Over the years I’ve had my fair (or as I see it unfair) share of failures, whether working in the music industry or photography. There probably isn’t a day that goes by when I’m in the field where I don’t fail at some point or another, often repeatedly. This is most evident in the editing stage when I return from a shoot and import my images into Lightroom, my current cataloging software of choice.
My normal workflow starts with reviewing all of the images and rating anything that I like on a basic level with 1 star. Any image that doesn’t get at least 1 star may get one at at a later date, but I’d rather make some decisions right away in order to maintain some efficiency. I only delete images that are technically deficient (out of focus, water on the lens, etc.). I may give an image 1 star for reasons other than the obvious, an example being it provides a reference I can use in a future visit to a location. If the image is valuable in any way, it gets 1 star. Next I use a filter to show only those with 1 star, and start the process again, but this time looking for images with more potential and aesthetic qualities I like. These now get 2 stars. At this point I usually take a break to refresh my mind, and may wait a few minutes to a few hours or days before revisiting the two star images again.
Often I’ll make a slideshow in Lightroom with the two star images and review them looking for something that really attracts me, moves me in some way, or perhaps really reminds me of what the location felt like at the moment I made the photograph. If I am fortunate, these I mark with three stars, and now I ‘m down to a very few select images. Very often I’m down to nothing, since I just wasn’t motivated to hit the “3” key, and as I say, it’s “back out a 5 AM again.” Selecting the 4 star images (if one exists), is where the really hard work and fun begins. These are the images that I will spend time with specifically to make a fine art print and sell either online, at a gallery or art show. These are the real keepers, the ones that express my vision, my personal way of seeing, without explanations or doubts. This means it is the best work I can produce at the moment, and I am willing to accept whatever accolades or criticism it generates without any regrets of showing it in the first place. This has taken me many, many, years to understand, with failures and disappointments along the way. But the process has also given me the self-confidence that is so important when making decisions about one’s creative efforts.
There is nothing wrong with asking for advice or seeking opinions from others you trust. I do it all the time. But only after you have been your own critic and edited your work down to the very best you can produce. This is my mantra, the single creative principle I have tenaciously followed without compromise. If I have a nagging feeling in my gut, or any doubt about an image, it gets demoted right away. I need the clarity and confidence that I am presenting my best work – I sleep better that way. Equally important is the confidence in knowing that regardless of whether or not I agree with someone else’s judgement, I am happy with the perception they have made of my presentation, professionalism, and humility. Truth and respect go hand in hand.
When working on a commercial assignment, editing is even more important when there are deadlines to be met. Almost perfect just doesn’t cut it, and the thought of submitting something I feel isn’t my best is not an option for me. I have made mistakes in this area, but I’ve learned valuable lessons in both judgement and discipline.
Perhaps I am too hard on myself or strive to achieve that which seems so often out of reach. Critical editing seems to magnify the failures and reinforce the belief that I am not succeeding in some way. But the truth is quite the opposite and I realized long ago the failure is part of the journey that has helped me arrive at the truly creative and inspiring work. That keeps the creative juices flowing, keeps me motivated, and helps me remember why I love what I do. And I believe judicious and uncompromising editing has helped me grow faster as a photographer than any other aspect I can think of.
“If you limit your choices to only what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.” – Robert Fritz