I don’t know about you, but I really hate culling images. I hate waiting for images to load. I hate zooming in to see if it’s in focus. I hate the time it takes to go through so many images. About six months ago, I started using Narrative Select for culling, and it might be the fastest way to cull images.
Narrative Select is a culling program from the company Narrative, which also has a program called Narrative Publish for building blog posts. Narrative Select is based around AI technology, which means it does a lot of the work for you. It automatically finds faces for you and ranks them based on if eyes are open and if the photo is in focus. Then, when scrolling through the images, it will pull up all the faces in a side panel for quick viewing. All of this equals less work for you and less time spent culling.
Narrative Select Features
- automatically scans and ranks faces
- color ranking of individual faces
- quick loading time from image to image
- keyboard shortcuts
- quickly zoom and lock on a specific face
- side panel with closeups of all faces
- ship selections to Lightroom
Anete Lusina wrote a review about Narrative Select back in June of 2020, but I thought I would share my opinion as well and talk about the updates that have happened since then.
What I Liked
I really do love this program. It has solved most of my culling problems for me, which are the time it takes to cull and picking the sharpest images.
My biggest annoyance with editing and technology, in general, is waiting. Anytime there is a big delay, I start to lose my mind. Narrative Select is really fast. I can click from image to image, and I don’t have to wait for it to switch images or for the images to be rendered. I can go as fast as I can look at an image, make a decision, and click a button.
Another thing that is important to me when culling is picking good images. Sometimes, I’m working on my laptop, so I don’t have the biggest screen. In the past, I’ve picked images that I thought were in focus to only find out later that they weren’t. Narrative Select helps with that. When I’m culling, I can see each face zoomed in. I can’t imagine trying to manually zoom in on each face in another program. That would take forever.
I’ve also found the colored line ratings under each face extremely helpful (white=good, yellow=ok, red=bad). While I’m looking at the panel of faces, I can quickly see the color rating of each face. If I see a white ranking on the main subject, I know I’m good to go while ignoring red rankings on people in the background.
Also, when you hover over the ranking, it will tell you why it got that rank. Was it ranked red because the eyes were closed or because it was out of focus?
All of this is really nice, but I would still like to do less work when it comes to culling my images. Even if it is really fast, I’m still having to look through each image and click buttons. What if Narrative Select could make some of the decisions for us?
One of the biggest changes is the Distill feature. Basically, Narrative Select will take the information it has gathered about your images and narrow down your selection for you. You can choose the strength of sorting to have control over the number of images you are left with. The higher the strength, the pickier the program is.
Distill marks the images that are rejected with a color label of your choice. The good thing about this is that you can easily hide or view them through filters in either Narrative Select or if you send the images to Lightroom. Then, later, if you find you need more image options, you can always pull from the rejects.
What Could Be Improved
I’ve used this feature with some mixed results. I mainly shoot weddings, which means there are thousands of images and most of them will have multiple faces and be very different from each other. I’ve had images get rejected because the bride’s eyes were closed, but for that photo, it was totally appropriate. Sometimes, I will want an image even if it isn’t perfect because it’s the only shot I got of a guest. In both situations, the Distill feature might not work well.
I think the Distill feature works best in situations where each image and subject is relatively similar to a portrait session. The subject will most likely be looking at the camera, and there aren’t thousands of photos to go through.
Still, this does show some promise. I would love to be able to click a button and have the whole culling process done. If they continue to work on this feature, your culling time could get cut in half.
Another small change that would be nice is more control over filtering the images. I wish there was a way to filter the images by the face rankings. For example, I could filter to only see images that are all ranked with white. It would really be nice if you could filter based on ranking and a certain face. That way, I could pick a person and only see images of them that meet that requirement.
The other big area that needs improvement is availability. Right now, Narrative Select is only available for Mac users. That means some of you are out of luck for now. I hope, in the future, they will build new versions for all operating systems.
Narrative Select is now out of the Beta phase as well. Right now, there are two different plans: Select Basic and Select Pro. Select Basic is free and does have some basic functionality like viewing, rating, and face zoom, but it’s missing all the features that make Narrative Select great. The Select Pro plan comes in at $18 a month or $150 a year.
I’m not a huge fan of monthly subscriptions (I’m looking at you, Adobe), because I like to pay for something once and be done with it. If I want to buy a new version, I can make that decision later. Yes, I do understand that with a monthly subscription, you are getting constant updates, but I don’t know if that really applies to Narrative Select. How many updates does this type of software really need? The only way the monthly subscription would be worth it is if they were rolling out new features a few times a year.
How does Narrative Select compare at price to other programs? You can pay $10 a month and get Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s nice to get both of those programs, but it might not solve your culling issues. Photo Mechanic is a one-time fee of $139 or $229, but you will have to buy an upgrade when they come out with a new version.
In the end, it really comes down to how much is your time worth. If you are reading this, I imagine you are already paying for a monthly Adobe subscription. You could just use Adobe Lightroom for culling and save $150 a year. On the other hand, if Narrative Select saves you 10, 50, or 100 hours a year, that would be well worth $150.
I have been very happy using Narrative Select over the past six months. I really do believe it has sped up my culling and made it more accurate with the fast loading and the face zoom. Will I continue to use it and pay the $150 a year? Honestly, I’m not sure. While I do love Narrative Select, I found out about another culling program while researching this article that might even make culling faster and easier. I hopefully will have a review of that software soon. For now, go check out Narrative Select and see if it takes some of the headaches out of your culling.