The art of editing has always been one of the most challenging tasks for me. It’s a crucial part of our work that is almost as important as the shoot itself. If we select the wrong photographs, no one gets to see how good we really are. Good editing means squeezing your best images out of each and every shoot. There have been a lot of great postings about the specific Aperture features for editing–one of the strongest reasons to use Aperture. This week I’ll give you my big picture philosophy with regards to editing.
For me, the first edit is similar to the shooting process itself, I don’t want to think, I want to react. I approach the first look with reverence, because it only happens once. I try and make sure I have enough uninterrupted, quiet time to concentrate and react by instinct as when taking the photographs.
After ingest, I hit the V key, to see the grid view of all images in the window, and I bring the thumbnail slider to the right to maximize their size.
My thumb and middle finger then do all the work: Right Arrow Key advances to the next frame; the number 9 key on the numbers pad to reject the ones that I know I will never use. It is a time when I get rid of the really bad stuff, and keep the rest. So as I go through the work, one by one, it’s a question of yes or no. I tend to shoot on impulse and feel my way through, which is how I like to edit. With my shooting style, I shoot a lot, so this first look let’s me edit down to free up space.
There are many photographers I know that come back from a shoot and immediately copy their raw files to a DVD or hard drive maintaining the integrity of their complete shoot. I think this is generally a good idea. I opt to trim things down, losing roughly 15-30 per cent of the total number of frames shot.
In the old days of film, you could go back to the negatives and find gems missed in the first edit. This is something I keep in mind when I do the first edit, I really just want to rid myself of the frames I will never use. With thirty years experience, I’m confident I can do it.
But I also remember the story of Dirck Halstead, who, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal took place in 1997, went back through his archive and found a very good frame of President Clinton and Lewinsky together. It was a frame that might have been deleted if shot digitally, since it was a very ordinary image and there was much better from that shoot. But because it was filed with all his slides, that image ended up being very lucrative for Mr. Halstead and was widely published, earning him a Time Magazine cover and many awards. So keep the “Monica Factor” in mind.
During that first edit, I do notice the really good ones, but I try not to get too excited yet–that’s for round two.
Like many photographers, I have great expectations, setting high standards wanting to hit a grand slam on every shoot, but reality means not every hit is out of the park, and I understand this. Most of the work falls somewhere in the middle, but they key in editing is squeezing the very best frames from every shoot.
The second look is when I look for the diamonds, the jewels that come around once in a while, but never often enough. They are the images you remember from the shoot, the magic moments that are easy to find and ones you can’t wait to download and see on your big monitor. For the second go round, I hit the F key to go full screen, also advancing to the next image with the right arrow key, hitting the “2″ key to rate the good ones, saving the “4″ for the very best, ones that are in contention for my portfolio and contest entries, that will automatically go into my 4-star Smart Album. (I reserve 5-Stars for Portfolio Images, edited from the 4-Star Smart Album)
I give a 2-Star rating to anything that works; that has a chance at being used for something, a book, slideshow, maybe as a stock image or workshop or blog example.
Round three is when I really get to business, creating stacks and comparing similar frames, looking through aperture’s Loupe to check sharpness and getting down to a group of main selects that may not be five-star lightening, but are the best from the shoot. These get my 3-Star rating as selects. Post edit, I make a mental note if for some reason I’m disappointed or if I noticed something I neglected to get; in other words, I try and learn from each and every shooting experience.