Is There Hidden Treasure in Your Digital Outtakes?

In the days when I shot only slide film, the number of photos I shot was limited by how much film I was willing to carry and how much money I was able to spend on film and processing. Even if a client was picking up the tab, there was still the issue of how much film I felt like carrying; 10 rolls a day for a 10-day trip meant 100 rolls of film. That’s a chore — especially when you’re going through airports and having to have the film inspected by hand. Today, though, you can fit thousands of photos on a stack of memory cards small enough to carry in your jeans pocket. This creates a lot of opportunity — if you take advantage of it.

Lost in the Shuffle

Unfortunately, what often happens when you come home from a trip with hundreds or thousands of images is that a lot of them get lost in the editing shuffle. There are great photos that get ignored simply because you don’t have time to look carefully at (let alone edit to a finished version) every single frame. Another assignment or vacation comes along or daily life gets in the way and the next thing you know you have a whole new group of photos to review and edit.

Sure, the same thing happens with film images, but the funny thing about looking at slides on a light table right after a shoot is that the photos are right there looking back at you. You turn on the light table and there they are. You’re just not as likely to miss any killer images; even at a quick glance the great shots pop out.

Digital images have a way of hiding in folders that you may not open regularly or that don’t make it to the “best shots” folders. For this reason, it’s important to take time occasionally to look back through older image folders and see if you might not have ignored some potentially great images. Recently, for instance, I decided to go through my folders of “outtake” images from a 2003 trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park.

At first I thought I’d done a good job of editing those images back in 2003, because I wasn’t seeing any new “gold” in those folders. I decided to open up a few of the images anyway and take a closer look.

Finding a Hidden Gem

One of the problems with digital files (especially files from digital cameras manufactured prior to 2005 or so) is that they are often very flat in both color and contrast; they seem lifeless. In the years since I shot those images in 2003, however, my Photoshop skills have improved to the point where I now realize that with a little tweaking, an average-looking file can create a stunning image.

For example, If found a shot of a hillside near the White Mounds area of Valley of Fire. The original file looked less than inspiring, but with a few gentle tweaks in curves, suddenly the image popped off the page. I was stunned by how glorious that late-afternoon light looked on the hillside. How did I miss that shot the first time around? I couldn’t believe I had let this image languish in a forgotten folder for several years.

Take a night off from editing new images occasionally and go back and explore some of your older image folders, and I bet you’ll find the same thing. You might also find, as I did, that your editing skills have improved enough that with a little work you can give these images the life they deserve.

[tags]digital photography, photography tips[/tags]

2 Responses to “Is There Hidden Treasure in Your Digital Outtakes?”

  1. Australia, 9 days, 1300 photographs on 8 cards. I kept a diary, and the datestamp on the files let me lock in where I was, when.
    And in June, I finally got around to editing, moving and sorting them...
    It WAS easier with a black and white proof sheet, and 35mm rolls of film, in many ways.

  2. Agreed! I often go back to previous shoots; Sometimes just cropping a different way makes a usable image out of a bad or so-so image. Or turn it sepia; or add saturation... like Jeff said, as you gain editing skills (Photoshop or whatever tool you use), you'll be able to apply them to previous images.

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