can count on outstanding shots covering everything that needs to be recorded, and I'm not, then I have to approach the edit with that in mind. I'm looking for the best shots I got covering X, rather than looking for first-rate shots of whatever.

This clarification by Carl reminds me of an article from 1997 in The New Yorker about the effective campaign of Dockers advertising for men. I mean, fashion and men, especially then, were not the easiest of advertising tasks.

However, the elimination of what is wrong, versus the starting point of what is good and how to work with what is wrong, and balance it goes into the idea that, for the most part, men differentiate and women integrate*. The dismissing is in line with differentiation in the frame (and dismissing), while the alternate approach of looking at the whole and making an impression is more in line with integrating all that is in the frame.
*this also offers one explanation for (typically) men to "channel surf" and women wanting to linger some to see what is going on. I submit Lightroom/Aperture etc. is akin to channel surfing when editing multiple photos

PS the article can be read

"....after flagging the promising shots a click of the mouse hides all the rest. When 'the rest' feels like clutter, you can make it go away...."

Carl, this is true, but the fact is that the "bad" shots still exist. I cannot ignore this, and in my mind that is a distraction. As distractions are the antithesis of "zen", then I must be doing it right. Right? :)

I never thought of editing in positive/negative terms, but now that I read this, it suddenly makes sense of my way of working with film.

With film, you expose a set number of pictures, and make a contact proof sheet. After that, you decide only which ones you WANT to print. You don't have to delete the ones you do not want; just pick the best of the bunch.

If you needed yet one more reason to use film, it would be that it forces you to edit your pictures in a more disciplined, positive manner. Great training for your eye.

"It does leave out the situation where I've spent most of my life -- I want or need to come back with the best record shots of something."

David, this is actually the situation of many professional assignments. You know ahead of time what is needed. You set up the shot to make it happen. Editing is just finding the frames that hit exactly, or come closest to, that need. In this case, looking for the shot that works, without wasting time thinking about the ones that don't, still makes sense. Editing personal work, art work, is much harder.

BTW, I have to ask if you are any relation to the "tenor, accompanying himself on the Spanish guitar" (as the album jackets said) whose records of songs for children were the musical center of my childhood, and the frequent death from overuse of my dad's turntable cartridges? I could probably still sing all the songs from memory, except I can't hit any of the high notes.

Looking at Carl's previous editing post and its responses, compared to this post and its responses, really highlights the value of a good general strategy (or state of mind) for editing versus any specific editing workflow or procedure or software (which are of pretty subjective and limited value to everyone else, no matter how great they work for you).

The problem isn't the bad shots; rather, the problem is the many, many mediocre shots, technically decent or vaguely interesting shots that most people, including myself, take, keep and even post, seeing them as unchecked lottery tickets or diamonds in the rough, that with just a bit of Photoshop or the "proper" viewpoint could be seen as "art". It's difficult to dismiss the emotion we had when we saw the shot, what we thought we could do with it, and the effort and time it took, but nobody else sees this; they simply see a mediocre shot. Nonetheless we err on the side of the packrat and keep it "just in case" a photo critic from a famous photography magazine comes across it on flickr and decides that we are the Next Big Thing for a reason we currently cannot think of.

Carl: Yes, Richard was my uncle. I grew up on his music too, and have a number of his songs on the mix CD in the car this week even.

A biography of him, by a childhood friend of mine, has just come out http://www.amazon.com/Richard-Dyer-Bennet-Minstrel-American-Music/dp/1604733608/ I haven't actually read it yet, but my mother and my cousin Bonnie (Richard's daughter) seem to think well of it.

Smithsonian Folkways records has nicely remastered CDs of his "Dyer-Bennet Records" albums out, too, but that's not news for a few years now.

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