Culling your Photos
Your photography is only as good as your worse image.
It’s a pretty rough statement, but what it means is that when presenting your work, the weakest photos will always take away from your stronger photos. This is where the skill of culling comes in. Culling your images is the process of getting rid of the bad images you shot and choosing your best ones to edit or show to people. It is an important part of the editing process.
There is numerous software’s out there that allows you to cull images. The most common are lightroom, capture one, bridge, and photo mechanic. The first two are editing software’s as well, the last is specifically for culling and organizing.
I use lightroom.
I cull multiple times through post production, a first cull without editing. Then I go through while editing and culling at the same time. Then cull again.
On the first cull I go fast. I try to go through them with out thinking about it and rely on my instincts. It’s also a way of trying to disconnect from the images. (I’ll get into disconnecting later)
On the second cull I’ll go though the images while editing and check in on details. I’ll zoom in and make sure my focus is correct, that there’s no motion blur, or no super distracting things. From there I pick out the best images from the shoot.
Here's a video I made showing the process of how I use lightroom to cull my images while editing:
After the editing process.
Culling is also used for artwork, portfolio’s, and editorial assignments. This is typically after the editing process and where I’m trying to decide which images best represent what I’m going to portray. In my wedding work I want to attract clients that like my documentary style, so I need to put images in my wedding portfolio that best represent that. Photojournalist (or their editor) deals with this when they are shooting images for a story, by selecting the images that fits best with the story. Culling for artwork or an art series is used for boiling down to what best portrays the meaning of your work. It’s a very difficult process if done right.
We must kill our babies. I know that sounds intense, but sometimes the process of culling feels like that. Sometimes you get down to two good images but only one of them can make the cut. It’s important to disconnect from our images for this reason, to look at them objectively. The connection I’m talking about is from when we take the image. Sometimes we get a certain feeling when we take a photo and then when we look at the image, we re-feel that feeling. That doesn’t necessarily mean when other people look at it, they will get the same feeling. It’s important to try to disconnect the feeling you got when you made the photo from the feeling you get when you look at the image. This helps you look at your image from your viewers perspective. Another way of doing this is to forget what you shoot. Literally forget what you shoot. I do this for my Mardi Gras series. I process and develop my film about a year after I take the photos. I do this so I can forget the feeling and connections I had while taking the image. That way I can look at them in a more objective manner.
Get an opinion from someone you trust or even multiple people. There are good ways to critique work and bad ways, so again make sure who you are asking is really trying to help and knows what they are talking about. Be careful you’re not too emotionally connected to the images or prepare yourself to have thick skin. In the past, I have asked people to look at a series of work that I was deeply connected to. They were honest, and it hurt when they didn’t see what I was going for. I did learn from that though.
So, if there’s only one thing you take from this blog post: Quality over quantity is the key to presenting your work and Less is more. Cull, cull, and then cull one more time.
Some of the shots from the photowalk I went in in the video(from 80 images, I'm down to 5):
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