Stronger Photographs With One Decision

In Lightroom & Workflow, Resources, The Craft, Thoughts & Theory, Tutorials &Technique by David10 Comments

Watch the short video above, or keep reading if you prefer the written word.

I think a lot 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 photographers 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!”?

Your work can be so much stronger simply by choosing stronger photographs.

In my last video, I talked about three ways we could love our photographs more. This is the big one: desire more for them. Demand more from them. Hold out for the very best of them. Never settle. But how do we do that?

In a couple days I’ll be inviting you to join me for this year’s Beyond The Shutter course, which I created 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 down to our best work, 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.
One of my most popular courses to date, Beyond The Shutter is a video course created to help you become the strongest photographer you can be. To be less intimidated, less overwhelmed by the stuff that needs to happen once you put the camera down, in order 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 after-thought).

I want to help 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 on Sunday. The ideas and techniques I want to share with you will change your enjoyment of this craft you love so much, and will help you take next steps toward being more creative and intentional in the work you do beyond the shutter, and be more satisfied with the final results.

Last year’s course was amazing and brought huge changes to the photographers who joined me. They said things like “I never imagined this course would so increase my joy in making photographs. This deeper understanding of the editing process makes my own camera work more creative, focused, and playful,” and “You’ve hit this one out of the ballpark! I am so impressed with this series. I’m picking up so much concrete advice.

Keep an eye open for more details and your invitation to join me for Beyond The Shutter. I’ll see you then.

PS I’m in Kenya for another week and the wifi is worse than usual. Almost unusable, which is a blessing and a curse. If you’ve left a comment and I’ve not replied, please forgive me. I am trying, but—Oh Lord!—the internet gremlins are having a field day!


  1. MARCO, 9,2023
    Sebastião Oliveira
    Não falo inglês. Então, uso o tradutor e o NOTAS do IPAD. Dá um bom trabalho. Mas vale a pena. Comprei três livros seus publicados em Português, Brasil, Editora ALTA BOOKs. A FOTO EM FOCO, Uma Jornada na visão Fotográfica; A ALMA DA FOTOGRAFIA e, por último, FERRAMENTAIS VISUAIS 60 Lições para fotografar melhor. Li o primeiro e estou lendo o terceiro. Sou um advogado aposentado apaixonado pela fotografia. Um amador!!! Encontrei nos seus livros um modo de apreender a fotografar e a editar prazerosamente. Muito obrigado!

    1. Author

      Muito obrigado por esta gentil nota, Sebastião. Significa muito para mim que pessoas como você encontrem algo valioso no que escrevo. Cumprimentos do Canadá.

  2. Dear David,

    Is this upcoming Beyond the Shutter course different from your previous one, which I loved and found invaluable. It helped me organize, edit, and share through a pdf and a book a three week safari that I took last August. If this is a new course, I am all in again.

    Thank you for clarifying this.

    1. Author

      Hi Diane!

      Yes! This is the same Beyond The Shutter course and its not different at all. When you enrolled in Beyond The Shutter you got permanent access to the materials so there’s no reason to enrol again. Same material as last year. I’m thrilled the course was so helpful to you!

      Forgive the short and late reply, I’m in Kenya and wrestling with internet.

  3. Hello, David!

    I have a number of your books that I absolutely love, and I’ve enrolled in one of your classes before. You are an excellent and inspiring teacher! I’m very interested in this course “Beyond the Shutter” but I don’t use Lightroom (I use Capture One). Is it reasonable to assume that MOST of the course will be of creative value for me? (I imagine the guidance you provide on your backup process is, in itself, worth the cost of the course.) I’m just wondering if I can apply most of this course to my editing process without using Lightroom.

    Many thanks for your input!

    1. Author

      Hi Berenice – I sent this by email as well. Please forgive the unusually late reply. I’m working in Kenya this month and internet has been almost impossible for the last 3 weeks. I’ve just re-located to another camp and seem to have much better access.

      I think there is a LOT of cross over in this course. Yes, it’s primarily made for LR users but I had a couple beta-testers last year who didn’t use Adobe products at all (at least one of them used CaptureOne) and they felt the bulk of the lessons were very transferable. The more specific modules still try to aim at more of a “here’s why I do this” and while I always discuss the “how” in LR, you could for example create monographs in a different program. Here’s what I tell everyone: if you think you might benefit from this course then enrol while you can, test it out for a few weeks and if it’s really not valuable to you, then let me know within 30 days and we’ll refund your tuition.

  4. I will check this course – sounds interesting! I hope the word “Art” is also mentioned. I’m not sure if I want to be a “stronger” photographer, but I would like to have some stronger belief in my own possible artistic talent or skill – whatever that is. I absolutely do not like the title “Fine Art Photographer” used by many ” old school” persons.
    I know a couple of artists who who use cameras and scanners and create real art (and make a living). I do not want to be an artist like they are because it is their real profession – artist . I hope an amateur (not selling anything like me ) could be an artist of some kind.

  5. Hello David,

    This is a fantastic topic, and I think one that’s often overlooked by photographers. It’s taken me a long time to find a process that works for me in regards to “the edit”.

    One of the greatest impacts on my edits has been taking some time from the photography session and the post-processing session – or more appropriately, the final edit session. There is an emotional attachment to the moment, that often clouds my ability to analyze the actual quality of the photograph – as seen by someone unfamiliar with the image and the moment the image was photographed. When I immediately make “the edit” to a set of images within a day or two of photographing them, that emotional attachment makes me think the image is better than it is. If, however, I wait a couple weeks or even a couple of months before making “the edit”, that emotional attachment has dissipated and I’m able to more clearly see the strength (or lack thereof) in the image, and “the edit” becomes much easier with the added benefit of me becoming more picky on which images survive to make it to the post-processing stage.

    One thing to note, is that this process separates my emotional attachment to the moment, but does not completely remove my emotional attachment to that moment. So I am, when post-processing, able to still dig into the emotional feelings I had upon making the image in camera – it’s just that the attachment does not as readily cloud my vision of the strength of the image.

    I realize this process is in direct contradiction to yours, but each of our minds works differently, and this is a process that works for me – while your more immediate editing process seems to work for you. We each need to find that path that works best for us.

    Best regards,


  6. whew david, lots to unpack on this post- very insightful, as per usual of course!
    important distinction with Ansel Adams- he was financially supported by his spouse, the degree of which our photography work supports our livelihood, or our happiness/hobby- that ratio bears scrutiny when selecting images – that may seem a harsh response, but it is no less a consideration
    Secondly- IF our work is be be viewed a specific way, to evoke a response – how we remove our own emotional context of the image – vs say the subjects consideration, or the viewpoints of the observers, seems as weighty a decision as whether or not an editing direction would be chose.
    i’m curious how you would weigh these two considerations I have about your post

  7. My time as a photo editor for a magazine made me a better photographer. It changed the internal narrative I have while shooting, selecting and editing images. I had to consider limited space on a page, what told the best story that went along WITH a story- and what made an image really able to “Stand on its own”!
    I am looking forward to hearing more about this course, it has the potential to change mindset as well as the quality of work we see of ourselves!

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