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The Final Edit

As the years go by it has become apparent to me that Ethan and I take far too many digital pictures. Their stealthy monopolising of our hard disks has meant mandatory expansion not only of drive space in computers, but an equally costly exercise to maintain similar capacity of our backup solutions. Given that we retain three backups of our images (NAS, Cloud and secondary local storage solutions), a rational approach to image storage makes perfect sense.

When I used to shoot slide and print film, the costs of film stock and processing used to be one of the main factors I kept the volume of images as low as possible; sometimes one roll of 36 exposure film used to suffice for two or three outings and I think the most I shot was ten rolls over a three-week period when travelling. Upon receiving the results, I ran them through a projector to remove the dross, which still left me with many duplicates or images of a similar ilk that, while photographically pleasing, made for a repetitive (and tedious) slide show. Therefore, I used to carry out a second edit and slim the keepers down to a bare minimum to ensure that any presentations remained interesting – after all, if I got bored looking at them, I could expect no less from an audience.

Of course, the convenience of digital photography means that it is very easy to get carried away and shoot hundreds, if not thousands of images of a particular event. And, why shouldn’t we? After all, the capacity of memory cards is vast and if shooting jpeg’s only, they become something of a bottomless pit into which duplicate and triplicate images are thrown to be appraised later, or maybe never at all. 

I became aware of this fairly early on in my digital career; maybe it was because of the discipline film shooting had instilled in me over the decades. I knew that if I took hundreds of images over a few days, I would probably never review them in more than a cursory way due to the time it would take. If I was to do this, what was the point of trying my best artistically to create them in the first place? And like film, if I lost interest in previewing them, I could expect nothing more from anyone I shared them with.

During those formative digital years, myself and Ethan put into place a procedure that serves us well to ensure that we keep image volumes down to a minimum, not only to alleviate viewing tedium, but also to keep our backups as optimal as possible, particularly as we only shoot RAW.

I can use a recent example to explain the process. Last year we visited Mauritius for a couple of weeks, a destination offering us a huge and diverse amount of subject matter. There were very few days when we were not accompanied by our camera gear and very few hours in each day when the shutters were not firing. 

The first edit follows immediately after a bunch of images are taken and consists of a simple ‘on the fly’ deletion of technically poor material that is easy to spot from the camera’s rear screen in broad daylight. Such images will contain wonky horizons, exposure and focus errors as well as those where the mind’s eye failed spectacularly to capture the intended subject. 

Each evening, in the comfort a hotel room or back at home, and as an aide for revisiting the day’s events, a full review of images taken during the day is carried out. A second edit is conducted at this stage, the purpose of which is to remove any technically poor images that were not spotted under field conditions. Duplicate/triplicate images are also considered for removal and deleted when we are sure that they are not required for the final cut. This can amount to a large amount of material being removed. Once completed, a temporary backup of the remaining images is taken.

In the above example, and once we had returned home, RAW files are processed and converted to high quality JPEG’s for viewing. At this stage, the final edit takes place which is intended to reduce further the number of images that make for repetitive viewing. A few exceptions may be spared; for example, there may be two similar landscape shots, one of which is processed in colour and the second in monochrome. Yep – the same image could be given both treatments but occasionally we like to give them a little individuality. Upon export, we aim to conclude with at least a 50% reduction in the amount of images originally taken…sometimes a little more. This usually means that the project remains fresh for the viewer and also does not tax our backup strategy needlessly by hanging onto a plethora of data that, ultimately, is not required. Incidentally, the Mauritius trip saw me take almost 800 images and the final edit left just over 300. 

While this approach will not suit everyone, we have found it works best for us; A few years ago, I recall photographing a couple of rooms in a stately home and was being a little conservative with my output. My approach could not have been more different from another photographer who was ‘machine gunning’ every fixture and fitting of the rooms. He must have taken a tremendous quantity of images, to the point where many people were disturbed by the constant clacking of the shutter. I can only guess at his final image count, and have wondered on more than one occasion what became of them. Were they used to create an awesome montage in photoshop, or perhaps as smaller subject images for a website? Or possibly a ruthless editing session created a spectacular portfolio. Whatever their fate, our shooting styles were poles apart, even though our end results may have been similar.