The more you edit a particular photo, the more likely your eye is to grow weary of the changes that you make. Personally, after spending a few hours editing a single image, I begin to lose my ability to tell a good edit from a bad one – presenting a clear problem for making more edits. To some degree, this is even true after a two- or three-hour break; the photo is still too familiar to see with a fresh eye. In this quick article, I will cover a couple ways to look at your photos from a different perspective, including my personal favorite tip in photography.
1) Returning to an Image
One of the more obvious ways to see a photo with a fresh eye is simply to wait some time before returning to make edits. I don’t mean just a few hours; ideally, you would avoid looking at the photo for several days or weeks. The longer you wait, the fresher your perspective will be when you return. This is particularly useful if you are working with an image that you already know by heart.
Along a similar line, it can be useful to wait several weeks after a photo shoot before you even look at your resulting images, assuming that you aren’t on a deadline. I do this to some degree following most of my landscape photography trips – at the very least, I try to avoid viewing photos on my laptop while I am still in the field. This helps me separate my emotions and memories from the quality of an image itself.
However, although it is useful to spend some time away from your work, this isn’t always a perfect solution. If you have worked on a particular photo for countless hours, it doesn’t matter how long you wait – you still won’t be able to see it with a perfectly fresh eye. I spent dozens of hours editing some of my photographs, and no amount of waiting will remove the way they look from my mind.
At the same time, the obvious drawback is that this method takes a significant amount of time to implement. Not many photographers are willing to spend a few weeks before revisiting a photograph, particularly those who shoot for clients. Unless you have a few weeks to spare – or even months, depending upon the image – waiting just doesn’t work very well. As helpful as it can be, this method simply is not practical for many photographers.
2) Flipping Your Photos Horizontally
There is a different way to view your photos with a fresh eye, and it is perhaps my all-time favorite photographic tip: simply flip the image horizontally.
As easy as this tip seems, it is amazingly useful. The mirror image of a photograph is fundamentally the same, and yet it feels completely different. When your eyes are tired of a photograph, the mirror image can be like seeing a scene for the first time.
Almost all post-processing software has the ability to flip an image horizontally. In Lightroom, click Photo > Flip Horizontal. In Photoshop, click Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal. If you don’t already know how to do this with your specific software, I recommend searching online – chances are good that you will find what you are looking for.
Although I could give a few example images, this tip works best on your personal photographs; you probably wouldn’t notice anything on one of my photos, since you need to have seen a given photograph countless times. Still, depending upon how much you have studied the piece of art below, this may look a bit strange:
(If the effect is not very pronounced in the painting above, I recommend trying it on your own photos instead. This all depends upon how long you have spent looking at a single image, so different people will have different perceptions of this mirror-image version of The Starry Night.)
If you do this trick in post-production, pay particular attention to the apparent straightness of your horizon. Personally, I tend to overlook a tilted horizon – especially when it isn’t well-defined – after a long enough period of time. I only realize my error after flipping the image horizontally, at which point it becomes incredibly clear. You may not make the same mistake, but this is a welcome tip if you do.
As a final note, be sure to flip your photographs back to how they were after you’re done! There are valid reasons to flip an image permanently, of course; some photographers prefer their image to “read” from left to right, and others simply choose what looks the best. This tip, however, is meant as a way to see the same photograph with a new eye. Unless you happen to prefer the flipped version, there is no need to keep these changes permanently.
Hopefully, as simple as this tip is, it will help you edit your photographs from a fresher perspective. It’s not something that works for everyone – indeed, I know some photographers who see no difference at all – but it has worked for me more times than I can remember. Perhaps the same will be true for you.
Hmmm…something I never tried, and yet I completely identify with the issues you mention in the first paragraph.
Need to try this.
Hope you find it useful!
I just stumbled on this post and the curious chain of comments. Perhaps some of the commenters should spend hours on an image rather than hours of their comments.
I agree with one poster who says that spending a long time may be due to an artistic desire for a killer image . Another reason is that unless one has inexhaustible time to catch and frame the shot then there might be cropping, color temperature and capturing the feeling. That is
– Unless Im loaded to the gunwales with lenses then the aspect will very often need to be cropped and with a really good overall image there might be many crop concepts if one’s a perfectionist or looking to sell or win a prize. For example I love the top image on this post of sawtooth mountains – I’d love to know where it was taken, what time, and whether the image is framed as shot or cropped
– second (I speak like others as one familiar with 4am sunrise wakeups and 9pm sometimes sunset shots and killer locations where I’m there in flat midday and have to go in 5 minutes) unless you’re on location at the right light or the right color temperature there may be opportunities to play with those to catch the emotion inherent and not present at your time of day. Again I look at the top photo and wonder how it might look at different color temperatures. I’m reminded on a camel ride at Ayers Rock / Uluru in Australia last month where a lot of our ride was just before golden light where the images needed ‘goldening’. Or you’re there at the right time but the clouds misbehave and the fiery colors don’t arise and need to be tickled with post-.
