Editing Part 2: Is it a keeper?

Sunrise and reflections on the beach at Jericoacoara, Brazil.

In the previous post, I discussed my process for editing images.  During the first pass over a group of images, I either flag, reject or ignore a photo.  The flagged photos are the ones that I want to come back to again.  The photos that I ignore are the ones that make me go “eh,”  as they are neither “good” nor “bad” in my opinion.  The images that get rejected are the ones I don’t want to see again, these are the accidental shots, the out of focus shots, and the terrible exposure shots.  Often those images, are the first in the sequence of working toward the shot that I really want.  For example, when shooting creative motion, I often have to experiment to get the right shutter speed for the motion of the subject.  If I “reject” the ones that just didn’t work, then I can filter them out, so that I don’t have to see them again.

So, what are the qualities that I look for when deciding which are good, or at least are worth a second look?  Listed below are a few of the key points that I consider when critiquing images during the first edit. By no means is this list totally inclusive, but it will give you an idea of the questions I consider when making the first pass of images.

Shadows of a nearby roof are cast on this old wall and yellow door in Paraty, Brazil.

  • Light: Interesting lighting can provide the opportunity to turn an ordinary subject into an interesting photograph.  On the other extreme, dull lighting can make a boring photograph of an interesting subject.

    The steps of Lapa created by artist Selaron. The steps have been a work in progress since 1990, when the artist began covering them with tiles from all over the world.

  • Interesting subject: An interesting subject doesn’t necessarily make an good photo, but it’s a good place to start.  Is the subject of the photograph obvious? Have I successfully communicated to the viewer what I want them to see? Have I found a unique perspective on the subject?
  • Composition:  Does the composition of the image help draw the viewers eye to the subject, or does it successfully move the viewers gaze around the photograph?  Is there a strong focal point?Are there distracting elements that compete with the subject, if so can the image be cropped to remove the distractions?

    Vendor at the Fortaleza fish market is showing off the shrimp for sale.

  • Focus:  Is the main part of the subject sharp?  If the image has selective focus, is the part that is sharp important? If the image is not sharp, is the blur intentional and creative?
  • Exposure: Is the image properly exposed?  Are there details in the highlights and shadows?  If I’m unsure, I’ll look at the histogram, and maybe open it up in the develop module to make sure the information is there to work with.  If the exposure is not technically “perfect” does the exposure enhance the mood or feeling of the image?
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The Process of Editing Images

I’m like a bee or bird, always attracted to bright and contrasting colors. The repetition of red elements against the blue sea and sky is what drew my eye to this scene.

When I travel, I take a lot of images.  I find that I average about 1,200 to 1,500 a week when I’m on the road.  That means a lot of images to edit.  That also means a lot of images that may not deserve a second look, so I thought I’d explain the process that I’m going through right now as a I edit my images.  I’d love feedback about any of the images, or feedback from other photographers who have a different editing process.  I’m including a few random images that I flagged during the intial pass of the first week’s images.

On the Road: Download and backup images.  I use Adobe Lightroom to download and edit images.  I create a catalog on my laptop just for that trip, which I’ll later integrate into my main catalog.  At this point, I go ahead and keyword with locations, so I don’t have to worry about remembering the names of places visited.

Beira Mar at Sunset, Fortaleza, Brazil.

I may go ahead an flag images that I really like at this time, but I usually don’t spend a lot of time editing pictures.  I’d rather be out shooting, than sitting in front of my laptop in a hotel room.

Backup:  If you read my previous post, you know how important it is to back up your files.  I back up to an external hard drive, using Super Duper.   There are tons of great software programs out there to help with back ups, I recommend using one that you can schedule to run automatically, so that your back up is reliant on you remembering to run it.   I also make sure when traveling that my laptop and backup hard drive are in separate carry-on bags.

Home Sweet Home:  Honestly,  when first getting home after a long trip, I usually don’t want spend a lot of time with my images.  I have a lot of life to catch up on.  I need to spend time seeing friends and family, playing with the dog, doing laundry, catching up on sleep, mail, life in general…. you get the idea.   But then there is also the impatient part of me, that’s ready to start looking, sorting and editing.

