If you’re anything like me, you probably wish you spent more time shooting photos and less time editing them. For most of us, editing photos is just not as sexy as shooting them. However, I would venture a guess that 90% of the things I’ve learned about photography is the result of editing my own photos.
It takes some real discipline to sit down and review every one of your photographs, but unless you confront the reality of your images you may never learn what they have to teach you. Photographers would do well to take a note from movie directors in this area. After each day of shooting the director will sit down and review the footage they just shot. The footage, appropriately enough, is called “dailies.” The sooner you can review it the better off you’ll be.
Believe me, I know all of the excuses and reasons to procrastinate, even seemingly valid ones like, “I will have more time to shoot if I pay someone to edit.” I guarantee you the best way to see your photography improve is to edit your photos. If you really want to learn a lot while editing try shooting the same event with another photographer and then edit them all yourself.
A number of things happen when we do this:
- Ideas and inspiration crop up when you slow down and really examine your photos. Many times I have noticed a reflection or shadow in a shot and I’m left thinking, “Oh man! I can’t wait to try another shot like this…”
- It puts you in the position of your client. Take a minute to imagine what the client will think when they see your images. Will they be impressed? Will they notice that the focus isn’t perfect? Will they notice if it’s a little bit crooked? Did you meet their expectations?
- It will show you what you overlooked. Some photographers, myself included, have a gift for missing the obvious sometimes. We are too busy looking at the light or composition that we failed to realize the subject is picking his nose.
- You will be able to spot trends in your style. Much to my frustration I recently discovered that I had an extremely annoying habit of tilting every photo I shot. I didn’t even realize it until I started seeing it in all of my photos. Now I know, and I don’t shoot like that any more.
- Every crappy photo will serve as a reminder to do it better next time. Look at your photos until you’re disgusted with them, until you’re ready to do something about it. Take responsibility for them. Study them. Learn from them. Then do it right next time. P.S. This won’t work if you blame the client, or the venue, or the lighting, or anything but yourself. Step up and own it.
- It enables you to compare differences side by side. Often during a shoot I will try a few different options or ideas. When editing these photos I can see what worked and what didn’t.
- It gives you time to think about your photos. The most limited resource during most shoots is time (wedding photographers in particular know this). When you have such a narrow window of opportunity you can’t afford to stop and ponder your options; you’ve got to go with what you know or cross your fingers and hope for the best. When that time constraint is lifted (i.e. well after the shoot is over) you should analyze your shots. If you had more time, what would you have done differently?
- It teaches you to look for the potential and then capitalize on it. It truly is a skill to be able to look at a photograph and say, “It needs a little of _____.” Editors are taught to look for the potential in a photograph. Photographers should learn to do the same.
- It helps you find the story within the frame –the subplot, if you will. Try playing around with that crop tool. You’ll be surprised at how much you can cut out of an image and still tell the story. This is great fodder thinking of new shots, and good reason to invest in a telephoto lens.
- It rehashes the technical settings of your camera. You don’t have to edit photos for long before you begin to understand what White Balance does.
- In short, editing teaches you how to take better pictures.
Editing is an altogether different skill set than shooting photos. Simply knowing how to apply a filter or preset is not enough. Learn the craft of editing and your photography will be better because of it. There is a saying in the film industry: “The best editors are cinematographers, and the best cinematographers are editors.”