Category Archives: Scanning

Becoming ruthless at self-editing

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.

Not quite a select

A not-quite-select. I like the composition with the leading lines and I like the tones I got from the negative. But in a ruthless editing environment, those parked cars in the background were the difference between a thumbs-up and thumbs-down. It's a tough life, being a photograph.

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.

Impressed by CVS

When I started getting back into shooting 35mm film, I was a little worried. Would I be able to get it developed anywhere nearby? Would the quality be any good? Would I stand a good chance of having my negatives trashed by some kid who didn’t know or care what they were doing? Would I have to set myself up to process C-41 at home just to ensure the safety of my film, never mind the quality?

I’ve heard the minilab horror stories, after all. And the pro-lab horror stories too, come to think of it.

Thank you note from CVSTurns out I needn’t have worried, the CVS round the corner from where I work (the Westlake store at Hardy, VA) has me covered. I just processed and scanned my 10th roll since December through them yesterday and was pleased with the results yet again. I’m pretty sure they mostly know me by sight now and this time I even got the film back with a thank you note! Another couple of rolls and I’ll probably be able to rock in there and ask for “the usual, please”! 🙂

The scans are inexpensive and good for printing up to about 5×7 and for proofing and web use. They’re auto-adjusted for levels, which is great if you’re using some sort of flaky point and shoot with marginal exposure control, not so much if you’re using a manual SLR and hoping to learn from your errors! Higher resolution and non-adjusted scans would be great but I haven’t explored that possibility yet, other than being vaguely aware that the Noritsu machine they use can do both. Ideally I’ll have a scanner of my own sometime soon anyway; the net result of that would be that I go process-only at the CVS but end up shooting a whole lot more and sending more rolls their way for processing.

More important in that regard, the processing and handling has been excellent. The only fingerprints on any negatives have been my own before I bought some white cotton gloves to use while working with the negs. I haven’t seen any obvious scratches or dirt either. They’re fine with returning the film uncut, which allows me to cut to the lengths I want (6 frame strips, perfect for the desktop film scanner I don’t yet own).

Sure, I could do my own processing. If I ever get into shooting black and white it makes economic sense to process at home, but for C-41 I can’t buy the chemicals for any less per roll than it costs me to process at CVS and it’s a lot less trouble to just drop the roll(s) off in the morning and pick them up after work.

So, thank you CVS Westlake for doing an excellent job. I really appreciate it.