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Developing your practice: skills in picture editing

4 years ago

While shutting ourselves away from the outside world for the next few months is something out of our control, we'll be publishing some articles on how you might want to use this time to explore new skills and gain a deeper understanding of your creativity.

Putting together a body of work is an essential skill as a photographer, yet so few of us put time aside to really engage in the process. Whatever platform you choose to publish your pictures – be it on your website, Instagram account or as an entry to a photography competition – your imagery needs to stands out as a coherent set of pictures that speak clearly to the viewer in an engaging and dynamic way.

On a practical level you can do so much more with a collection of images, from pitching articles to creating books and exhibitions. Having a set of photographs that looks at a subject from several angles is always going to open up more possibilities. Below we’ve outlined a few pointers to keep in mind before you sit down and embark on perhaps the most rewarding – albeit challenging – creative stages as a photographer. 

1. Have a clear idea of what the story is that you are trying to tell and if you’ve been given a brief, read it closely – really pick it apart. In time and with more experience, the story might materialise (or change) during the editing process, but initially stay focused.  

2. A trusted person’s point of view can of course, be valuable, but never show unedited work to too many people. It might be obvious to you there are promising pictures in your selection but the viewer will quickly lose interest if they are presented with too much to look at. 

3. Make sure your final set of images has uniformity in terms of format, tonality and messaging. What images hold together best in a group? This might mean your strongest image jars with the wider selection, so you might have to sacrifice it. Only choose images that add to the story.  

4. Stay as close to your story as possible. Think of each photograph as a piece to your puzzle, what image is the most relevant to tell the story? Often the smaller the set of pictures, the better. Start with fewer images and only when a piece of the puzzle is missing, add another piece.

5. Don't be daunted. If you’re faced with 100 pictures you don’t think are up to much, don’t be overwhelmed with the task in hand. Edit the collection down and if you can get three pictures that work well together, you should feel pretty positive. Remember the great Ansel Adams felt ‘twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.’ 

6. Don’t get too swayed by the content of the image. Try and take a step back and analyse it in terms of lighting, composition and aesthetic. Justify each image you want to keep. Ask the opinion of a friend  – it doesn’t necessarily need to be a photographer. A second opinion is always good, even if you don’t take everything they say on board.   

7. Spend time before you choose your selection of images really looking at work that inspires you. Take in collections in a variety of media – exhibitions, books, well curated Instagram feeds – and note down what makes those images work together. See how sequences are built up, the pace, the scale, the tonality. Has the photographer put a particular twist on a familiar story?  

8. Practice, practice, practice. Editing is as much a skill as learning the mechanics of your camera and it’s key to becoming a good photographer. Learn to trust your own judgement but bear in mind this takes time to develop. 

9. Make sure you print your work. Once you’re down to around 20 or so pictures, view them (collectively) at different sizes. Create some proof prints and live with them a while – see how you respond to the images in different lights, different positions, different times of day. There is so much a physical print can teach us that a digital image never can. 

10. More and more in contemporary photography we’re seeing juxtapositions and a moving away from the literal to slightly more conceptual. On cursory glance a set might appear disparate but then the more time spent with a series the links will appear, making the viewer’s experience of engaging with the work far more rewarding.   

11. When you’re out shooting keep the end goal in mind. Thinking about a set of images will challenge you to be a better photographer. Once you’ve got those strong three or four images that are easy to achieve force yourself to create those different types of shots that will really open up your creativity.