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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.
For the Love of the Photograph,