Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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When I go out for a shoot, I usually come back with 50 to 200 pictures based on that day's productivity. I am a busy person when I am not photographing. Here is the problem, post processing consumes a lot of time. Sometimes I lag behind in post processing and the pictures pile up to be processed. Ultimately, I can't keep up. Of course, I present only a chosen few out of the lot. So doesn't it make sense to process only those that I want to present/show? Do I miss out on something if I don't post processing everything I shoot?

EDIT

mattdm helped me rephrase the question better. So the questions as it stands after mattdm's answer and comments is -

Is it worth spending time on photographs which are good but which aren't my very best work?

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Matts answer below is great. I would say generally speaking, the general consensus in digital photography is to shoot a bunch, and only fully edit very few. Exceptions do exist of course. It isn't much different from getting a roll of negatives and only printing a handful of the selected images. –  dpollitt Apr 17 '12 at 22:40

4 Answers 4

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You may find a gem you overlooked — something which you passed over but which on further inspection works better for you than an image you selected on the first pass. This may simply be a detail that wasn't obvious, or that a blurry image caught a far better expression than a sharp one, or it may be that some creative work brings out something in an otherwise overlooked image.

You may get some benefit from looking at the images you didn't select, and identifying for yourself why you didn't select those. You might not necessarily want to post-process these, but winnowing your work is an excellent way to learn.

Another thing to consider is to work on taking fewer pictures you're not keeping. That's a challenge, particularly in these days of ten-frames-per-second burst rates and no obvious monetary cost for each one. There is, as you've clearly discovered, a cost, though — each click means some amount of later work. Beyond that, you may find that putting more thought into each image means you bring home the same chosen few, surrounded by less baggage.

To me, a holy grail of photography is making every shot a "keeper". I'm nowhere near that, but getting closer. One thing I noticed is that when I take a number of shots, it's usually the first that's the best — that was the moment, and the rest are just second-guessing. Learning to second-guess less leaves me more time for the next moment.

As with other affectations like shooting with only prime — no zoom — lenses, this is a luxury in having photography as a hobby. I don't have to get the shot to sell to a client or put on the front page. If I miss something because I wasn't clicking enough, or didn't have the right focal length on the camera, I try to learn from that too, and be in the right place the next time — because, hey, there's always tomorrow (and if there isn't, no one will be there to look at my photographs anyway).

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"work on taking fewer pictures you're not keeping" and a "holy grail of photography is making every shot a 'keeper'". I could not agree with you more. I focus on doing that as much as I can, however I still do land up with shots that I may not show publicly. I recently learnt (and completely agree with) to show only the best work for various reasons including brand building. Not all 'keepers' are your best shots after all and that's where the problem is. –  Chirantan Apr 17 '12 at 22:22
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@Chirantan — so, another way of putting your question might be: "Is it worth spending time on photographs which are good but which aren't my very best work?" –  mattdm Apr 17 '12 at 23:29
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That's an interesting idea to think about; most of us do spend such time, I'm sure, and one could make the case that it might be worthwhile to be much more selective: top one or two instead of top twenty. Working with those other eighteen or nineteen could be good practice in post-processing technique, and of course there's still the chance of something growing on you. On the other hand, life is short, and it might be interesting to see the results of a year of working just that way. –  mattdm Apr 17 '12 at 23:29
    
Just to be a bit contrary, I'll say that my last shot of a subject tends to be the best. I think I benefit from studying a subject through taking exposures, and from feedback from reviewing them on the LCD. But I mostly shoot static subjects, and of course "different strokes for different folks." –  coneslayer Apr 17 '12 at 23:33
    
+1 like the " hey, there's always tomorrow (and if there isn't, no one will be there to look at my photographs anyway)" –  akram Apr 18 '12 at 2:00

Honestly, I agree with mattdm. The only real disadvantage is a learning opportunity or making lemonade out of a lemon. Personally, I do not process every picture I take and keep. I process the ones I like best and over time I will sometimes go back and edit a few others.

However, I'll throw this out... Perhaps this is an opportunity to become a better editor of your work. Are you keeping more shots than you really need to?

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+1 for the note about learning opportunity. Expanded my answer a little bit to cover some ideas inspired by that. –  mattdm Apr 17 '12 at 21:49

I think this is completely sensible. My workflow for post-processing looks something like this (I usually have about the same number of photos from a shoot):

1) Initial triage - I go through every photo I took during the shoot and immediately discard the junk. Photos that are out of focus, subject blinked, blurry, etc., immediately get trashed (if you work with Lightroom or Bridge, you can "reject" a photo so that you don't see it any more, but the file isn't physically deleted). During the course of this, I make mental notes of photos that I particularly like for my second pass through. This usually takes no more than 15 minutes.

2) I then go back through and do a secondary triage; this time I'll start comparing photos side-by-side to see which one I like better in terms of composition, and how much I think I will be able to improve the photo during post. Sometimes I'll do a test crop, or tweak a few sliders, but I almost never save this, it's just experimentation. Of the ten or so different photos I took of a particular subject, I'll keep the two or three that I liked the best, and reject the rest. This process will take longer than the initial triage, maybe 30-60 minutes.

3) Now I begin post-processing in earnest. At this point, I'm trying to get images that I will keep, so I'll spend 5-15 minutes on each photo. However, I've usually pared down the list of photos to a more reasonable number at this point, so I'm not so concerned about the time I spend on it. Once I've gotten a photo of the subject that I like, I reject all the rest. (On rare occasions, I'll keep several photos of the same subject if I can't decide which I like best, or if they are drastically different in some way). This is obviously the most time-consuming part of the process, but I typically spread the work out over several days, spending an hour or two each evening.

4) Once I've gotten all of the photos processed that I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep, I'll hide all of them and go back through my rejects to make sure there wasn't some gem that I missed, like mattdm suggests. Usually I don't find anything, but every once in a while I'll catch something I like better. Then I'll physically delete all the reject files, and copy the others into my permanent directory structure.

Using this process, I can go through 200 photos in about three days, depending on the subject matter and how much work it takes to do the postprocessing (if I have to remove tons and tons of powerlines, it takes way longer than if the photos just need brightness/contrast tweaks). I'll also bounce around in the above routine; sometimes I get tired of step 2 and spend time in 3, and vice versa. Sometimes I'll reject a file in the first pass, and then decide later on that I want to use it anyways. But by-and-large, this process ensures that the only photos I'm going to do heavy post-processing on are the ones I'm actually going to keep.

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Yes, I think this is reasonable -- it's what I do, in fact. I believe Lightroom gives me a significant advantage here (Aperture probably does, too, though I've no experience). My process:

  1. Import. I have a Develop Preset with a few preferred post processing settings.
  2. Use the Flagged & Unflagged filter to quickly zip through photos, marking anything I don't like/technically poor as a rejected pick, then deleting all rejects.
  3. Go through more carefully, selecting favorites, marking them as picks.
  4. Filter with Flagged picks only to make some final choices.
  5. Do some post-processing.
  6. Share.

When I go back and look at all of the photos again (and inevitably I will, when choosing photos with my wife for her scrapbook, or with my grandmother who likes to see everything), if I notice something special that I didn't notice before. I can flag it. Now here's the special secret: if that special photo is part of a series or something shot in similar light I can jump to an already-processed photo and use Sync Settings to copy my post processing to that new special image. Bam! Of course the photo probably needs some special individualized handling but it gets the easily gets treatment the other photos received.

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