Photographer as Editor

1/400 f/5.6 ISO 160 240mm

This small park near my childhood home is the subject of many memories. Now my kids are making their own memories there. I like her expression. I like the sense of quiet. I like the empty swing on the left. I like how she is framed by the tree, sand, and post. I like imagining that we could hold that feeling of free fall as she appears to be.

An editor’s job is to remove irrelevant, unrelated, distracting, or otherwise unnecessary content. For example, if I were to send my last blog posting to a professional editor they would likely send me back a single paragraph. In photography we also make edits. While we are shooting we delete in-camera. After importing we mark rejects and delete them. Exporting and printing can also be considered editing because by choosing certain photographs to export or print we are making judgement calls about the others. Copy editors, film editors, and newsprint editors are often not the creators of the works they edit. In this way they are objective parties who can see the work with fresh eyes and without all the baggage of the creative process. Photographers, on the other hand, usually make their own edits.

My feelings on editing down photographs have evolved from my days as a point and shoot photographer. After all, I’m not shooting in compressed jpeg any longer and my laptop hard disk is rapidly filling. Today, I went through every roll taken during the first quarter and was able to free up about six gigabytes of space. The exercise revealed the many psychological blocks that arise when faced with permanently deleting images. Making multiple passes seems to be the key to overcoming these. Here is what I did:

  • In the first pass I simply deleted images that were either out of focus, underexposed, or overexposed. Photoshop will only get you so far if there isn’t enough data to work with.
  • In the second pass I deleted all but one of a group of similar shots. There are many shooting situations in which you need to fire rapidly to capture a moment. In these cases there can be many images in your roll of the same subject, composition, and lighting.
  • During the third pass, I flagged all of the images that I liked and wanted to work with further. Once I color-corrected and cropped the flagged images I marked my favorites with a one star rating.

This editing system will now be applied to all of the rolls I import. Unfortunately, I now face the daunting task of applying this to previous years. My wife and I purchased our first decent point and shoot camera in 2005 and the library module in LR shows I have 5,300 images to parse in that year alone. There are only 3,200 in 2006 but a whopping 6,900 in 2007. Once this impossible task is complete I’ll start archiving previous years out to DVD and external hard disks. I’d say wish me luck but I don’t believe in such things. ; )


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