Lesson: Sorting out Quan Chuong City Gate



This post looks much longer than it really is. It’s about editing, or sorting, your pictures. Sometimes, if you’re me, you shoot a lot of frames of one subject. In today’s example, I shot 124 frames over 25 minutes (nowhere near a personal record) at Quan Chuong City Gate in Hanoi. I’d seen the gate as we drove past, and I knew there was photography to be had there, and I also knew that it would be an editing challenge, as I needed the right balance of getting a sense of place, a feeling for the excitement and crowdedness, and that spark that tells me “this is your photograph.” I’m going to show you my editing process a little bit.

First, I’m going to show you the 34 of 124 that I thought were worth looking at twice. To get to this point, I needed a nice composition, a sense of motion and hopefully an interesting character to make the star of the photo. In the other 90 pictures, the sense of motion was too vague, or there wasn’t a central character, or the composition was bad. Also, it has taken me longer to write these two paragraphs than to get to the 34 pictures. It’s a very fast process of saying, “Yes, no, no, no, maybe, maybe, yes, no, no, no, no, no, maybe,” and in Lightroom’s Library view, I have one finger on the 2 key, and one finger on the right arrow key. If it’s a yes or a maybe, it gets a two. If it’s a no, I skip it and move to the next.

Two-star version Three-star version Two-star versionTwo-star version Two-star version Two-star version Two-star version Two-star version Two-star version Two-star version Three-star version Two-star version Two-star version Three-star version Two-star version Two-star version Four-star version Three-star version Two-star versionTwo-star version Two-star version Two-star versionTwo-star version Two-star version Three-star version Two-star version Two-star version Three-star version Two-star version Two-star version Four-star version Two-star version Two-star version Three-star version

After getting these 34, I used the Custom Filter to bring up only the 2-star pictures, and I went through those 34, this time with my finger on the 3 key, and whittled it down to nine 3-star pictures. In these, the sense of motion and the characters were compelling enough make me want to look at the photos a little longer. Maybe there was something funny, or frightening in them, or a view that shows what I was able to glean about the character of Hanoi and its people, or at least my understanding of it. After all, that’s a major part of why we travel.

You might notice that I’ve gone from five different views of the gate to three, and even then, eight of them are from one side, while only one is from the other side. I decided that the light was too dark, on an already hazy day, and that there was too much clutter in the form of parked scooters from the one view.

Three-star version Three-star version Three-star versionFour-star version Three-star versionThree-star version Three-star version Four-star version Three-star version

And then, there were two. I filtered again to capture only my nine 3-star pictures, looking for a 4-star. Sometimes I don’t find it. And of these, I don’t think I have a 5-star picture, one that will become Art. I like them, but I don’t love them enough to print them on fine photo-grade rag paper in a limited edition. And that’s okay.

I had thought that the picture of the SUV driving past the No Cars sign would make this final cut, but in the end, I went for people walking in the street, when the sidewalk is completely open. Why? Because as I walked through Hanoi, I found myself doing just that. The sidewalks are parking lots for scooters and motorcycles and bicycles, and it’s easier to just walk in the street than to go back and forth between the sidewalks and the street.

The horizontal one below grabs me because you have the steady stream of scooters, the woman with the hand truck working her way into the traffic, the guy on the far right, walking his bicycle with its cage of (probably) chickens waiting for enough of a break that he can squeeze through the gate, and the guy sitting completely still on his scooter.

Four-star version

The vertical picture scares the crap out of me. The woman is walking with her baby into the stream. I know that she’s been walking in this stream her whole life. Her mother carried her like this, her daughter will do the same with the granddaughter. But damn if that doesn’t just freak out my Western sensibilities. Of course, if another photographer had come along that morning, thinking to make the same sorts of images I was after, she’d have had a great shot of a white guy with his camera, his expensive baby, on a tripod, right on the edge of the traffic.

Four-star version

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