building in Paris, Jardin de Luxembourg

How to Ruthlessly Edit Your Photos

Unless you are a diligent scrapbooker, editing images is a skill most people don’t take time to learn. As a result, most of us have boxes full of printed images that never see the light of day. And with the advance of smartphone cameras, it’s even easier and cheaper to take hundreds of images. How many times have you seen a friend post 40 plus images of their trip on their Facebook page? I like to see travel images but I don’t need to see ALL of them. Quantity does not necessarily mean quality. To stay on top of our photo inventory, we need to learn how to ruthlessly edit our images so that the best ones can shine through.

Around the world, over 1 trillion digital pictures are taken every year. That’s a lot of images cluttering up phones, hard drives and cloud accounts. If you have limits to your cloud storage, not editing your images means you pay more each month. But even if you choose unlimited storage with Google Photos there are costs to having so many images. Not only do they take up precious space on your cell phone, all those images clutter your mind and suck up valuable time when you are trying to find a particular image. Getting used to editing and sorting your images into albums on a regular basis will make it much easier to share and create content and it may save you some money down the road.

Getting started is easy but first I should say that before you get into hardcore editing on your computer, it is good practice to back up your images to a temporary folder on your desktop. When you are finished editing and sorting the best images and are certain you have kept only the ones you want, you can delete the temporary folder.

If you are editing images on your iPhone, even if you delete them, Apple puts them into a Recently Deleted album for 30 days so you have a chance to change your mind. If you are certain that you don’t want to keep those images, you can go into the deleted photos album, select the images and delete them permanently. Or you can just wait the 30 days for the application to delete them automatically.

Step 1:

Get rid of all of the images that are too dark, too light and most important, out of focus. If you only look at your images on your phone you might not see that they are out of focus – the joys of a small screen. Zoom in to be sure. Or better yet, edit your images on your computer.

Step 2:

Get rid of the duplicates and research images. Often we will take many shots of a group of people to make sure that everybody in the shot is smiling. Pick the best one and DELETE the rest. If your camera takes an extra HDR image, pick the one you like and delete the copy. Same goes for Boost shots. I will often take pictures of products I am thinking of buying. Once a decision has been made, these images are deleted.

If you are editing your images on your computer, you can use software like PhotoSweeper for the MAC or Duplicate Photo Fixer for the PC to review your folders for duplicates. Of course, sorting the images into chronological or event-based folders makes this process much easier.

Step 3:

Separate the wheat from the chaff. Now you need to pick the best images, the ones that really express what you saw. This is of course, highly subjective. Some people think every image is important and that’s o.k. The point is to remove the images that are just taking up space and that will get in your way later on.

Depending on the software you use to review your images, you can move the lesser images into a separate folder or you can tag the best ones and change the view to sort by rating. It all depends on your personal work preferences and what you plan to do with the images in the long run.

As I mentioned in this post, understanding the WHY of picture taking makes it easier to manage them. Are you going to share them with friends and family? Are you going to make a travel book? Are you planning on printing and framing them or even make a movie? Essentially, will you want to look at that picture again in say, 5 years? Does it effectively express what was happening at that time?

In 2008 my husband and I visited Paris and we were quite shocked to realize that the grab and go coffee culture doesn’t exist there. Parisians love their coffee, but they like it at the bar, talking with friends, taking a moment in their busy morning before they head to work. Within two days we succumbed to the pressure and slowed down. It was an important part of our trip so we shot a video of the experience.

These are the things that you keep. The things that tell the story of that trip, of that day. They show where you were, who you were with and what you were feeling. Everything else is just filler or white noise.

Of the 20 or so pictures we took of the Jardin Luxembourg in Paris on that warm Spring day, the featured image for this post and these two images show perfectly not only the gardens but also how the Parisians love to enjoy the space.

The beautiful thing about reviewing your images is that the more you do it the more you will recognize the images that work and those that don’t. The next time you may think to try a different angle or to take more time to make sure the image is in focus. You may set up your group shots to make sure you can see everybody’s face, or you may include a close-up perspective to complement a wide-angle shot. Or maybe, you will remember to shoot video as well as stills.

However, editing does takes time and focus so you have to be committed and motivated. It’s kind of like exercise for a lot of people. Initially, you don’t want to do it but after, you are happy that you made the effort. And just like exercise, it works best if you put it into your schedule. As the award-winning photographer Chase Jarvis says, it’s not that you don’t have time, it’s just that you haven’t made it a priority.

Do you have a long commute? Reviewing your images on your phone while you sit on the bus is a good time saver. I like to do it while watching tv at the end of the day. Give yourself an hour a week to edit and back up your images so that when the time comes to share or organize them into a book or video, you will know exactly where to find them.

