Chattisgarh. India 2009

I’m back in blogging mode. I looked at the comments people made in my poll “I would like you write more about…” and it is time to answer your questions. The overwhelming category in which you are most interested is Creative Photography. I’m thrilled about that because creativity is the heart and soul of photography. It is not enough to just aim the camera at a spectacular subject and click the shutter; anyone can do that. You have reach in and grab the essential moment in a personal and creative way. So I’m going to continue to address this over the summer months.

Also, in the comments section, a number of you asked me to write about The Editing Process. I think learning how to edit your images goes hand-in-hand with being a a Virtuoso of Seeing. Recently I was having a critique session with a photographer whose photographic method mostly meant aiming the camera at an interesting subject, then cropping it into an interesting photograph during editing, and then saturating the heck out of it! I was amazed (and horrified to be honest) at this process. It seemed bass-ackwards to me. If you have taken a workshop with me you know that I’m all about Get it all in the frame and get it right”. Since I evolved from world of slide film and picky editors, I learned very early on that I had to have it perfect in that slender piece of celluloid–no cropping and no changing of content (of course that wasn’t possible in the pre-Photoshop era).

During my travels I have absolutely no desire to document everything in front of me. I am wandering about enjoying myself waiting for that spark of synchronicity with a subject (whether it be animate or inanimate). When I find a subject that touches me then it up to me to interpret it creativity and honestly. Sometimes it is just one click of the shutter, but other times there is time to work it. Usually I am looking for not just one interpretation, but many. Many, many, many if I can. If it is a great subject, then keep evaluating and sensing and thinking until the moment is over, or the person is gone, or it just feels over.

I want to come home and look through a lot of good images and find A Great One.

First of all, I’m really only looking for three great images from a trip that is two to three weeks long. I think that is a high expectation to find three great images that surprise me, makes my soul gasp, and my fist pump YES. I’m satisfied if I can make one good image a day, but it is the great ones I really want to excavate out of the piles of photographic crap. So think in terms of A Good Image once a day, and A Great Image once a week when you are traveling.

It is important to expunge your mind of any emotional feelings you have about the images you are editing or the feelings you had when you made the image. When I look at my images, it doesn’t matter what a great time I had, or how much I struggled to get the image, or what a satisfying conversation I had with someone, or how exotic they appear to me (that is very subjective), or anything that convince that poor photo is a good one. An image has to stand on its own merits, not with my memories as a pedestal.

The first edit is The Agony and More Agony. All I see are the mistakes. That’s okay; all photographers go through this. I repeat: ALL Photographers. I always look at the mistakes and analyze them so I, hopefully, will not make them again. I learn a lot from my mistakes. I’m self-taught and this was the primary way that I evolved my creativity and seeing. I “reject” images I initially despise (I use Lightroom so I flag them as “Reject” using the X key). Then I go through all the photographs again using this method. I am not looking for The Great One; I’m getting rid of the terrible ones so I can see the Good Ones.

The third edit is A Relief. Now the good images are starting to appear. I am still rejecting images but now I can stop holding my breath because I know I wasn’t a complete failure. I filter the images so I only see The Rejects and I go through them to make sure that they really are Rejects. I suffer from an opposite ailment than most photographers; I love to throw away images. I find it very cathartic. Actually,  I hate all my images and want to throw them all away. So, inevitably find some images that are worthy, at least for another look. When I am sure I hate all the rejects, I delete them — permanently. Gone, poof, finito.

I should be down to about a 1/4 or less of what I originally shot. Now I begin to rank. I go through the images again (still deleting occasionally) and I put a One Star ranking on the ones I like. This takes awhile because I may have some similars that I have compare side-by-side at 100%. And, Lightroom makes this sooooo easy to do. The best get a one star.

Then I filter so I only see the one star images and I put a two star ranking on the ones I like the most. Then I filter so I only see the two star images and I put a three star on the ones that really stand out. These are THE REALLY GOOD ONES and there are usually only about a dozen. Then I filter so I only see the three star images and pick the few GREAT ONES and rank them four star. That’s it. The only images that merit the rare five stars are the ones I have made into Fine Art Prints. The only ones. I have to save room to grow, expand, develop, and evolve!

Let’s say that I started with 5000 images from a 16 day trip to India. After the editing I have about 800-1000 images that have no ranking, about 60-100 that have one stars, about 20-40  two star images, a dozen of three star images, and a few of four star images.

Then I make sure that there are no more Rejects. I filter so that I see all the images. I batch rename and number them. Then I caption them (I prefer to caption over using keywords; just a personal preference since many of my buyers need captions. When I send images for Stock then I keyword them).

Ta da!

Added Note #1: Someone asked, “When do you process an image?”. I might do some light processing during the editing if I am having trouble visualizing the final outcome, or just want the satisfaction of seeing a better looking image. However, I only do concentrated processing on the four star images. I process the rest as needed, because I continue to get better and the programs get better.

Added Note #2: And, about Labels. I don’t use Labels for ranking but I do use them for identification. Red: Possible and then Final Selects for Getty Images; Green: Possible and then Final Selects for Corbis; Blue: Possible and then Final Selects for Fine Art Prints; Yellow: Images to send to someone; Purple: Free for other uses. However, I also use Collections for these kind of groupings also. It is just if I see a label then I know exactly what it means.