How to Analyze Photos When Editing

One of the challenges when editing your photos is deciding which ones to keep and which to delete. I'm not one to keep everything "just in case" I can find an overlooked gem later on. I want to choose the best of the photographs I made. For some photos, or a series of images, one will jump out at you as the shot. The decision becomes more difficult when you have a series of photos that only a little different from each other and there's not a clear winner. Perhaps an expression, behavior or pose is slightly varied. Or you changed the composition by shooting from a higher or lower position, or you moved side to side.

In this situations there are no sure-fire ways to choose the best of the batch. You have analyze each photo and consciously think about how they're different, then consider which variations are stronger and which are weaker. Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun. At first this can seem tedious, but the more photos you analyze the faster you'll become at picking out the strengths and weaknesses of your photos. Think back to when you had to learn about all those buttons and features of your camera. That wasn't the most exciting thing to do either, but now you can use your camera more efficiently because you don't have stop and think about each function and feature. You will also become faster at the editing process and over time some of the decisions will become subconscious. When reviewing a series of photos you will "know" which one is the best (and not because all but one are terrible photographs). Your brain begins to do the analysis in the background. If you stop and purposefully consider the differences between the photos you would be able to articulate why one image is stronger than another. 

This is a theme I'll return to periodically on the blog, where I explain my thought process for choosing one photo over another. Through this I hope to share ideas for what kinds of things to look for when editing your photos and how to analyze elements of line, color and shape.

Let's compare these next two photos of mostly bare trees in late fall. The differences in the compositions are on the left and right sides. The first photo includes more on the right, the second has more on the left. This small change in camera position makes for two very different photos.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Side-by-side for comparison:

My top choice is the first photo (Photo 1). I like the balance and flow of the tree trunks across the composition. The large tree on the left is the dominant tree, but the smaller trees to its right balance the scene. Also, notice the role of the splash of fall color at the bottom. With the large tree being the most dominant in the top left area, the color in the bottom right corner acts as a balancing element for the tree. I desaturated those colors a little so they would balance the tree but not attract too much attention. Finally, the small bare branches evenly fill the areas between the tree trunks creating a subtle, pleasant pattern.

Now onto Photo 2, and where it falls short in comparison. The most significant difference is that the large tree is close to the center because the composition is shifted left. This make the tree even more dominant and it doesn't share the scene as well with the other trees. I like the tree but not enough to have it be the main focus on the photo. I think it works better when it blends with the surrounding scene. In addition, in the top left corner there is a large window to the background which allows your eye to fall past the trees yet there is not much of interest. In Photo 1 the gaps between the branches aren't as large, preventing the eye from drifting to the background. To work with this background issue in Photo 2 I selectively darkened some of the background areas so they would draw less attention to themselves. This helped to somewhat  separate the foreground from the background, but not enough.