– a third reason to come back is for different audiences. the same image of my lovely daughter at Ayers Rock might be cut/post-p differently for her or for me or for my friends.
– and yes a fourth is, I was there at that place and that time and want that image to sing, but it’s Florence Foster Jenkins. But even then you love it and give it your focus for a time.
Does it mandatorily require hours? No. But it is fun to go back to images, even those you think you nailed initially.
And in fact I’ve found going back to old images I can with today’s Lr, Ps really enhance the emotional carry in them. I see photography not as photojournalism or news photography – nail the image and get on with it. It’s unquestionably artistic and an element of work and ehancement is valuable.
Think I’ll go home now. Otherwise this will take hours too.
Tony from Oz.
“Perhaps some of the commenters should spend hours on an image rather than hours of their comments.”
You actually think people spend hours on their comments here??
“…there may be opportunities to play with those to catch the emotion inherent and not present at your time of day.”
My approach is that if the picture “isn’t there”, then it isn’t there.
” after spending a few hours editing a single image” <== Do they need that much work? Purchase a Seko,ic light meter! ;o)
(I'd never dream of spending "hours" editing a single image!)
“Yes. it literally to him years to reach the semi-final version. It wasn’t the physical process that took up the time”
But the physical process is the crux of the point I have been making, not the thought process (and not the “changing one’s mind” process).
My reply should have been under Rich’s last comment.
Becoming the very best photographer you can, at the camera, is no longer enough. One must strive to be the very best at post-processing as well. RAW images don’t come out of the camera developed, you have to do it. Choosing to be the best you can at one and not the other is like saying I choose to be the best runner I can…on the left foot…
my 0.02$ comment:
I agree 1000% with this statement. This is probably why its so much fun……..
I completely disagree.
I’ll tell you the difference, and maybe you’ve never experienced it; when all a raw photograph needs is a minute or two of simple processing to achieve “perfection” then you know you’ve hit a home run at the camera. The harder I work at the camera, the more of these I get.
Hop, hop, hop…
“Choosing to be the best you can at one and not the other is like saying I choose to be the best runner I can…on the left foot…”
Regarding photographs, you don’t have to be the best at one (processing) if you’re the best at the other.
I tried to back out of this conversation but……………
To strive for perfection is commendable. Being human however I know that it isn’t 100% possible and that is one of the reasons I used the Ansel Adams/Moon Rise analogy. Mr. Adams is widely acknowledged as one of the best practitioners of the art of photography and yet while in Hernandez NM he captured an image that required manipulation to achieve its full potential. A manipulation process that took years.
With experience and full understanding of our and our equipment’s limitations we understand the need to learn how to work an image to bring out its best. To believe (or intimate) that you should always get the perfect shot every time you squeeze the shutter release and should never need extensive post processing is either arrogant or quixotic.
Do you know how much time Adams actually spent hands on processing Moon Rise?
Do you think Adams would have spent the direct processing time he did on Moon Rise had he shot the picture with a digital camera and had access to LR/PS?
“To believe (or intimate) that you should always get the perfect shot every time you squeeze the shutter release and should never need extensive post processing is either arrogant or quixotic”
I never said (or intimated) “always”. Please don’t put words in my mouth.
I can assure you that I have on many occasions taken photographs that only required minimal processing in LR to a achieve my targeted results.
“Do you think Adams would have spent the direct processing time he did on Moon Rise had he shot the picture with a digital camera and had access to LR/PS?”
Yes. it literally to him years to reach the semi-final version. It wasn’t the physical process that took up the time, it was his thought process.
I (and most even somewhat experienced) too have been able to use just a minimum of post. The shots that work SOOC aren’t the bone of contention here.
Spencer, I will add your tip to my ‘tool box’. If I may, here is a trick I often use when I’m not convinced with my final crop/composition. I turn off the color! It’s amazing how often that little trick has shown me the “error of my ways”.
As far as how long it takes someone to get a print right, how long did Ansel Adams work on Moon Rise before he felt it was right.
What if “the color” is a critical element of your composition?
Duffy, then I guess it wouldn’t work in that situation. ;)
“As far as how long it takes someone to get a print right, how long did Ansel Adams work on Moon Rise before he felt it was right.”
There are two “time” issues at play here; the time from the first processing attempt to the last processing attempt, and the total time actually spent in the manipulation process. In the first case, a photograph might be processed for 10 minutes followed by a two month break, followed by another 10 minuet processing session. In this case the start to finish time would be two months, but the total time spent actually manipulating the photograph would only be 20 minutes.
I’m not sure a correlation can be drawn between the processing time Adams spent in a darkroom, to processin time he would have needed using a program like Lightroom. To your point though, the real question is how much time Adams would have spent actually manipulating Moon Rise had he shot digitally and used LR or PS. My guess is it wouldn’t have taken him several hours.
My point was that he never stopped trying to get the image he felt was there. When you have a gut feeling that you have an worthy image hiding in the raw file, time should hopefully not be a controlling factor. Yes, I understand there are time constraints for most professional/commercial production but, I don’t think that segment was the focus of this article.
