Editing With Your Eyes - A Slow Photography Technique

The Slow Photography approach is all about being more intentional with your photography and creating more meaningful images.  We connect with our subject more, we have time to enjoy our surroundings and the experience becomes inherently richer.  But how does this actually work in the field?  One such technique is a process I call “Editing with your eyes” in which decisions are made before the shutter is clicked.  The decisions made in the field are always more important than the post processing decisions but rarely are they discussed.  Below is a walk through for this technique to help understand why it’s so important.

blue and yellow rocks in Southern Utah
Color contrast along a canyon floor in Southern Utah

Evaluating Contrasts

The next few steps aren’t in any particular order but are all equally important to the process.  I find it helpful to begin with the overall light in the scene or the light quality itself.  Is it nice right now or will it be better or worse in a few minutes or hours?  If it’s not right at the moment, none of the other steps matter as much.  If it seems good at the moment, I then look for areas in the scene of contrast.  Contrast can be many different elements and doesn’t mean light/dark tones.  It can be the contrast of soft/rigid, color contrast like orange/purple, contrast of shapes like lines and curves or even conceptual contrasts like life and death.  By the time I’ve evaluated a scene for contrast and overall light quality, an important part of the process has been completed.

The photo above with the blue and orange rocks is an example of a scene which caught my eye. The light looked good as it was soft and in a deep canyon with a nice glow.  Contrast in the scene was with shapes, colors and angles so that part was ok too.  The next part of the process involves more than these first 2 steps of light and contrast and it’s here where this image doesn’t pass the test.  Read on for the next steps in editing with your eyes.

Eye Catching

I’m going to take you on a little imaginary walk for this example and you can follow along on your own imaginary walk.  Let’s say I’m walking down a trail with my camera slung over my shoulder on a tripod.  I’m just walking, slowly, and something catches my eye.  A flower, an element of light or something which causes me to pause.  There is an initial reaction to want to grab my camera and photograph it quickly but this is where the process of editing with your eyes begins.

The first step is to simply stop.  I put my camera down and to the side so I can look at what caught my eye and ask myself why it did so.  What is it about that element which made me stop and look?  What stands out or what is interesting?  I take a mental note of this, I’ll come back to this part again.

Cracks in stone in Southern Utah and intimate landscape photography
Cracked stone in Southern Utah

More Than Composition

After evaluating light and contrast, the next most important step is to evaluate the composition.  For this, let’s look at the image above of a white stone in laying on a cracked stone.  The overall composition is a point of white (light tone) against a dark background (contrast) with strong lines radiating outward. The exposed orange area of the stone also serves as additional contrast and the two elements are roughly centered.  A technique to consider in compositions is checking the edges.  Are there any distractions along the edges o the frame?  This image seems overall clean from distractions along the edges.  Also, look for distractions within the scene itself.  This will influence composition because composition and framing are important in removing distractions.  Again, this image seems free of distractions except for the small orange area near the lower left corner.  Overall, this image passes the edges test and overall distractions test so let’s move on to the next step in editing with your eyes.

Spanish moss and live oak tree in South Carolina
Live Oak and Spanish Moss, South Carolina

How Does it Feel to be There?

The Live Oak and Spanish Moss above is an image where the soft, cloudy light allowed for details in the shadows to show well.  Composition is relatively straightforward with a centered subject and draping branches.  The foreground is clean and without distractions and the cloudy sky gave a clean white background.  Contrast is created from dark shadows on the branches and the obvious hole in the center of the tree.  The scene passes all these tests so far so we’ll continue.

The next step in editing with your eyes is more subjective and has to do with the overall feeling.  When out in the field, this is where the slow part really comes into play.  Just stop and pause, look around and spend a moment with the subject.  Is it windy?  Is there a moment where the moss is hanging motionless or should the motion be a part of the image?  How does it feel to just stand there in the presence of this majestic tree?  If the scene feels comfortable after doing all this, the process is nearly complete.

Twisted branches in Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina
Tangled branches in North Carolina

Vision & Expression

The final step in editing with your eyes is the most subjective part and where your artistic vision and voice come in.  Why are you taking the photo?  What is it about the scene you wish to communicate or express?  Will the viewer experience anything from viewing the image?  This is where I again recall the initial question of what caught my eye in the beginning.  Has the light, contrasts, composition and feeling all contributed or enhanced what caught my eye to begin with?  Has it changed how I see what caught my eye?  If so it’s time to get out the camera but if not, it might be time to move on to the next subject. 

The image above with tangled tree branches is one which passes all the tests and steps so far and one which I feel a personal artistic expression is present.  The Live Oak and Spanish Moss image above also has this quality for me yet the other 2 images don’t. This step may take a few minutes to realize in the field and may not even be realized at the moment the photo is taken.  It’s crucial in the process of editing with your eyes though whether it’s done at the time or later.  Preferably this is done in the field but it can be complicated and a topic for another post altogether. 

A Slow Approach

All of these steps of editing with your eyes are all to be done in the field, without your camera on or in front of your eye.  The steps are all independent of your camera and more important than editing on a computer.  This process is often slow and takes more intention when in the field but it is powerful when used effectively.  it will help create better files to process, more intentional photographs and ultimately a richer experience in Nature.  It’s a process I practice regularly and through practice, is greatly sped up at times.  I recall many times where this entire sequence of steps happened in seconds or less.  It’s also taken hours or days.  Time isn’t the point of this process, despite the relationship to “Slow Photography” as much as it is about the mentality. 

Try this process out sometime when in the field and see if it helps to create images and if your experience in Nature with your camera is even richer.  If you really want to learn and see this in practice, I offer multiple workshops in which this is demonstrated and practiced.

Checklist: Editing With Your Eyes

Try this process out sometime when in the field and see if it helps to create images and if your experience in Nature with your camera is even richer.  If you really want to learn and see this in practice, I offer multiple workshops in which this is demonstrated and practiced.  

Thank you and I hope to see you outside,


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