If you need a bit more inspiration, check out this post on procrastination. But if you are overwhelmed by how to start the process, you can contact me for a free initial consultation.

Portrait of man sitting at White Sands National Park

How to Take More Meaningful Pictures

“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography

Every day thousands, if not millions, of pictures are being taken around the world. With each advent of new technology, it is becoming easier and easier to record every tiny event or thing around us. But just because it is easier doesn’t mean we are taking better pictures, it just means we have less room on our hard drives. So how do we make sure we are taking more meaningful pictures? How do we take pictures that we want to keep, share or even put up on our walls?

We need to start asking why we are taking pictures in the first place.

I remember traveling to Lake Louise with my mother many years ago. Lake Louise is a stunning glacier-fed lake located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Thousands of pictures have been taken of this lake and the hotel that sits facing it. It is “picture perfect”.

So it wasn’t surprising that shortly after arriving we were asked by some visiting tourists to take their picture in front of the lake. Then they took a picture of us, then we took a picture of all of us. It was a bit surreal. After that, they got back on their bus and traveled away.

 

This scenario is repeated over and over at every tourist attraction around the world. Taking pictures has become less about recording the experience as it is about getting a quick souvenir, the “I was there” t-shirt, before rushing off to the next attraction.

Travel isn’t just about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about being present in the moment, being mindful of the environment and taking a moment to breathe.

Photography is the same. When you stop to take in a scene before you snap a picture, you get a better feel for it and you can start to see what makes it special. Spin around, crouch down, look up. All of these movements will allow you to see things that the tourist platform misses.

Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to take a picture. What compelled you to stop there? Understand why that person or element caught your eye. What do you want to say about them? Once you know what you want to express, you can choose the camera settings that you feel do that the best.

I would argue that this approach can be used for all situations, not just travel. Even when you are shooting friends and family at home you can ask yourself questions before you press the button. What is it about that moment that you want to save? What makes it special? Is it the fact you are all together, the uniqueness of the place, or the crazy weather? Taking the time to think it through will allow you to set up the shot in a way that not only records the event but also expresses what you are feeling. And those are the images you will want to keep.

Man on beach in Tofino, BC

Sometimes you need to take a few shots before you see your vision. I am not saying don’t take as many pictures as you need to express the moment, just start with the Why before you jump into the shooting. As David DuChemin says in his book, Vision Driven Photography,

Before our photographs can say we want them to, and in so-doing to look like we want them to, we need to understand what we want to say, and how we want to say it.

The more you consciously make decisions about your photographs, the more you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. As a result, you will take more images that have meaning for you and that you will want to celebrate and share.

A starter guide for taking more meaningful pictures:
  • Be aware of the things that pull your eye, what attracts your attention
  • Don’t judge yourself or compare – shoot what you want to see
  • Play and take risks. Use settings you don’t normally use.
  • Look at other photographers’ work as well as paintings. See what compositions and lighting appeal to you
  • Practice, edit, practice, edit
  • Delete all images that don’t meet your vision
Still life of gun shot shells on reflective black background

The Real Enemy of the Environment is Bad Product Design

Every day I walk my dog and every day I pick up garbage that has mysteriously never made it to the garbage or recycling bin. It pains me to see what humans so mindlessly pitch waste out their car windows or drop by the side of the road. Every day I think humans are disgusting and lazy and they deserve to die out.

On better days I think, not ALL humans are horrible. Some are trying to change the way things are done. It’s just easier to see the actions of the nasty ones then it is to see the ones that are doing good.

Over the Holidays I had the pleasure of reading a fascinating book called The Upcycle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. This is the follow up book to their first collaboration, Cradle to Cradle.

Each book outlines their drive for a new way to design for the planet. Designing for Cradle to Cradle or C2C “means that a material or its component chemicals could be reused endlessly, safely.” It is the opposite of our current way of thinking where everything can just be thrown away. To a certain extent it encourages recycling, but smart recycling. It means making products with the whole product cycle in mind. Not just its first purpose, but the second and maybe the third until it breaks down into smaller particles and starts all over again.

Composting is nature’s C2C. Food grows from the soil, we consume what we need, the leftover bits are then allowed to decompose and eventually nourish the next generation of food. Bill and Michael argue in their books that when designing a product or service, companies must think about the bigger picture, not just the immediate gain. The question should always be — what’s next and where are we going with this?

This book was brought to mind recently with the huge press coverage of Terracycle’s new initiative called Loop — a program of ordering products online in reusable packaging that can be returned to the manufacturer — aka, the Milkman. It was introduced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Terracycle “is an innovative recycling company that has become a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste.”(1) They have worked with some of the largest companies, encouraging them to change their packaging to include recycled materials.

