Ever spend hours editing photos, only to review them later and wonder what you were thinking? The environment and mindset we're in will greatly effect the final results of our work, and can lead to countless hours of re-editing simple mistakes. Here are a few steps I've put together that help me ensure that my final product is always the best representation of what I'm capable of, simply by recognizing the conditions that my mind and eyes need to work properly, and incorporating it into my work strategy.
1. Go in with a game plan.
If you've ever taken on a big job or project that required hours if not days of post production, you'll know that after a while it's easy to forget what a photo's supposed to look like. This phenomenon is similar to what is called "semantic satiation" in literature, which is repeating a word until it loses it's meaning, forcing the speaker to question if it's really a word at all. It's common in these situations to view the photo hours, or days later and realize simple errors that shouldn't have been missed, requiring extra time to re-edit that you can't really charge for. By taking breaks and strategically refreshing your mind throughout the process, this can be completely avoided.
Everyone has their own system for organizing and securing files; it's impossible to address every one of these systems in this post, but I suggest something that allows you to flag, mark, or add a note to the file. For me, this system is Lightroom 5, and after making my initial selections for the final images, I've found that the best way to figure out my approach is to break them down into stages, or sections based on LR5's colour tagging system. Completing these stages then tells me when I need to take a break and concentrate on something else for a while so I can then dive into the new section objectively.
As an example, here's a gif of my selection process with a small job I'm currently working on. I've had to blur out the images for copyright purposes, but it should be noted that I try to divide the sections not only by quantity but by subject type, as it's easy to get into an editing rhythm after 100 portraits, and not be thinking about everything that needs to then be addressed for an interior real estate shot.
Fun Fact: You can use the keyboard shortcuts 1-5 to set a star rating on images, and 6-9 to set red, yellow, green, and blue colour filters.
2. Keep your environment consistent.
It seems trivial, but changing the lighting or colours of your environment can drastically change your perception of colour and contrast in an image. Working in a dimly lit environment on a calibrated screen will ensure that there's no unwanted colour cast on your screen, or tones in your peripheral vision to impair your judgement. If you're really picky about colour accuracy, you can go a step further and paint your office with true neutral gray paint, not to be confused by department store paint which has unbalanced blue or red tones, but something like GTI's Munsell Neutral Gray Paint.
I won't lie, it's a pretty bland environment to work in, but as a comparison here's an image that I balanced in a room with different coloured lighting (a mix of daylight and fluorescent), and a window open next to me compared to a completely dark room, you can make the decision for yourself as to whether its worth the effort.
Note: No tone adjustment was done for the above edits, the only tool used was Photoshop CC's "Color Balance" tool.
3. Get away from the screen.
It's one thing to dedicate a 10 minute break to staring at your Facebook news feed, but that doesn't help your eyes recover from staring at a backlit screen for hours. For me, the best way to re-calibrate is to get outside and walk. Not only does exercise help your mind to calm down and focus and prevent issues caused by sitting in a chair for hours, but getting away from artificial light will decrease the risk of vision damage by your screen. If you're really not feeling a walk, try bringing your camera for some extra motivation.
4. Take some time away, then review.
The last step, something I do with every photo before anyone else ever sees the final product, is to finish editing, then sleep on it, and review in the morning. Despite walk breaks and working in a proper environment, it's always a good idea to take a final look in a different mindset to ensure that you weren't on some weird "super contrast" spree. Things like caffeine and sleep deprivation can cause you to make some "creative decisions" that leave you scratching your head when you're well rested and relaxed. Ask yourself if it's what the client wants, and allow yourself the time to make adjustments if needed.
Hopefully these steps can help you to make efficient and productive use of your editing time. Of course, everyone will have different techniques that work for them; while I prefer walking others may do yoga, build model ships inside bottles, whatever. If you've found another technique that helps you with your editing process, feel free to share in the comments!