Vendors selling fresh coconuts are always out along the beach. Aqua de Coco is especially refreshing on a hot day at the beach.

I start by copying the files onto my main computer.  I organize my images into folders by country, and then sub-folders for city or region, within the city folder they are in folders by date the image was taken.

Editing: Lightroom has a lot of tools to help photographers organize images.  Since I’ve switched to Lightroom, my images are better organized, and easier to find.  The first thing I do as I go through the images is to “flag” or “reject” them.   I “flag” ones I want to come back to later and “reject” the total failures (out of focus, bad exposure, accidental shots.)    Ones I really like I will also rate with 3 or 4 stars, but I usually wait to rate them until the second look.  Flagging and rating images is very helpful, because I can later sort the images so that all I see are the flagged images, or the 3 star images.

Foot Volley is a cross between soccer and volley ball, and is a common game played on the beaches of Brazil.

That’s also helpful when your friend comes over and says, can I see your shots?  and you don’t want to show all 6,000 images! (and I’m sure they don’t want to see them!)
So, that’s where I am now.  I’ve sorted through the first 3,500 images and have flagged less than 800 for a second look.  While doing that I also put a few into “A Collection” for sharing on the blog.  I’ve picked a few from that collection to show here.  These are some of my first impressions of Fortaleza.

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The Photographer’s Lab

Digital photography has its pros and cons.  There are many pros, and they will be discussed often in this blog.  Handling the digital files after they’ve been captured falls into both pros and cons.   In the days of film, most color photographers would send their film off to the lab, and get back slides, negatives and prints.  A good lab made sure the images were well printed, and the photographer was able to focus on making good images.  The lab made sure the negatives were properly developed, cut, stored and printed.  Negative and slides did not have to be backed up in case of hard drive failure.  Sure, some photographer had the labs make duplicates before shipping the slides off to be published, and many photographers kept their important negatives and slides in fire proof safes.

With digital photography, the photographer is now the lab.  The photographer is responsible for downloading, converting, processing, storing, backing up and preparing the files to be printed either at home or at a lab.  This has it pros and cons.  The pros are that the photographer ultimately has more control over the process.  The disadvantage is that now the photographer must take more control over the process, and there are many important steps in this process.  One important step is organizing, storing and backing up digital files.

I’m writing about this to explain why there has been a shortage of post on this blog.  I’ve been dealing with some data issues, and am focusing on fixing the problems.  Here’s a brief synopsis of my ordeal for the last few weeks.  All of my images are stored on two internal SATA hard drives. These hard drives are set up in a mirrored raid. A mirrored raid is supposed to protect the files in case of hard drive failure by creating an exact copy of a file on two different hard drives.  Hard drive failure is inevitable, hard drives fail. Period. I know that from experience, anyone who has worked on computers for any amount of time will tell you the same thing.  Unfortunately, in my case, both drives in the raid appear to have failed at approximately the same time.  Not good.

So, in the two weeks since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to see if I could get the data off of one of drives in my Raid.  Neither drive will mount, so I’ve not been able to recover the files.  I have now sent them off to Seagate for data recovery.   Fortunately, most of the files are somewhere else, on an assortment of external drives and dvds. Rebuilding the directory will be tedious, so I’m waiting to see if the data is recoverable, before I start that process.

I’m writing all of this, because I intend for this to be an educational blog.  So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned in the process:

  • Don’t create a raid with two drives made by the same manufacturer at the same time.  (I actually had 3 drives fail.  All 3 were made by Seagate, all 3 were purchased from the same place at the same time.)
  • About once a year, swap out one drive in the raid, and rebuild the raid.
  • Be very diligent about redundancy of files.  About 2 months before this happened, I had backed up about 2/3 of my raid onto an external drive, but didn’t finish the task for various reasons.  I was putting off some of that until I got back from Brazil… procrastination hurts.

