The Travel Series: Creating Sketches in the Field


When I'm on location, I shoot lots of material. I cull my work constantly, and feel relieved every time I delete another hundred or so images. Some people are amazed that I delete anything, and almost everyone is amazed at just how much I delete.

"...I find that the editing process really helps, and by deleting, I am able to analyze my shoot and create the necessary contact sheets..."

Back in the days of film, I was notorious for shooting large amounts of Kodachrome. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for me to shoot 50 rolls of film on an assignment. Afterward, I would place the transparencies on a light table and, with a Sharpie, I would put one dot on the ones I liked, narrow it down to several hundred images, and then go back and put two dots and eventually three or four dots on my best images.

For the client, the selected images would go into slide pages, which typically numbered around four pages of images, and probably about eight of the selects had three or four dots. Clients loved this, and I was no different than most other photographers. I certainly would never send in 50 boxes of slides, unless I wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t work again. What's really interesting is that four pages of slides amounted to 80 to 100 selects.

In the digital age, I find that people simply can’t edit. Ask someone to get the selection down to a hundred, and the typical answer is "No way, I shot 1,000 frames." Why is digital content so tough for folks to edit? I find that the editing process really helps, and by deleting, I am able to analyze my shoot and create the necessary contact sheets or sketches so I can eventually find my exhibition images.

My goal in the field is to create what I call "working contact sheets." I rate my work with two, three, four, and five stars. An image with two stars signifies a good idea, but simply doesn't work. An image with three was done well, but doesn't elicit much of a feeling from within, and I know that I can do better. A four is something that really works well, and I am proud of it. A five would be a lasting portfolio image. The longer you shoot, the higher the bar gets raised, and the more difficult it becomes to truly get four- and five-star images. Sometimes I get frustrated, and I instinctively think about a song from Sesame Street entitled Counting to Four. It makes me laugh when I see how easy it is to get a three, and how difficult it can be to get to the number four. 

In the field, I make very basic adjustments. I take the three-star and four-star images and put them in a collection. They are a collection of the best of what I shot, but not necessarily portfolio images. From these sketches I eventually select a few of the best and, after some additional work, those become portfolio images for galleries and prints. The sketches from each of these trips are posted at

These sketches are a critical step in my creative process. I need to live with the body of work for a while before I can even get to point of really selecting the finals for galleries and exhibitions. I also find that I need to get over the initial “wow” factor of being on location. It’s funny how some images that totally sizzle in your mind when you click the shutter begin to fizzle out when you look at them a week or so later. 

Eventually I can pick images from my sketches to include in my portfolio, but it is much easier for me to get to this point when I have an intermediary step like my sketches.

Be sure to also read The Benefits of Making Virtual Contact Sheetsby Seth Resnick's close associate,  John Paul Caponigro.

About Seth Resnick: John Paul Caponigro and I run a company called Digital Photo Destinations. These are workshops, not photo tours. Teaching and critiques are a critical part of our programs. We are back from a series of workshops that started in the Atacama Desert of Argentina, in December; two creative workshops in Palm Beach Gardens, in January; Antarctica, in February; Iceland, in March; and the finale was Morocco. Find out what’s coming next and sign up for our early alert list at this link.


iceland   japan      greenland               maybe antartica

This is an amazing, helpful, and rare article! I read a lot about photography; so much so that articles have gotten to be repetitve and not that helpful. This is one is different. It is interesting to see how an expert reviews their photographs from a shoot and uses the 5-star rating system found in most photo catalog software to prioritize and isolate the best of the best. I used the five-star tool, but the thought process described here is definitely going to affect my thinking process going forward. Thank you for this write-up. I've become such a discerning reader of photography articles that I rarely come across an article I feel excited about reviewing.

Good guidelines anyone can follow, regardless of skill level.

Any workshops in the Los Angeles area ??

Hi Seth,

Just came across this travel article on B&H.  I used to select images advertising and catalog images for a large sporting brand, and used the same 'dot techinque' so i had a reminiscent grin... Ahhh the old days...  Strangely enough i prefer to edit with slides!  Go figure?

