Self-editing in landscape photography

What is self-editing?

Hold your finger on the shutter button of a modern camera for 10 seconds and you can take dozens of photographs.  Go into the landscape for a day and you could quite easily take hundreds of photographs with no sort of special effort.   Whilst this is of course a key advantage of digital photography, it can also be a downfall.  Your landscape photography will be judged by the strength of your portfolio.  Therefore, it is important to self-edit and keep the standard of your work high.

By way of example, the collection of landscape photographs below contains all those that I uploaded to my personal website during 2017.  In order to make it to my website I have to be pleased with a landscape photograph.  However, to make it to print I have to be proud of a photograph.  Therefore, starting this year I have decided to review my photography and ruthlessly self-edit.  This  will leave me with a collection of landscape photographs I am really proud of.  I tried to imagine which images would appear in a book of my years photography, if I were to make one.  Later in this article I will show you this edited collection.  But, for now, lets talk about the forms self-editing can take.

My favourite landscape photographs from 2017, but which are the strongest?  It is time to self-edit my work!

My favourite landscape photographs from 2017, but which are the strongest?  It is time to self-edit my work!

Types of self-editing

You are probably already self-editing without being aware of it.  There are opportunities to do it at several stages of the photographic process.

Self-editing in the field

The first way to self-edit your landscape photography in the field is to simply stop and think about what you are doing!  My own philosophy for landscape photography is that once you have found a scene you like, you should take multiple shots, each a more refined composition than the last.  However, by taking a little time before starting this process you can save yourself a lot of time later on.  Assuming the light gives you the luxury of time, just walk around the scene a little and visualise your composition before sticking your finger to the shutter button!

Another way to self-edit is to periodically review your landscape photographs on the back of the camera.  This method allows you to quickly delete those which are clearly not worth keeping.  You might have been taking a series of photographs to refine a composition as suggested above.  Get rid of the initial efforts, you don’t need them.  This is also a great chance to get rid of the landscape photographs which are not exposed to your liking.  I normally do this whilst I am waiting for the light to change.  A word of warning though – some landscape photographs look much better on a big screen than they do on the back of your camera.  Only get rid of those images which are obviously non-starters at this stage.

A slight twist on the previous technique is to take advantage of your camera’s rating system.  You can normally apply a star rating to each photograph in the camera and this can be utilised by editing software.  I find this method to be a little fiddly so I avoid it.

Self-editing whilst importing photographs to your computer

When I get home from a landscape photography shoot I import photographs from my camera onto my computer.  I use Adobe Lightroom to do this, but there are many software packages which are equally good.  Having already self-edited in the field which means this stage is a little more manageable!

I import all of the photographs from the memory card and view each one individually.   I scroll through the images one by one and if it shows potential I flag it as a ‘pick.’  I don’t zoom in to check sharpness at this point, I merely flick through at speed and flag images which I feel have potential.  Once I have been through them all once or twice I delete those that didn’t make the cut.  I then go through each once again, zooming in to 100% to check sharpness and whittle the selection down further.  I only want to spend time in post-processing on images I feel are strong enough to display on my website.

Although this sounds like a time-consuming process, it really is not.  It is a very efficient way to get rid of files you will never use.  It allows you to really focus on the strongest landscape photographs. 

Self-editing after post-processing

Immediately after processing all the landscape photographs from a shoot is a great time for further editing.   Depending on the location and how kind the light was to you, you might have several strong photographs.  View them all on screen beside each other and assess which stand out the most.  Get rid of those which stand out for the wrong reasons.  Normally when you display landscape photographs beside each other you can easily identify the strongest ones.  This is a skill which takes time to develop and it is subjective, but you will be looking for balanced compositions, the most beautiful light etc.  It is all to easy to display several nice landscape photographs from a shoot, but you want to be remembered for quality, not quantity.

Self-editing at periodic intervals

I am going to be honest.  My own landscape photography website displays some photographs which I think are nice, but I know I can improve on.  My photography, just like yours, will develop in style and competence over time.  What seems brilliant now may not seem so hot in 5 years time!  With that in mind, as I referred to earlier, I have decided to review my work at the end of each year.

You can choose to do it more frequently than this, but for me this seems to be a nice time to do it.   By reflecting on which landscape photographs are your best, you can set yourself goals for the year ahead.

Scroll up to the top of the page and look at the large collection of landscape photographs I showed you.  Now, look at the collection below.  52 images have become 21.  This is a dramatic reduction, but when I look at the streamlined collection I don’t see a single photograph I wouldn’t print or put in a book.  I see a collection of landscape photographs which I am really proud of.   Gone are ‘I like it but I wish the light was better’ photographs.

Give it a try yourself, you will be surprised at how much stronger your portfolio will become when you self-edit.  You will be able to take pride in displaying your very best landscape photographs to the world!

After some ruthless self-editing, I decided these were my strongest landscape photographs of 2017.

After some ruthless self-editing, I decided these were my strongest landscape photographs of 2017.