I must have taken 4000 or more shots of Amazon River Dolphins while working on last year’s story for National Geographic. (See related story in 9/09 issue of OP) Yet, out of these, less than a dozen made it into the final story. Some, happily, were among my favorites from the shoot. Inevitably, though, other favorites didn’t make the cut.
That is the nature of visual story-telling; sometimes a terrific picture gets pulled either because it doesn’t sufficiently advance the narrative, or because it too closely resembles another essential picture in the story. If you are lucky, the final decision is a collaborative one, where photographer, editor and designer discuss the merits of each picture and decide together which set of pictures tells the most compelling story. That was certainly the case for me.
From my standpoint, the most surprising – and gratifying – part of this process, was having my editor see a picture in the take that I had completely overlooked. Case in point: this “belly-button” portrait of Amazon Dolphins underwater. During my own editing process, I had bypassed the shot entirely in favor of others I liked better. I was astonished, therefore, when my editor pulled it out and suggested that this would make a strong spread in the story. At first, I didn’t see it. But then, in time, I came to feel that this image had a personal quality, almost an intimacy, that other similar shots did not have at all, despite their arguably more “perfect” compositions.
As it happens, this image went on to be chosen as one of the Top Ten NG Photos of the Year…one I had left in the digital “yellow box.” (For you youngsters, this is a reference to old Kodachrome slide boxes… a term that shows my advanced age)
The lesson from this? Simple – an initial edit of a take will almost always be clouded by the nearness of the event. At first glance we may favor a picture that was particularly hard-won or unusual, while failing to see a slightly more subtle stunner. So take your time with editing, and if possible, take a second look a few days or a week after the event.
I also have a handful of people I trust to give me unvarnished feedback on my work, and I find that feedback invaluable. Just as my editor found a picture I had overlooked, you will almost certainly find that other, trusted eyes can see things you can’t.