Friday Foto Talk: Pickin’ & Choosin’   12 comments

Birds fly south over fall colors along the Animas River in New Mexico.

Birds fly south over fall colors along the Animas River in New Mexico.

This Friday’s Foto Talk I am keeping it light.  We have the first of spring’s lovely days here in Oregon and I see no reason to get into a complex software tutorial, or equally heavy conceptual discussion.  This week it’s all about the fun part of post-processing:  when you have a memory card full of images and are sitting in front of your computer to view them for the first time at a larger size than the 3 measly inches on the back of your camera.  This is fun, right?

 Well, for some it can be anything but fun.  You know who you are.  You have a “little trouble” deciding which of the hundreds (or thousands) of images to select and which to toss.  Which of those selects are really good enough to enter into that photo contest?  In fact, this decision-making process should be fun but it often is anything but.

A small windstorm sweeps sand and dust down Death Valley toward the sand dunes.

A small windstorm sweeps sand and dust down Death Valley toward the sand dunes.  This is an image I originally only kept as a 1-star, but later came back to it and liked it better, increasing the rating to 3 stars.

It is a fact that you need to be flagging most of your photos as rejects.  Whether you toss them or keep them is up to you, but if you use a program like Lightroom, you have all sorts of ways to put your rejects immediately out of sight and out of mind.  For example, you can put only your selects from that shoot into a collection labeled as such, and from then on work from that collection, not the original folder.  This is the way I prefer, but there are still a bunch of images I just delete from the original folder, to save storage space and reduce clutter.

A detail shot like this one might escape notice if during your choosing you are not thinking "I need a few detail shots".

A detail shot like this one might escape notice if during your choosing you are not thinking “I could use more detail shots”.

I won’t go through the step-by-step procedure of picking photos.  This is one of the first things you will learn about Lightroom or whatever program you choose to organize your catalog.  I will say one thing however.  If you have many images from a shoot, avoid going through them one-by-one.  This takes way too long.  Learn to evaluate your images (along with those of others) from a thumbnail size.  It takes awhile to get the hang of this, but believe me it will save you tons of computer time.

If you are heavy on scenery and have few wildlife images, choose the animal!  This is a curious coyote in Death Valley.

If you are heavy on scenery and have few wildlife images, choose the animal! This is a curious coyote in Death Valley.

 My general procedure is to go through and select my picks from my rejects using general composition and color (which the thumbnail can give you).  For each pick I do view the image in loupe view, zooming in to 100% if I need to, all to make sure that focus is precise and nothing important is blurry.  If a photo is magnificent and a key element is even slightly blurred (such as a person’s or animal’s eyes), I toss that image.  Too bad too sad!

The road in Zion Canyon, Utah is lined with cottonwood trees.

The road in Zion Canyon, Utah is lined with cottonwood trees.

Here are a few things I consider while choosing photos:

Exposure:  the ideal is a slightly too-bright photo, but there are a wide range of exposures that are acceptable to me.  It just can’t be way off.

Composition:  it should be pleasing to the eye, be balanced and have attractively arranged and framed elements.  Notice I said nothing about “rules”. 

Subject:  you want a clear subject (even if that subject is just beautiful light).  It needs to be something interesting to look at.

Focus and clarity must be spot on.  It cannot look too washed out, since post-processing will not save that, in my experience.

Variety:  as I go through, I will tend to choose a vertical even if it’s not perfect, if I have chosen nearly all horizontals thus far.  I will choose one with a person, an animal, some human element, if I have a group of shots where natural features dominate.

Context:  if I have specific uses in mind for the photos, or specific things to try in post-processing, I will select for that.  For example, I don’t reject a shot of a great sky, even if it lacks any sort of interesting composition.  That sky could be saved and used later in a composite (though I don’t do much of that).  If I plan to possibly do an article or a book, I will tend to choose more detail shots, just so I have a variety of those to choose from.

I often choose a picture specifically because it might look good in black and white, even if the color version I am viewing does not have much impact.

I often choose a picture specifically because it might look good in black and white, even if the color version I am viewing does not have much impact.

