How to Make Photo Editing a Therapeutic Process

There are a number of photographers in the industry that absolutely abhor the process of photo editing but truly love the act of shooting. In truth, the more experienced you become the more it can be equated to a therapeutic process. Photographers found working in the darkroom to be similar, due to the sensory experience involved. Though you won’t be inhaling chemicals, working in the digital darkroom can be really, really meditative if you take the right steps.

Commit

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First off, if you’re going to edit your photos you shouldn’t do it while you’re under stress or in the mentality of just wanting to get away from your computer to start. You should sit there, accepting the responsibility of the fact that it’s up to YOU and no one else to make these final images rock. So you should give yourself ample time. I honestly like editing on a Friday night or a weekend night if I don’t have plans. As I’m turning 30 next year, I’m honestly trying to cut drinking totally out of my life unless I need to for work purposes. So sometimes I get artsy and decide to look at my Capture One 10 catalog, go through it, and start experimenting.

My monitor warms up for a while, I calibrate it and then I throw the yellow pair of these over my glasses. Once my monitor is how I like it, these help with eye strain for a while. Every now and then while editing I’ll flip them up and down to see how what I’m editing normally looks like.

But the most important thing is that I ensure that I’m not super, incredibly busy. Editing takes time and patience, but can be sped up using syncing options, etc. More than anything, you have to love your photography and your work enough to want to care about the editing process. If you don’t, then you’d better make sure that you do absolutely everything possible to ensure that you get it right in camera.

The Mood and Setting

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This is incredibly important: get comfortable. If you’re not in a comfortable chair then it won’t work. Beyond this, I typically select a soundtrack, artist, or playlist on Apple Music that I currently feel like just zoning out to, and editing while it plays. It tends to help. Netflix? I tend to save it for times when I can truly focus on watching television. But soundtracks that I like listening to and have listened to before work just fine. At the moment of writing this post, I’m listening to the Silversun Pickups.

Something else I do: burn vanilla scented candles in a few rooms. The scent and the warmth they give off in my NYC apartment just relaxes me. It sounds nuts, but if you look into the creative processes of actual creative people, it tends to make sense.

I also like to brew a big pot of tea or coffee that honestly needs to be made just right unless it can throw me off. Then, I get comfortable and start working.

The Cull Process

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In my opinion, the most painful part of the editing process is the cull. But years of being a wedding, product, and portrait photographer have made me get it down to a science. When I used to work in Lightroom, I asked myself two very basic questions:

  • Does this image do anything for me?
  • Can it possibly do something for me with minimal work?

If the answer to both of those questions is “yes”, then I pick that photo. If the answer is “no”, then it gets removed from my catalog. In Capture One, I mark the images I’m not really feeling with a red filter and those that I like with a green one. Then when it comes to editing, I just sort by color. Images shot in similar areas are grouped together and selected. I make all the edits I really want to one photo then sync the adjustments to all the other photos selected. Finally I go through the rest and make fine tuned adjustments for each. It’s pretty simple.

Then the process repeats itself for another set.

Experimentation in Editing

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Sometimes what I really like doing is being very experimental. Granted, it’s easier to do this in Lightroom with the endless amount of presets available. But where I like starting in Capture One is changing the tones of shadows, highlights, crops, black and white edits, etc. It just makes the process fun and experimental. Experimenting is where you really start to make magic happen.

Again though, none of this happens if you’re not motivated or don’t make the mood a simple one that is conducive to editing.