However, the recycling business is not going well. Overall, about 91% of all the plastic waste ever created has never been recycled — a statistic so “concerning,” the Royal Statistical Society named it the 2018 international statistic of the year. (2) The Chinese have drastically reduced the amount of recycled materials they import from the west and this has left recycling companies struggling to figure out what to do with all their collected waste. This brings to mind what people like Annie Leonard of “The Story of Stuff” have been saying for years; that recycling is not the answer to our waste problem.

Recycling alone will never stem the flow of plastics into our oceans; we have to get to the source of the problem and slow down the production of all this plastic waste. Think about it. If your home was flooding because you had left the faucet on, your first step wouldn’t be to start mopping. You’d first cut the flooding off at its source — the faucet. In many ways, our plastics problem is no different. (3)

We are consumers of products who love the convenience of going to the store and bringing home things in easy to carry packages. But, as Leonard says, “not long ago, we existed in a world without throwaway plastic, and we can thrive that way again.”(4) Which makes the Terracycle program so interesting. Bring back the Milkman, modern style, by ordering online and having UPS pick up the reusable packaging in reusable boxes. It seems like it might fit the C2C mentality of looking at the full cycle of a product’s life. Except in this case it only addresses one aspect of the product, the package, It does not address the contents, and it hints at a bit of green washing.

The companies that Terracycle has brought into this experiment are the ones that can afford it; Coke, Nestle, Unilever among others. All of these companies currently face serious backlash for being the biggest contributors of plastic waste. They are in fact on Greenpeace’s Top 10 of the Worst Plastic Polluters.(5) The Break Free from Plastic (#breakfreefromplastic) movement was created to shame these producers of plastic by posting images in social media of trash with their logos lining the streets and waterways.

And it’s working. These companies know they need some good press and perhaps they think the Terracycle program is how they can get it. But as consumers, we need to look at the bigger picture. What exactly are these companies producing? What chemicals go into the production of antiperspirant, Coke, and Clorox disinfecting wipes? How are they produced?

A product is more than just its package. It’s also what happens to the contents when they wash down the drain or get thrown away. Some antiperspirant contains known carcinogens that have been banned in Europe, the chemical make up of coke has been well documented, and Clorox wipes are not biodegradable. In addition, the CEO of Nestle has stated that he does not believe that access to water is a human right and so Nestle continues to drain essential aquifers for profit.

One of the mantra’s of the Break Free From Plastic movement has been its high time we put the responsibility for pollution back on the manufacturers. Changes in how they produce products will have a much higher impact on the environment than me carrying my own shopping bag or coffee mug. How we as consumers can make a difference is by not buying their products. By showing them over and over that not only do we want better packaging but we want better and safer products that don’t harm us or pollute the planet at every stage of production. So while I applaud Terracycle’s program, I will never participate because I don’t shop from any of those companies. On the other hand, I know I am a niche consumer, one who buys organic, doesn’t mind seeking out independent grocers who sell in bulk and who buys or makes only all natural cleaning products. Most people don’t care.

The challenge for Terracycle’s Loop program will be to get those consumers who do currently buy those products to take the time to order a few products online and organize shipping of the containers back to the manufacturer. To become “niche” as it were. But if it succeeds perhaps it will set the stage for new developments more in line with C2C.

The advantage of a C2C mentality is that, when applied across the economy, no one has to be niche. No one has to be inconvenienced or go out of their way to protect the planet. The system and the products it creates would already be doing that. There would be no waste to manage because everything is produced in a way that can be reused or repurposed continuously. This utopia may seem overly optimistic to some but the model works and the book describes ways that the authors have helped companies change how they think and work in order to create new and exciting systems and products. And while the cynic reading this might think it could never be profitable, the authors’ experience has been just the opposite. They found that as each company seeks out new ways of doing things, there is a ripple effect that stretches out to their suppliers and competition. To quote the book,

And this gives me hope because I know that until we are truly faced with a catastrophic, in your face, environmental crisis, people are more likely to respond to things that are simple and make them feel good. It is much harder and takes more thought to be an advocate for the environment. I know I will continue to curse the trash I pick up every day but it is good to know that people are making a difference somewhere. Humans are essentially innovators, we are constantly seeking out new ideas, new ways to solve problems. The Cradle to Cradle philosophy encourages us to solve our current problems with more thoughtful design that supports us and the planet. It’s not easy but no one ever said it would be. And frankly, at this point, what choice do we have?

To learn more about the book click here.

To read more about the C2C certification and institution click here

Further reading about Loop