Edit Your Photos. Please.

The video embedded above may not appeal to everyone but it could be interesting for anyone who takes a lot of photographs. It’s a short (6-1/2 minutes) testimony to the relationship between National Geographic photographers and their editors, and offers some insight into the editing process at a professional level.

I’ve had a number of opportunities in recent years to participate in workshops and other sessions led by professional photographers, including some from Nat Geo. The editing process is one important topic that always comes up and, it turns out, the photographer does very little of that editing by themselves. That’s why they have editors. 

However, those professionals use the term “editing” very differently than most regular picture takers.1 For them, editing photos is about cropping the image, maybe applying a filter or two, changing the brightness. Or just clicking the Auto button to see if the software can improve things. Professionals refer to those changes as “processing” the images.

For professional photographers and their editors, editing is the process of reviewing a relatively huge number of photos and selecting the relatively few that will be used in a project. At Nat Geo that can mean taking 40,000 images (or more) and finding fifteen or so that will best enhance the story.

I can’t imagine that job. It’s hard enough when I come back from a trip with 800 photos and have to pare them down to a collection that my friends and family will actually want to view. Part of my editing also involves writing a title (instead of IMG-1171), a short description, and adding a few keywords for each image I post online to Flickr and/or my SmugMug sites.

I also love viewing photos taken by others but I really wish more of them would do a better job of editing of their pictures. Too many people simply post almost everything they take to their social media channels with little or no culling of the lesser images. As a result, the narrative in those pictures can get lost.

Spend some extra time on editing those photos and they will tell a better story. Thank you.


1. I mean absolutely nothing negative in that phrase. I’m also a “regular picture taker” who is working to improve my skills and I love helping others do the same.

Sunday Short Takes

A few interesting reads and listens from last week.

The New York Times Magazine’s education edition included a long, very interesting look at education in Michigan where they gambled on charter schools and “Its Children Lost”. It’s a story of lax regulation and oversight, coupled with a concerted effort to privatize public schools, led by the current federal Secretary of Education.

Two podcast episodes that explain in clear language why a do-nothing Congress can actually harm people. Planet Money has three examples our legislators risking the American economy by failing to pass a budget and risking the good credit of the country by playing chicken with the debt ceiling. The third segment addresses immigration and DACA, as does a short edition of DecodeDC, in which they fact check Jeff Sessions. Spoiler: he’s mostly wrong.

In-between watching continuous coverage of Hurricane Irma, read about the men and women who fly aircraft into the middle of those storms to gather crucial information for scientists and forecasters. We often take all this for granted but collecting that data is tricky, dangerous, and very necessary work.

Related to that, the BBC programme (British spelling :-) More or Less explains why the phrase “one in 500 year storm”, used so frequently during the coverage of Hurricane Harvey, has very little meaning. By the way, More or Less does a very good job of explaining those kind of statistical measures used by the media, in a short and very interesting weekly podcast.

With all the stories about data security this week, Motherboard explains why you should never post pictures of your airline tickets or even house keys on social media. Their warning should also extend to any documents that include numbers or barcodes that contain identifying information. If you teach, you may want to explain this to your students as well.

Finally, National Geographic offered a couple of interesting pieces this week, complete with great images, of course. One is a photographic essay of abandoned, decayed resorts in Pennsylvania and New York, side-by-side with post cards of the same scenes. Very creepy. The other profiles a small city in China (where a population of 1.2 million is “small”) that produces “60 percent of the worlds cheap consumable goods”.

Smile For The Data Collector

If you’ve ever used Google’s mapping products, at some point you’ve probably dropped into Street View. This year marks ten years since those 360° street level images were first released, and since then, the company has “snapped more than 80 billion photos in thousands of cities and 85 countries”.

Wired reports that Google has now begun deploying their next generation Street View rigs, featuring cameras with much higher resolution. But their ultimate goal is not just offering a better look at your next vacation destination.

[The cameras are] there to feed clearer, closer shots of buildings and street signs into Google’s image recognition algorithms.

Those algorithms can pore over millions of signs and storefronts without getting tired. By hoovering up vast amounts of information visible on the world’s streets—signs, business names, perhaps even opening hours posted in the window of your corner deli—Google hopes to improve its already formidable digital mapping database. The company, built on the back of algorithms that indexed the web, is using the same strategy on the real world.

The detailed analysis of signs in store windows, however, is just the beginning of what Google and others will be able to do with this visual data.

How much more could Google extract from Street View using image processing algorithms? A lot.

Earlier this year Stanford researchers, including professor Fei-Fei Li, now chief scientist at Google’s cloud division, showed they could predict income, race, and voting patterns for US cities with software that logs the make, model, and year of cars in Street View photos.

Ok, that’s a little creepy.

Anyway, on this tenth anniversary of Street View, there’s really not much that can be done about taking pictures in public. Everyone has a camera and cameras are everywhere, not just in cars from huge data collection companies. And, as a photographer (strictly amateur), I believe in minimal restrictions when it comes to photography.

When those millions (billions?) of discrete pictures are turned into massive data sets and processed by complex, invisible algorithms, it’s another story. A story that is very much still been written.

The Weekend Collection

A small collection of good things to read, hear, or watch when time allows during the coming week.

Read: Isaac Asimov wrote 500 books in his lifetime, both fiction and non-fiction, in addition to hundreds of essays, letters, and other works. So, what was his secret for such a prolific body of creative work? A writer for Quartz found six “tactics and strategies” in Asimov’s autobiography that would be easy for anyone to use. (about 5 minutes)

Read: Every four years, the Olympic Games are a huge spectacle spotlighting one major city in the world. A city that likely has spent huge amounts of money building venues to house the athletes and the events. But what happens after everyone leaves. It’s not pretty, and one writer believes we’ve reached The End of the Olympics As We Know It. (about 8 minutes)

Read and View: Speaking of abandoned places, National Geographic offers a collection of photos from the apocalypse, but smaller. They are miniature scenes by two artists from Brooklyn (where else?) depicting what common place locations might look like long after humans have left. I know it’s weird to like this stuff but the images are very compelling. (about 10 minutes)

Listen: You probably don’t think much about bees unless you get stung by one. But they are an essential part of the ecosystem around the food we eat. The story about how millions of bees from Louisiana help produce California almonds is a great Planet Money segment. If you teach middle or high school science, play this one for your students. (22:54)

Watch: Everyone gets spam email. A few people actually respond, usually with unfortunate results. However, British writer and comedian James Veitch is one who responds and turns his encounters into great social commentary. This is a TED talk from last year in which he details his very funny ongoing exchange with a Nigerian “Kamanda”. (10:20)

Watch: Austin Kleon is an interesting artist and writer, author of the wonderful book Steal Like an Artist (I bought it just based on that title :-). He is also a big fan and advocate for journaling and keeping notebooks. In this video of a bookstore talk to promote a journal related to the Steal book, he explains his process in between showing notebook examples from other fanatics. (31:30)