Photo editing goes hand in hand with making photographs. Some photographers enjoy the process, while others loathe it. Either way, it’s a common part of a photographer’s practice and something that helps give photographs more punch. Approaches differ, but many photographers like to begin editing images as soon as they return home. This article looks at the pros and cons of that method.
A Lesson in Photo Editing
One of the best pieces of advice I received came from the photographer David Carol. He likely won’t remember saying it, as it was via a comment on my Facebook status. I asked about photo editing, and somewhere during the exchange he said, “Wait two weeks or more before you edit your photographs.” At the time, I was a young, thirsty photographer who shot, then edited, then repeated, and seldom stopped to reflect. So naturally (and naively), I ignored the wisdom of this experienced photographer and continued working at 100 miles per hour. As is often the case, as this young photographer matured, he began to realize the wise teacher was right. While I don’t think you should always wait two weeks or more to edit photographs, there’s undoubtedly some value in not rushing your files into your editing software.
I should first note this piece concentrates solely on personal work. When it’s a job for a client, I understand that the luxury of taking your time is seldom available. But for passion projects and personal photography, you do have more control over how you approach photo editing.
The Pros of Photo Editing Right Away
First, let’s explore the pros of photo editing as soon as you return home from making pictures.
Emotion Is High
I believe emotions fuel much of what we create. Positive emotions lead to enthusiasm, which helps us be at our creative best. So when you make the shot and you know it’s a winner, editing while enthusiasm is high is a good thing. You’ll pay more attention to the edit and want to do it to the best of your ability rather than make a mediocre edit when the energy has potentially subsided.
Quickly Photo Editing Prevents a Back Log
One of the main reasons I would edit right away is to avoid a backlog of images. I felt it was a more efficient way of managing my workflow. Often, when I would wait to edit photos, a backlog would develop, and I would feel overwhelmed by the task at hand and forget about many of the images. Having a speedy workflow meant no photos were left behind.
First Sent First Seen
If you’re working independently and shooting a public event, getting your edits done on the go means you can send them to publications faster. Publications won’t always wait for the best images to come through; the images that come first help them tell the story as soon as possible. Photo editing right away means you avoid being too late and having your spot taken by another photographer.
The Cons of Photo Editing Too Soon
Now let’s look at the cons of editing too soon.
You Don’t Look at Images Objectively
Slowing down your process gives you a fresh perspective. Sometimes when you edit right away, you’re so emotionally invested that your selection process isn’t as strong as it should be. You become so fixated on certain shots that you are blind to see the other shots you made were better. Frustratingly, this can lead to deleting photos that were actual winners. Taking a week or so to edit helps you return to the selection with a more objective approach and ensures you don’t lose pictures you shouldn’t.
If you’re too eager to edit and share your images, you can often rush your edits. This can cause a “that will do” mentality. The consequence is that it can expose sloppy editing. Go back to some of your old edits from one or two years ago. I imagine you’ll look at them and identify areas where the edit could’ve been stronger. Being more methodical with your editing (starting with not editing too soon) allows you to be more judgemental of how you edit, thus making better final images.
You’ll recognize that some of the pros are also the cons. I appreciate that it makes things tricky and may leave you feeling confused. The best way to handle this is to be honest with yourself. After a shoot, ask yourself, “Why do I need to edit right away?” If you can’t give two to three solid reasons, wait to begin photo editing. You don’t need to wait a week or two (unless you want to), but do wait at least 24 hours. This will give you a chance to calm down but still have enough enthusiasm to edit in the best way possible.
How soon do you wait to edit your images? What do you think the pros and cons are of photo editing too soon? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.