10 Tips for Editing Travel Photographs, with Krista Rossow


Travel photography has a certain lure that brings out the uninhibited snapshooter in all of us. But how do you deal with the volume of images you download to the computer after your trip? At that point, it’s high time to sharpen your eye as a photo editor.

According to award-winning travel photographer Krista Rossow, photo editing is a practice that really should begin before you leave on a trip. Rossow is well versed in the process behind editing photos to tell a dynamic story, given her seven years as a picture editor for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Learn how she does it in the following ten tips.

1. Determine the story you want to tell

While working at National Geographic Traveler, Rossow was assigned a 2012 feature story on San Francisco and its social networks, and given nine days to document the city. “I find it helpful to consider the end goal before I begin editing, and even before I begin shooting,” she explains.

“Don’t think of good and bad, or right and wrong, think about what’s appropriate for the story you want to tell. What is your reason to be out shooting? What form will the images take after you select them? If you know what your end goal will be, you can anticipate the needs for that.”

To make a place-setting shot for the story, Rossow photographed a busy street scene in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, which includes the iconic Transamerica Pyramid with its top disappearing into the city's famous fog.Krista Rossow

2. Plan an itinerary and build a shot list

When traveling, time is limited, so Rossow finds it helpful to work out a schedule in advance, which allows her to make the most of her time on the ground. She wants to know what to anticipate and what might be interesting to photograph, as well.

“I do background research via Google, stock photo sites, and tourism boards to determine what a place looks like,” she says. “This helps me determine what has already been done before photographically, so I can push myself to come up with something different. This can also give me clues about the best time of day to photograph a particular place. Additionally, I make a shot list—a list of the sorts of images I may want for my final project.”

Rossow built enough time into her schedule to visit Off the Grid at Fort Mason, a food truck round-up that she knew would also offer great evening views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

3. Identify quintessential elements of a place

“Before setting foot out the door, I do preliminary research to understand my destination,” Rossow says. “I want to become familiar with the customs and culture and gather information on what makes the place unique. I list the quintessential elements of a place and try to combine one or more elements into a photo while shooting. These images become strong stand-alone storytelling images later in the editing process.”

Prior to her arrival, Rossow learned that San Francisco’s Mission District is known for its Latino culture and shopping. Once on site, she sought out a scene incorporating Mexican wrestling masks and colorful papel picado with palm trees and passing shoppers to tell a story of that neighborhood.

4. Think and shoot in terms of variety

For every subject, Rossow thinks in terms of close-up, medium-distance, and wide-angle vantage points, and challenges herself to always capture a variety of image options. She also makes sure to photograph the same scene with and without people.

“I never know which image may work best for the final story, so giving myself variety will give me options later on,” she says.

At Heath Ceramics, Rossow was careful to make a variety of detail shots of products, such as colorful stacks of ceramic bowls,


while also capturing an environmental shot of an employee adjusting a tile display from a medium distance.


The foreground tiles at left are helpful in conveying a sense of depth.


5. Capture information for captions and metadata

“Images have little value if you can’t remember what they were about or where they were taken,” says Rossow. She goes on to advise, “Take notes, whether written, photographic, or audio, and try to embed basic caption information about locations into the files while in the field. I find using a GPS watch, like the Garmin Fenix, allows me to reverse geo-code images, so that I always know where an image was shot.”

Rossow photographed multiple stands at the Ferry Building’s Saturday Farmer’s Market,


including vendors at Rojas Family Farms and Devoto Gardens.


Thanks to careful notes, she was able to keep details organized and send copies to her subjects afterward, as well as obtain model releases.

6. Let go of personal connections to the story

According to Rossow, the most difficult aspect of editing is separating yourself as a photographer from your task as a photo editor. The photo editor needs to be critical and unbiased.

“I recommend letting some time pass after the photos were taken before beginning an edit, so that I’m less personally attached to the images,” she says. “Remember to not give value to a photo based on how difficult or interesting it was to capture. The photo needs to stand alone and speak for itself.”

