Pause before editing – a film perspective

A film based approach

When it comes to editing I fall into two camps – I either edit the moment I arrive back home or I wait weeks before even looking at the images.  As has been suggested several times by many photographers you should always wait before you begin editing your images.  Whilst this is something I know I still find myself editing quickly after taking the pictures and then not being completely happy with what I produce.  However I have found that I am often much happier with my film based images, partly because when I eventually get them back I’ve had time to forget them and they are fresh to my eyes.

Why the wait?

I wondered for quite a while – why do many top landscape photographers emphasise this waiting process – what does it help to achieve?  This is when I began to reflect on when I shoot with film and the differences I feel in looking at negatives several weeks after shooting compared to opening up the raw files within 20 minutes of shooting – I analyse the pictures without bias and make assessments on the composition without the emotion of being on the scene influencing my opinion.

Quite often I’ve found that I’ll love the shot whilst I’m out there but in the moment of setting up I might have ignored a strange distraction or not realise that the shot is just generally not that exciting.  When it then comes to editing I become determined to make a shot work as it is rather than looking at it more objectively.  Once this objectivity is gone I have often found the shots to be inferior and ones that when I normally look back through my work I ignore.

Case in point

Reykjavik, Iceland  Reykjavik composition 2

This is the same image with edits around a year apart now.  When I first edited the image I was desperate to keep the discarded engine in the frame as that’s what I worked to get in at the time, however when I have looked again at the image I realised two things:

1. The engine is far too dark and incorrectly exposed so doesn’t really add anything to the foreground.

2. The engine is too low in the composition and draws the eye too far down in the frame.

To remedy these issues I cropped to a square to remove the engine in the bottom corner.  This gave a much stronger diagonal line across the image using the edge of the rocks.  It also helped to brighten the foreground slightly to better match the mountain behind it.

Why has film helped?

I feel that having shot film (and still shooting film) has helped me to develop a certain level of patience when I remember to.  As I write this I have 2 rolls of film to develop that I will get done within the next week, which will then take me another 3-4 days to scan.  Hopefully I’ll be detached enough from the image by then to be more objective in my edits.  If you really want to get into slowing down for editing then darkroom printing is something you should try at least once.  As a very amateur printer it can take me around 2-3 hours to get a well edited print I like – a very slow process indeed!