At the end of a winter’s day skiing, this is looking south toward Mt. Jefferson from iconic Timberline Lodge, Oregon.
This is the 3rd and final part of my little series on shooting alternate versions of the same basic subject. Check out Part I and Part II for the nuts and bolts of varying composition and other factors just enough to create alternates without completely changing the image. Today I want to discuss a very important part of alternate versions: the review. This is where a lot of novice photographers tend to become frustrated, so this post includes some basic advice designed to help you use precious review time wisely.
Last time I mentioned how it’s important at first to be aware of why you are shooting an alternate of the same subject. It could be as simple as grabbing a quick vertical. Or it could be a version that concentrates attention on one particularly strong subject by using a large aperture, thus throwing the background out of focus. Or you can change multiple things about the image, getting low and close while rotating to horizontal, zooming out a bit, and including less sky.
Review on the LCD
It’s a good idea to think about why you shot different versions when you review the images later, whether on your camera’s LCD screen or on the computer monitor. Speaking of the LCD, I see plenty of photographers checking out their photos during the shoot. That is fine if you’re checking things like focus and exposure; in other words, making sure you don’t need to re-shoot. Or if you want to get a human subject more interested in the shoot. But don’t take too much time looking at the back of the camera. Avoid the trap of getting too caught up in review when you should be concentrating on your subject and the light.
I try to review the images on my camera’s LCD very soon after shooting. I do this not only to delete images with obvious problems right away, in order to make more room on the card. But I also like doing a quick inventory of my alternate versions while the shoot is still fresh. It is easier than you think to delete images you should have kept. Unlike a computer, your camera doesn’t have a trashcan where you can recover deleted images. It’s forever!
For example, you might think you have useless repeats of the shot when you actually had in mind at the time good reasons to capture an alternate version. Maybe your reasoning was unconscious and maybe it wasn’t. But if it was, reviewing on your LCD soon after the shoot has the effect of bringing it right up to the surface of your mind. I don’t always keep alternates at this stage. Sometimes I realize my reason for the alternate was rather superficial.
Review on the Computer
No matter how conscious you are while out shooting, when you’re viewing and rating the different versions on the computer later, deciding which to keep, it’s helpful to note what sets each alternate version apart. The differences are often subtle but important for what you’re trying to get across in an image. Were you trying to emphasize an interesting foreground with an alternate version? Next time out will you get low and close while the light is at its best instead of doing that as an afterthought?
While it’s perfectly natural and appropriate to prefer one version over another, be careful about your judgments. For example you may prefer the vertical version of a scene you just shot in dramatic sidelight. But that doesn’t mean you should always photograph scenes like it vertically. Say you return in softer, more subtle light. The horizontal may turn out to be the better choice.
Another reason to avoid overemphasizing personal preference is the existence of considerations that have nothing to do with whether one version is better than another. A horizontal version, for example, may obviously look better because of layering or other characteristics of the scene. But what if someone loves the image and wants to frame and hang it in a place that will fit a vertical but not a horizontal? Or what if a magazine likes it but needs one that has more negative space? That’s yet another way to shoot an alternate, by the way. By zooming out and/or flipping the camera to include more blank sky, water, or other similarly plain space, you allow room for type, mastheads and the like.
Using Review to Grow
As you review more and more shoots you’ll naturally learn which kinds of images you like better for which kinds of subject and light. You might notice yourself gradually shooting slightly fewer alternate versions. But the idea behind doing alternate versions is to increase not decrease your options.
Although learning your preferences is a good thing, don’t over-generalize and end up missing opportunities. It’s important to realize that every scene and every moment’s light and mood is unique. Also unique is the message you want to get across in the image. Alternate versions can help you accomplish this most important of photography goals, but only if you do them.
One thing I’ve learned over time is not to force myself to judge when I’m reviewing images on the computer. Of course I do mostly prefer one shot over others, and one version of that shot over alternate versions. But when there’s no clear winner I don’t spend a lot of time forcing myself to decide. I just give the two an equal number of stars, label them both with copy names (a field in Lightroom just below the filename), and move on.
Most important is to keep an open mind. Open to other possibilities while you’re out there shooting, and open to different ways of evaluating images on the computer. As with all thoughtful post-shot review, considering your reasons for creating alternate versions can inform your next shooting session in interesting ways. It can also force you to grow as a photographer. For example you might find yourself better defining your style. Shooting and then reviewing different versions could lead you to explore a certain way of shooting in more depth. Thanks so much for reading and I hope your weekend is a fun one. Happy shooting!