And a few more general tips:

        • Try to pick and choose as you shoot.  Don’t miss the light, or the pose.  Simply use downtime well by tossing out obvious poorly exposed, unfocused shots.  Be careful with this; your rear LCD is not a fine selection tool.
        • If you are on a trip and have a laptop with a decent display, use that to toss out more rejects.  The advantage of this over the previous method is that you can try out a developing preset or two to help you decide whether the picture is worth keeping.  But since no laptop will match even average desktop displays, use caution here as well.  Only trash the obvious rejects.
        • When you get back from your shoot or trip, if possible sleep on it before viewing your images.  Selecting among images, like any similarly visual task, can often be much more effective given time away from it.
        • If you have time, go through your images a second (or even third) time, further refining your selects.  This is where you would give them star ratings.  As with the above tip, it is best to let a little time go by before revisiting your images.
        • Try to avoid selecting two very similar images as equals in your collection.  It’s okay to have similar compositions.  In fact it is highly advisable to have both horizontal and vertical compositions of the same subject.  But force yourself to choose which is the 3 star and which is the 1 star (for example).  Which is better?  And since I have this one vertical that is great, can I trash this other vertical and just keep the horizontal alternative?
I had two nearly identical images to choose from here, one with people and one without.  In this case the choice was easly.

I had two nearly identical images to choose from here, one with people and one without. In this case the choice was easy.

I have in the past had a hard time deciding which of my photos are any good.  I’ve gotten a lot better but I still have trouble deciding which of the good ones are really good.  I think this is a fairly natural progression in learning to evaluate photos.  I think of context a lot more these days, and many shots I would have rejected before are saved (but not highly rated) just because I foresee uses for them.

These images here are part of a huge update of my website, in this case for my American Southwest galleries.  The image at top was chosen recently as an Earth Shot of the Day.  Earth Shots is a fantastic website that features one gorgeous image each day.  Check it out!

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

I included two pairs of images that I still cannot for the life of me decide which is better.  The pair above is from Hovenweep, a really interesting Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) site in the Four Corners region.  They are two slightly different compositions with Square Tower in the foreground.  Which do you prefer?  I really can’t make up my mind on this pair.

The other two (below) are from Death Valley’s salt flats, which fracture in fascinating patterns during wetter periods.  Both are early morning pictures, but one has better color saturation while the other possibly has more interesting detail and more subtle color.  It’s another tough choice.  Which do you prefer?  And why?

The morning sun hits the Panamint Range bordering Death Valley's salt flats.

The morning sun hits the Panamint Range bordering Death Valley’s salt flats.

The salt flats in Death Valley form interesting patterns that glow during dawn's light.

The salt flats in Death Valley form interesting patterns that glow during dawn’s light.

Hope you enjoy the images.  Go ahead over to my galleries if you want to see more.  Thanks so much for your interest.  Note that they are copyrighted and illegal to download.  These versions on the blog post are much too small anyway.  Click on any image to be taken to a larger version which is available for purchase by clicking one of the tabs to the upper right of the image (prints, downloads, etc.).  You can also contact me with any questions or special requests.  Thanks a bunch!

The sand dunes at Mesquite Flats in Death Valley, California, appear wave-like in the right light.

The sand dunes at Mesquite Flats in Death Valley, California, appear wave-like in the right light.

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12 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Pickin’ & Choosin’

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  1. Great eye~!

  2. Exquisite photos and I really enjoyed reading what you had written about how-to advice. Can use all I can get. Honored that you liked one of my shots!

  3. Thank you for sharing these valuable tips and these photos are simply stunning! I’m amazed at your work and at the beauty of nature. Have a truly great day! Sharon

  4. BEAUTIFUL!

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  5. Fantastic !

  6. It’s interesting to hear what processes other people. I delete far more photos than I used to but still have a long way to go. I found a few jewels in the other pile and that makes me cautious.

    In the top pair, I like the top one. I find the other one has a distracting triangle at the far left left. In the bottom set, I prefer the richer sky of the bottom one. All wonderful photos of course. Whenever I have trouble choosing between two of my images, I notice that other people don’t have the same difficulty.

    • Thanks Lyle! I know what you mean. It’s not that I don’t know that distracting triangle is there, it’s just that I conveniently ignore it because I like the stars so much better in that one. It’s all about our own little biases I think.

  7. Amazing landscapes!

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