The technical art of photographic editing.

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by BetterSense, Feb 19, 2009.

  1. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    As a young photographer, I wonder about many aspects of photographic and darkroom technique. Today I am pondering on enlarging from negatives. I don't mean in the technical sense, but the photographic sense. Otherwise I would put this in enlarging. Since I personally feel a very large aspect of photography is editing, I feel this fits under philosophy.

    Sometime between the shutter release, and the final display of the final print, there are several levels of choices that must be made regarding the editing of ones' work. I don't mean technical choices of developer etc, but the editing of a body of images into a body of work. I don't suppose anyone would hold a photographer artistically responsible for all of his negatives. Nobody is supposed to see what hits the cutting room floor. The photographer hides this material. Eventually, he comes to material that he not only fails to hide, but actually displays. In this thread I'm interested in the technical process in between.

    Suppose you shoot 35mm, and shoot it like I do. From each roll, some of the shots may be strictly throwaways/ceiling shots, some are exposure brackets, some are uninspiring, or blurred, or poorly exposed. You make a contact print of every roll, and file away said contact print and negatives, never discarding them.

    Or perhaps you do discard some of them permanently? I'm young; all my negatives fit in a 3-ring binder. But should one begin the editing process even at this stage? I must admit there are many rolls in my binder that I will probably never print from, but I don't throw them away at this stage. Perhaps I'm foolish, and will end up with a truckload of worthless negatives by the time I'm 30. A photographer must make personal choices here.

    Is your contact print pretty much your proof? Or do you enlarge somewhat larger prints for the purpose of evaluating your shots, before deciding which ones to enlarge further? Supposing you do this, what do you do with those proof prints when you are done with them? Or do you tend to go straight from contact sheet to working on final enlargements for display? I suppose if paper was free, even proof prints might as well be enlarged to 8x10. But all this costs time and money. One can't very well enlarge and tweak every negative. So he must evaluate its worth before ever seeing in its best form. A photographer must make personal choices here.

    Supposing you have found a real wall-hanger image. How many full-size reprints do you go through, between cropping, D&B, contrast, and various papers, before you are satisfied with the final print? What size? What frame? More choices.

    Finally, how do you display your work? Do you have only a few images in a gallery? Do you have many images in albums? A combination?

    Do you limit the size of your gallery/body of displayed work? Do you find yourself culling images from your final gallery as you progress? What is the fate of these photographs?

    All these are issues of editing and seem to be under-discussed aspects of the photographic process. As an isolated and inexperienced photographer, when I view the sometimes impressive work of accomplished photographers on this site and elsewhere, I can't help but ponder the process behind the prints.
     
  2. I have found that negative that I could not print, I could print years later.

    I took some negatives of Yosemite in the snow to Per Volquartz because the snow was gray. I had not compensated for the brightness of the snow. He showed me how to print those negative so that had snap and looked great when printed 20" x 24". [Per gives great darkroom classes.] <= shameless plug!

    I recommend that you continue to save all the negatives. They are learning tools. Some day you may go back and reprint them with better results.

    Steve
     
  3. david b

    david b Member

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    Never throw anything away.
     
  4. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    For me, editing is like natural selection: survival of the fittest. Like you, I contact print, file, and keep every roll of film that I expose. The editing process begins here...I shoot medium format so beginning the editing process from the contact sheet is easier than 35 mm...I study my contact sheets to see which ones interest me, and then make a pilot print of those that show promise. These are all done at a standard size, exposure and development, without filtration, and are quick and easy to print. Then I study the pilot prints and decide which ones (if any) to make final prints from. Cropping, paper/development choices, contrast filtration, and dodging and burning come in at this step, the objective being to make the best print possible from the negative. That print gets put in a storage case with other prints of similar subjects, and may be mounted and matted later for inclusion in a portfolio, or framed for presentation. Or not.
     
  5. BobNewYork

    BobNewYork Member

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    I think FirePhoto has it. One thing I always found useful was not to overthink the editing process - at least for your fine art images. Your "gut" is a better judge than your head. Try to avoid selection based upon how hard the shot was to get, or how much time it took to set up. When you look at your proof sheets go with the visceral response to images that kind of grab you. Print those -even to a 5x7 and pin them on a wall or board somewhere you'll see them regularly on your day to day activities. If you can live with them for a few weeks then pursue it. Be aware that you will try to love all of them - be honest with yourself. That way you begin to build a body of work.

