I Try to Explain How I Select and Cull Shots, Part 1

I have been asked countless times over the past few years about how I go about culling and selecting portrait shots from a shoot. Frankly, I have had so much trouble trying to organize my thoughts on the matter into a cohesive tutorial, I opted to simply never do one. Until quite literally this morning. My approach was to click record and improvise whatever popped into my head. So, as the catchphrase says, "Here goes nothing!"

First off, when a shot just works, it just does. You know those shots because you often get excited about them the moment you snap them on set. Those hero shots, those amazing moments, those rare times when everything worked so well you knew you nailed it immediately. Mostly, however, we end up dumping our memory cards onto our computers at the end of a shoot and have to sort through dozens or hundreds or thousands of annoyingly similar images. Sometimes the shoot has gone really well, other times it was perhaps a struggle, but the task at hand remains the same: What shots to pick?

Second, there is a slight difference between culling shots in preparation for an in-person proof review with a client (as is often the case in general portraiture and boudoir) and culling and selecting your final images for your own personal projects. There is yet another altogether different approach when it comes to a commercial portrait job, often culminating in shot selection by committee, as it were.

I spoke to those of us doing personal work in my video tutorial above, featuring images of fitness and glamour model Jenny Rex (you should follow her on Instagram, just saying).

The final shot of Jenny Rex from the set I discuss in the video tutorial above. The end result? I opted to take a vertical shot that I liked the best and expand the frame into a horizontal for some negative space happiness.

Or rather, I tried. It is, quite honestly, very difficult to try to fully explain what I do when I select shots. I have an approach, a technical process, sure. But how a shot or shots speak to me and cause me to select them isn't always as easy to explain. Simply put, I know a shot is great when I see it, and usually only become befuddled when an entire set falls flat from beginning to end — always the ultimate bummer.

There are tried and true nuggets of advice about what makes a portrait good, acceptable, or trash. I don't always agree with a lot of them, so I won't bother listing them here (and I know a decent photography website that has tons more portraiture advice you can search through).

I will attempt to explain things further in Part 2, as I feel every different set of shots can result in me going about shot selection slightly differently. My aim is to cull and select shots over several sets, ultimately over several videos, in hopes that I manage to convey my process as clearly as I can — finally.

How do you prefer to cull and select?

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Joseph Anthony's picture

Is it just me, or does everyone hear Nino's voice when reading his articles? Thanks for the insight into your process. Love to read/watch info about these kinds of things to help find combinations of methods that work for me.

Ryan Pramik's picture

I didn't but now I do! Hahaha

Why so many misfires. Having said that, some of the flash misfires look really good, and may I say completely recoverable.

The triggers where acting up that day inside the studio, we had no problems else where.

Steven Elliott's picture

This is great to see how professionals cull images. I've got a design background so I see similarities in the things I see in images (hands chopped, crops, perspective issues). Thanks for posting this. Would love to see the steps after this like editing.

Dave McDermott's picture

This is something I struggle with sometimes. It's very difficult when you have a sequence of shots that are very similar but they have slightly different poses or expressions. Or the best expression/pose may not have the best lighting or vice versa. In saying that, if I'm using flash I usually end up with a lot less photos as it takes longer to set up and I'm limited by my flashguns recycle time. If I do an entire shoot with natural light it generally makes for a much more tedious culling process later as I have more photos to sort through.