“Jeff, where are the pictures? We want to see what you saw. You’ve been back twelve days; how long can it take?”
Once upon a time — you might even remember when — going on vacation meant waiting . . . and waiting . . . for photographs to come back from the lab. I would put exposed rolls of 36-exposure slide film into mailers, write my name on the return label, affix postage, go to a mailbox, and hope nothing got lost or poorly processed. That wasn’t exactly fast; I didn’t even start to get nervous until two weeks after sending my film away. After getting the slides back, I would open them right away to find the very best ones. Was there anybody who could wait a long time to see their photographs?
Eventually, I would put as many slides as I could on my big lightbox and cull the overexposed, underexposed, out-of-focus, blurry, and plain-ole uninteresting ones. I suspect I kept a larger number of the “uninteresting” ones than I should. I have a big box in the closet of slides, just in case they might be more interesting to me after I’ve gotten over the initial disappointment of them not mirroring the memory I had in my mind of the scene. Of course, they’re in there with a whole bunch of slides that I haven’t properly sorted yet. The process of culling — when I did it right away — would take a while. Adding information to the slide about where the scene was and when I made the exposure, that made the process take even longer.
Back then a really, really big haul of photographs was fifteen rolls of film, or about 550 slides. Because I bracketed my exposures, about 1/2 of those could just be thrown out without looking too closely; they were obviously the wrong exposure, and film was unforgiving. A two-week photography vacation could be pared down to about 250 slides. The best of these (maybe 10-20%) found their way into clear, archival sleeves that still hang in my filing cabinet. Over the following weeks or months, I scanned the very, very best of these. It took a while because getting one slide ready for the web or print usually took me about 30 minutes to an hour. And if there was one that I really liked? I seem to remember working on one particular photograph from Ipswich for six hours spread over a few evenings.
But that was then. . . .
I no longer need to bracket my exposures with my dSLR. Instead, I have almost instant feedback, leading me to press the shutter another two or three times until what I see is what I want. Unless they’re patently bad, I don’t always delete the other photographs off my camera, preferring to see what they look like on a better display and wondering whether it’s possible to use the tools in the develop module in Lightroom to turn a middling photo into a better one. Furthermore, since Lisa and I go the same places together, we tend to come back with two slightly different interpretations of the same scenes. Plus, we had some amazing experiences and saw some beautiful scenery; we find each other very photogenic; and snapping away is just so mindlessly effortless.
Add it all up: We came back from Australia with 5,900 photographs from three cameras.
We’ve been sorting through these — picking, culling, cropping, adjusting RAW conversions, and adding metadata to help us with sorting. We don’t usually do this while we’re on our trips — though I know lots of people who do — for a couple of reasons. First off, our little 10″ netbook made a convenient place to store the photos, but it wasn’t powerful at all, and the monitor had a distinctly blue cast. But more to the point, we had a lot of other stuff to do on our vacation: reading, swimming, walking around, watching “Master Chef Australia,” spending lots of time at restaurants, etc. So while I did spend about eight hours of our trans-Pacific flight adding metadata and while we did look through the photos during the trip to help identify the 55 new-to-us bird species we saw, we didn’t really spend much more time than what it took to download the photographs and to pick one a day to post to Facebook.
Late yesterday evening, we finally finished the first pass through the 5,900 photos from the trip. We deleted about a thousand photographs and picked an equal number that we liked well enough to say that we liked them. Some of those are duplicates, and we need to make another pass through those 1,010 to whittle the collection down to a number that we would consider sharing. We’ve already decided that we need to present them in themed groups, since we don’t expect anyone — even the people who love us — wants to click through that many pictures; and no one would really get much out of such an enormous collection anyway. After that, we need to select a key set of photographs that we can share with people as totems of our trip.
So, have patience, little grasshoppers. We’ll post pictures very soon.