Editing Part 3
In Editing Parts 1 and 2 I covered the way in which I edited my imagery in analog days and also looked at how we began to change as we started to scan our film in the 90's.
Now that I've brought us up to current practice I can delve into some of the challenges inherent in editing in a system that allows so very many pictures being made. Think about this: in analog days we had all kinds of restrictions to the final number of pictures we could produce. We had to change out film at the end of 36 exposures (35mm) or 12 (120 mm) or, in 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 film how many film holders we had or had loaded. We also had the sheer labor ahead of the film processing. Virtually all of us that worked in black and white in those days processed our own film.There was real cost involved too as some of the film sizes were expensive. Now, we are only held back by the size of the flashcard in our camera, or the number of frames our battery will allow. Hundreds upon hundreds of frames are very easy to shoot and even commonplace from just one shoot.
Of course, there is a cost here and it is a big one. If you make pictures completely randomly, scattershot, without forethought, without thinking about the possible consequences, then you have created a nightmare for yourself back in front of the computer, looking at the screen when trying to figure out which one to print.
Let me describe shooting digitally with a couple of scenarios.
Photographer AJ Smith heads out to photograph. AJ's got his gear, a great destination along the shore, wonderful light, an empty card in his very fine digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR), a charged battery, his tripod…. he's all set to go. He gets to where he's going to shoot and it's freaking fantastic. He photographs hand held over several hours because he just can't get enough of this wonderful seaweed he's found along the coast at low tide. He envisions these amazing big prints of these wild organic looking tentacles of the seaweed he's shot, all textural and wet. He's shot them fast (the tide was coming in) and every way he can think of. He did know he was pushing it with some frames as he shot them in the deep shadows. He has no idea what the camera's settings were as he made these. But he is hopeful it'll all turn out okay.
AJ gets home and downloads his card to his computer and loads the day's shoot into Lightroom. He's shot 567 pictures. He starts to go through them, one by one, each one displayed as a full screen image. He notices right away that frames 127-202 and 342-411 are not sharp. Oops. He looks at the shutter speed that the camera chose on the metadata panel in Lightroom when he was shooting in the shadows: he was shooting from 1/15 of a second down to 1/4. OOPS! In the quiet of his work room in his apartment and by himself AJ can be heard screaming out several loud expletives: "Sh..! Fu..!" and so on. No feeling is worse than when you're the one that fucked it up.
Discouraged but hanging in there AJ now starts to go through the ones that are sharp that were made in better light. After several minutes of looking at his pictures he can't decide which ones to print. Frames 11-37, for instance, are so close to being the same thing he can't tell which one is best. He moves on, again, a little disappointed that he's not finding any "stand out" images. They all look the same; dark green seaweed and rocks. He soldiers on but soon begins to lose interest and finally picks a few, by starring them, that he believes might turn out to be something good but in actuality he doesn't care so much about seaweed anymore. Finally, AJ's mind begins to wander. He is bored and leaves to fix a sandwich and see what he can find on Netflix to watch. AJ's had an unpleasant experience with photography and doesn't go back to the seaweed pictures until much later, if at all.
Lets go through another scenario. This time the photographer BJ Johnson has a day to go out photographing. Just like AJ, she's got her equipment ready and a great destination in mind. She gets there and even though it's bright sunshine out puts her wonderful fancy dancy DSLR on a tripod. She shoots 37 frames of the fields in the lee of the mountains, taking care to check the exposure, look at the histogram on the screen to see how she's doing, shooting a few frames several times but varying the aperture to change the depth of field or the shutter speed to add blur as there's a fairly strong wind blowing the grasses. She's thinking about how these small adjustments might effect the final outcome and she's seeing the prints she will make in her mind's eye. Finally, she takes the camera off the tripod and shoots some close ups of wild flowers hand held, being careful to keep the plane of the camera parallel to the ground below to minimize the need for depth of field, therefore allowing her a faster shutter speed. She packs her stuff back up and heads back home in her car and along the way comes across a street fair in a little town. She stops and shoots this too, working much quicker with a wide angle lens, raising the ISO for her camera to permit a fast shutter speed and f5.6 or f8 for an aperture setting.
BJ gets home and downloads her files into Lightroom. She feels she's got three bodies of work and begins to edit them with that in mind. She goes through the ones of the fields, giving two stars to hopeful pictures and three stars to ones she really likes. She thinks about the group and tries to choose ones that will fit into a small "chapter" or "series". As she was invested in the pictures when she made them she shows an equal investment in the way she works with them now. She's pleased with what she's done, although there are a few errors where the camera moved, even though it was on a tripod some of the time. Over time she moves on to the close ups of the flowers, which are less exciting to her as they look more typical and generic. Finally, she gets to the 83 frames she shot at the street fair and finds, to her surprise, 3 or 4 that are really exceptional. While the others from the fair are okay these few are a kind of picture she's never made before and she now plans to go to several more street fairs to see if she can add to this new group. At the end of all this, BJ starts to make prints of the ones that are marked as three stars. Then she goes back through her files in the next few weeks when she's got time, first to the two starred ones, finding two that are on second look really good and then through all the others just to make sure she hasn't missed anything.
What a difference a little experience and thinking about things can make in your work. I can hear teaching Neal saying: "You've got a mind, well, use it".
In Editing Part 4 we'll take a look at what happens to the prints that BJ makes.