How We Cull Our Images

One of the most important parts of post production is culling your images. Culling is the process where you decide which images are keepers and will be edited and which ones should be trashed.

Culling can be really personal and every photographer does something a little bit different with how they sort and cull through their raw work. The goal though is to make it efficient and organized, no matter how exactly you do it.

There are external management programs such as Photo Mechanic or Adobe Bridge that some people swear by, but we both use Lightroom to cull. If you're finding your images are really slow to load while viewing them and culling you can try using previews instead of full images, as then your computer won't be loading the full resolution image.

Below are breakdowns of both of our processes.

Jenny:

1.png
  • I Import images directly into Lightroom and view them in Loupe view in the Library Module.

  • I start from the first image and as quickly as I can, I go through each image and either mark it with a flag (P) to keep, with an X to delete, or I skip it if I’m not sure or don’t have an initial yes or no gut feeling about it. The ones I keep are the ones I like immediately, or the ones that look like they have potential. The ones I delete are out of focus, bad exposure, have weird expressions/body placements, etc/or I know right away I don’t like it and won’t use it. The ones I skip, I’m unsure about at first glance and may come back to them later depending on how many keepers I have.

  • I try to do this as fast as I can and go with my initial reaction without putting too much thought into it.

  • I also try not to zoom in to check focus or play with any editing at this point - it is all about my initial reactions to the images.

  • If there are similar images from a series I like, at this stage I flag them all and then compare them later to choose the best ones. Again, I try to do this quickly and not compare images, zoom in or do any editing - just keep, delete or skip.

  • Once I’ve finished going through all of the images, I delete the ones with an X. I then create a Collection with the relevant session name (Baby George, Smith Family 2018, etc) and move all the flagged images into the Collection.

  • Within the Collection, I remove the flags from the images and do the process one more time. This go through I allow myself a bit more time to be a bit more ruthless. I’ll zoom in if I need to, will sometimes play with a quick edit on a few and will compare a series in Survey mode and remove my least favourites from the Collection, keeping only the strongest images to edit.

  • I then remove all the X images from the Collection, but not delete from my hard drive so I can always go back and revisit them later if I wish to.

  • I’ve now done the process twice and have usually narrowed my images down pretty well so it’s time to start editing. I go back to the beginning and work through each image. As I’m editing, if I decide some images don't work, aren't as strong as I initially thought, or that I just don't like them, I will remove them from the Collection.

  • Following this method, I almost always have plenty of images for a full gallery, but occasionally I will go back to the original folder I imported to and will look at the ones I skipped over in my initial cull or removed from the Collection in my second cull.  

  • Once a client has seen their full gallery, placed and received their order and I'm ready to close-off their file, I go back in and delete any un-flagged images that aren't in their Collection from my hard drive, keeping only the images that were in their full gallery.

Kelly:

  • I always start in the library module with large thumbnails (screenshot below on to how to adjust thumbnail size) with just those images I'm working on up on the screen. Generally, that means I just click on the 'previous import' tab, but if I've imported since those images then I'll pull just those images into a collection.

how we call our images in lightroom 1.png
  • I like to start at the end and work backwards. No matter if I'm shooting my own family or a client session, I find that my best work tends to always be at the end. I generally take the 'safe' shot and then try and make better and better images if I have time, so most times the best composed images are at the end of a series. Also, especially with clients, it can take a while for everyone to warm up and relax, so the end photos are usually the ones where everyone is at ease. By starting at the end I'm able to feel really good about the shots, instead of becoming frustrated with the first few frames.

  • Double click on the last image and then hit F to make it full screen.

  • Then I quickly flip through each image giving ones that I like or see potential in a 5 star rating (hit 5 on your keyboard). This is done quickly and without too much thought. If I find myself smiling, it automatically gets a 5, if it's really out of focus then I move on immediately. If there are multiple images that are very similar then I'll go back and forward through them a few times to pick out the best ones. I don't stop while I'm doing this - it has to be done in one sitting so that I can remember the images and feel the flow of the session. As these are gut reactions, I usually do an initial cull of a full session with 300ish frames in about 10-15 minutes.

  • If it's a client session I then go see how many 5 star images I have to see if I'm about double what I want in a final gallery.

  • Then I filter by 5 star ratings and work within that group. To filter make sure you're in the library module and then from the top drop down menu choose attribute. If you don't see the top menu click on the little arrow to reveal it.

lightroom culling images.png
  • At this point, I'll start to edit in the develop module. I'll decide if the image should be colour or black and white and then do a really rough edit. During this process, I start to narrow things down. I often need to do a rough edit to decide if I really like an image or not. I'm just doing quick adjustments like straightening, cropping, basic colour, shadows, etc. Then if I decide the image is a keeper I hit B to add it to my quick collection.

  • After I have my 'keeper' images then I go back and do final edits on them - things like spot removal, skin smoothing, etc.

  • After I'm done editing I colour code all images by hitting 6 to label it red for client work or 7 to label it yellow for personal work.

  • I keep all of the images that didn't make the final cut for about 6 months and then I go through and delete all images that aren't colour coded (because only my quick collection 'keeper' images get colour coded) right off my hard drive.