Editing as a Mirror of Our Discernment Process


Most of us have had the experience in a class when Michael makes adjustments to our images during the image review. He quickly brings what is hidden into the light, adjusts blown out areas, and shows us how to bring our image to mirror what we have seen. He has a great sense of this from many years of looking.

Since we began using iPhoto and digital cameras, Michael has been working with me through the process of correcting the adjustments I have made. I have felt that this refined sense of detail is something that is far less developed in me and I have paid close attention to what adjustments he makes and why. How does one develop this ability to understand and remember these subtleties such as the details in a shadow and how dark it was, the exact hue of a color? I have realized that in order for me to be able to make accurate adjustments, I need to develop a depth of looking often absent in my discernment. I have become very aware that I actually often don’t have a clear memory of subtle aspects such as how dark the shadows were or the exact hue of a wall.

It’s not just that there is light and dark, color, but how much, what shade, exactly? How much detail is there in the shadows, how much contrast between light and dark?

I have been able to get by for quite a while without paying close attention to these subtle details. I guess I felt my excellent camera would take an accurate image and I didn’t need to take the time to notice. And even though adjustments do end up needing to be made, I can fix the image in IPhoto, or so I have thought. I have been able to guess so far based on my vague memory of how it looked. But because the detail has been lacking in my memory, the result is a blind spot in my editing process.

And since I don’t remember the details, what is the basis for how I make my adjustments? Michael will say, “It didn’t look like that. It was darker.”

Darker? I always want to lighten everything up. Always. It’s a true bias. Sometimes I want to make sharp what is soft, even if that’s not how it looked. It makes me feel more comfortable. Once I get to work using the midrange adjustments, I want to see the detail in the shadows or more richness in the color. I make a decision after glancing at the image what needs to be adjusted.

I am really making a conscious effort to look longer and commit to memory the color, tonal hue, contrast, and subtleties of my perception so that editing can be based entirely upon what the perception was. This seems important to me. “Winging it” will come out in the final image. Digital gadgetry can easily compensate for lack of refined awareness in the photographer, but it is used at the cost of the precision, fullness and vibrancy of the image.

Here are some questions I received from Paul Giguere recently regarding cropping and editing:

Hi Julie,

One topic that gets a lot of attention is the issue of cropping photos. Now I know that is usually discouraged (it is the flash of perception as you see it in the moment that is important, not what you want to see later in post production) however, I notice many people use zoom and telephoto lens when practicing Miksang and is this not cropping of a sort? I find it hard to believe that someone was stopped by something when the distance-to-subject is several hundred feet away. What are your thoughts on in-the-field cropping?

I have another follow-on question regarding post-production of our photos. Some who practice Miksang state that no post-production should be done (at all, no exceptions). The photos right off the card are the final versions of the photos. Period. I find this kind of severe. I know both you and Michael Wood do minor post production on photos (curves, levels, etc. . . at least in the workshop any way) in order to bring the photo more in line with what your perception was at the moment the photo was taken. The issue is further complicated when using JPEG (the camera applies many kinds of presets to “improve” the image) or RAW (which needs some tweaking as the image is usually not ready right out of the camera). Thoughts?

Thanks much,

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your comment and question. We are not opposed to cropping as long as it is used to eliminate what is extraneous to the perception. Sometimes because of the lens we are using or because of where we are in relation to the perception we have to settle for extra in the viewfinder. It is our decision to make that there is too much extra to make sense. In that case we just walk away from it. Likewise, if our perception is a different shape than the viewfinder, there is no reason the final image should not be cropped so that it expresses the dimensionality of the perception. After all, we don’t see in a certain aspect ratio. Sometimes our perception is long and narrow, or square.

Check out this image Michael took at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado as an example of this:

Lenses are tools to shoot our perceptions. If we see something across the street and we shoot it with a 50mm lens, there will be so much in the image that is not part of our perception that it will be lost. Someone looking at the image won’t be able to tell what stopped us. Even if we cropped the image, the final result might be ridiculously small. This is too much work and the result weak. If we have a zoom lens that will express the perception accurately then we can use it. Otherwise, we might want to bring our attention in a bit so that what we see in the viewfinder is the perception with nothing extra included.

Cropping is not a tool to improve upon our original perception. It can be used, however, to eliminate anything extra and bring the image in line with the perception. This is always the prime directive, to bring the image to the state that expresses the perception, nothing more – nothing less. Whether we lighten, darken, sharpen, bring up mid-tones, whatever we do with our adjustments, it is only to accomplish this purpose.


© Julie DuBose 2010
May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author

Great National Sand Dunes Photograph © Michael Wood 2009