    As for the old negs and proofs - keep them all. Months and years down the road, you'll find yourself re-examining them and you will find images that your gut missed first time around. You will also find that your technique has changed and there may be images that you want to re-shoot in a different vein. You change, your appreciation changes and what you want to convey changes. Your body of work is an evolution.

    Hope this helps.

    Bob Hall
     
  6. Ria

    Ria Member

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    I very rarely dispose of a negative permanently. As mentioned above sometimes you will have a negative that exceeds your ability to print; however, as time goes on and your skills improve, you find that that it is doable after all. I have also found that some images that I did not particularly like at the time somehow improve over the space of a few years.
     
  7. What they said! :smile:

    Steve
     
  8. eddym

    eddym Member

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    For the most part, I never throw anything away, either. I file negatives & contacts in binders. From the contact sheet, I inspect likely negs with a loupe and print either 5x7 or 8x10 working prints from them. If they look good, then I might make 11x14's, and later, 16x20's, which is as large as I can print myself. Sometimes I don't go beyond 8x10 or 11x14. And I do sometimes go back and find old shots that I have never printed and print them. Usually I rediscover why I didn't print them (!) but not always. Recently I was looking for something else and came across an interesting looking shot on a contact sheet from the '90's, and wondered why I had never printed it. I then made a test print and loved it! So ya never know...
     
  9. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i throw nothing out too.
    i had 30 or 40 rolls and sheets and sheets of film
    i labeled " for the future" and i stashed them, knowing i would have trouble
    then but maybe not now. it was like a time capsule.
    and when i put it in the enlarger i saw things i never knew
    were there when i exposed the film to the light.
     
  10. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I've always considered photography to be an art of editing, from the moment you frame your picture, the instant you click the shutter, to the selection of the negative and the decisions you make in the darkroom or otherwise.

    Interestingly enough, this applies to pretty much all other arts. Look at writers: they produce more work for their bin than for publication; dancers perform a lot of possible routines before their act falls into place; sculptors will melt the bronzes that really don't work; painters do study after study of their subject before it coalesces into a work they want to show.

    At the moment of exposure, I try to limit the number of shots. Not that I consider every shot to be a masterpiece, but once I see something, I shoot just enough to have that "I got it feeling." Often it's only one shot; sometimes it's 2-3. William Eggleston said somewhere that he never shot twice, otherwise he couldn't make up his mind about which shot to select; I've always liked that thinking.

    Given that I don't have the energy or discipline to process everything immediately, I let the rolls sit on the shelf for a while. The upside of doing that is this: by the time I develop the film, my memory has already narrowed down the selection. For every batch, there are some pictures that stick in my mind more than others, so those are the ones I look forward to print.

    When the film is processed, I chimp in anticipation, pull the neg out of the reels while it's still wet and look excitedly at all the frames. Part of it is still the infantile satisfaction of seeing pictures coming out of film; part of it is just to get the visceral, "YES, still got it!". And it also serves as a reality check on my memory: sometimes, pictures that would stick in my mind reveal themselves to be otherwise, and vice-versa.

    (With slides, the process stops here, and I split them between "yes", "maybe", "meh" and "bin.")

    The contact print has the same purpose: more reality check (you can't always figure out everything on a negative image), plus you can make sure the technical side is now OK.

    After the contact print, I know which photos I will enlarge, and which I won't, give or take 10%. I always enlarge to an 8x10 to try out the various darkroom decisions (crop/not, contrast, D&B, etc) and to make sure that focus was where I wanted it (sharp contacts can sometimes reveal themselves to be fuzzy enlargements).

    By that point, the 8x10 are still only an enlarged contact. If I had the energy and the money, I would definitely enlarge much more pictures to know whether they work or not. The 8x10 is for me the proof in the pudding. If I stick with it, then I will go to the next stage and spend all the time I can on one print, and usually do so on fibre paper.

    What turns all of this upside down is when I decide to do an exhibit. Suddenly, the purpose and criteria of selection become different, because I have a concrete situation, and I want to deliver the goods. Then, I dig back into my contacts, and some stuff that was merely "meh" becomes really interesting because of how it relates to the other pictures.

    That's why in the end, I think that a lot of a work's meaning is post-facto. We take a lot of pictures more or less mindlessly, we select them on arbitrary criteria, but once we go to the exhibition stage, the act itself of preparing an exhibition imbues many pictures with hitherto unsuspected meaning.

