Don’t Trash It

Apologies for blogging hiatus, but as the old saying goes ‘Better late than never!”

Sometimes I hear people extolling the benefits of digital photography from the standpoint of being able to ‘just delete pictures you don’t like’. This cavalier statement always makes me cringe a bit worrying that photographers might be throwing away good images without taking the time to properly evaluate them.

A documentary image of the butterfly feeding on flowers


John Shaw and other pros consistently recommend photographers to be ruthless with their editing and generally I subscribe to that principle. Believe me I have become very ruthless with my editing, especially with wildlife. In a burst sequence of 10 frames there is likely just one winner, a single frame worth keeping, so why hang on to any of the others?

This is one of about 15 frames captured in a burst. For now, I have saved most of the others.

In the field I use my review screen three ways. First, I check the histogram to ascertain a proper exposure. Then I check the full frame, especially the edges for compositional issues. Finally I check at 100 % for sharpness. Usually there is time with landscapes to do those things without missing a change in the situation.

There are times though when one needs to reconsider the urge to hit ‘Delete’, especially in the field. I rarely delete in the field unless I am fine-tuning exposure. I usually save bracketed compositions until I am back home, preferring to review them with a larger monitor rather than using my in-camera review screen.

A dispassionate eye is needed when editing so it’s generally a good idea to let the captured images sit for a while to let go of some of the emotional baggage attached to the images, unless you are on assignment with a tight deadline.Here are some reasons I use to justify me keeping some second best images (as RAW files- the selects are retained as derivative TIFs): 1. I use a ranking system and process only my highest ranking images. 2. I have a pretty thorough system of keywording and archiving so I can easily filter and find images. 3. Storage media such as external hard drives are fairly inexpensive these days. 4. A re-visit, some time later might change my opinion of a near-miss and elevate it to ‘worth processing and submitting’ status. 5. When teaching, it sometimes makes sense to show mistakes to students, for comparison. 6. A portion of a lesser ranked image might work well as a composite with other images.

I check exposure, framing and sharpness before moving on.

Certainly, like anyone else, I am anxious to see what I captured so I do  a rough edit shortly after a photo excursion, I will sort and group similars and delete the obvious ‘howlers’. A quick review helps to identify whether the sensor needs cleaning or whether (rarely) there might be a technical issue with a certain lens or camera body. After an initial review it may be a few months before I return for a serious edit. I’m usually about six months to a year behind in my editing, and I don’t think I’m alone in that camp.

But what about those in-camera mistakes? Such as the inadvertent click of the shutter whilst moving the camera or an accidental multiple exposure (some examples are depicted below).

I had just acquired my D4 and was playing around with settings while photographing wildflowers and butterflies. I sometimes like to photograph wildflowers using multiple exposure techniques. In this situation it appeared at first glance that the process of setting multiple exposure in the D4 was the same as the D3x, but I learned later that there is a difference. I had to disengage the setting in the D4 in order to stop multiple exposing. This became apparent when I reviewed an informal portrait of the kids at the camp, and realized that I had made several combined exposures rather than several individual exposures. When I scrolled back through the captured images, I realized that several butterfly captures were also multiple exposures rather than single captures. Rather than deleting that afternoon I decided to keep them and review later.

I liked the way the inadvertent multiple exposure captured the flitting, unpredictable nature of a foraging butterfly.

I’m not sure whether these will be accepted by my agencies. Time will tell, but I liked the results enough to keep a few and send them off for agency approval. Next summer I might try a little harder to duplicate these results.

Working the Winter road in Yellowstone

Yes, I know it’s summer and we are trying hard to forget winter, but I am always a few months behind in my image editing so here is a posting that re-visits the winter of 2012.

