How to Ruthlessly Edit Your Photos

There is no way around it. Editing takes time and focus. You have to be committed and motivated.

I’m sure most of you experienced the epic slide show when you were younger. A relative would come back from a trip abroad and want to share ALL of their images with you. The number of slide trays determined what you were in for. This event usually happened after dinner. Most of us would silently nap in the darkened living room. I have no objections to seeing travel images but just like watching a movie, images should be edited to tell a story or stories from the trip. Each image should be lingered over, not glossed over. Quantity does not equate to quality.

Editing images is a skill most people don’t take time to learn. It’s even more of an issue in this digital camera age where it doesn’t cost us anything to take picture after picture. How many times have you seen a friend post 40 plus images of their trip on their Facebook page. Almost like a straight upload from their phone. I personally like to see travel images but I don’t need to see ALL of them. Editing is essential not only for the sake of telling a story but also keeping your friends on Facebook.

In 2008 my husband and I visited Paris and we were quite shocked to realize that the grab and go coffee culture never made it there. Parisians love their coffee, but they like it at the bar, talking with friends, taking a moment in their busy morning before they head to work. Within two days we succumbed to the pressure and slowed down. And then, we video taped the experience. These are the things that you keep. The things that tell the story of that trip, that day. What image best represents the feelings you experienced at the time. Everything else is just filler or white noise.

I took about 200 pictures of the amphitheater at Bryce Canyon National Park during the day and half we were there last year. Some when it was snowing, some higher up looking down, some are the trail inside the amphitheater itself. Some are good, some miss the mark. They are still nice photos but they don’t all tell the story. Because I know I will be making a book out of these, I will tag the best 30 or so. But if I was to enlarge and print one image from the trip, it would be the featured image from this post.

The beautiful thing about editing is that the more you do it the more you will realize what images you took that don’t work and what does. You will remember next time to take different images. The shots that go into a wedding album aren’t just of people. They are of the venue, the food, the flowers. There are close ups of holding hands and table settings and the gifts. All of these images tell the full story of the event and make for a great album.

So where does one begin to edit?

Step 1:

Get rid of all of the images that are too dark, too light and most important, out of focus. If you only look at your images on your phone you might not see that they are out of focus – the joys of a small screen. Zoom in to be sure. Or better yet, edit your images on your computer.

Step 2:

Get rid of the duplicates. Often we will take many shots of a group of people to make sure that most of the people in the shot are smiling. Pick the best one and DELETE the rest.

Step 3:

Tag the best images. Group all the images of a similar subject – say Bryce Canyon. Review them and tag the ones that you respond to the most. After all, this isn’t a photo contest. Turn off the judge. This is about what images you like, that help you remember the event. Sometimes I will keep two versions of the same subject if one was shot portrait and the other landscape. I may find later when I am doing the photo book layout that I want the option. At this point you can choose to delete the ones that don’t make the cut or you can just put them in a different folder. When I am editing for a photo book, I will often create a new folder and move the best images into it.

Note: photo editing software and photo book software will be discussed in the next photography post.

There are two considerations to take into account when faced with all the images we take. First what do you plan to do with the images in the next few months. And second, what do you think you will do with the images in the long run.

Fundamentally you have to ask yourself why you are taking the pictures in the first place. Are you planning on a photo book or just share with some friends online. If you get a good shot will you get it printed for your travel wall? Who will be looking at them? In the case of the long term purpose of your images, you may think you are taking them for your kids. And, they may like to look at some of them but really, the images are for you to look back and remember. That’s why it’s so important to pick out the ones that really tell the story as you remember it.

There is no way around it. Editing takes time and focus. You have to be committed and motivated. Don’t be afraid to be a few events behind schedule. My Aunt still makes scrap books from photo prints. She is methodical and determined to get them done, even if she is a couple years behind. As Chase Jarvis says, it’s not that you don’t have the time, it’s that you haven’t made it a priority. If that’s the case, it’s ok. Just be prepared to let the images go. Just know that if they are not edited and put into a more permanent form, they may be lost to the randomness of corrupted hard drives and broken phones.

Bryce Canyon National Park, amphitheatre, travel photography, nature photography, fine art photography, utah, USA

Bryce Canyon National Park Amphitheatre

  1. Because most of my b/w work is purpose driven I take make fewer exposures. Contact sheets get the deeper look with maybe one in 12 making a print. The digital stuff is another beast and I have just realized that the phone complicates matters even more. Like Marsie, dedicated time a year is the only way to get through over shooting.

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  2. Reblogged this on In Motion and commented:
    Some great advice for travel bloggers.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. […] Source: How to Ruthlessly Edit Your Photos […]

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  4. Thanks Leni; gives me some focused reference points for creating a narrative around a lifetime of photos that I’ve got to get to with, dare I say, some ‘urgency’!!

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