The process of editing

Let me clarify: by editing, I mean the process of selecting which images to keep, which make the final cut, and which aren’t wroth bothering with. I’ll generally do three edits: one almost immediately after shooting, in-camera; one when I get home and dump the cards/ start converting raw files; and the final cut after I’m done making finished files, but before I archive or deliver complete sets to clients.

As an example, let’s take the contact sheet I used in an earlier article on how to use contact sheets. For the purposes of this exercise, assume that this set is one that came fresh out of the camera (in reality, it’s already been through the complete selection process, and no, I don’t shoot jpeg unless I have no other choice.)

First cut (in camera)
I’ll delete images which are:
– Clearly out of focus
– Incorrectly exposed
– Compositional failures/ experiments that didn’t work
– Clearly meaningless/ no obvious subject
I’ll leave duplicates or near-duplicates of good shots; you can’t judge fine detail or critical focus off the back of a camera screen.

For the example, I’ve already taken out the first cut in camera, so let’s move on.

Second cut (before raw conversion)
I’ll delete images which are:
– Not critically sharp
– Didn’t work as well as expected when viewed at a reasonable size (full screen, usually)
– Compositionally weaker than the rest of the set
At this point, I also pick the best image if there are a series of duplicates or near-duplicates. (Duplication is something I do where possible to give me the best possible selection of raw material to work with.)

Final cut (before delivery)
– Eliminate similar images, so that what you’re left with is a series of individually very strong photos, each with a clearly different character
– Chose only the best X images, where X is your delivery target/ agreement

Final cut. Notice how each image in the final set is distinctly different from the other, yet I haven’t ‘lost’ any critical shots, and manage to capture the essence of the movement of the watch.

I’ll leave you with one final thought: the mark of a truly good photographer is not how many good shots he produces, but rather how many good shots the audience remembers: if you only show good shots, nobody is going to think you’re capable of producing a dud. Furthermore, if you aren’t your own harshest critic, your skill level is never going to improve. This is why editing is so crucial to the entire photographic process; I force myself to keep only the best 1-2% of everything I shoot. MT


  1. how do you name your files and why do you do this?
    I saw on your account here and on flickr that you use some (for me) cryptic filenames which seem to be not related to subject, date taken etc. Given that you shoot alot of images, I wonder why you do this and what your workflow is in this respect.

    • Since the date is stored in the EXIF and I keep things in date/event-marked folders, there’s no need to rename again. I just need to have a unique filename for archiving, so the cameras just run with a file number sequence and some unique identifier characters at the start – either in-camera if I can change filenames, otherwise batch renamed afterwards.

  2. thanks — i try to cut out as much as i can but i am not nearly critica/harsh enough and after reading your recent articles as well as this one, i am now going back to my “perhaps at another time i can make these work” photos and really deciding if the shots are ones that are keep-worthy.

    • If you have to experiment it’s the processing to see if you can find something that might be worth keeping, then it’s. clear indicator you should be exercising the delete button…

  3. The photos on this article are not loading.

  4. Great Article Ming! The picture links are broken though…

    • Sorry, having some server issues. I can’t access the images anymore (grr) which means I’ll have to redo this whole thing at some point…

  5. deedeephotog says:

    Such good advice and what I wish I had been doing more vigorously earlier. 🙂

  6. Just curious, why Bridge over Lightroom? Seems to me that light room has all the same functionality and more

  7. Chris Cupit says:

    Ugh I’m so terrible at this. When I’m taking water drops I’ll take maybe 500 shots in an evening.. and almost never throw anything away, could be why I have 600gb of pictures and going through them now seems to be an insurmountable task!

    • Here’s a question you should ask yourself though: what would you do with all the shots? To me, if I’m not going to use it, I might as well junk it. I’m not trying to be stingy on hard drive space, but I think it’s good discipline to keep yourself only showing (and hopefully eventually only producing) good work.

      • parameteres says:

        Good advice… guess i’m not critical enough to myself, i’m always stuck in the final cut

        • What’s even harder is when you’ve made your final cut from say 800 > 80, then you get told you there’s only space for 24 images in the exhibition…

  8. Pete Saunders says:

    Yes, yes! Agree completely– but then you taught me that. 🙂 The other day I discovered a very compelling walk around subject (a vintage 1920’s truck in an overgrown field). I shot well over 30 different views incorporating several angles and exposures. I found one RAW file to my satisfaction based on the process you mentioned above. What looks good on the viewfinder may look very different full size on the computer screen. Great art does not always happen by accident, although great artists do create their own serendipity.

    • Haha true. Then again, I am an advocate of shooting more – both to work the statistics, but also because you’re more likely to experiment and find something that works. I guess it comes back to the old adage of ‘if you don’t have a camera, you won’t get a picture of ANY sort, good or bad.’


  1. […] quickly cull those down to a working set, which get culled further. (This is the very important process of editing.) Anything that stands out as being bad gets discarded; anything that stands out gets put aside for […]

  2. […] framing and exposure choices with end result in mind, allowances made for processing required -> Editing -> Postprocessing including cinematic color adjustment -> Final cull -> Sequencing/ […]

  3. […] Editing is the iterative process of deciding what’s ultimately worthy to share/ show/ deliver: it’s both being critical about deciding what doesn’t really work, and figuring out what you need to do to get the compositions that work into a final, finished, state – and if that’s enough to deliver the result you’re aiming for. I’ll do this process in several stages: immediate duds get binned in-camera; a second cull and rating after importing, marking the 5* images as ones to be processed immediately; then as I’m processing, I’ll delete more as I go along – perhaps the postprocessing I had in mind didn’t work for the composition, or wasn’t possible to do in a natural way. There’s a final cull of the postprocessed images, too – all in all, with digital, I generally discard somewhere between 95-99% of everything I shoot – partially because I shoot multiples and bursts out of habit (and mild paranoia) – and partially because I’m incredibly critical of my own work; if you’re not, nobody else will be objective for you. I’ll throw away anything that’s a near miss, even if it’s 99% there. In general, it’s good to leave some time between each of the stages – somehow, images mature – or perhaps more accurately our own vision clarifies, and it becomes obvious which images will work and stand the test of time, and which don’t. […]

  4. […] before I take the picture; and again after take the picture. If this sounds like a breakdown in the editing process, that’s perhaps because in some ways, it is. Even though I usually throw away 98% of what I […]

  5. […] Share this:DiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Uncategorized by fozbaca. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  6. […] portion, but also the editing, framing and cropping. I’ve always thought of editing as one of the critical skills for a pro – one’s reputation is based as much on the […]

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