Since this blog is about travel photography, I will give a little insight as to how I handle data backup while on the road.  Images are downloaded to my computer and imported in Lightroom, so that I can keyword the location information.  I then back up the laptop every night.  I love the Mercury On the Go by OWC.  I’ve had a few of them, and have had no problems with them.  They have multiple options for connecting to the computer, and are bus powered, so I don’t need another power cord.    I use the program SuperDuper to create an automatic backup, so that I don’t have to remember to set it up.  Then when I get home, all of my files are on the external drive, and it’s easy to plug that into my main computer and transfer them to my storage drives.

While I’m anxiously awaiting news from Seatgate, I’ve been learning about the updates to Lightroom, and have downloaded Lightroom 4.  I’ve just started the process of copying the images from Brazil onto my main computer and have started a new catalog in Lightroom.  I’m loving many of the new features in Lighroom, which means I’ll be posting images soon!


7/28/12 Update:   I sent my hard drives off to Seagate Recovery Services.  Everyone that I talked to at Seagate was very helpful.  They get an A for customer service.  They were able to recover most of the data on my drives.  Since I had 3 drives fail at the same time, I asked if they could give me any discount on the price of data recovery.  They did give me 20% off, and expedited my recovery services.  The drives were also under warranty, so all three drives have now been replaced.  They recommended that I run drive tests on a regular basis.  If I had, I would have known that one drive failed about two months before the other one.  So, I’ve now purchased Drive Genius, and am running it on a regular schedule.

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Confessions of a Travel Blogger

To whom it may concern:  I’m too busy traveling and photographing to write about traveling and photographing.

Spent the last few days in the seaside colonial town of Paraty.  Am currently waiting on our bus transfer to Rio, so that we can fly to the Amazon region tomorrow.

I am however taking time to download photos to my computer, keyword them with locations and back them up.  Images to be processed and edited when I get home and the post travel blues settle in.  Stay tuned.

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Capturing Motion

Brazil is a country in motion, both literally and metaphorically.  The photographic challenge is to capture that sense of motion. If done well, creative motion can make a still photograph more dynamic.

Shutter Priority Mode: 1/20 second. While riding in a separate dune buggy, I set the shutter speed as slow as possible for the bright day. Camera was set to high speed continuous mode and while we were traveling about the same speed as the other buggy, I fired off a series of shots. This one was the most successful. The riders in the other buggy were sharp, while the background blurred as we sped by.

Panning is my favorite technique for showing motion.  The technique involves a slow shutter speed, and following the subject by moving your camera during the exposure.  Success with this often takes multiple tries to get the right shutter speed for the motion of your subject.  A successful pan will have a streaked background with the subject relatively sharp.  Don’t expect the subject to be tack sharp, but you do want the subject to be sharp enough that you can tell what it is.  If your shutter speed is too slow, the subject will be too blurry. If the shutter speed is too fast, then the background may not be blurry enough.

One advantage of the panning technique, is that is can create a dramatic separation between the subject and its background, by eliminating distracting elements from the background.

Our hotel location is a block from the beach, so we have a front row view to the ideal exercise venue. There is a wide sidewalk along the beach that is in constant motion. Early morning and into the evening, the sidewalk is full of people walking, running, rollerblading, skateboarding and an odd assortment of other activities.  Along this path are exercise stations with pull up bars and other structures for exercise.  There are also several beach volleyball courts and a skate park.

Running along Beira Mar, Fortaleza

For these shots I set myself at a location along the beachfront walkway that had a display of paintings.  The paintings were an assortment of bright colors, and I knew that it would make for an interesting background.  Then I stood there and fired off a lot of frames.  I looked left and right to see who was coming into the frame.  I looked for joggers or skateboarders who were by themselves, to help keep the composition simple.  My camera was in high speed shooting mode, so that I was able to fire off 3-5 frames before the subject was out of range.  In the case of this shot, photographed about 5 different subjects, and had two shots that are “keepers.”  This one of the jogger made the blog because of the red bandana and the fact that I got his feet in the shot.