You didn't disclose which program you use for your 'contact sheets' ???

Interested in the Greenland and Iceland tours



It is very nice!!! I enjoyed them! Thanks for your work.

I would love to get updates about your workshops. Thank you

I think  the difference is in how we were brought up.  Like you, I shot slides for decades (not pro) and for me, part of editing (tossing non-keepers) was about storage and labeling.  The more you keep, the more slide labels you have to write (never got round to printing labels).  I have carried that mentality (or discipline) into the digital age.

With Digital, there's less pressure to toss.  If you organize your work by project, you don't even need meaningful file names - whatever filename the camera used is fine.  With slides, we winnowed down our images - with Digital, you can copy your best ones to a "keeper" folder - or even have first cut, second cut, etc folders as an analog to your dot scheme.  It achieves the same result.

Cheers, Neil.



I would like to get alerts on workshops, specially around december and Argentina it'll be wonderfull.


Please add my name to your early alert list.  Thanks.

Great thoughts and work there...thanks for sharing your gift.

Keep me on your list of future workshops and your sharing.

Interesting article but in the ends feels a bit like an advertisement. The before and after photos aren't - they are two different photos, quite clearly. Also, would be great to know which program was used to generate the contact sheet...?

Hi Susan,

The before and after shot are exactly the same original and all of the work was done using Clarity and HSL in Lightroom. The contact sheet is simply a grid view of a Collection in Lightroom.




Please add me to your alert list!


Thanks for this informative item.  I have noticed your previous articles in several sources and was amazed when I saw your picture for the first time, and this present picture stunned me.  I served in the Air Force in 1965-67 at Minot AFB, ND with an orthopedic surgeon, a Michael Resnick.  When I saw this picture of you I would have sworn it was his twin brother---are you his son?  If you are not, the gene pool for the Resnick clan is a dominant one, and if you are related, tell Mike that I hope he had the successful career that he richly deserved, and give him my best regards.

I married one of the nurses from Minot AFB who was a midwife, and who changed careers to be come a geologist-volcanologist.  She is now in Iceland with National Geographic on expedition, and from the pictures she takes while there, it is a pity that I cannot join you on your photographic tour of Iceland.  Keep these interesting articles coming Seth, and thanks.


Our photography club in Wellington FL (Palm Beach County) is always looking for good photographer presenters and workshops.  Would like to talk to you about a December, January or February workshop.  Steve Roth, President of Wycliffe a Photography Club 

Nice ideas. Looking

Pardon my ignorance - But what program creates that unique digital contacy sheet, with exposure data and the star rating?

I'd like to take a workshop with you after reading your article on sketches, rating,deletes. Thanks

Seth, please add me to your "early alert list."  Thanks.

Great article with insight similar to my own. Keepers are what it's all about, and I could take a thousand shots and in my own judgement if I get one I suceeded. I have rescued many with Photoshopping and other software, but find that elusive one out of the camera is the real treasure that defies belief. That one that need no touch-up because it simply cannot be improved upon. That is what makes photography a joy to me. IMHO

Right-on Seth! Culling images in the field is one of the toughest lessons I'm still learning. Thank you for reinforcing the need to be ruthless when culling and using a coding system

Please put me on your workshop mailing lists.

Larry Ehemann

I would be interested in hearing about more of your trips for the coming 2015 year.

I like the observation about getting over the wow factor of being on location. I often starting shooting away in excitement and it's kind of a high. But then I want that high again so I go to a new spot and start all over, rather than staying in the original location and really getting into taking some good pictures.

Just a small correction, there is no Atacama desert in Argentina,  (Chile probably...) sorry.

Actually, while most of the Atacama is indeed in Chile, it also overlaps Peru, Argentina and Bolivia, too.

The Puna de Atacama is the Argentina section so I do not disagree but both Google Maps and the National Geographic Society classify the entire region spanning some 41,000 square miles across four South American countries, the Atacama Desert is considered the driest place in the world.