Dead snags and snow above Canary Spring

After five days of exciting and productive winter animal photography (blog post coming) at Animals of Montana near Bozeman in late February-early March Brenda and I drove to Gardiner for some winter photography along Yellowstone Park’s only open road. The 50-mile road from Gardiner’s Roosevelt entrance to Cooke City is maintained by the Park Service with plows and sanders to allow the residents of Cooke City access to Gardiner and beyond. While the road is well maintained it does have steep, slippery sections, especially in areas that do not have much exposure to the sun. Elsewhere, winds drift snow across the road, especially in the Columbia Blacktail Deer Plateau. Occasionally the drifts block a lane thus requiring attention from maintenance crews. Driving with winter tires is recommended. Some pull-outs are kept clear and many of these will be occupied by wildlife (wolf) watchers with spotting scopes. Winter visitors may also opt for snow-coach tours into the interior from Gardiner-Mammoth or from West Yellowstone.

Coyote (Canis latrans) Trotting along Park Road

One of Yellowstone’s major animal attractions is the grey wolf, re-introduced to the ecosystem in the mid 90s. Casual visitors such as us have little opportunity for close encounters. Most of my sightings have been distant. We were lucky this time with two encounters at close range, one of which turned into a ‘grab-shot’ photo opportunity. The lone wolf crossed the road right in front of our vehicle and I had time to set up the long lens before it ambled off. Normally Park rules prohibit approaches closer than 100 yards, but in this case the wolf crossed the road right in front of our vehicle. Unexpected crossings like this emphasize the need to drive with care and be observant. It’s important to have a camera within reach and bean bag or window mount too.

Lone wolf walking on Columbian Blacktail Deer Plateau in late winter

Of course we had to endure (with envy) the ‘you have been here yesterday’ comments from other visitors. Wolves had killed an elk in the Gardner River Valley. Coyotes, magpies and ravens were scavenging the carcass by the time we passed by.

I regard myself as a generalist photographer. While I enjoy wildlife photography I don’t let it dominate my approach to seeing nature. I am also attracted to landscapes, flora and abstract subjects. I try to balance my photography when I make short visits such as this to exotic locales like Yellowstone. It saves me from being disappointed at not seeing or photographing the ‘star species’ and often yields just as satisfying images.

Thermophyllic algae and bacteria encrusting dead grasses in an Upper Terraces hot springs at Mammoth

Even though 2011-12 had such a warm and unusual winter we were fortunate to have fresh snow in early March. Over four days we experienced variations in weather, from clear skies to near-whiteout snow squalls. Gardiner is not very busy at this time so motels were inexpensive and rooms were available, although we did reserve ahead. The Park closes winter operations into the interior by mid March and we were surprised to see that establishments like the Mammoth Hotel actually close up for a few weeks while interior roads are plowed and made ready for the spring tourist visitation.

A herd of elk (Cervus elaphus) walking in a line on a snowy slope on the Columbia Blacktail Plateau

Please visit my 500px pages for a wider selection of images, including: Yellowstone animals and Yellowstone Scenics. We will be travelling west shortly so I will be taking about a month-long break from blog posting, unless I have some time and Internet access.

Animals of Montana

Animals of Montana is the business name for a wildlife model photography service run by Troy and Tracy Hyde. The wildlife centre is housed at Troy and Tracy’s ranch in the mountains near Bozeman Montana, on the road to Bridger Bowl Ski Area from downtown Bozeman.

Still photographers and videographers are able to book private, customized sessions alone or in small groups. In addition there are numerous group ‘photo tours’ offered either near the ranch or on location, as far abroad as Red Rock country in Utah.

In late February I will be joining a tour with emphasis on winter predators, featuring mammals such as wolf, grizzly, fisher, bobcat and small mammals along with some exotic species like Siberian tiger, snow leopard, and Barbary lion.


Troy is an expert animal trainer and the animals will be posed near you and made to behave in natural ways, including action shots like running and leaping. Joe and MaryAnn McDonald attest to Troy’s expertise and feel that this is the best wildlife model experience among several good ones from which to choose. Other pro wildlife photographers such as Dennis Fast feel the same. The experience is friendly, exciting and intense. You’ll wonder how those memory cards fill so quickly!

I like to combine a session at Animals of Montana with photography in Yellowstone, which is only about two hours from Bozeman.

For more information about pricing, dates, tours etc, please visit Troy and Tracy’s website .

Here is a selection of images from a Winter tour and a Baby Animals tour.