Another take on panning is to experiment with shutter speed settings while you are in motion.  If you are moving at the same speed as something in your frame, then that object will be sharp, while the scenery around you is blurred.  This works great for shooting from moving cars, trains, buses, roller coasters, etc…

Shutter Priority: 1/20 Second. The slow shutter speed gives the sense of the speed of the truck as we were zipping down these dirt/sand roads. The truck and the mirror are sharp, because I’m moving at the same speed that they are. Having something sharp in the image is helpful when trying to show blurred motion, as the contrast between the two heightens the sense of motion.

Shutter Priority: 1/160 Second. This fast shutter speed stopped the motion, we might as well be parked when I took this image.

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New Destinations

Arriving in a new destination is always exciting.

The bright side of our redirected flights was the view out the window as we flew over the Amazon Region at sunset.

New sights, sounds and smells can all overwhelm the senses.  What’s a photographer to do? I see two ways to approach this scenario, which one is right for you will depend on a lot of factors.

Warning labels on the backs of cigarettes.

Approach #1:  Photograph everything that is new and different.  In a few days it might not seem weird that there is a hose with a spray nozzle next to your toilet, or that fruit at breakfast becomes an everyday item.

My students first assignment takes that approach.  The assignment is titled “Viva La Difference”  or celebrate the differences.  Take shots of those items that are new and unique, before that freshness wears off.  There have been too many times, that I’ve come back from travels with stories, but not the pictures, because I forgot to capture that newness.

Approach #2: Observe and learn.  This is a more studied approach, and may help you get a deeper understanding of the culture, before you get trigger happy.  There are times when it is good to just experience and absorb the culture, without feeling you have to photograph everything.  This can be difficult, but this approach is also good if you’re concerned about safety and security.  For example, today our group headed out around the block.  Since we tend to attract some attention as a large group, I didn’t want to add to that with all of us having our cameras around our necks.  So the students kept their cameras put away, and I tested the waters.  I knew I had 11 sets of eyes for security, so I kept my camera out and shot a few things along the way.  I got a sense of how people on the street would react to the camera, and see if it would draw a lot of attention.   It didn’t.

Exercise is not limited to the gyms. I’ve already noticed people exercising by the pool, on the boardwalk and as they prepare to surf. They work hard to look good in their swimsuits.

Later we headed out to a beach that was known for having security. I brought  my point and shoot camera.  This allowed us to feel more comfortable taking the cameras out and seeing how people reacted in a safe environment.   My first impression is that Brazilians are laid back, friendly and not camera shy.  Later that evening, a few of us walked around the market and along the boardwalk.  I asked a few people if I could take their pictures, or photograph their market stalls.  I smiled as I pointed to my camera and got smiles back, the students and I have felt very welcomed by the Brazilians that I have met.

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Recipe: How to Make a Seasoned Traveler


  • 10 students from across the state of Tennessee
  • 2 Professors
  • Tight connections
  • Bad Weather
  • International Destination


  • It is helpful if the most of the students don’t know each other and have only met the professors once before.
  • Include 1 Professor who speaks Portuguese and has been to Brazil several times (Make sure that he is the one in charge.)
  • Add 1 Professor who has never been to Brazil, but has traveled a lot and hopes her Italian and other language skills come in handy.
  • Recipe can be extra spicy if you add extra requirements for luggage. Musicians with guitars, mandolins and violas added to photography students with cameras and tripods create just the right amount of flavor to this author’s recipe!

    Welcome to Miami International Airport. The local time is 2:15 in the morning.

  • Marinate on a hard airport floor in Miami during long layover due to a missed connection.  Season this with extra cold air conditioning and a loud speaker that announces the time every 15 minutes, welcomes you to the Miami Airport and reminds you of TSA regulations.

Let all ingredients simmer in 3 Airports and 3 Airplanes for over 30 hours.

The secret ingredient for making this recipe work is a positive attitude. 

Remember: “keep smiling”  that “everything will be all right.”

In the end, the traveler will be ripe and ready for whatever travel adventures may come their way.

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