Posted by: David Vernon | April 27, 2010

Be the ball. Edit.

Enter and ExitI’m not one of those people who can throw movie quotes out there verbatim. I do seem to recall a quote that included the line “be the ball”. I knew I had seen the movie at some point in my life but I can’t remember the context of what sports-related movie it came from (I know almost all you are laughing now because you’ve gone “duh! Caddyshack!” – I had to look it up). The original line (thanks Google) was:

“I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

At least I did remember the important last line – and its inherent meaning. To get into the zone you have to stop thinking and let your skills take over. And how am I going to relate that to photography? I’m going to talk about one of the most important zones out there photographically speaking, and that’s the EDIT zone.

The advent of digital photography sells this idea that each additional image you take is free. There is no cost associated with it. I stick a roll of 120 film in my Pentax 67 and I can count on 9-10 shots. I want more – I need another roll of film. That costs $. I then have to process another roll of film. That costs $. The notion, however, that digital is free, is offset. It’s offset by the time you spend on the back-end – in the digital darkroom. With a lot of memory and the right format, I can literally fit thousands of images in my digital camera. For no other front-end incremental cost. But don’t let that fool you – there is a HUGE incremental cost. Here’s another quote for you: “time is money”. At some point you have to look at those images – you have to edit them.

I like to tell beginning photographers that the difference between them and me is that I don’t show the world all my crap shots. The inference is that they do. That with experience comes the ability to throw away 99% of your work. Maybe even 99.5%. Maybe even 99.9%. And that’s hard for some folks to get a handle on. “But look how hard I worked,” they’ll say. If you want to get good at this gig, you have to understand that the work is only half-way finished when you’re done shooting. The image on the blog today – looking into Peoria from the Fondulac Bridge in East Peoria – I made dozens of shots from up there last week. I tried vertical, horizontal, long exposures, short exposures, different focal lengths, etc. And in the end I produced exactly one image. All of the rest just would have been copies.

Here’s one more quote from a guy who knew – Mr. Ansel Adams: “The negative is the score. The print is the performance.” He was usually right about most things photographic. So if I can riff on that a bit – editing is rehearsal for the performance. Without it – you’re gonna suck. Big time. Let your one performance really jump off the page.

Now that I’ve beaten that point home, I gleefully point you to a post from shooter Adam Barker on editing. He lists five salient and vital points for the editing process. I’ll list them here and then let you read his points. They are what you will need to get to the performance. This is the rehearsal process.

  1. Edit immediately
  2. Edit voraciously
  3. Edit continually
  4. Edit at 100%
  5. Edit to edit

Each of these five points is pretty important, but if I had to drive it home with one of them it would be to edit voraciously. It’s a little to easy to fall in love with your work. Most of it is crap though, just like most of mine. Crap means you’re trying. You’re reaching. You’re trying new things. Without crap, you get the same shot everyone else gets. And if you’re not careful, you get 100 copies of it. Throw most of it away. Find the gems. Find the adventures. And run with those. The rest – trashcan ’em.

Afterthought: Just as I was ready to click “publish” here I reread Adam’s post for the third time today. Let me add a comment about “edit voraciously” and “edit to edit” and how they grow together. My take on edit to edit is this. Just edit. Don’t say “ooh I like this one” and then start working on it. Instead say “ooh I like this one”, mark it (rate it), and then move on to the next one. Don’t start “processing” until you’ve finished editing. Know what you’re going to work with first. Barker points out – under editing voraciously – that he rates his images from 1-5 starts. If it doesn’t get at least one star – then it’s gone. I go a step further. I rate everything 1 star or nothing. That’s it. It’s either a keeper or it’s not. So 99% of my stuff doesn’t get a star. It’s only after I’ve examined the possibilities that I’ll take those few one star images and differentiate them. I’m not making that decision from the big pool – I’m making it after I’ve seen every image and I’m making it from a very small choice of shots. I could rate something 5 STARS!!!! early on, only to find a better image later. By the time I’ve gone through my selects once, I know which one works best. So edit to edit voraciously.


  1. Just getting started in photography, has give me a huge advantage over well established photographers. I don’t have to buy expensive editing software, learn all the tricks, and waste time on my computer. I started shooting weddings because I love photography and I love people, so that’s what I spend my time doing!

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