One Decision Away From Stronger Photographs?

In Lightroom & Workflow, Resources, The Craft, The Life Creative, Workflow & Technical Issues by David29 Comments

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I think many photographers put all their creative eggs in too few baskets. They look to the work they do with the camera as job one, which it is. But it’s not the only job. It’s the sexy job, for sure. But it’s insufficient. Some lean heavily on post-processing or development; you could also call it stylization. Less sexy, perhaps, but like you, I get a lot of joy out of seeing my chosen images get refined and come to life.

There are so many ways to think about both the camera work and the development work, and the creative opportunities in those two areas are almost limitless. I don’t know anyone who would deny that choices made with the camera and in development have a significant role in whether the final image succeeds or not. Whether it’s poetic or iconic, or whatever you hope your photograph is or does.

But what about the edit? What about the choice of that one final image from among many? In the case of a body of work, what about the choice of the dozen or two dozen final photographs that get pulled from what might be hundreds or thousands of sketch images or possible alternatives?

How might we be thinking about that and the other choices and processes that surround those choices? And why are so few photographers talking about it when I know so many of them are overwhelmed by it? I wonder if it’s as simple as believing that it’s just not as important. Just pick something sharp and well-exposed and move on? Pick all the images that aren’t stinkers and call it done?

I think one of the most overlooked ways to improve your photography right now—without the need to upgrade your camera or get the latest version of your favourite lens—is to get pickier. To begin thinking about the edit or choice of final frames more creatively. More intentionally.

Ansel Adams said 12 images a year was a good crop. I don’t generally think of my photographs as plants, but I like his point. And I think our work would be better if we were more selective, more creative about the ways we looked at editing and more intentional in what we did with our images. I think we’d make better, stronger photographs.

I wonder . . . when you edit or select your best work, which questions are you asking yourself? What criteria do you have for making that selection? How much do you trust that process? Are you still deleting everything that doesn’t make the cut the first time around? Are you looking for quantity or quality—and do you have a clear system for understanding what that means to you?

I’ve heard it said that photographers are their own worst editors, but I wonder if that’s only because we often don’t give the editing as much thought as we give to our gear or our camera work. 

And—because I’ve been that guy—I wonder how many are just relying on the Un-Suck filter in Photoshop to “polish a turd” rather than choosing an image that’s, ahem, not a turd in the first place.

I have two points to this. The first is a plea. It’s more than the nudge I might normally give you. I’m practically begging you to ask yourself:

What it would take for you to be pickier with the images you choose as your final selects and which ones you relegate to the archives?

Could you be giving the whole process a little more time, or actually, because my approach to editing takes less time, could you be giving it more focus and attention?

Could you be clearer about your selection criteria and more intentional about what you’re choosing those images for in the first place? What would your accumulated work look like in a year if you didn’t settle on the 3-stars but chose, instead, the ones that were an unqualified “Hell, yes!”?

I think our work can be so much stronger simply by virtue of choosing stronger photographs.

Last week, I talked about three ways we could love our photographs more. This is the big one: desire more from them. Hold out for the very best of them. Never settle. Twelve really great photographs in a year beats 1200 mediocre photographs any day.

To that end, I’ve made something for you. For the last six months, I’ve been working on a project to help photographers get clearer about one big question (and the others that follow when you start asking it) and that’s this: “I just shot a bunch of photographs; now what?”

It’s about editing, but more than that, it’s about how we think about editing: how we can make it less overwhelming, what criteria we can use to select our best work, and how we can use the tools of Lightroom to help with that.

It’s about doing something beautiful and meaningful with your photographs, like monographs, multi-media presentations, or web galleries—and using the tools you already have in Adobe Lightroom to do this much more easily than you might believe possible.

Next week, I’ll introduce you to Beyond The Shutter, my newest MentorClass. Beyond The Shutter is a video course created to help you become the strongest photographer you can be. To be less intimidated and less overwhelmed by the stuff that needs to happen once you put the camera down to make stronger choices. It’s about the neglected other half of our creative process, a part of our craft that—once I engaged with it myself and stopped being so ad hoc about it all—has become one of the most rewarding parts of what I do (rather than a dreaded afterthought). I want to change your thinking about it. I want to show you my own process and how I make things like the monographs I send out, and so much more.

You’ll get all the details next week, but I want to tell you two quick things upfront so you can better plan for it. First, the price on this will be the lowest I’ve ever offered one of my courses. Things seem to just get more and more expensive right now, so when Beyond The Shutter is offered next week, it’ll be the first time enrollment for any of my courses has been offered under USD $200.

Secondly, enrollment will only be open from next Sunday, April 10 until 9 pm Pacific Time on Friday, April 15. That’s six days. So while the course itself never expires for you and you can engage with the material whenever you like, the opportunity to enroll is limited.

