Sadly too many photographers don’t edit after a shoot. A phenomena that’s all too evident on Facebook when there’s 3 images in a post, one of which bears the legend “+47”. On the rare occasion I look, it generally becomes very obvious that the whole photo-essay of 50 pics would have far greater impact with 6 or less images.

It’s something that creates the same feeling as in the old days watching Uncle Gavin’s slide show of 200+ images of him and auntie Nelly on holiday in Blackpool. Not only does it create utter boredom, but any potential little gems, are lost amidst the dross. The fact is that “Learning to See” is as important after shooting, as it is before. So for those who have never really thought about it, my guide to editing…


The cardinal sin: Assuming a shoot is successful, many don’t limit themselves to the best shot and keep every picture they think is good, even if they are more or less the same. Don’t edit in your mind. Look at your pictures. Don’t imagine. If there are fifteen similar pictures of the same quality, look at them as a group in a gallery. Maybe it’s because of the way light falls on the subject, or the graphic elements of an image, the cream will always rise to the top.
Action: Use the professional’s technique, select just one or two, perhaps in landscape and portrait format – and delete the rest.

Letting go of near-misses: There may be high hopes for a particular shot with ages spent trying to achieve it. It may be almost great. But the key word is “almost” and not “great.”
Action: Shoot it again until you get it right.

A Professional Approach: Pro’s spend more time editing than amateurs do because they shoot a lot more. They know that editing is the flip side of shooting.
Action: Shoot more, edit hard and show less.

Time can work to your advantage: When work is new, it has a different effect until the novelty wears off. My suggested work flow is to leave it for a few days and then edit in three separate stages: (a) a rough first pass removing about 60% (b) a more considered hard edit that takes out a further 30%. (c) A final edit during post processing because at that point there’s the realisation that an average picture just isn’t worth the effort.

Get input: See what others respond to because they bring less emotional baggage to the pictures. Be clear that you are the final arbiter and you’re under no obligation to be bound by other peoples’ taste – but their input may help to clarify your thoughts.

To your own self be true: Difficult and painful as it may be to be so objective in the early days. Editing is an important part of becoming a competent and discerning photographer.

And I promise you, it does get easier with practice. But, I hear you say, what qualifies me to pontificate? The simple answer is experience. The company I co-directed, Slidefile, became Ireland’s premier stock picture agency. Why? Because agencies are only as good as the images they hold, and during 25 years as picture editor I viewed and edited several million photographs, sorting out the gems from the dross.

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