Thoughts on selecting pictures to post

June 30, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

As you might guess, when I travel I take way more photos than what you see on this website. For instance I took about 2600 photos on the Myanmar trip and I posted 278. So I thought I'd talk a little about how I rationalize what get's posted and what doesn't. But first, understand that I typically don't attempt to "document" a trip. And by that I mean, I seldom take photos just to provide continuity, or a "diary" of each thing I did or place I visited. I am usually looking for photos that will stand alone without any context. I will often take pictures of signs and landmarks for my benefit so that I can remember the context of where I am, but these seldom make it onto the web site. And I do occasionally take pictures of sights, events, or people that I want to remember about the trip but these pictures are not likely to make it on the website if they would only be significant to me.

If I'm taking pictures where the lighting is tricky, I will often set my camera to do auto-bracketing in high-speed mode. So I fire off 3 shots at 6 frames per second of the same target and one is at the metered exposure, one is a little darker, and one is a little lighter. I use these sets of pictures in two ways. Obviously it gives me 3 choices of the same image and I can select the one with the best exposure. If the scene is very contrasty, I can sometimes combine these three images to create an HDR image with more tonal range than any single shot can capture. So, 2 out of 3 of these never make it on this website.

Due to impatience and some immaturity in my photography skills I often find that I will fire off a picture of a "wow" sight when I first see it, and then I take subsequent better shots after I've had a chance to really evaluate the best perspective for that shot. So, often that first picture or two gets sorted out.

Especially for landscapes, it is usually very important to me that the entire picture be in sharp focus. For landscapes I almost always shoot in aperture priority mode with the aperture at f/8 or f/11 if the lighting is good. This usually give me enough depth of field to keep everything in the frame reasonably sharp. So, if any significant part of the picture is not nice and sharp, it won't make the cut.

Many pictures get thrown out simply because I don't like the composition or "balance" of the image. I generally try to follow the "rule of thirds" when I compose a shot. Basically the rule of thirds says imagine a tic-tac-toe grid on the frame and position the significant element of the picture near one of the 4 points where the lines would cross. If possible, I also like to balance that with something else with some "weight" at the opposite intersection. Some other compositional tricks that I employ where possible is to look for elements to frame the picture, like maybe trees on both sides that bow towards the center.

A very important compositional technique that I and most landscape photographers use is to be sure and include something in the foreground. This gives the picture more depth, scale, and often, some needed detail. On trips like the John Muir hike where there are beautiful views all around, finding a great view is the easy part. As a photographer, what I'm looking for is a good foreground for that great view. Something with some color, especially reds and oranges seems to work really well. I also like to shoot from very low to the ground. This works very well like where you can shoot across a rocky stream or a lake with a nice reflection. The rocks and water make a great foreground but sometimes you literally have to lay on your belly to get the desired effect. Of course when you are taking a picture of a far away landscape such as mountains with a bush or rocks very near the lens, you really need a lot of depth of field to keep everything sharp. If that foreground is not sharp, it is very noticeable and gets scrapped.

Sometimes I will have a number of good shots of the same scene and in those cases I usually narrow it down to no more than 1 or 2 pictures of the same basic scene. I've found that when you do a slide show that includes several pictures in a row that are similar the "wow" factor sort of gets lost. So you really want as much variety in the images as possible. On many occasions I've gone through a slideshow of ALL of my images and frankly I will often be a little disappointed. The repetition of the same scene seems to negate the impact of those photos. Once I've sorted out all the repeats and bad shots the slide show has so much more impact.

And probably the most important reason to sort out so many pictures, is that nobody enjoys wading through hundreds of pictures, especially if there are obvious repeats and poor quality pictures. I know I have too many photos on some of these galleries but I just couldn't stand to cut any more.  But then, first and foremost, this website is for me to enjoy, so I guess I get the final say ;-)


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