I’d like to share some thoughts on editing, from my own perspective.
You may have your own methods, for your own purpose. For each of us, these might be very different. I hope these thoughts below might add to your own thinking on this topic.
There is no one way, or right way, to edit your photography.
Editing for me, is not just an ‘after’ task. Editing is a constant activity, on a continuum. It starts before I pick up a camera, it is present while I work my camera and it continues at any time I need to review, sort, select or arrange my finished photographs.
I am not talking here about retouching or the functional aspects of editing, which you might do in Photoshop. That is a different type of editing from which I speak of.
When I talk about “editing”, I am talking about the making of ‘considered choices’ which drive my whole process of planning, capturing, finishing and presenting a photograph or body of work. It is about ‘the how and the why‘ I make those choices, and it is about the effect such choices have in helping to build and shape the photos I take. That is what I mean by editing.
Fundamental to me having a good editing process is my having a set of values and beliefs about photography. These are the foundations which guide the choices I make throughout my workflow.
Editing to me is about intent, and what drives that intent.
Let me explain.
My editing process could be described as having three stages;
~ Pre-camera editing; stepping into a location prepared with my own beliefs and values which will guide and tutor me in my choice of subject matter, and the style, ‘tone-of-voice’ and creativity I might use to create a photograph and in the story I might wish to tell.
~ In-camera editing; the making of decisions about the specific visual elements I can see and will explore through my camera’s viewfinder. The searching for, considering, choosing and combining of these elements so that I can make a photograph which will have meaning in relation to the vision I wish to share.
~ Post-camera editing; selecting and distilling a wide range of images into a smaller and tighter group of photographs, or reaching a single photograph. The purpose of which is to create a strong and distinct body of work, or photograph, which has purpose, meaning, a ‘unity of spirit’ and voice, from which the work might best engage viewers and speak.
Of course, these three steps can be broken down even further, but it is not my intention to go into too much detail here today.
This is not to suggest that I step into a location with a rigid plan of what or how I might shoot. Not at all. In fact, I like my shooting style to be open and agile and I am willing to change tack at any moment.
What I am suggesting here, by way of my own examples below, is it will help you if you have a deep foundation as to why and how you photograph, and what you consider to be important in any photograph you take. Deep and considered beliefs will influence the editing decisions you make, and will help to make you a better photographer.
Again, let me explain…
My photography is driven by a constantly evolving set of beliefs and values. Each of which has a significant influence over the decisions I make throughout my workflow.
Here are some examples of those beliefs and values;
1. Will the photo be interesting?: Because interesting makes a picture, well, interesting. It drawers people in, and it holds them, and it brings them back, and it gets them thinking. Interesting gives a photograph a life force of it’s own. And if it’s not going to be interesting, then why am I doing it?
Of course “interesting” is subjective. When I talk about interesting, i’m talking about something cognitive; thinking and ideas interesting. The observation and communication of intelligent minds kind of interesting. Not decorative or pretty picture interesting. A sunset is mostly not going to be cognitive. Of course you might be able to shoot a sunset in a way that transforms it into something that is cognitive, but that’s difficult to do.
A clue here; Interesting pictures are often about something. As apposed to pictures that are of something. The first is deep and requires more of you and the viewer, the latter is more surface.
And don’t assume that the subject in and of itself needs to be interesting. That might be so, but not necessarily so. It’s the thinking that needs to be in focus. It’s up to the photographer to make it so and bring that out.
‘Interesting’ is an important value to me. This is the most fundamental ideal of all my beliefs and it has a huge influence over all editing decisions throughout my workflow.
As a side note: I think a lot of photographers confuse being interested in something, with their photo of that something, being interesting. There’s a big difference.
2. “Show me something I have not seen before”: When I am photographing, I work hard at trying to bring a new look, or anew perspective, to any subject I photograph. I try to capture a scene in such a way that it looks different, or offers something different, from how other photographers have captured the same subject. This mindset energises my whole outlook on photography. It keeps my eyes fresh and creates in me a restless creative mind.
