The Agony of Editing



It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get. – Timothy Allen – On editing photos

Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop. – Ansel Adams


Editing is absolute agony to me.  One should be ruthless when doing it – but how can I be ruthless with my “babies”?

I need to be more ruthless.

Coming back from Africa, I had 3500+ photos.  Now, shooting 3500 photos in a month is nothing to people who shoot tons of digital.  Heck, I know people who shoot that much in one day, let alone a month in a “target rich environment” like Africa.

For a guy who primarily shoots film though, like me, it’s true culture shock.  Surprisingly emotional as well.  I went through literal depression for days, having feelings of “I suck, what am I doing here?” to the euphoria of finding an experiment that worked (I don’t view my digital photos in the field; I prefer to concentrate on the moment at hand).  Going through the 3500 digital, I eventually settled on about 40 that I thought were okay – and I know that I should reduce that number even further.  Some of the shots on my site I put there strictly for memory’s sake.  Ones like the lion above didn’t make it just because I already had multiple lion shots on my site.

The film shots, of which there were far fewer, were a much more pleasant surprise.  While the quantity of keepers was smaller, the relative percentage was much higher, so it was an entirely different emotional experience.  That’s a perspective that I haven’t read about in the largely pointless film vs digital debate.  While both mediums serve their own purpose, I need to prioritize them better when travelling.

How should you approach editing?  Pick the ones that you like the most?  The ones that you think galleries will like most?  The ones that you think will sell?  These questions were constantly in my head.  In the end, I decided to be true to myself and choose the ones that I liked best, but tried to do so with a dispassionate eye (which is impossible, but you try).

As I uploaded them to my site though, I realized a dilemma:  My current site has two personalities – and two purposes.  The first is to show to galleries and art buyers.  The second to share travel photos with friends and colleagues who may not understand or like the B&W film work.

That was fine in the beginning, but won’t work any longer. 

So I’m going to split the site into two, one for each purpose.  It will be the most ruthless type of editing – having to split two of my babies up.

I don’t know where they’ll land or what the design will be, but I think the time has come.  No timeline either, so don’t look for anything soon.  I’m a research-aholic, so I’ll take my time and do it to my satisfaction. My current site is fine for what it is, but I also need something that’s more flexible and works better across all platforms.

And I’ve sworn to be even more ruthless so that I can keep the quality high.

I’m sure it will be pure agony.





  1. A very interesting post. It’s a subject that nobody writes about. Shooting film and digital is not something that most of us can relate to in today’s digital age. It’s an interesting point of view.

    One thing that totally sold me on digital is the ability to edit on the fly. I mean, you don’t have to delete images 2 seconds after a shot. When I had a break during the day, I would delete the absolute dogs in camera. At the end of the day, I would import into LR and rate the photos and further deletions. Nothing more than that. It gives me a head start when I get home and have the time to further edit and post process.

    BTW. I too struggle with “brand identity” but I do look forward to how you deal with your decision on “splitting” your images into two different categories.

  2. Your post described my exact emotions when I got back from Yosemite and other national parks this past summer. I was also stuck with the dual desire to scan my film negatives and edit my digital files. The result: quite a bit of nothing got done.

    A question: what do you do with the digital files that you don’t select in your top shots? Do you delete them? Negatives are archival and it’s nice to have the physical evidence of the work even if they are in binders. But digital files do take up important space.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Bill! I don’t shoot much digital, so space isn’t an issue for me (yet). I go through and review everything, then anything that I rate as 1 (meaning out of focus or something technically wrong) I delete. Everything else I keep. Definitely not the most efficient workflow compared to many digital photographers I know. They use either a RAID setup or online service and their storage needs keep expanding. So far, my main drives and backup drives are nowhere near full.

      I do periodically go back and review the 2’s. Sometimes I find a nugget that can be worked with, most times not. If it’s a 2 that I only have one or two shots of, I keep it. If I have 20 of that subject and they’re all better, I feel pretty safe in deleting it.

      I know that’s not much help, but you just have to find a system that you’re comfortable with.


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