One of the points of the article is spending hours and hours (sometimes in a single sitting) in direct manipulation of a single photograph.
There is a big difference between revisiting a single picture briefly one or more times over a long period of time, and spending hours and hours manipulating a single photograph in an attempt to achieve a specific look.
My point is that once a photographer has decided on “the look” he wants, spending hours and hours attempting to manipulate the photograph to that end result indicates to me either a photograph that is being altered radically for artistic purposes, technical purposes (for example astro elements), or a photograph that isn’t being targeted for deep artistic purposes (read…a photograph targeted more towards realism, especially in landscape photography) that wasn’t really worthy in the first place.
Again, my guess is that Adams would not have spent hours and hours of direct processing time on a single photograph had he had a digital camera and access to LR/PS.
Sometimes (I know. rarely :) ) we don’t capture what we intended too, the moment has past and/or we can’t linger. But there was a look or a feeling that we want to pass on to others and that is when we spend a lot of time trying different tricks and techniques to get that look. We might even retreat part of a negative to increase the contrast. My thought was simply that because of situations like this unless under the commercial time gun we should never let time be a constraint when attempting to produce the image we originally visualized.
Moon rise when first processed was not a good negative, as such it is probably the finest example of what can be done when you preserver. I would guess that quit was never part of Mr Adams’ vocabulary.
You’re not getting my point(s).
I was responding to “that wasn’t really worthy in the first place”.
OK, let’s speak to that one point. Do you think the majority of the pictures you take are worthy of hours of digital manipulation?
That isn’t the point. The point I attempted to make was that time should not be a determining factor if the image is worth trying to maximize. The “majority of the pictures” criteria DNA.To turn my back on a file because it could take more than a few moments of my time would feel to me like I was quitting just because all the ducks weren’t in a row
We are hi-jacking this post and need to move on.
I don’t think it’s a hijack at all; the thrust of the article involves “time”. The article talks about hours at a time (or cumulative over the course of weeks or months) spent processing a single image, and offered suggestions regarding how to fix the possible mental “processing block”.
And the issue is not as you said one of “more than a few moments” of processing it is instead an issue of “hours” spent processing.
“To turn my back on a file…”
The following comment is meant to be nothing more than to point out how some (many?) people approach photography these days. It is offered as nothing more than an observation, as there is certainly no one right answer. Here’s my point…I do not consider any picture I have as a “file”. Are the photographs in my computer in fact “files”. Of course. But I elect to consider them as “my photographs”, not my “files”. It’s a mind set thing.
As I’ve stated here before, my goal is not to become a really good digital photograph manipulator (using my computer). My goal is to become the very best photographer I can… at the camera.
Great tip Spencer.
Not dissimilar to 500Hassleblad, Rollieflex/cord, plate cameras of old which did it by default in shooting.
With lightroom (there is possibly some confusion as to the editing starting point, as Adobe swamps your image with its settings) but a raw image should look flat and if its not, suspect Adobe. Anyway the before/after (backslash key) can bring you to senses and stop the tripping. This only works when you are genuinely starting raw on import, otherwise it only takes you back to your own fruit-cake setting on import.
Iliah Borg has some useful details on where your raw start point should be, and conversely Adobe most definitely doesn’t.
That’s a good point. Simply removing all your edits for a few seconds can give you some much-needed perspective on a photo. Thanks for the tip.
Thanks for the horizontal “flip-tip”. I will give it a try. The tip you mentioned about avoiding viewing photos on the laptop while in the field is something I started doing about two years ago. It was a habit not easy to break! But it made a huge difference and has been very helpful.
Regarding photo editing, I’d love to hear your thoughts on knowing when to stop. How do you know when you are finished?
Great, hope you find it useful. When it comes to photo editing, since my tastes and skills change over time, I can’t say that I am ever “done” editing a given photo. I still occasionally return to images that I captured a few years ago, just because I can improve them in ways I didn’t consider in the past. However, if it has been a while (several months) before I have edited one of my photos, I generally think of it as being finished. That is the case with my photo in this article, which I have not edited at all in about six months, despite returning to it a few times just to see if anything needs to be done.
Very cool idea!!!
Thanks, Lois, I hope it helps you edit your images!
Nice article Spencer and thank you for the “flip” tip! Time spent on processing images for me varies not by the quality of the image necessarily (I have already selected it for processing by quality) but on how well I captured what I was feeling, what I was trying to evoke in the viewer.
When I see something that hits my image-worthy button, I ask myself what precisely about it makes me feel this way. Then I try to use all of my skills (or try to compensate for my lack of them) to express as clearly as posible what is was that hit my button. Processing time for an image varies to the extent I hit the mark originally. Because I am trying to make the viewer feel as I did… Sometimes it was nothing but net, and other times…
Cheers to you!
Thank you, Duffy! I like your approach and agree with what you are saying — it certainly depends upon the photo, as well as the photographer.