The Good, the Bad, and the Iffy


If you are into photography like I am, you love to go out and shoot. Whatever your “thing” might be – street photos, studio work, nature, industrial – taking the camera out and capturing images is where the fun is. Exploring new scenes and finding out what is going to capture your eye today is what got you into this mess in the first place.

Then comes the hard part – processing the jillions of images you took.

Processing is a little different for me now that I use digital instead of film. I used to spend hours in my basement developing the film, cutting up the strips, mounting the slides, and then scanning them. Now I just plug in the camera and go away for a while.

Oddly enough developing the film was not the worst part about processing my images. Having a chemistry background, I actaully enjoyed the chemical processing. Maybe it was just the fumes – I really liked the smell of the chemicals (I like the smell of a freshly opened can of film too).

No, the worst part of taking photos for me is deciding which ones to keep and which ones to throw back. I ran across a post about this subject where the author advocates letting your photos sit for a few days without looking at them. I do something similar mostly due to time constraints more than purposely ignoring my photos.

After a day of hiking and shooting, my typical M.O. is to immediately (if there is enough charge left in the battery) plug in the camera and then go take a shower while the pics cross over. I have to admit though that sometimes I sit and watch the little thumbnails go by as each image transfers. Every shot seems to look fantastic when viewed as a tiny little splotch of color. It is really best not to look.

At some later point, often the next evening, I get the chance to really look things over with my photo editing software. I usually take my photos in clumps. Each subject has multiple images shot at different exposures and from different angles. Some images just don’t work – they seemed like a good idea the time, but in retrospect they are crap. I move on. When I see a group of images that have potential, I jot down the image number(s) on a piece of paper.

Some I just write the number. Some that I really like I put a star next to the number. Then there are some that seem interesting, but might be a bit off the wall. I’m not sure if they are good pics or if I’m just overly full of myself and the pretty colors. I put a question mark next to these. With limited time slots available to waste on this hobby, it might take me a couple three days to go through all the images the first time.

When I get a chance, I start back at the beginning. I go through my number list and do a second round of selections. I usually scratch out about two thirds of my original list. I’m always overly optimistic about my photos at first blush. A few days and a closer look later, I’m more realistic about things. Usually the ones with question marks get the axe and most of the unmarked ones and even a few of the ones with stars.

During this round I also sort out which image of a particular subject is the one I want to work on more. I bring up several images at once and compare them side by side to see which exposure or which framing I like best. I move the images around on the screen and re-size them a few times to make sure I’m not just favoring the one that happened to land in the middle of the screen or the one on the right because I’m right eye dominant or whatever.

Finally I go back a third time and completely work up the images that made the final cut. At this point I might still toss out one or two images if I’m just not happy with how things go.

Anyway, for better or worse, that’s my system.

At least I have the chance to hang on to all my images (I even burn the rejects to DVDs). I saw a documentary on the 1914 Shackleford expedition to Antarctica and the expedition photographer, Frank Hurley. After their ship became stranded in ice and eventually sank, the crew had to jettison all non-essentials if they were to survive on foot and in small life boats. Hurley had to go through all his glass plate photos (that he worked so hard to get) and keep only certain ones. He smashed the ones he cut so as not to be able to second guess. That had to hurt.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “The Good, the Bad, and the Iffy”

  1. fencer Says:

    My system is to leave my occasional photos in the camera until the next time I go out and discover I haven’t downloaded the old ones yet… Still keep too many lousy ones, got to go through the archives more ruthlessly.

    I really like your second photo, how the cascades lead your eye through…


  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    I consider you a fine writer as well as a fine photographer, so I had to chuckle when I saw your phrase, “It might take a couple three days…” which is just the way we speak and perfectly understandable but grammatically hard to parse and totally colloquial. I thought how someone learning the language would be baffled by that phrase. It would be completely impossible to find something in the dictionary to help them out. It’s like secret code! It made me smile.
    But that’s not the point. As all of us digital camera, photographer aficionados are plagued with too many pictures and how to categorized them, weed them out and store them, I was interested in your methodology. I just about crashed my computer a month or so ago because I had overloaded it with pictures. I spent hours taking out the chaff. I tend to keep even bad pictures (fuzzy, poor lighting, not well cropped, taken at to far a distance, etc. etc. because they might become fodder, information, for my paintings. I don’t really trust the discs. They can go bad, apparently, and though I couldn’t really remember individually the 30,000 plus pictures I had stored on C drive, I wouldn’t want to lose one of them to a computer crash!
    I’ve been rather busy with some business deadlines lately so haven’t been writing. It was a treat to read you this morning and have this opportunity to think about your forest imagery.
    I understand Fencer’s attraction to photo number two. It really does have excellent flow for the eye, but I’m fascinated with the first one, how the water goes almost milky as it runs off the rounded surface of the rock edge. The third has a similar quality, but the rock isn’t nearly as evident – it’s more implied.
    As always, I’ve enjoyed the post. With thanks for bringing a bit of beauty to the screen.

  3. forestrat Says:


    I guess because of my computer background I am much more organized about my digital pics than I was when I used film. Back then I often had rolls of film hanging around waiting to be developed until I forgot what was on them.


  4. forestrat Says:


    People in Indiana and California (where I lived for a while) always gave me trouble about saying “couple three”. I also put “eh” on the end of some of my sentences like a Canadian – mostly when speaking not so much when writing. I was just in North Carolina for a cousin’s wedding and of course the north and the south sides of the family always tease each other about our different expressions for things. English certainly is a flexible language.

    I only keep one copy of my reject images on regular good quality DVDs. The keepers I always always always keep at least two copies. Either on two different hard drives or on gold plated DVDs and a hard drive. In practice I usually have three copies; two on hard disks and one on DVD.

    I would normally erase the rejects, but I have a friend that runs a museum and he gets all freaked out when digital photographers talk about destroying images. I guess they could be become historically important if I happen to shoot something that gets lost over time even if the images aren’t the best.


  5. suburbanlife Says:

    Hi! I really like the step-up the rectangle quality of the second photo, and the horizontals working so subtly in the third photo. These are remarkable drawings-with-light, and I’m put in mind of a graphite powder drawing where the lights are pulled out with erasers as a drawing tool. There is something so pleasing about how the threads of water embroider your images, really lovely and satisfactory.
    I used to make black and white photos, develop the negatives and print contact sheets from them, then select the photos I’s play with and print. You are so right, the smell of the chemicals is acrid, but pleasant and sets one to anticipating many fine hours spent in the dark-room. And there is something, forever magical in seeing the image come to be in the developer bath, and the excitement that arises in waiting for the correct level of image development before plunging the paper in the fixer. Somehow beats the computer experience. But the computer method is more sure-fire and gives quick rewards. i suspect, because that process is so sped up, the character of decision-making is different. The hand printed photo demands concentrated attention, almost a meditative state, and to me at least is far more satisfying in those hard-won results. G

  6. Bernie Kasper Says:

    Great shots Mark,I usually let things set for a little while before I work with them, almost like good chili !!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: