The process of culling is used in every type of photography and is used by professionals and amateurs alike. Culling is simply the process of selecting the best images from a shoot to be edited and delivered to a client. When photographers first start out in the editing world, this process can seem like a waste of time or hard to figure out a best practice. So I’m going to explain why we cull and some of the best ways to do it.
Why We Cull
Weed Out Duplicates
When shooting a pose, it's very common to have a handful of images that look almost identical. We don't need to edit or deliver all the images from every set. Instead, we select only the best couple images, or even a single image to be edited from each set of duplicates.
Remove Bad Shots
You are always going to have some bad images that don't need to be given a second look. Some examples of this are bad facial expressions, blinking, test exposures, and even that pose you thought might work but really doesn't. All of these images don't need to be edited and they definitely don't need to go to the client.
Saves Tons of Time Editing
Since we are removing all the duplicates and bad images, we now have a lot less photos to edit. Concentrating our efforts on the best images means that we are not wasting our time editing images that will never see the light of day. It also means we don't get burnt out on editing as soon since we are editing the images we like.
Saves Our Clients Time
Clients don't need to see the bad images. It makes them look bad and in return makes us look bad. Also, giving your clients every image from a shoot is overwhelming for them. If they have to choose their favorite image from a set of 10 photos that all look the same, they may just give up. It’s your job, as the photographer, to know what image looks best.
How to Cull
Cull, Then Edit
The key to culling is to do it all at once. When I first started out, I would start going through images till I found one I liked and then I would edit it. Then I would move on till I found another image and I would edit that one. The problem with this is that you find an image you like and edit it, not knowing that two images down there is a better image. You now wasted your time editing the first image. It also takes a lot of time to switch when you have to go back and forth from culling mode to edit mode. So instead, cull the entire shoot in one pass and then edit the selected images all at once.
I know every image you take is like your little child. You spent time on it and you crafted it into what it is. But now is the time to be strong and ruthless. You need to select the best of the best. I’m not saying every image needs to be portfolio worthy, but it does need to be the best image of a set. If it takes you more than a couple back and forths between images, then you are thinking too hard about it. If you the photographer cannot tell the difference, then your client won't be able to either. Pick one, ditch the other, and then move on.
Pick a System and Stick to It
When you first start this process it's going to take some getting used to, but the more you do it the faster it will flow and the easier it will become. But every time you change the way you do things, you start the learning curve all over again. I’m not saying never change, but definitely think about your culling system so that you don’t end up needing to change two weeks down the line.
The Different Systems of Culling (in Lightroom)
For this system you assign a flag to each image. Every image starts off as “un-flagged” and you go through and either give it a “pick” flag or a “rejected” flag. Each flag has a keyboard shortcut to make the process faster. P for pick, U for un-flag, and X for rejected. This process is good if you are just looking to select images to edit and also if you want to physically delete the bad “rejected” images. Images with the rejected flag can be mass deleted.
In this process you are assigning a number of stars (0-5) to each photo. The keyboard shortcut for this is 1 for one star, 2 for two stars, and so on. It’s completely up to you as to what each star means. It could be one star is bad and five stars is good. I have also seen people do one star is for blog, three stars if for social media, and 5 stars is for portfolio. It’s really whatever you can think of.
The last option is using color labels. The options are red, yellow, green, and blue. These options are much like the star labeling system as they can be used for whatever you decide. Red for edit, blue for reject, etc. the shortcut for these labels is 6 for red, 7 for yellow, 8 for green, and 9 for blue.
The process that I use is a combination of flags and stars. My trick to make things go a little faster with the flagging system is that I only flag images as a “pick”. I don’t use the reject flag because I don’t ever delete any images. So for me, an un-flagged image is the same as a rejected image. I’m going to edit all the picks and not touch anything else. The reason I don’t ever delete any images is because storage is cheap and I like to keep all the images I take as a “just in case”. Just in case I missed an important image the first time through or I accidently picked an image that has someone blinking. Since I keep all the images, I always have the option to go back through and select additional images to edit.
The way I use the stars is after I’m done culling and am in the process of editing. When I come across an image that has portfolio potential or is something I want to post to social media, then I will give it a star rating. That way I have an easy way to narrow down the images to only show my post worthy images.
The only time I will edit an image without culling first is for a day after sneak peek. For this instance, I will just go to an image in the catalog that I remember really liking from the shoot and I’ll edit that single image.
What process do you use to cull your images? What has been your biggest time saver when culling?