So, today’s topic is editing, and I’m not talking about making changes in Photoshop. I’m talking about deciding what gets to be seen by anyone else and what languishes in the binders.
Sad to say, not every photograph I make is worth the silver in the negative. Some of them aren’t even worth the gelatin the silver is suspended in. Some of them were never intended to have any higher purpose than being a snapshot, something with value to me and my loved ones but of no consequence to anyone else. The world at large doesn’t need to see the 500th photo of my cat, or 400th photo of my granddaughter unless I knocked it out of the park and made something which can touch the viewer’s emotions even when they don’t know the subject.
Shooting film may make me think a bit more about whether I need to bother opening the shutter at all but I’m not perfect. If I was, I’d be deciding which work to exhibit at the American Museum of Photography while fending off requests from Joe McNally and David Hobby to teach them everything I know about lighting. Speaking of pros, just ask one how many shots they make versus how many the public or their clients get to see.
It’s easy to slip into the thinking that “well, if I just tweaked it a bit this way, and adjusted that there, and did some other stuff, this might be a worthy photo”. I’ve spent more than a little time doing the Photoshop equivalent of polishing a turd. 9 times out of 10 I turned a bad photo into a bad photo with obvious, cheesy post-processing and several hours of my time sunk into it just to add salt to the wound.
It’s also easy in the modern, everything online world to slip into thinking that it’s OK to post everything you ever produce because it’s so easy to do, and costs nothing. But that’s not what I want to do either. Just because I can post a photograph to Flickr doesn’t mean I should. I’m rapidly coming around to the idea that, if it isn’t worth printing and showing to people, it’s not worth sharing online. I don’t want my moments of inspiration to be lost in a sea of near-misses.
Which leads to the ruthless editing part. If something is print-worthy that implies that I will take the time and materials to print and present it. Not being of limitless resource I can’t print everything which I like, so guess what? I have to edit down to a small core of work. This is not an easy process because I’m editing from a selection of work I really like and the photographs which don’t make the cut may never be seen beyond the confines of my computer/light box/contact sheets. The end result, of course, will be a concentrated selection of what I consider to be my best work. Something dangerously close to being a portfolio, even.
So it’s hard, yes. But it’s necessary for all sorts of reasons, and while my ruthlessness may currently be limited to selecting no more than 6 frames from 36 exposures (or 3 from 12 on medium format) I probably need to be working that down even further. It’s way better than posting 3/4 of the shots on a roll, though, like I used to.