Video: How does a National Geographic wildlife photographer select his best images?
posted Sunday, January 9, 2022 at 6:00 AM EST
Imagine that you go out to take wildlife photos. You shoot images here and there, rattle off a few high-speed bursts, and next thing you know, you've got hundreds of photos on your card. If you import all of them into your photo editor of choice when you get back home, you now have hundreds of photos on your hard drive, taking up valuable space. Most of the time, you don't need all those images. Some might be blurry or out of focus. Others might have bad composition or incorrect exposure. Developing a workflow for making selects and keeping your photo collection organized is a useful skill.
Wildlife photographer Steve Winter has been contributing to National Geographic for more than 20 years, spending much of his career photographing big cats in the wild. Over that time, he's learned a lot and developed a tried-and-true method for selecting his best images. Even someone with Winter's extensive experience and skill can still learn a lot about photography by carefully examining his images and selecting his best photos.
WIRED brought Winter into their studio to photograph a cat, although this time it wasn't a leopard, lion, or tiger, but a domestic cat – a cute one, at that. While photographing the cat, Winter captured 112 photos. His task was to whittle them down until he was left with just a single image to tell the cat's story.
As you can see in the video above, Winter has a specific order in which he makes image selects. He makes multiple passes through his images. The first step is to weed out the images that are under or overexposed or have other technical issues. The second round of culling removes images with bad framing. Perhaps the cat moved, and part of its body is cut off by the edge of the frame, something like that. The third round removes images that Winter doesn't think are well-composed. By this point, he's down to 28 images from the original 112.
Telling a story with your photo is important. The next two rounds focus on narrative and then behavior. Winter wants the composition to tell an interesting story about the cat and its home. Ultimately, he ends up with two images remaining. They feature a similar pose but are very different images. How does he pick the ultimate winner? Watch the video above to find out.
If you'd like to see more of Steve Winter's work, including stunning photographs of big cats in the wild, be sure to visit his website.