Culling the herd… of images


Whether you are an old grizzled photographer or someone just picking up the camera, one of the toughest skills to acquire is the ability to determine which images to show from a shoot. This is especially difficult when shooting landscapes or products where the subject doesn’t change as much frame to frame, as compared to portrait photography. When shooting a person, it is easy to see those imperfections, especially when it comes to a crooked smile, a blink or an unflattering expression. In landscape photography for example, the nuances of the changing light, or the position when the frame was shot can mean the world to the person who took the image, but not as much to a typical viewer. In any typical location shoot, I will take 50 to 100 images. Now that is not saying a whole weekend of shooting will equate to 100 total images, rather, 100 images are what I end up with for each location I stop when I am out shooting. Now, a part of this is my bad vision, I tend to shoot more than needed because I tend to miss out on imperfections in the composition while I am taking the pictures.

So you get home after a day of shooting and start looking at the days “catch”, they all look awesome and you just can’t decide which one to print or put on your favorite social media site. Well, here is some advice and feel free to take it with a grain of salt. Find that one image that represents your vision for the subject you were shooting and use just that one. Don’t deluge your viewers with a million shots that are all just a bit different, it leads to viewer fatigue and makes people less likely to click on your link or go through your photos.  Review the images from the standpoint of, does this image reflect my very best work. In a later article I will cover the heart wrenching process of choosing photos for a portfolio review, but for now let’s start small and discuss the process of initial image picks and sharing with your friends, family or social media.

When you get home, and have hundreds or thousands of images to review it is good to make a plan of attack. First and foremost, if you are a photographer taking a large number of images, you should invest in a photo cataloging program. The sheer number of Programs that will catalog and allow you to sort your images is dizzying. The standard for many pro and non-pro photographers until recently was Apple’s Aperture. Apple has discontinued support for Aperture and is currently improving their Photos Application quickly as a viable replacement. Many of the features that Aperture users loved are not present in Photos as of this writing, but I am sure it will continue to evolve. I personally use Lightroom and have ever since the first publically available version. I use Lightroom because, at its core it integrates Adobe’s Camera Raw interface. The program allows me to choose an image and in most cases adjust it to within 80% of what I would consider a final image. Lightroom has a full compliment of adjustments for exposure, clarity, saturation, tint, and contrast as well as support for spot removal and light editing. This is not an advertisement for Lightroom, it is just the program I personally use and advocate to anyone who is serious about their photography.

When I sit down to review and choose images from a set, I start by considering the keywords I will use for the images. I always start with the location of the shoot, the model’s name or name of the event, band etc. The more detailed you can be about the keywords you give to your images, the more it will pay off at a later date. Quality, detailed keywords will allow you to easily find your images later on.  Once I have my list of keywords I start with a 1 to 5 star rating system combined with a color rating system. My first run through of an image set is to star everything that is out of focus or not a good image as 1 star. These single star images I know will likely be deleted from the disk or moved to long term storage out of the main catalog of images.  I reserve 2 star ratings that might be in focus but I consider compositionally challenged. These are images that I don’t think need to be deleted, but are not worth the time reviewing in the initial run-through. 3 star ratings are ones that I like, and would show but may be similar to other images in the set. This gives me a set of shots to look at with greater scrutiny and choose the best one that I would show out of the herd of similar images. Four stars are images that I like right off the bat and I want to take to final, so editing, cropping etc. I reserve five stars for images that I would show at a portfolio review, ones that I consider my best shots overall, not just from this shoot.

Once I have all my images starred and edited I move to the final stage of review which is color picking and five star considerations. Whichever images I intend to show, either social media or to friends, and ones that I want to print — I choose a color for, generally green. Using this method, I can easily review my images and pick out the ones I consider final and showable from the pile of shots I took that day.

Hopefully this gives you some insight to the way I work. Starting the selection process when you have many hundred images to go through can be daunting, but it gets easier with time and experience. Remember to think carefully about the keywords you use it can make things so much easier when you are looking for that shot of a Beagle on a stump at the beach.

Get out there and take some pictures!