004 — The Ollie Cooper Edit

Dissecting my photos from a two year old shoot with Ollie Cooper. Exploring my ethos and approach to editing a series of images for story and connection.

004 — The Ollie Cooper Edit

After getting waylaid building a fence without a single screw or nail — a runaway project that will give one hell of a Builder's High when it's done... — I finally managed to sit down and take another pass at the edit of my time photographing Ollie Cooper.

I like to tackle creative tasks in a single sitting if I can; a method I learnt from Frank Chimero — his original blog post lost to ravages of time and DNS changes.

I’m a big proponent of ‘once through, cleanly’. You think about your idea, sketch, then put some glue in your chair and bang it out in one sitting. All of my best work happens this way: posters, collages, essays, outlines for talks, and so on. The work seems to be more cohesive and the energy more concentrated and palpable. If you sit down and what you make is bunk, you walk away, come back later and start over. You don’t keep any of what you’ve done before, you only retain the memory of what went wrong. It’s a silly method, but it works for me.

— Frank Chimero

Tackling an edit this way forces you to act on instinct and cull aggressively — an ethos I find important to keep signal-to-noise ratio high in my archive, keeping it smaller, easier to search and less expensive to properly backup. Some photographers keep every frame in case they later find gold. I don't. I'll happily delete 95% of a shoot if the images aren't meeting my standards. When I've previously kept every photo and later revisited it — as I'm doing today — I may find some OK images I missed first time around; but they still don't make the final cut.

With this method, that cohesive energy that Frank mentions is tangible. A narrative starts to form as you pick out the best images, and I find sequences readily make themselves known.

Using Capture One Sessions for all my edits, I can easily copy the whole shoot and start afresh whilst maintaining past edits, or do as I did here — hide all the edits and select images with a colour tag rather than a star rating. This approach easily allowed me to cross-reference the two edits and see which images made the cut on both occasions.

Worth noting is that I find Capture One — specifically a Session based workflow — to be vastly superior to a catalog based one in any other software such as Lightroom. Previously, I've been outspoken against Capture One's business strategy. Their behaviour is straight out of the venture capitalist textbook, and caused me to question the software's viability if they keep making shortsighted decisions. Their releases the past six months have been better, and they've addressed the needs of their core customers — digitechs and studios — but I'm still treating them with suspicion. I'll write more about my workflow, backup strategy and software choices in the future.

When I published the photo story on jamiedumont.com in 2022 I had 32 final images. The first pass in this edit saw me cut down 657 photos to 241, with a further pass taking that down to 149 images.

At this point I was definitely culling workable photos. It was a case of picking the best rather than removing duds with obvious deficiencies. I found myself splitting hairs to cut a series of similar images down to a single best.

I toggled my past colour grades on-and-off as I went, deciding to stick with the black & white style I created first time around — which I named "Dust" — for everything in the glassing room due to its tricky colours, and using a subtlety adjusted version of my colour style "Bay" for the shaping rooms. I don't think the initial colour grades were too far off the mark, but were a touch heavy handed — as everyone is I think when they first start — and my time spent under the tutelage of a professional colourist this past winter meant I noticed things I previously hadn't.

The clearly defined drop of resin makes this an obvious win for the top image
I rarely got to choose between different compositions in this edit. The 35mm focal length and M10's minimum focus distance of 0.7m meant I was often missing cutaways and close-ups.
A good example of picking the best from a similar series of images.
A shot that I missed during the 2022 edit. Still didn't make the final cut though...
After (left) and before (right) the colour grade (Bay). Mostly correcting the green cast with White Balance and adding some contrast with Curves and Levels.
Selecting between these two proved near impossible for me. Which is your favourite?
Another set of images where I can make arguments for either.
This was about as snap-happy as I'd get on this shoot. Four images from a scene, two obviously inferior and then virtually nothing beyond crop and a slight smile between the remainder.
Left is the better of the two regardless of grade, but a good example of how mono cleans up the tricky colours of the glassing room.

This edit produced 22 final images which were all a subset of the original 32. Allowing for a broader edit when these photos are used in the eventual "Makers. Volume One" that I'm working towards, I earmarked another 30 or so images that might be useful for backgrounds and overlays.

My first edit was pretty much there with very little improvement to be found for the extra few hours spent. I'm happier with the grade and removed the added grain from the 2022 edit which I think makes for a cleaner, tighter image. I don't try and make my digital files look like film anymore, preferring to just shoot film if that's the aesthetic required.

Roughly 50 images pulled for use in "Makers. Volume One".

What's clear after two years additional experience and learning is that this shoot lacks an obvious narrative. I took heaps of "action" shots, but very few cutaways or environmental shots for much needed context and depth. Everything I know of the place that Ollie worked, and his personality is missing from the photos.

Viewed alone, it's painful to acknowledge how much the transcript of my interview with Ollie patched up the glaring holes in the images.

Were I to tackle this shoot again, I'd ensure I gave myself the extra images to build a compelling narrative. Equally, because the process of making a single surfboard is split up into distinct processes carried out days apart, I don't have the thread of a singular board being made to tie the images into a logical sequence. Most importantly, I would also aim to give a better sense of Ollie and his personality.

Throughout the shoots, we were constantly chatting, laughing, joking and having a great time. Looking at the photos though, it looked like I was the typical documentary photographer — an objective observer intent on not influencing the scene. That's an approach that I'm increasingly moving away from, having studied the work of Greg Williams, who shoots acknowledging that his presence alters the scene and the subject; which I find to be a genuine way of working that produces engaging images. I'll definitely be writing more about Greg's work, as it's an ethos I want to explore fully.

The equipment that I used — a Leica M10 and Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 — definitely influenced the outcome too. The M10 was extremely new to me, and I remember being hyper-aware of nailing focus with the rangefinder. Combined with the single focal length and minimum focal distance of 0.7m, this likely explains the number of similar compositions and scale.

I'm much better with a rangefinder now, and happily use longer focal lengths and wider apertures, but I viewed this set whilst considering 28mm as my primary focal length, rather than my current 35mm. There's certainly images where the extra space and context would have helped, and I could have made the perspective more exaggerated than I already did; but I would have had greater issues with detail shots/cutaways, and would certainly have relied on the unique perspective of the 28mm as a crutch. Inconclusive...

Taking another pass at these images has raised concerns about Makers as a whole, because I suspect my later shoots might share similar shortcomings. With that said, the discussion I want to explore in this project is broader — where these Makers fit in an increasingly automated, mass-manufactured world. These images could easily illustrate and add colour to that narrative, even if they can't stand alone. I think that I've unwittingly given myself a writing project rather than a photo one.

Makers was originally about building a portfolio — a foundational exercise — and I think that's the purpose it still serves. It's my vehicle for putting words and images together and committing them to print. Whether it's objectively good or bad is irrelevant if it serves as a launchpad for more stories and more printing!

With peripheral projects winding down, I should be able to increase how often you receive these emails, hopefully building up to once per week. I've got a good list of things I'd like to talk about, but I'd also be interested to hear from you. Is there anything I've glossed over you want to know more about? Is there an aspect of photography you don't think is discussed enough? Please send me an email and let me know!