I know that creating something different is easier said than done. And very often I don’t achieve this worthy goal. Yet, it is a ‘spark’ to my creativity and vision.
3. I am the photographer, not my camera: I make a conscious decision to work mostly with a manual low tech camera. This forces me to do more work at visualising and calculating in my head, the impact of any creative and technical changes I might choose to make. This is very empowering to the creative process. It helps train my mind to visualise and evaluate what my photograph might look like with any number of possible changes I might make to settings or shooting adjustments. It ultimately requires me to be so familiar with my camera settings and so experienced in making it capture the image I want, that working the camera becomes completely instinctive and transparent. Almost as if the camera ceases to exist as I shoot. Mind and camera become one. I find if I give too much control over to my camera and allow my camera to make too many decisions for me, I start to lose this ‘hardwired’ connection between my mind and the making of the photograph.
4. I am not a photocopier: It is part of my beliefs and values that I choose not to photograph ‘just a copy’ of what I see in front of me. My vision is that I wish to capture and present an interpretation of, or make a statement about, my subject. I try and imbue my photograph with what I feel, or what I believe about what I see, or that aspect of what I see which I would like viewers to focus upon. I think that art requires me to put something of myself into what I create and to make decisions about how and what I want to share. But don’t interpret this to mean that I don’t or won’t make a true to life capture of what I see. I will, if that is my purpose.
What’s important here is that as I work my camera I am making ‘considered choices‘ for reasons I hold dear. I am in fact editing! I am choosing, condensing, modifying, arranging, removing, highlighting and more. I am making decisions about focus, depth-of-field, speed of exposure, angle of view, cropping, movement, light, shape, texture, sharpness, colour, tone, contrast, temperature of light, visual elements, story, tone of voice, gestures, emphasis and more. And I am doing all of this to give purpose and meaning to the picture. This is editing.
5. Experimenting and making mistakes: My own photography started conservatively. I am now starting to push my own boundaries and I am increasingly willing to work outside my comfort zone. An eagerness to experiment and being ok with making mistakes has become a part of my values and is impacting positively on the decisions I make throughout my workflow.
6. Personal passion: I am not a commercial working photographer. Photography for me is personal. Therefor personal passion is an important part of the values which influence my editing decisions. I don’t enter awards and competitions, I don’t try to shoot what might please the judges. I don’t actively sell my work, so I’m not tempted to predict and capture what I think might sell. And I am not trying to build any kind of reputation or chase gallery representation. And I am not ‘social media’ needy’. So I am free to take pictures that I wish to take for my own reasons. If others like them that is good, but it’s not necessary that they do. That is freedom. I do understand that some photographers will have an economic imperative driving their work which might require them to make different editing decisions.
7. There are many other things which make up my beliefs, vision and values about photography; a need for my photographs to be poetic, and need to see that light is at work in a photograph… and much more.
My aim here is not to give you my own running list. Your values, and your purpose might be very different from mine. The point of this article is that I wanted to share with you one particular perspective on editing which might add to your own thoughts about your workflow. That is this; that the making of considered choices throughout your whole workflow is all part of the editing process. And, if your choices can be based upon your own set of ‘beliefs and values’, then it will help you to build and shape your art, and bring your vision to life in a way that is uniquely your own and with a depth that has a story to tell.
“If you don’t know who you are, then imagining where you can go becomes very difficult”
~ Chris Augeri
I think its impossible to edit well or with purpose if you don’t have some strong bases from which you can make decisions.
I am convinced that the skill of editing is much more important than our skill and experience in using our cameras as a technical instrument. So much focus on discussions about photography ends up in discussions about technology and equipment and how to use a camera, that the concept of editing is often overlooked or relegated into a place of lesser importance.
I am reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s quote… “Genius, is in the editing.” These five simple words are perhaps the best advice any artist might contemplate.
Often the most successful photographers are not the ones who are the best at taking-the-picture. Rather, the most successful are those who combined a whole host of skills and talents, among which is editing, which I would put at or near the top of the list of any critical skills to have.
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