Time – A Photographer’s Best Friend

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada in 2011 – if you don’t want to wait 2 years to see them here, then subscribe to this great magazine ;-)

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Time –  A Photographer’s Best Friend

Photographers are their own worst editors. We are simply too emotionally invested in our images to be objective about them and, as a result, we keep a lot of images that really should have seen the deep end of the trash bin. A critical skill to develop is to remove our bias toward our work and look at our images with a healthy skepticism.

For me, the ultimate test of a photo’s value is the test of time. Does it still excite you and have meaning a week, month, year and even ten years after you snapped the photo? If it does, then the image is a keeper. But in a practical sense we simply can’t let our images age like wine and come back ten years later for a taste test to pick out the keepers. What we need is a system that lets us be objective in the shorter term.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett 

Many of us come back from a shoot and then edit immediately looking for the ‘killer shots’. Often we use a rating system and rank our favourites as 5-star images. These 5-star images get processed right away; we quickly share them on the web and show them to friends. The 4-star and lower rated images we store on hard-drives, forgotten about until maybe (a big maybe) we revisit them many months later and cherry-pick a couple of ‘over-looked’ images. The remaining images gather pixel dust languishing in a library of forgotten hard-drives. We vow to ‘deal’ with these languishing images but never will. Possibly we hope that like wine, the longer these images are ‘aged’, the better they will get. They don’t.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

I find if I process images immediately after a shoot that I keep more images than I would if I returned to edit the images at a later date. As well, some of the 5-star images in my initial pick aren’t really that good after all! And surprisingly some images that I initially rank low actually end up being my favorite images. Time removes my emotional attachment and lets me edit more objectively.

So now I build time into my editing workflow. Immediately after a shoot I will do a preliminary edit. In this edit, I delete obvious errors:  photos that have poor focus, bad exposure and flawed compositions are removed. All the rest of the photos I keep and back up on an external hard-drive. Then, and this is the critical key, I try to wait at least a month before I return to final editing of the photos. After a month all the excitement of the shoot is gone; I have moved on emotionally, and I can be objective and ruthless. I become a machine on the delete key!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett 

In this final edit, the images I initially thought were killer have lost a lot of lustre and some overlooked gems emerge. I see the shoot with fresh eyes and I can quickly pull out images that have lasting impact and clarity of message. In the end, I keep ten percent or less of the images that I shot. The rest are permanently deleted. My system is lean and mean and my image library is filled with only my best work. Time is your best friend when it comes to objective photo editing:  use it wisely.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

6 Comments

  1. Kerry Statham
    October 3, 2013

    Great article… Made a lot of sens when I read it the first time in the mag. and good to re-read again. I know I fall into the same category – Some of the stuff I keep 1st time through baffles me as to why when I go back days or months later!!

    Thanks guys – Love the blog!
    K

  2. Peter James
    October 3, 2013

    I agree wholeheartedly with the notion of letting some time go pass between shooting and reviewing/editing. Often I find my initial emotional response to the scene/event too fresh, corrupting my view of the images (which if we’re honest, can never truly capture the magic of the moment). Letting some time pass, I am able to distance myself from the initial experience, and evaluate the images in a far more honest, less biased fashion. It might take a day, a week, or even a month, but eventually I can cull and edit with the more ruthless objectivity you cite.

  3. Dana Naldrett
    October 3, 2013

    Have you ever found that you developed a new technique for processing images, or found new software that gave you a new perspective on old shots that could have been discarded? It guess this ideally won’t happen if you follow the “get it right in the camera”, but in the real world this doesn’t always work for me.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      October 6, 2013

      Dana,

      If we find a better way to process an image or cool new software to try, we just reprocess our keepers. If a shot is worth discarding, software can’t make it much better ;-)

  4. Linda Derksen
    October 4, 2013

    I enjoy your articles, tips etc. in the magazine and here on your website. Very helpful. Thank you. Enjoy the journey through the lens.
    Regards, Linda Derksen.

  5. Hiro
    October 5, 2013

    Sam, I often think about aging of images, too. I even tend to think too far, though. I totally agree with you and some of comments here. I do the same approach to my photos. Nowadays, we may feel pressure to publish images to SNS asap because many articles says SNS is must for marketing. I feel life expectancy of images are getting shorter, even great landscape photos.

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