Taking pictures is one thing. Going back and looking at the thousands of photos you shot, picking out the best ones, and putting together a coherent story is another. Editing your photos is an essential step all photographers must make when building up their body of work. The photo shoot might be over, but your job is not done. You now need to become your own curator, decide what it is you want to share with the world, and make sure your selections align with what you want to say.
Here are 10 steps you can take to improve your photo editing:
- Trust your gut. Photography is this magical, ethereal thing that despite having done this for so many years, I still find it hard to verbalize what truly makes a good photo. However, I noticed the best photos make you feel something, usually something you can’t describe. They make you stop, even if it’s just for a split second. These are usually your strongest photos.
- Know yourself. And be aware of yourself. You can’t select your best photos if you don’t notice the way you feel when making your selections. You need to know when you are moved by an image. You also need to know when you are not moved at all. It’s a very subtle difference, but it makes all the difference.
- Edit fast. Go quick! Especially for your first round. Don’t think too much. When we think too much, we start to invent reasons as to why a certain photo is worth keeping. This prevents us from sticking to our gut. It also wears us down. Go quick for your first round. You can slow down and specify later on.
- State your intention. Be crystal clear about what you are editing for and what you’re trying to say with your images. For example, the way you would edit photos for a personal project would be totally different from how you would edit a project for a commercial gig. Be clear about the intention of your photos, and let that be your compass. Otherwise, it can be really easy to get lost.
- No excuses. Photography is hard. You might have spent years of your life and tons of your money trying to get that one shot. You might have flown across world. You might have even risked your life. But effort alone doesn’t create a great image. Don’t make excuses for yourself. If it’s a bad photo, then it’s a bad photo. Nobody cares about the backstory unless it’s a great photo to begin with.
- Just because you shot it, doesn’t mean it’s a good. There’s a general bias when it comes to critiquing our own work, and that bias is the belief that because you made it, it’s good. Perhaps our parents and teachers were a little too kind to us back in the day when they would ooh and ahh over our random scribbles as if they were masterpieces that belong in the Louvre. Who knows. Whatever it is. Just because you made it, doesn’t mean it’s good. It may have been good in stretching your creative muscles, but that might be it. Detach yourself from your inner ego. It’s not good just because you made it. Sorry to burst your childhood dreams.
- Step away. Once you’ve made your selections, step away for about a week or two. Then see if you still feel the same about them when you return. You may find that some images may have lost their appeal. Hopefully, most of them kept their pizazz. Sometimes our excitement about having finished a shoot skews our vision, making us think our images are greater than they really are. By spending time away from your beloved work, you can clear our head, come back thinking straight, and make the proper adjustments.
- Live with your images. After you’ve narrowed down your selections, it is best to spend some serious time with them. Print your pictures out, and hang them on the wall. Maybe even in different sizes. Keep track of how you feel about your selections. Which ones stand the test of time and provide long-term fulfillment? Keep those. Discard the rest.
- Find a challenger. By this, I mean a second pair of eyes of a colleague you trust. This person understands you as an artist and challenges your work. They ask you questions you’d rather not answer. You will need to answer these questions, fight back, and prove yourself to your challenger. This part is quite difficult. It’s hard to talk about your own work, but I’ve found it is very helpful when it comes to making sure my work is really as strong as I think. (PSA: A giant hug at the end of a session always helps.)
- Reflect and revise. Take a look at your final selections, and reflect on whether or not your images align with why you started the project in the first place. Is it saying what you want it to say? If not, what’s missing? Do you need to shoot more? Or go back, and revise your edit? Sometimes the project we are left with is completely different from the one we intended to create. No worries. It’s all part of the creative process. What’s most important is you now have a foundation you can stand on and refer back to as you make your finishing touches.
Editing photos require us to take on many roles. We have to be technical, sensitive, and assertive all at the same time. It can be a rather daunting task requiring so many decisions to be made that we may be paralyzed into not making any decisions at all. I’ve certainly delayed many personal projects because I couldn’t come up with an edit. But one of the best things about being a photographer is being able to share our work with the world. I hope these 10 tips help you get there because I want to see your work too!
by Jason Lam