    I don't believe in "visualization", i.e. the ideal that a picture is done at the moment you click the shutter. Not at all.
     
  11. Maris

    Maris Member

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    If........Then is a classic philosophical expression of the principle that conclusions follow premises.

    If Michel Hardy-Vallee believes; quote "I've always considered photography to be an art of editing, from the moment you frame your picture, the instant you click the shutter, to the selection of the negative and the decisions you make in the darkroom or otherwise."unquote,
    Then everything he ruminates upon comes true. But I believe it is an excruciating, laborious, expensive, and wasteful way to pursue the art of photography.

    I used to work like Michel Hardy-Vallee but found that all the fussing and futzing actually reduced the productivity of good photographs. The way forward, I found, was to edit in a strongly disciplined way before exposure. Throwing away the miniature camera and going to an 8x10 was a big help in this. My principle became:

    If I carry every exposure, without exception, all the way through to the best gelatin-silver photograph I can make
    Then that is the sum of my art, all of it, nothing further to edit, nothing to throw away.
     
  12. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Why do you need to bracket my statements? It's clear enough that the sentences start with an "I" and thus apply to my way of working, my point of view, my considerations. Where did I ever say that it was THE way to go?

    "IF MHV believes that..." Well it's damn clear that's what I believe, because I said "I always considered..." no?? Who needs these unnecessary qualifications?
     
  13. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    I agree with never throwing anything away. What you do need is a way to catalog and archive the negatives you make. That will make it much easier to find something you need in the future. I found out the hard way.

    A few years ago I did my "Fifty Photographs - Fifty Years" project (on my website) where I sought out the fifty best photographs I had done until then. It was a huge job to go back and search through all the negatives trying to figure out which ones were the best and just trying to find the negatives for the images I knew I wanted to include.

    Secondly, you will want to keep all the negatives to keep track of how many photographs you make. This is important because St. Ansel told us no one becomes a good photographer until they have made 10,000 exposures.
     
  14. ilya1963

    ilya1963 Member

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    Secondly, you will want to keep all the negatives to keep track of how many photographs you make. This is important because St. Ansel told us no one becomes a good photographer until they have made 10,000 exposures.[/QUOTE]



    M

    "“Your first 10000 photographs are your worst.” - attributed to Henri Cartier-Bresson."
     
  15. TimVermont

    TimVermont Subscriber

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    I'll put in a plug for saving your worst offenders in a binder. It becomes your textbook of what not to do (again) and as your contributions become fewer over the course of time, a record of progress and learning.
     
  16. BobNewYork

    BobNewYork Member

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    Absolutely true Tim. We lean little from the ones we got "right" - we learn much more if we take the time to analyze those we got wrong. If we spend that time asking the question "why didn't that work?" we're far more likely to remember it, (and avoid the same pitfalls) when we're faced with a similar situation in the field. If we merely toss the baddies without thought we tend to keep doing it over and over.
     
  17. jmal

    jmal Member

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    I think this may be the first time I have ever heard the process of using a "miniature" camera excruciating and laborious in relation to that of an 8x10 camera. FWIW, I am in complete agreement with MHV. It is also worth noting that while some may find LF/Visualization an efficient way of photographing, it would be impossible to get many of the photos I find most interesting with this method. I like the idea that chance plays a role in photography. I am very sceptical of the idea that one can visualize/previsualize the outcome of a photograph in anything other than the most static of situations.
     
  18. John Elder

    John Elder Member

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    I shoot 35mm film for my street photography. I shoot everything that interests me. Shoot now, edit later. Much of street photography happens so fast that it is almost an atheltic process based on eye hand coordination. If you take time to think, the shot is gone! I also keep everything I shoot. I used to make work prints of photos I had edited from contact prints. I still think that is the best method. If you still like a work print 6 months after you made the print, then it might be worth while making an exhibition print of that image.
     
  19. mike c

    mike c Subscriber

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    Well I feel better now knowing a lot of photographers are dealing with the same issues I have. Lately I dug up some prints that were lying around for year and posted them in the gallery here to get comments on them. Well after thinking about the comments I realized I could improve them ,tried to find the negs and couldn't find them. A couple of years ago I had foolishly thur them out . So I think critique can help with the printing process,I guess its related to writers cramp.
    mike