Editing is Rejection: Understanding The Editing Process


It was the photographer Chris Floyd (www.chrisfloyd.com) who first bought to my attention the notion of rejection as an intrinsic part of the editing process. Chris had just shot a series of portraits of one of my daughters and as I stood by his laptop to begin my edit he declared that he could not stand next to me and experience the rejection. The use of that word in this context hit home and bought clarity to a process I have been involved in for nearly thirty years.

The most common mistake made by photographers when editing their images is to begin by selecting those images they ‘like’ and use this selection as the basis of a final edit. This subjective decision is too often based on surface emotions and aesthetics which provides a weak foundation for an informed and vigorous edit of the work. That foundation must be built on objective decisions based upon the success of the image within the context it was created within or for. That objectivity comes from rejection.

Few photographers that I have met either enjoy or are good at editing their own work. They have to much invested in the images either emotionally, intellectually or even financially to be as hard on their work as a third party might be. This investment prevents a truly objective decision making process.

The rejection of images is based on the concept of ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’ images not that of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The commission, the narrative and our own visual language are all aspects of the context by which we can judge an image as being successful or not. With a clear understanding of the intended context and proposed outcome of a shoot it is easy to reject images that are unsuccessful in meeting this criteria.

When editing work I therefore recommend that you begin by rejecting the unsuccessful to be left with the successful. This process should take place over a number of different stages (I always suggest two to three) with each stage becoming more and more rigorous in its attention to detail not only of context, but also composition, repetition of image, narrative progression, technical requirements and personal aesthetic.

The rejection of unsuccessful images will leave you with the most successful of images. The images you ‘like’ may be in this final edit but if they are they will be their on merit not purely on subjective taste. Of course some edits are easier than others and the more experienced you are at both creating and looking at images will increase the speed by which you edit your work. However, by following the process I have outlined you will not only ensure a strong edit you will also ensure that you understand the edit, a vital factor when talking about the work or if challenged about individual images or the edit as a whole.

As photographers we all fear rejection and yet have it as an everyday reality of our photographic practices, so to bring it into the intimate practice of editing our work may be a hard pill to swallow or accept. However, I do believe that by doing so the editing of work not only becomes logical and cohesive, it becomes an extension of an informed photographic practice.

© Grant Scott 2014

You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new book Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form www.amazon.com and www.amazon.co.uk