Rossow recommends trying to disassociate the process of capturing an image—whether it was an easy shot or photographically challenging, or how the situation made you feel—from the end result.

Rossow worked hard to find a different way to capture the iconic curves of Lombard Street, as seen in this image of the staircase. Then she turned and saw two tourists snapping a portrait with the hilly landscape as a backdrop. She only shot two frames, but one ended up running full page in the magazine. As most photographers can attest, “When photographing, turn around, your best picture might be behind you.”

7. Download images and edit using a five-star rating system

Once the shoot is completed, Rossow downloads her images to a folder on her computer to start the process of picture editing and putting the story together. She uses Adobe Lightroom to manage the overwhelming task of distilling the thousands of images captured into a small set of final selects.

After comparing these two shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, both photographed from the same location in Horseshoe Bay,


Rossow allotted the image at right 5 stars because the scene was more unusual with the bridge almost completely enveloped in fog than the image at left.


During her San Francisco assignment, Rossow shot 10,837 photos, and ended up with 14 images published in print. For a practical and efficient approach to the process, she recommends, “Seeing stars,” explaining, “I use a star rating system, in which you eliminate the negative by elevating the positive.

“I think it’s really helpful to think in terms of yes instead of no,” she adds. “Ranking images up within the tiers of zero to five stars helps you distill the best images. By making multiple passes and awarding increasingly higher levels of stars, you become very familiar with your images and finish your edit with less second-guessing and more certainty.”

8. Group based on common subjects

“I find it helpful to group images based on common subjects, either at the beginning of an edit, or when I’m moving to the three-star level. I’d rather look at all of my photos of restaurants at the same time, for example,” she says.

Another benefit to editing in Lightroom are the Compare and Survey views, which provide different graphic options for viewing similar shots within a grouping, such as lining up similar horizontal and vertical shots to allow for easy comparison.

When editing her images of food, Rossow grouped all of her restaurant images together into a Collection in Lightroom and then compared and comntrasted the best scenes from each scenario. When working with large group of pictures, Rossow uses Lightroom's Collections panel to help organize her thoughts.

9. Less is always more

“You want to leave your audience wanting to come back for more, rather than feeling like they’ve seen too much,” Rossow says. “You may have many great photographs that make it to four stars, but when moving images to the five-star level, or final selects, you must be concise and avoid redundancy.”

Many wonderful images won’t make the final layout, but they might find life in another usage. “Remember, the best photographers are also the best photo editors,” she points out.

Although this shot didn’t end up making the final cut for the published story, it did find life in one of the magazine’s online galleries.

10. Train your critical eye

As with all art, photography is subjective. This becomes particularly clear when editing your own work.

One tip Rossow shares to overcome this hurdle is to show your images to a stranger or someone unfamiliar with the scene, asking if they understand what’s going on or what you were trying to capture. Their response will offer you unbiased insight. She also recommends studying the work of good, recognized photographers and forcing yourself to articulate what you like or don’t like about an image. “The most difficult part of photo editing is gaining the knowledge about what makes a good image. But if you can actually articulate why you like something (or why it falls short), you learn a lot more about a photograph,” she says. Not only does this method of analysis help train your eye, it takes root in the back of your brain, and then you begin to apply it when you’re shooting on your own.

“It will help to make you a better photographer—and a better editor,” she notes.

“When considering this image, I like the mood created by the foggy weather, which allows a tiny bit of the background trees to show,” says Rossow. “This picture, with its low perspective, made the vegetation appear grandiose in comparison with other similar shots.”

Learn more about Krista Rossow’s approach to photo editing by viewing her video, How to Think Like an Editor, from the B&H Optic 2016 Conference.

You can also download the PDF Photo Editing using Star Ratings, with a summary of Rossow’s editing tips, by using the password OPTIC2016.

Do you have a favored method for editing travel pictures? Please share the details in the Comments section, below.

For more on travel photography, visit Explora’s Travel Series landing page, where you’ll find plenty of other tips, inspirational articles, and gear reviews.