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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The more you edit, the better you look.

I was thinking about this this afternoon as I was driving to school to pick up my 5 year old son (yes that's how obsessed with photography I can get sometimes!). I had just been viewing a photo essay by my hero Steve McCurry of AIDS victims in Vietnam. There was a lot of photos in a slideshow and some of them were very powerful, some of them not so. I felt that the not so amazing images detracted from the effect of the whole.

Now Steve McCurry is my absolute hero. I love pretty much everything he does but it got me to thinking that a lot of the power of really great images is great editing. He mostly only shows his best pictures.

With the advent of digital photography we tend to shoot a lot of pictures and then show people everything we do. When in actual fact we would serve ourselves and our viewers much better to just show the A1 best images.

Take this shot of the cassowary, a large flightless bird found here in North Queensland and in Papua New Guinea. (This photo was only taken a couple of weeks ago while out on assignment). I'd gotten up at 4 in the morning to drive the two hours up to the Daintree National Park - a World Heritage-listed tropical rainforest. As I was driving through the park looking for landscapes to photograph I saw a cassowary about a kilometre up the road, just foraging on the side of the road. I stopped the car and shot a picture through the windscreen. It was crap but it proved to my wife that I saw one of these very rare birds.

I drove farther along and the bird fled into the forest. I pulled my car over on the side of the road and hopped out just to see if I could see it but no luck. But I had the camera with a telephoto zoom set on the tripod and decided to set the camera up to shoot any cars coming along the road through the dense rainforest in the pre-dawn light.

I sat there for about ten minutes or so waiting for a car when all of a sudden I heard a rustle behind me and not one but two cassowaries popped out in succession and ran across the road. It was dark (like 1/60th second at ISO800) and these totally black birds were moving quite quickly across the road. I was trying to move the camera on the tripod, focus and get an interesting shot all at the same time.

I rattled off about 20 frames. Some of them were really blurred, some of them were slightly blurred. Some of them had pretty bad composition, some of them were worse than bad. I deleted every single one of them except for this one picture. The bird's pin sharp, he (she?) has a nice motion in the foot and the crossing of the white line is very symbolic considering that the majority of cassowary deaths in this part of the world are caused by cars. Anybody looking at this picture would (hopefully) think 'what a great photographer.' If they saw any of the other 19 shots they would just think I was a bloody lucky photographer.

Don't be afraid to get rid of the rubbish. The more you can edit your pictures so that just the good ones remain, the better a photographer you will become in the eyes of your audience. Remember that if every shot on your compact flash card is a keeper you're not experimenting enough. Our mistakes lead us to the fantastic stuff. Get rid of the mistakes and just leave the great pictures.

Note to self: Don't tell 1000 readers on your blog that you make mistakes! :)


Chung T. Nguyen said...

Great post, and I agree with you with regards to editing portfolios. I hope people don't judge me based on my Flickr! I have some very questionable picture on there.

The photo is amazing as well.

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks for the comments Chung. I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. Flickr is a great place to post pics to show all your friends and family and there's some amazing work for inspiration on there.

Melody said...

Wow. You are spot on. Not to say that I am a great photographer (& I do post probably too many ordinary photos on my blog) but you are spot on. I see too many blogs out there with too many crap photos. I usually try to show what I consider captures the moment - but then only the 'good ones'. Does that make sense?

I'm here via the Cairns Festival of Bloggers. Because I am one too. (A Cairns blogger that is!)

Paul Dymond said...

Hi there Melody,

nice to have another Cairns blogger checking in. You're right though, about not only blogs with less than fantastic photos. I often judge a photography book by how good the photos are. Call me judgmental but I often think that if the pictures aren't up to scratch then maybe the advice isn't either. Check out Joe Mcnally's blog (linked from the home page) and see how the masters produce such amazing images and teach their students in such an open and friendly way. Not that I'm comparing myself in any way to the master himself but it's inspiration for all of us.

Peace said...

Hi Paul, Nice shot, I always try to use the best shots I have too. Here's one of my faves of a family of cassowaries, technically not so great but still a favourite, like you I had to capture the moment quickly or miss it altogether:

Paul Dymond said...

Yeah it's pretty special when you run across these rare birds, even better when you manage to get a photograph off. This is probably one of my all time favourites not only because of the resulting image but just the experience itself. All by myself, on the side of an empty road in the middle of the rainforest and out he pops. Sometimes you just gotta pinch yourself.