The editorial process

In the “old days” (i use the term loosely, because it really wasn’t that long ago), photographers would shoot their rolls of film and develop it out onto contact sheets, 3 x 9 rows of thumbnails, to help with the editorial process — culling of the bad shots, selection of the good ones. This made sense for the main reason that it was (still is) expensive to develop every shot from a roll of film. So contact sheets were used, the best shots identified, and only those were printed/sent to publishers/etc.

The modern day equivalent of a contact sheet can be found in most digital photo editing softwares such as Aperture and Lightroom, where the photos are laid out for easy viewing. The editorial process for me is pretty straightforward:

Digital Contact Sheet

  1. After downloading everything from the memory card, i quickly perform one round of culling. Technically poor shots, uninterestings and trials are marked for rejection and removed.
  2. Then i apply a basic preset of actions on the remaining shots. The ones that don’t work are then culled too.
  3. The remaining ones enjoy a bit more attention (by this time, i’m down to about 10-15% of the original download) and are given more customized processing work. The ones that don’t make it are removed.
  4. The remaining shots are either keepers, maybes or keepsakes. Keepers are the ones i like and can be published right away. Maybes are “maybe keepers”. Keepsakes are kept because they are good memories, not really for publishing but for personal momentos.

Every so often, i go back in time to look at my maybes. Some of them look worse, and are then culled (if for no other reason that to save HDD space). Some of them look better with time. It’s probably not the photograph that has changed, but it’s me that has changed — a perspective since then and now has changed, which makes the shot more interesting than the first time i saw it.

An example is the photo below. It was marked for rejection when i first saw it, but before i hit the delete button, i was compelled to save it to a “maybe”. Then now, a week later, i look at it again with fresh eyes, and decide it’s alright to publish. There is something there, the interplay between the wine glass, wine bottle, or perhaps the expression in his eye, that makes it interesting enough to me.

What do you think? Keeper, Maybe or Cull?