Editing with Rob Haggart

Screenshot from aPhotoEditor.com

fototazo is beginning a new series in which we will be talking to a range of photographers, photo editors, professors of photography, book designers and others about the physical process of editing images.

Selecting, sequencing and laying out photographs - be it for a magazine, book, online site or gallery presentation - seems something of a mysterious process for many photographers and a process that seems perhaps hard to give words to. I haven't found much written about the process and that's exactly why I'm excited to see what comes up in this series.

Today we start the conversation with responses from Rob Haggart.

fototazo: Tell us a little about yourself and what area of photography you work in.

Rob Haggart: I'm the former Photography Director for Men's Journal and Outside Magazine. Currently I own a website software company called aPhotoFolio.com and edit a photo industry blog called aPhotoEditor.com.

f: How do you select images to work with from a larger group? What criteria do you use?

RH: Initially I would go through and mark all the images where I like the composition, body position, facial expression and different elements in the frame that work with the story. Obviously I would expect to not see anything from the photographer that's out of focus or not exposed properly… unless that's their thing.

If there are a lot of images I will take several passes on the set as I narrow it down. If there are images that are so similar I can't choose I just pick one and move on. If I have to do several passes I need to take a break and come back fresh. You can get worn down looking at lots of images and you aren't as careful later on.

f: Talk with us about how you begin to organize and sequence the images that you have selected in relationship to each other - as well as to text if there's text.

RH: Ideally, my first edit on the images has nothing to do with the text. I think this is important. You want to find the best images period. You can always reject them if they don't work with the story and you can always dig into the rejects if you need something specific to go with the story but I like to find the best five or ten images and work backwards from that.

Then I would make rough printouts of the selects and work with them physically to find a good sequence or reject images further. Since the final product is a magazine you want to work with physical objects at the end.

Once I have my edit I will go back to the text and find a few more images to put into my seconds that are very literal and depict something in the text.

Screenshot from aPhotoEditor.com

f: How do you consider the balancing of formal qualities in the photographs with the content/narrative of the series as a whole as you select and sequence the images?

RH: I will lean towards the formal qualities of the image over the content because I know the editor is going to come into the process at some point and demand to see specific things from the story. I feel that the photo editor's job is to balance the editor's desire to see the narrative literally depicted in the images and the art director's desire to find images that work with their layout or headline.

f: What are common issues, problems and questions that unfold for you during the process of laying things out?

RH: The tension between the Art Director, Photo Director and Editor is what makes a great layout. All three must be balanced in a magazine.

Then there's always the issue with space. No matter what, you will lose great images to space.

f: How do you know when a layout is done?

RH: When the editor and art director stop trying to change things on me. Really, if you can sleep on it or sit with it for a week and you're still satisfied then it's done. I know a lot of people like to endlessly futz with stuff so this may not work and just having a hard deadline will mean it has to ship and be done.

f: What are common mistakes you see in editing?

RH: Thinking that the visual story is the same as the written story. The visual story can be completely different and doesn't have to match the text word for word. Many things are better written than they are in pictures. I cannot tell you how many times a writer has said something is awesome that clearly is not awesome when you see a picture of it.

f: Finally, what is the best advice you've ever gotten about editing?

RH: Photo editing is a skill and can be learned like anything else. You go through hundreds then thousands of shoots and find the best images then see what actually gets published and you will get better and better at it. People who say they are bad at editing their work just need to grind through it over and over until they get better at it.

Screenshot from robhaggart.com