How I got the shot: Editing analysis of a recent Facebook fave of a sea turtle and a toddler

I’m a self-taught photo editor, and it really has become a surprising passion of mine. I’m far from expert level, but I love the challenge of making a good photo great (I’ve learned to set aside not-good photos; they’re too hard to salvage).

I’m also a paid editor of words, so in some ways my exploration into photo editing is just an expansion of my knowledge: To “tell the story better” not just verbally but visually.

I first realized I might be good at this when my Dad once asked me to view some of his photos and “do the thing you do where you make photos look better.” Since then, times have changed: Everyone now has access to basic editing software on their phones, and words like “cropping” and “rule of thirds” have become more commonplace.

Yet like writing, not everyone can do it well. It truly is a skill and an artform.

Recently a favorite wildlife photographer of mine, Marie Read, has been sharing her editing process. I’ve been fascinated and learned so much. I also have an inkling she also learns a lot from articulating her process and getting feedback–and it’s inspired me to do the same.

So here goes, using a recent example I shared on Facebook that really took off among my amigos. My parents recently spent a day with my daughter at the Texas State Aquarium, and took photos on their phones. This one in particular by my Dad caught my eye:


It was in crisp focus–sometimes a challenging feat on a camera phone–so it became an immediate candidate for cropping, where I could play with various perspectives. Second, the water is a deeply beautiful and saturated turquoise, ripe for some slight color enhancement. And luckily, Adela’s clothing matched the water. (I inadvertently but perhaps subconsciously dressed her in all shades of blue that morning?!)

And here is where I ended up:


I zoomed in much closer, so that the turtle’s eye is in the upper right quadrant, and Adela’s curls are adorably lifelike. After color processing, I lightened the turtle’s face to keep him/her a primary focal point. What we don’t see is Adela’s face, a now-trendy style common on Instagram. And it’s trendy for a good reason. It lets our minds create our own version, or story, of what’s happening, especially emotionally. We don’t actually know if they’re making eye contact, but we feel like it’s probably happening.

For me, this shot evoked a universal wonder and unease in all of us; our connection and separation from the natural world; our domination of the natural world paired with our fear of our own reckless domination.

Or maybe that’s just me overly projecting a cute moment. Edited on my phone with the terrific SnapSeed app.

One thought on “How I got the shot: Editing analysis of a recent Facebook fave of a sea turtle and a toddler

  1. Donncha says:

    Nice editing! It’s amazing the quality you’ll get from a phone, given the limitations of the device. More importantly you had enough pixels to crop the photo close enough to get a wonderful intense moment between your daughter and the turtle.

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