I’ll send you more details next Sunday. The ideas and techniques I want to share with you will change your enjoyment of this craft we all love so much, and will help you take the next steps toward being more creative and intentional in the work you do beyond the shutter. I can’t wait to show it to you.

*Update, April 10. Until end of day on April 15, Beyond The Shutter is open for enrollment. Get all the details, see the great bonus resources, and enroll now at

For the Love of the Photograph,


  1. I can’t tell you how incredibly glad I am that I took advantage of Beyond The Shutter! I knew by your description that this was what I needed. I already print many of my photos and make an annual ‘family yearbook’ but now I have more tools and a much better thought process for the editing. Thank you for actually putting this exceptional course together.

    1. Author

      You just made my day, Diane, thank you so much. It means the world to me that what I make is helpful to people and makes a difference. Notes like this make me feel a little less like a crazy man shouting into the void. 🙂

  2. Hi David,

    Looks like your course is for LR users only. What are the alternatives for Capture One editors?

    1. Author

      Hi Gareth. Yes, it’s definitely slanted in that direction, though some of my students use Capture One and tell me the principles are transferable. I couldn’t guess at what other options might be out there specifically for Capture One, sorry.

  3. I’m enjoying your blog posts, and very much enjoyed your presentation to our Thunder Bay club. So much to learn! A question: what do you mean by “monographs” and how do you make them? (Reading the comments above, I guess I should have signed on for the course.)

    1. Author

      Hi Susan! Thanks for this. You asked about Monographs. A monograph is a book or series of photographs on a theme. When I come back from a trip I often make a monograph that could be printed but I usually output to PDF. If you’re on my mailing list you might have already received one or more of these. I find them an amazing way to create something more with my images, and to get me thinking in bodies of work. They can be made in Lightroom but I most often just use Adobe InDesign. One image per page, nice clean margins, a nice introduction, and the result is a wonderful way to experience the photographs together and in a sequence, offline, away from social media, and – if you print them – off the devices we just can’t seem to pry ourselves away from.

  4. Thanks for the inspiration! I think I’ll take your advice about editing my photos less and getting that “gem” in camera. I’m going to start being as patient as I can when creating images in the future!

  5. Pingback: Monday Missive — April 11, 2022 | Nature, Fine Art and Conservation Photography

  6. A great topic that I really relate to. Since I’ve been creating photo books and magazines of my photos, more specifically since I’ve been doing specific projects which I then put in print, I find I’m much more discerning about my photos and which photos ‘make the cut.’ I’ve certainly grown since taking this step but there’s no question I can certainly learn so much more.

  7. As I’ve been reading these last few Blog Posts I’ve been saying, “I need something more!!! – is there going to be a book or a course???” and then presto it’s like you read my mind! I have been focusing a lot on that wonderful synergy between the photo making process and the editing process – becoming more mindful of what I include in the frame as well as exclude – plus how I enhance and accentuate the final image through editing. This has elevated what I do from taking images and hoping that I can improve/rescue them in editing to having a real vision of what I want to say with the image and how I can get there most effectively. I am soooooooo ready for this course and very excited to keep moving forward with you on this wonderful discovery.

    1. Author

      I like your enthusiasm, Pam! When Sunday rolls around you’ll get all the details and have a week to decide whether it’s for you or not, but I think you’re going to get a lot out of this! When I build a course I recruit a team of beta-testers to advocate for my students and help make it the best value I can, and the feedback I got from my beta-testers for Beyond The Shutter has been really enthusiastic. More to come in a few days!

      1. I signed up for the course and I’ve already completed the first lesson – so many gems that are common sense, but put together in a way that is really helpful and practical. I also like how you encourage us to put these ideas together in ways that work for our workflow and purpose. This has inspired me to really focus on a body of work that I have been tinkering with – it has helped me to be more purposeful in writing down what I’m looking to photograph and to think with the edit in mind. This course is incredibly timely for me – thank you for pulling together such meaningful material.

        1. Author

          Hi Pam! That’s fantastic! And thank you so much for letting me know. It’s nice for others to see this as well, as it’s easy for me to say how good I think my course is but it’s people like you that are always the true judges! Much appreciated!

  8. I have really enjoyed reading your three excellent articles on the edit. I have recently become much pickier in my edit, and now take the extreme aim to pick just a single image from each session. For me, the huge payback has been to have the time to really develop that one image, and create different versions. This in turn feeds back into knowing what I really want from an image and hence to what I press the shutter on in the first place.

  9. It’s as if you read my mind!

    I have recently come to ‘know’ (see ‘feel’) the desire to get much more clear on my direction and make active choices in ‘image selection’ as an aid to progressing – I’m still very new in this world! – and poof … this arrives in my inbox!

    I cannot wait for this! I am on Sunday standby and whilst I am not expecting you to do the work for me I can only promise that I am getting so much better at spotting the pearls of wisdom around me and doing more with them.

