Editing Your Pictures - The Binary System

Nothing is more fun and exciting than visiting a beautiful location and taking lots of pictures. And nothing is more unexciting than sitting in front of the computer and organizing the thousands of pictures you took. By “organizing” I mean the process of editing, numbering, captioning, keywording and perhaps rating and labeling images. It is as boring and time-consuming as it sounds.

I am sure some photographers just make a folder labelled “Timbuktu 2014,” dump their entire take in the folder and leave it at that. As a professional photographer I do not have that luxury, because having an image that has been carefully selected, captioned and keyworded is crucial to being able to find that image quickly, let alone market it to potential photo buyers. So where to begin?

One of the first steps in organizing your pictures is editing your take (deciding which images you keep and which you don’t). Editing is a very subjective decision, more art than science.  How you handle your own editing will be influenced by many factors, including the image’s subject, composition, lighting, whether you have similar images in your collection already, your experience in what sells (or not), your personal preferences and even your personality.

I use what I call the binary system of editing. As its name implies, the binary system offers two options:  a picture is in, or it is out. I do not label them with colors or stars. That is too much work and it does not aid me in managing my collection. I do spend quite a bit of time applying keywords to each image so I (and others) can easily find them later.

 Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

I do not use color labels and stars because a 5-star (best) image might actually be a zero in a different context and vice versa. For example, let’s say you have a beautiful shot of the Taj Mahal in India. The light was sublime and the composition perfect. With tears in your eyes you give it 5 stars and shudder with excitement as you do so, the picture is that good. Then you get a request from a magazine editor who is looking for portraits of people from India. Your 5-star picture of the Taj is a zero in this context.

To implement my system, I look at an image and determine if it might have any use at all (whatsoever). If so, it gets in. I err on the side of selecting images for my collection, just in case, but I try not to be too generous. I base my decisions on the factors I listed above. I keep personal photographs in a separate folder. The system is simple, elegant, easy to remember.

So that’s one way to edit. There are many others. The idea is to develop a system that makes sense to you and most importantly that you apply consistently.

Now get out and shoot something.