How To Cull A Photoshoot

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When you finish a photoshoot, you usually have hundreds, if not thousands, of images on your memory cards. There are some great images to edit. The first step before you start editing and sharing is to cull the photos from your photoshoot. 

The aim is to choose the best images to edit. That means the ones that don't make the editing cut are trashed (or filed for a certain length of time). Remember, many of those reject images are perfectly fine, and your client would have been happy with them. But there are better versions and these outstanding ones that shine are what you want the world to see. 

So how do you do that in a fast and efficient way?

Deleting On Location

Most photographers will take a look at some of the images they are shooting on location. It might be to show a client they look great, see if they captured an action shot, or have a look during some downtime (like if a subject is changing outfits). 

Some photographers will delete some unwanted images while scrolling through them on site. It might be a habit, attempt to save time later or what a mentor or teacher taught them. Others would never delete on sight. It doesn't really save any time in the long run but comes down to personal preference. Just be careful not to delete the whole card or any images that might be wanted later. 

Round One Of Eliminating Unwanted Shots

When you have transferred the files onto your computer, you should scroll through them quickly and delete any non-keepers, including blurry ones, under or overexposed ones, unflattering ones, and duplicates (keeping the best version). This will remove a large percentage of the images and make it easier to focus on the next stage. You should do this quickly.

Round Two

For many photographers, this is the hardest step. You should be aiming to only keep the best images. If you are delivering to a client, you will usually have a number of guaranteed images in the package. You should aim to overdeliver by 10 – 20 %, so your client's expectations are exceeded. If you know you need 100 images, the culling process will be easier.

If you are shooting for a friend or family member or for an event but haven't specified the number of images you will give, you still should have some idea of your ideal number of edited images you wish to deliver. 

Go through the images again and be critical and only keep the top shots . It's normal to feel attached to your work and it would be easier to cull another photographer's images than your own. 

If you have been shooting in different locations or someone had different outfits, try to keep a balanced selection of images. If you don't have a balance, the person you photographed might later ask if you have more from “that place or wearing that dress.”

The Collection To Edit

By now, you should have a tight collection of images to edit. You are ready to start the creative editing process to turn these raw files into beautiful printable jpeg files. As you edit, you might find a few images for the trash. 

The Final Winners

Congratulations! You might have turned 1,500 images into 50 by culling like a pro. Culling isn't always easy. It can feel tedious, or you can feel over-attached to your work. As you get your culling system in place and follow the same process for every photoshoot, you will get faster. You will see the benefits of having that small collection of curated images that show your best work. 

With your images edited, they are ready to be saved, backed up, delivered and shared online to promote your work. 

More Tips For Culling Photos 

  • Some photographers like to mark all the files and deselect the keepers (rather than the other way around). Finding the best workflow comes down to personal preference, so there's no right or wrong way to cull. 
  • Many artists under cull, but there's not really such a thing as over culling as long as your client gets what they were promised. Be ruthless!
  • Clients will get bored or underwhelmed if they see too many duplicate images (even those who say they want every shot).
  • Don't cull when you are super tired. While you might get home from a wedding and be busting to see what you created, save the culling session for when you are well-rested and have fresh eyes.
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Advanced Culling Lessons

If you are shooting for a client, keep the unedited images for a certain length of time or at least until they have received the photos and given positive feedback or acknowledged them. This is especially important if you are shooting weddings or events. 

For example, if you are shooting a wedding with 1,000 guests and the bride comes back to ask if you have any candid photos of her cousin she hadn't seen for ages, you might have some in the unselected images. If you can locate a few and deliver them, even if they are not perfect, your client will be happy. 

Culling your photos can help you become a better photographer. Amateur or beginner photographers often overshoot, which is normal and fine. When you cull your images and see how many unwanted shots you can realize you might not need to shoot so much. You will learn when you have the shot and move onto the next part of the photoshoot, which might mean changing locations, outfits, or lenses. 

Look at a set of images and see where your keeper shot is landing. For example, if you are taking a couple's photo on a bridge during an engagement shoot and you keep two images. Did you take those images in the first moments or at the end? Look for patterns in your work and take what you learned on location to your next shoot.

Professionals and hobbyist photographers need to cull their work. It's not the most exciting part of photography but is essential to producing and showcasing your portfolio. So cull away and show your best work!

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