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Selection and Flow

A valuable life skill I’ve picked up from photography is the ability to select.

I take a lot of photos. For each photoshoot I do, roughly 200-300 photos are taken per hour. That adds up to over a thousand, and even more on days with a lot more going on.

Editing is a not so talked about part of digital photography. I feel that many people assume (like I used to) that these photos just magically come out great because of the equipment we use. While equipment can definitely help in a variety of ways, it has little effect on what you can do in the post-process to the actual final product.

Before Editing (model: Kira Conley):

After Editing:

Enough about how exactly a photographer creates photos. I want to point out that when sorting through photos I spend half of my actual “editing” time just on that. This means that I’m not even doing anything to them, I’m just scrolling through the memory card hand-selecting which ones are worth keeping, and what goes away. Sometimes it’s easy. However, most of the time, it takes a lot of patience and careful attention to detail.

A couple years ago when I first began shooting, I’d have all of the photos, and I’d just import each and every one into my computer. I had the full 300 from a set I’d just finished, and then guess what. I went and edited every last one of them. The process took a while, but I also hadn’t developed the eyes that I have now. Friends will often tell me that I naturally have a good eye for photography, and that they wouldn’t possibly see what I do. I want to dispel the myth that anyone just “has” an eye. I certainly didn’t when I first got a camera, it is a learned skill, much like anything else. So, I’d go through all these pictures, and edit every single one. Many of my edits were very basic from the beginning. I had no clue what each slider in Lightroom did, I had no idea what effect anything would have. I also didn’t know how each one tied into the other. So I’d spend hours and hours going through all the photos. It’d take me a few days to finish a set. Gradually, in time, I learned to start to filter out my selections. I’d start to pick up a process for getting the right ones off the memory card onto my hard drive. That helped trim down the numbers of photos being prepped for editing. It really sped up the pace at which I could finish a photoset.

All 163 photos from a recent set with Kira:

Through time, that methodology of filtering photos evolved. I’d go through and import about 80% of my shots to the hard drive. Out of those, I’d edit a bunch that I liked, leaving a few here and there that never got touched. I thought that was an inefficient way of sorting my photos out, and made it easy to miss ones that I intended to edit, but forgot about. In Lightroom, you can flag photos with ratings, from 1 star up to 5, and then color code them. This is not anything unique to any photo editing program, you can flag or favorite photos off of your phones. But using Lightroom as an example, I’ll tell you how my method changed.

I began to take the imported photos, and give them a baseline of a 3-star rating if I really felt they were good. This took my 80% of shots down to about 50%. From there I looked at only the 3-star photos and again went through another selection filter, raising the good ones to 4-stars. This is where the major cut comes in. You tend to be much more scrutinizing on photos you already determined were good, when you want to choose whats -really- good. This is how I drop the remaining photos to get to the real gems. I can cut down 300 photos down to 10 from using this process. This is where I know I want to put my real time and effort into editing.

Narrowed down by rating up to 3-stars:

Not that the rest of the photos are wasted, gone, or useless. They may still have a purpose for something else, and now I have a rating system to go by to refer to them in the future.

Now I can focus on the best photographs of the sets and chip away at each one to the best of my ability. I’ve learned through life that we only have a finite amount of focus and energy. Personally, I want to pour the most of it into the things that count. I don’t have time to spare for distractions. The same applies to the photos. I feel like I am able to get a lot more out of a photo I put true effort into, rather than a mass edit. It reminds me of the quantity vs quality argument. I will always side with quality over sheer numbers, because that’s the type of authenticity I stand for.

The final chosen ones (many are duplicates/re-crops):

That’s basically my flow and process for picking out the good ones. This has elevated my appreciation for what I do immensely. I realize that only a few photos are going to make it out of a set complete, and I’m perfectly ok with that. It lets me have more time to focus on other important tasks, like writing blogs, submitting sets to magazines, or engaging with my audience.

I did mention at the beginning of this post that it was a valuable life skill, the ability to select. It is, because in life there are choices you have to make. There are people you have to invite in, people you have to let go of, there are major decisions you have to decide on. All of these things require a great deal of judgement to choose what the right answer is for you. In being aware of everything: the scope, the details, the opportunity costs, benefits vs cons - you can find the answer that works best for you.

Please let me know in the comments your thoughts and feedback if this helped you, I’d like to know how! Thanks!


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