    Until Sunday – Thank you for keeping the faith .. with newbie and seasoned pro alike! Rae x

  10. Hi David, I am DEFINITELY signing up for this course as soon as you release it, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this ever since you first mentioned you were working on it! Just wondering – will the course also teach us how to do a monograph? I.e. once we’ve edited and processed our best images, what software do you use to create monographs, and will we see a demo of how it’s done? I do want to share my work more, I just (i) am terrible at editing and (ii) don’t know which programs are easiest/best to use to pull together a collection of my work.

    1. Author

      Hi Geri! You’re going to love this! Yes, I’ll be showing you how I go through my images, what I’m thinking, how I use collections, and then I’ve got whole lessons on making monographs, getting the images online, making slideshows, and more. I think you’re going to love it! All the details next Sunday morning!

  11. Thank you for offering this upcoming class at a reduced rate. I have wanted to attend your classes, especially your last one, but just couldn’t. I hope you can make up in volume what you lose in price. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t. Anyway, thank you very much. I can’t wait to sign up on the 10th.

    1. Thanks, Phillip. More details to come on Sunday, April 10, then you can decide whether to jump on this one. I’m excited about everything I make for you all but I think this one’s particularly overdue!

  12. Wow. Perfect timing. I am in the process of putting my photos “out there” more by offering prints for charity auctions and I am sprucing up my Website as well as networking more with fellow photographers, so this is perfect . And after a couple of bizarre years, I am again spending more time to learn about our beloved art form.

    BTW, for me, the editing is fun if a bit overwhelming at times, but the photos themselves tell me what to do, how to process them, when to just dump them. Part of what makes editing (and post processing) fun for me is my constant learning about photography from courses like yours, online content, and my fellow photographers.

    So yeah, thank you. Looking forward to it.

  13. I fully agree with what you say. Now I look forwards to seeing what you will offer.

  14. Hi David. Thank you for all you do for photography. Your books and articles have inspired me.

    Regarding “Pickier” There might be an additional angle regarding editing. I think an individual’s needs charge over time. I’ve been a “postcard photographer” for 20years… striving for perfect shots of iconic locations. Now I’m looking for something else. I’ve started changing some of my old photos to black and white and I’m experimenting with unusual crops, color additions, abstracts, etc. I’m digging back into my 3 star selections and I’m having a ball repurposing them. It’s a whole new direction. I’m glad I didn’t edit them too soon.

    1. Yes! Jerry, I totally agree. And it’s a perspective I teach in Beyond The Shutter. We need to do multiple edits of our work because we’ll be looking for different things, especially as more time passes. When we ask which images are best I think “best for what?” is implied and as our uses for them change (not to mention our tastes and our craft) then so can our collections. You nailed it.

  15. I’ve become much pickier about what I process and how. And that’s partly because I’m also more conscious about what’s in the frame before I press the shutter release. And I know what I’m aiming for.

    Post-processing is now about using the tools to help achieve my vision. For example, I shot a bunch of yellow tulips – 85 photos. Discovered I need to know more about flower arranging, but that’s another story. Eliminated about half on the first pass in LR. Didn’t delete them, just wasn’t going to process them. Second pass, picked the ones I thought were worth processing, and which I thought would be good in BW. Third pass, started processing. Not every one got processed as I went along.

    I listen to my gut reaction to a photo. To me, that’s really important. In the end, I had 14 photos. Some I copied and converted to BW. Some I copied and played with LR presets. Saved three to my “Favourite Photos of 2022” collection. And printed one.

    Over the past few years, I have learned a lot from Heart of the Photograph, The Visual Toolbox, A Beautiful Anarchy, Vision and Voice, Within the Frame, Drawing the Eye, and assorted blogs. Keep up the great work. You continue ue to inspire and educate.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen! I like your willingness to listen to your gut. I think that’s very important, especially for any artist that wants to develop, or be true to, their own voice.

  16. David, your right “pickier” is the first step, lightroom follows

  17. David,

    As one of my students once said to me, holding his cranium with both hands, “Mrs. Jensen, my head is exploding!” I am so deep into Standing Room Only that my brain explodes just reading about Beyond the Shutter. Yes, I no doubt desperately need it, and of course, since you made it for ME, your IAA, I want it bad. If you think I need to learn LightRoom, I probably do.

    Ahem! And HOWSUMEVER!

    I’m cranking out new neural pathways as fast as I can, but any more chocolates and I’m going to start seeing stars.

    So you go ahead without me on this one, and I’ll try to catch up when you run it again in 2023.

    Back to my regularly scheduled immersion ion SRO!

    PS To everyone else: this class, Beyond the Shutter, is going to be awesome. As with everything else David makes for you, this will change your life in ways you cannot yet imagine. And I see he’s giving it away for some reason.

    1. Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey, Sandy. 🙂 Keep doing what you’re doing and this will be here for you next year. I like your restraint. 🙂

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