Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shoot now, edit now

If I had to sum up what’s involved in being a nature photographer, I’d say it’s 1 percent being in the right place at the right time, 9 percent waiting for the right time, and 90 percent sitting in front of a computer editing photos and finding clients.

That last part is my least favorite, of course. I took up nature photography as a break from my desk job. I have yet to find any shortcuts to finding clients, but over the years I have found a few ways to save time when editing images. Anything that cuts the amount of office work is a good thing.

How many times have you returned from a photo outing only to dump all of the day’s images into a folder and then move on to another task? Have you ever gotten back to those images? If you did, how much fun was it to go through them?

I’ve found the longer the images have sat, the harder it is (and longer it takes) to go through them. Break yourself of this habit as fast as you can. This will help minimize your photo backlog and somewhat reduce your editing burden. If you’re doing this for a living, it will also get more of your hidden inventory out in front of clients. There’s no chance the unsorted images will sell.

Editing images soon after you take them will also help you write better captions and keywords. Words and details flow easier when the image is fresh. And often the captions and keywords are what lead to sales.

Still, editing can be a drag. Here are a few tips to cut your editing time:


Edit straight from the memory card

Only copy your “select” and “secondary” images to your hard drive. At least for me, it’s much harder to delete images than it is to only copy the ones I like.

Once something is on my hard drive, it’s difficult for me to part with it. I’ll end up going through the folder slowly, analyzing several images that look the same so that I only delete the right ones. Yet I have no problem with formatting a memory card, vaporizing hundreds of images instantly, after I have copied the handful of images that I really liked.


Work backward

This tip seems to be so obvious, I can’t believe it took me this long to figure it out: Start at the end of your memory card (or folder) and work backward.

If you think about it for a moment, your best images are probably at the end of a series. Whenever I come across a great scene or an animal, I take a few images and then gradually take more as I find a better composition or get closer. I move on when I can’t find a way to improve upon what I already have.

If this is how you photograph, why go through your rough drafts first? If you find great stuff at the end of the series, you may find you can delete those early attempts without even opening them.


Don’t open every image

Make a first pass by looking only at the thumbnails in your favorite editing program. If you’re not wild about the composition or its potential, why bother opening the image to check if it’s sharp? Save yourself time and just delete it right then.


Take fewer pictures

I take far more pictures with my digital cameras than I ever did when I was working with film. Toward the end of my film days, I figured that between the film and processing costs, it cost about 50 cents every time I tripped the shutter. That cost caused me to be very deliberate about my photography. I would try different compositions and exposures, but I thought before taking every photo.

With digital photography, there’s essentially no cost associated with taking an image. I think the result is that sometimes we take pictures just to take pictures. That’s okay – sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with experimentation. But if you have folders and folders of images you never seem have time to go through, maybe you need to be more deliberate with the images you take.


Time is money

Editing your images quickly can pay off. The image at the top of this post resulted in a sale the day after I captured it.

I spent an afternoon photographing an osprey nest. I went through the memory card right after dinner and posted one select image to my Facebook account that night. That image was spotted by an editor of a local newspaper, who decided to run it the next day.

Because I edited the images quickly, the paper was able to use the photo to illustrate that osprey were nesting off Jetty Island. Had I waited, the image would have lost its value.

Check out more of my wildlife images at LivingWilderness.com.

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