Pick Me!

by Steve Simon

The art of editing has always been one of the most challenging tasks for me. It's a crucial part of our work that is almost as important as the shoot itself. If we select the wrong photographs, no one gets to see how good we really are. Good editing means squeezing your best images out of each and every shoot. There have been a lot of great postings about the specific Aperture features for editing--one of the strongest reasons to use Aperture. This week I'll give you my big picture philosophy with regards to editing.

For me, the first edit is similar to the shooting process itself, I don't want to think, I want to react. I approach the first look with reverence, because it only happens once. I try and make sure I have enough uninterrupted, quiet time to concentrate and react by instinct as when taking the photographs.

After ingest, I hit the V key, to see the grid view of all images in the window, and I bring the thumbnail slider to the right to maximize their size.

Grid View.jpg

Big Thumbs.jpg

My thumb and middle finger then do all the work: Right Arrow Key advances to the next frame; the number 9 key on the numbers pad to reject the ones that I know I will never use. It is a time when I get rid of the really bad stuff, and keep the rest. So as I go through the work, one by one, it's a question of yes or no. I tend to shoot on impulse and feel my way through, which is how I like to edit. With my shooting style, I shoot a lot, so this first look let's me edit down to free up space.

There are many photographers I know that come back from a shoot and immediately copy their raw files to a DVD or hard drive maintaining the integrity of their complete shoot. I think this is generally a good idea. I opt to trim things down, losing roughly 15-30 per cent of the total number of frames shot.

In the old days of film, you could go back to the negatives and find gems missed in the first edit. This is something I keep in mind when I do the first edit, I really just want to rid myself of the frames I will never use. With thirty years experience, I'm confident I can do it.

But I also remember the story of Dirck Halstead, who, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal took place in 1997, went back through his archive and found a very good frame of President Clinton and Lewinsky together. It was a frame that might have been deleted if shot digitally, since it was a very ordinary image and there was much better from that shoot. But because it was filed with all his slides, that image ended up being very lucrative for Mr. Halstead and was widely published, earning him a Time Magazine cover and many awards. So keep the "Monica Factor" in mind.

During that first edit, I do notice the really good ones, but I try not to get too excited yet--that's for round two.

Like many photographers, I have great expectations, setting high standards wanting to hit a grand slam on every shoot, but reality means not every hit is out of the park, and I understand this. Most of the work falls somewhere in the middle, but they key in editing is squeezing the very best frames from every shoot.

The second look is when I look for the diamonds, the jewels that come around once in a while, but never often enough. They are the images you remember from the shoot, the magic moments that are easy to find and ones you can't wait to download and see on your big monitor. For the second go round, I hit the F key to go full screen, also advancing to the next image with the right arrow key, hitting the "2" key to rate the good ones, saving the "4" for the very best, ones that are in contention for my portfolio and contest entries, that will automatically go into my 4-star Smart Album. (I reserve 5-Stars for Portfolio Images, edited from the 4-Star Smart Album)

I give a 2-Star rating to anything that works; that has a chance at being used for something, a book, slideshow, maybe as a stock image or workshop or blog example.

Round three is when I really get to business, creating stacks and comparing similar frames, looking through aperture's Loupe to check sharpness and getting down to a group of main selects that may not be five-star lightening, but are the best from the shoot. These get my 3-Star rating as selects. Post edit, I make a mental note if for some reason I'm disappointed or if I noticed something I neglected to get; in other words, I try and learn from each and every shooting experience.


Romain Guy
2007-01-18 04:28:09
Useful information. I also love all those details in Apeture that help you accelerate your workflow. For instance I use Ctrl-9 to reject and select the next picture, instead of pressing 9 then the right arrow.
Andy Peters
2007-01-18 06:53:23
Thanks for the nice description of this process. One trick I'm picking up from some of the Aperture bloggers is to use the grid view for the early stages to speed things up -- that helps a lot.

I'm curious: after step 2, it looks like you've got a few images with 4-star ratings and lots of images with 2-star ratings. Does anything remain unrated after this step, or does every non-reject get either 4 or 2 stars at this point? If the latter, do you perform step 3 (the stack-and-pick stage) on all the images, or just the 2-star images?

Also, at what point in this process do you assign keywords? I find that, except for keywords I apply to the whole import session, I wind up only adding keywords to my high-rated images.

Daniel Mendez
2007-01-18 07:01:14
Do you assign 1-star to any images? Did I miss that in the post?
Also, how do you assign a 2 or 4 to any image without the need to comapre it with other similar ones? I ask because you said you do the comparisons in pass 3.
thanks for sharing your workflow.
Steve Simon
2007-01-18 08:28:22
Hi Daniel, I don't assign one star, I reserve it for special situations, when for example, I know there are a few photos I want to give to friends, etc--I can use the one star rating then, and easily find them. As mentioned, anything I think has value, I save as 2 stars, no need to compare at this point, when in doubt I give two stars. Then in the Grid View, I can choose to look at all the images rated two stars and higher (using the filter) before proceeding to choose the selects (3 stars) from these by comparing and looking a little deeper into the selection. I will delete the rejects after looking at them one more time, and I figure in time, i can come back to the shoot and look over the unrated images and maybe delete them to free up space, but we'll see. Love to hear how others are doing things, because like you, I'm still figuring things out looking for better ways.
Steve Simon
2007-01-18 09:11:33
Andy, some stuff is unrated still--it's archived but I may revisit the shoot look at the unrated material and decide to delete to free up space. This is my thinking now, which could change. I perform step three on the two star and higher images (2 and 4 stars are my only ratings at this point). As for keywording, I do what i can at ingest, and like you, plan to revisit and do more comprehensive keywords to my main 4 and 5 star collection. SS
Josh Lockie
2007-01-18 10:19:32
Steve thanks a lot, this is helpful. I just moved to Aperture and am just getting back into shooting Professionally and am trying to streamline the workflow. How much time would you say you spend on this for a given amount of photos? I just shot a wedding this weekend with about 1300 pictures and feel like I have spent way too much time trying to get this all done.