How many times has this happened to you? A friend excitedly tells you about a trip he has taken or something his family has done and pulls out a smartphone to show you a photo. Conversation stops, minutes go by while he madly scrambles through a multitude of unedited photos and can’t quite find the right one to show you. There are apologies from your friend as he scrolls through every visual he has ever taken and gets lost in long diversions when photos crop up along the way that somehow must be shown whether interesting or relevant to the conversation at hand or not. Boredom sets in and you lose interest until, if you are lucky, the desired photo is found. Editing would have helped a lot. In fact severe editing and organization is sorely needed in this world of easy digital image clutter. It’s as simple as nominating the few photos that are worth showing to a friend or stranger and having them handily available. All the rest is just clutter.
The editing process begins when you first see a potential photograph in the field. Am I in the right position or would moving higher or lower, left or right improve the image? What lens would best represent this scene? What elements should be eliminated to make this photograph more powerful? Is a vertical framing better than a horizontal? Once these decisions have been made you might end up taking a dozen potential photographs each showing different variations on the same subject. Later that day or even weeks afterwards look again at those 12 images with fresh eyes on a colour calibrated computer monitor in your home. Is the image sharp? Do the colours, contrast and tone need correcting? Which of the 12 images you took of this one scene are the most powerful? You may still love the others but like a Marie Kondo cleanout, just thank them for helping you see the right image and then put them aside in a folder marked ‘Rejects’. I normally leave these images on my computer for a year before actually deleting them in case I change my mind or discover a flaw in my original choice.
The photographs you have selected should then go through a second edit with ruthless eyes. From a destination shoot of perhaps 2000 images in total I will initially pick 400-500 images which I will then re-edit down to about 200 that I really want to keep. That’s about 10% or less of all the photographs I take. These final selects will be numbered, keyworded, colour corrected and output to various file sizes for use as large prints, web pages or to put into a digital slide show. Recently I calculated that I spend on average 7 minutes editing, keywording and correcting each and every image I keep - and that is working fairly quickly. Seven minutes each with 200 photographs works out to almost 24 hours or 3 solid days of work to get those final 200 images - so I definitely make sure they are my best and they deserve the time and effort I will be putting into them.
Generally the only people who will see all 200 selected images are my stock photography agent and my long suffering wife. From these 200 images I may choose 10 photographs that are either special or unusual that I will keep on my phone or iPad to show friends and clients. So when someone asks me about a recent trip to a new location I don’t have to rummage through 2000 photos trying to find my best images, I just show the 10 that I am most proud of and move on. I also follow these steps with personal images of my family too so I don’t drown a viewer in a sea of photographs. We live in a world of too many things, choices, diversions and distractions. Editing is the key to making sense of it all.