Editing photoshoots

The upcoming assignment 3 places no limit on the number of photographs that can be included in the submission. Therefore, it is timely to reflect on the process of editing; by this I refer to the process of reviewing photos taken and working through to a final selection of images. I don’t mean the activity of post-processing – as the term ‘editing’ popularly refers to the use of tools like Lightroom and Photoshop, there is inevitably confusion. I recall being confused early in my EYV studies when my tutor referred to a ‘closer edit’, while at the same time advising not to do too much post-processing! I take care to use each term appropriately now.

Editing one’s own work is notoriously difficult to do well – separating our attachment to the feeling experienced when making an image and the effort in bring it to life in post-processing, from its inherent quality as an image. This can result both in strong images being ignored as well as weak ones being included. It also explains why the job of ‘photo-editor’ as distinct from photographer is so important in the business of publishing photos. So, how can we better edit our photos?

I turned to three resources for information: the book Basics creative photography 03: Behind the image: Research in photography (p98); Erik Kim’s street photography blog, which is always well thought out and practical; and an interview with a photo-editor, Raffaela Lepanto, featured on the website documentary photo review. I summarise the advice that I find useful to my own outlook at this time:

  1. ‘In order to successfully edit your work, you need to reflect on it’ (Curuana and Fox, 2012). By this they mean a deep reflection, considering details and different perspectives. In a time-pressured world, it is easy to fool ourselves to thinking we have reflected, when in fact, we’ve had a cursory look.
  2. Eric Kim’s excellent blog post refers specifically to street photography (as that is his area of interest), but the advice has general application. This post gives a wealth of advice and quotes from renowned photographers on editing. Some points include:
    1. Read photo books – ‘If you only look at mediocre photographs, you can only aspire to take mediocre photographs at best.’ This is potential hazard to unthinking use of photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Facebook groups.
    2. Give it time – ‘I liken editing your work like letting a steak marinade. If you want all the juices to soak in, and truly appreciate something you gotta give it some time and not rush it.’ This is something to work at when study part-time and trying to work within a limited timeframe; there is always the temptation to rush.
    3. Think about meaning – ‘ A great (street) photograph needs to have soul and meaning. Consider what you are trying to say through a photograph – and if it resonates with you.’
    4. Kim also discusses composition, using others to edit, clichés, fit within series, and reflection of personal voice.
  3. In the King interview, Raffaela Lepanto discusses the challenge of the volume of images that we are all exposed to and how we find something that cuts through the noise. Martin Parr echoes this point on his blog post The Facebook Problem. I find Lepanto’s advice so powerful that I include a long extract:

I think that learning how to cut out the noise ourselves is a necessary first step. The loudest noise comes from the fear that we “won’t make it”; it’s actually very difficult to shut that voice up, sometimes – but we should try.

Also, seeking authenticity requires you to stop seeking approval and therefore becoming vulnerable. It takes guts.

With regards to the noise coming from overexposure to other people’s work – we have amazing tools today, but perhaps also too many comparisons to make for our own good. Studying and researching other photographers’ work and being up-to-date on what magazines publish is fundamental of course – as is participating and sharing – it’s something we can’t do without anymore, and its great to be living in a world where all this is possible across multiple channels and media at once. But maybe we should learn how to give ourselves the time and the space to stop and reflect on what really captures our attention and truly is “necessary” to us – what makes our heart beat faster, or suddenly much slower, at its own rhythm, without any other thoughts interfering. That is the moment, normally, when the “new” has a chance to emerge.

In terms of my own practice this advice leads to a couple of priorities:

  • Slow-up to reflect deeply on work and consciously avoid often self-imposed time pressures to complete.
  • Revisit (yet again) how and what I share online – it is easy to be caught up in the rapids of sharing stuff. As Kim suggests, it is a good idea to shoot everyday, but sharing 1 photo a week is probably enough – ‘You are only as strong as your weakest photograph’. I often feel that my Flickr page looks a mess with the disparate mix of photos included, and mixed intentions for posting stuff.


Caruana, N. and Fox, A. (2012). Basics creative photography 03: Behind the image: Research in photography. Lausanne: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Eric Kim [blog]. 15 Tips How Street Photographers Can Better Edit Their Work (2012). Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/03/19/15-tips-how-street-photographers-can-better-edit-their-work/ [accessed 10.12.16]

King C (nd). Documentaryphotoreview [website]. Visual Storytelling and Effective Editing – An interview with Raffaela Lepanto.  Available from: http://documentaryphotoreview.com/perspectives/visual-storytelling-and-effective-editing-an-interview-with-raffaela-lepanto/ [accessed 10.12.16]

MartinParr [blog]. 2012. The Facebook problem. Available from: http://www.martinparr.com/2012/the-facebook-problem/ [accessed 10.12.16]



4 thoughts on “Editing photoshoots

  1. A thoughtful post, Andrew, and helpful for me. Not being satisfied with second best, taking the time to really look and feel, and waiting for that moment when things fall into place and feel solidly right will pay dividends and create self awareness and self confidence. I know you didn’t necessarily write this piece for other people but I am sure there are many who will find benefit. David.

    1. Thanks David – I think it is an on going shift in my way of thinking from what goes on in the camera to what is going on behind the camera in my head.

  2. Good post, Andrew, and very timely for me, as I’m just working on a post on my own selection process for Assignment 2. The critical thing, I think is not to rush it. A few weeks off between the shoot and selection makes all the difference. I also wonder whether your plan to revisit what you put on line is necessary. At the time you posted the photos, you thought they were good, and it’s always nice to have a record of how you’ve progressed over time.

    1. Thanks Holly, I thought long and hard about the online stuff and have done periodic u-turns on the subject. I have a record of how I’ve progressed in Lightroom, which I probably shouldn’t keep on permanent display to the outside world. I increasingly think, as we progress on this course, that we should treat our online presence(s) more like a portfolio – there is always the FB group for sharing and getting feedback on WIP. So, when trying to get people/groups interested in working with us on projects we have something to point them to quickly and easily for reference – the stuff that we value, for whatever reason. I’ve decided to use Flickr to show just street-based work; it was getting the point when I didn’t enjoy looking at my own page because of the wide and inconsistent variety of work on it. Who knows, I may change my mind again in 6 months!

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