The Arts of Editing

When I talk about editing in the world of photography, there are three areas this includes: initial photography, culling the images taken, and Photoshop type editing.

I don’t do a lot of image editing after the fact. I love Picasa (my preferred photo editor) but I tend to use it for cropping, basic lighting and color, and making images black & white or sepia toned; things that I could do in a darkroom if I had one.  I see before & after shots a lot that completely remove a piece of the image: a parent’s arm in an infant shoot, a car that went by at the wrong moment, etc. This is an incredible skill to have, but I think of it as separate from the art of photography.

The most important photograph editing are during the initial session and on the many passes through the photos after that.

During a session, I try to make sure everything in the frame of the shot is supposed to be there. Obviously when working with nature, people, or anywhere not in a studio, this can be a bit of a challenge. But sometimes it’s just about having a tiny bit of patience: line up the shot, check the borders, breathe, then take the picture. When I was first experimenting with photography, I had a Vivitar 35mm SLR and film was expensive, so I would only use one frame on each shot. Now that I’ve got my beautiful DSLR, I tend to use more frames per shot, but I still try to make each one count by varying the focus or light slightly. The goal of each session for me is to be able to take my memory card directly to a printer and get quality prints with no editing at all.

But the most important editing for me is culling a shoot down from all the frames I took, to the only frames I’ll allow anyone to see.

Whenever I take pictures of people, especially a large group, I’ll have numerous frames of each pose, because there’s always someone who closes their eyes, or forgets to keep looking at the camera, or thinks that now is a good time to fix his hair. As the photographer, it’s a huge part of my job to decide which of these photos is the best one of everybody. It’s also my job to try different poses and decide whether or not they’re flattering to the subjects, if I’ve asked a person, couple, or family to try doing something and it ends up not translating well, they should never, ever, ever see it.

By the time I’m done culling and editing after a shoot, I have likely discarded half to three quarters of the photos I’ve taken at any event or session. And these are photos which will probably never see the light of day again. (Notable exception: when a family is hilariously horsing around, I’ll likely decide to include most of those photos, people being themselves is the best type of picture!)

If you’re looking to hire a photographer, check out the work that he or she includes in an online gallery. If there are ten versions of the same pose represented, and I mean literally the same two people standing in the same place, looking at the same spot, with the same expressions on their faces…. do not waste your time. This person does not have enough respect for the art of photography to make a decision about which is the best photo. Also keep a look out for photographers who don’t think about how flattering a pose will be for their subjects: e.g. a group of women with sleeveless/strapless dresses holding bouquets up in the air… unless these women are body builders or really, really thin, this will NOT look good for the group. If this shot makes it into a published portfolio, move on!

The photos from any session should represent what happened that day, they should show the personalities of the subjects, they should be as flattering as possible, and most importantly should include as wide a variety as possible. But at the end of the day, it’s less about how many pictures there are, and far more about the quality of the photos.



2 thoughts on “The Arts of Editing

  1. John T Russell says:

    Very well written and spot on. I remember taking a photo course from former LIFE photography editor Guido Organschi who said film is the cheapest thing a photographer has – (s)he will never have that combination of lighting and subject again. Now that we’re digital it is even more true. First pass on a recent Everglades trip cut 121 photos of birds and jumping dolphins and I need to revisit.

    Keep it up – Daddy

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