When we talk about editing or the editing process in photography, it is often believed that we are making reference to the post-processing or digital retouching of a photograph when in fact, we are not.
In reality, editing a photographic work is one of the most difficult things to do in photography and especially when we have to do it with our own work.
Editing, in general terms, is to choose one by one, from a series or story that has been photographed, the sequence that emphasizes, explains and summarises in a coherent and aesthetic manner, said story.
It is so difficult to do that there are people dedicated to doing this one job: The editors. Any professional photographer will tell you that a great work, if edited in the wrong way, can ruin an entire story.
So, what does that mean exactly? Well, that it is not enough to have good photos. Say you go on a trip and take 20, 30 or even 50 great photos; incredible compositions, decisive moments, perfect lighting, interesting subjects, the lot…(something that is near impossible), even then it’s not enough. With all this material, you are then going to have to put together a series that is able to explain to your viewer, a coherent story that will make him/her understand what it is you are trying to explain. On top of the “intellectual” coherence, to make it attractive you will also need that series to have visual coherence; combination of colours, visual dynamism etc.
And above all, emotion, because in the end that is what storytelling is all about: the ability to captivate and infect the viewer with emotions. In the case of the trip mentioned earlier, you are going to want the viewer to feel what or how you were feeling at a particular time or get a feel of a particular place. The process of making a photo can be exhilarating, make you happy, frustrate you or even make you sad and this is what you what to transmit in your photos. There’s a quote from one of the great masters of photography, David Alan Harvey, that says “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what if feels like”. So, forget about the technical aspects of your camera: image quality at high ISO’s is just another marketing stunt, on the content and the experience.
Having said all this, let’s go back to the beginning, to those 30 great shots. Are you sure THOSE are the really great shots?
Sometimes there are subtleties between one photo and another, so small, that we have a hard time choosing. I mean, who hasn’t had two portraits next to one another and not known which to select, in the end having to ask someone else to help you make the choice.
OK, so, how do we edit?
Well, in reality we have to start editing before even go out to shoot. Let me explain. Let’s say that those two portraits that you had to choose between were of a family member of a friend that you know well, you would probably end up choosing the photograph that you think best represents that person, and you know which one it is because you know that person and have information about him or her even before you took the photo.
With documentary or travel photography the same principle applies. Before travelling we will have to do a little bit of investigation of the place, its culture, places of interest and possibly read some blogs or articles. That way we’ll be able to decide what aspects we are most interested in and the story we are going to want to tell, and once there, only have to focus on the actual storytelling.
It doesn’t have be an overly in-depth investigation, we don’t want to be excessively influenced by others or loose the opportunity to discover interesting aspects of the place for ourselves. But to know what a place is “all about” will help us immensely.
Often when doing photography (and editing is part of the process), we forget about one its fundamental pillars. Patience. Alex Webb often says that to edit your work well it is necessary to let some months or even years pass by before doing so.
In today’s society, we are too influences by immediacy. Advertising, marketing and social media has brought us to believe that we have to publish our work as soon as possible and they have made it very easy for us, offering us a plethora of mobile tools. But if we focus our attention on the great masters of photography, we’ll see that they follow the above premise.
Like wine, the passing of time makes your work better, and when we apply this to editing, it allows us to see our work with perspective and to better understand it. We’ll be able to see our work as a whole and emphasise the details in a way that has impact and is coherent.
Try doing the following experiment: select 9 photos or your last trip or project and try to explain it in 3 lines.
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