As Traveler magazine’s director of photography, Dan Westergren typically edits pictures from photographers in the field. But when he goes on assignment himself, editing his own photos requires a different eye. After a recent assignment in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Dan shared some of the challenges posed by editing his own work.
On Assignment: You were on assignment photographing hut-to-hut hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. When you head into the field, do you find yourself editing for the magazine layout as you shoot?
Dan Westergren: On a hiking story like this I’m always worried that I’ll spend too much time walking and not enough taking pictures. So, my basic mode of operation on a story like this is to always have two cameras hanging around my neck, one with a wide-angle lens and the other [a] telephoto. Then I’m constantly reminding myself to shoot. Carrying the cameras in some type of backpack doesn’t work, because overcoming the inertia that keeps the cameras in the bag is very difficult. The camera must be at hand and used constantly.
O.A.: Even editors like a second set of eyes on their work. When you’re both the photographer and the editor, what’s your strategy for making sure you’re selecting the photos that best fit the story? Do you work with other editors on staff?
D.W.: For many years now I have edited my own photos for the magazine. I’ve learned to disassociate the act of taking the shots with choosing the best ones. However, I do usually show my final selects to one of the other photo editors and get their opinion before presenting the work. I also am a little less outspoken when we’re debating the final layout. With my own pictures I stand a few feet back and listen to what others are saying. If I have very strong feelings about an image I might ask that the designer try my favorite in addition to the one they like so we can all look at the two side by side in the layout.
O.A.: Photographers often advocate for pictures they worked very hard to make, and editors have an objective distance that lets them know when to cut pictures that don’t fit the story. Which pictures from this assignment posed this challenge? Tell us about the process of editing for the best select.
D.W.: When planning this trip, I built the hike around one hut. The Lakes of the Clouds hut, at the base of Mount Washington, is really the jewel of the hut system, and I knew it would be the most photogenic. As I was taking the shots, I thought that this picture, seen above, of an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker arriving at sunset would be the “hero” image. In the end it just didn’t do a good job of showing off the hut.
O.A.: When you photographed the image that became the opening story image, did you know you’d captured the opener, or did the editing process reveal the best image?
D.W.: As we were deciding on the final layout, there was actually a very different shot being used as the opener, seen above. This shot of a hiker cowering under an imposing sky seemed to speak to the power and threat of bad weather that often sweeps through the Whites, making it a potentially dangerous place. The shot of the young woman hiking near the hut was used much smaller on the next spread. Once we had decided on the final layout and were reviewing the entire issue, someone pointed at the small shot in the layout and said, ”Isn’t this story about hiking hut to hut? Why aren’t you leading with this picture of the hut?” We made a new layout and realized we hadn’t had it quite right.
O.A.: What should amateur photographers keep in mind when reviewing their own photos?
D.W.: I just pretend I’m looking at someone else’s pictures!
Follow Dan Westergren on Instagram @danwestergren.