Jan 18, 2017

How to Refine and Cull Images in Lightroom

How to Refine and Cull Images in Lightroom

In the age of Digital Photography, it is common for a photographer to take hundreds if not thousands of photos during a photo shoot.

Once the shoot is over, it is up to the photographer to choose the best images to deliver to clients or display in their portfolio.

How does a photographer select the “best” photo out of thousands?

Learn how in today’s episode!

Think of Culling as a Series of Steps

Culling a set of photos is done in a couple of different steps. In each step, the selected images are refined to include only the best photos.

Rather than trying to choose the “best” photo from thousands, it is better to pick the 100 best. Then out of those images, choose the 25 that really shine. Then compare those 25 to see which ones are the winners.

To cull photos quickly and efficiently, follow these steps.

1) Choose Picks

This process should be very quick. Trust your gut instincts here and go with the photos that get an immediate reaction. In this stage, aim to look at each photo for less than 3 seconds.

Double-click on the first image to make it full-screen, then use the left and right arrows on the keyboard to scroll through images.

When you see a photo you like, press ‘P’ on the keyboard to flag it as a PICK.

Do this all the way through a series of images. Try repeating this process again to see if you missed anything in the first round.

2)Refine by Pick and Add Star Ratings

The next step is to show only the images you “Picked” in the first round, and refine them from there. T show only the Picks, click on the “Attribute” icon in the top of the Library Module. Click the white flag to filter by Picks.

Now only the images you ‘Picked’ in round one will be visible.

Next, further refine the images by assigning them star ratings. For Aaron’s workflow, he uses 5 Stars for images that make the cut, and the others don’t get stars.

In this step, try using Survey Mode by selecting the images you want to look at and press ’N’.

3) Assign Color Ratings

The last step is to show just the Picks and the 5 Stars and give the images color ratings. Use the Attribute tab in Library Module to select just these images.

To refine your selection based on just a few images, use Compare Mode ‘C’ to show images side-by-side and choose your favorites.

When you have your favorite selected, give it a color. In this example, we tag the image with RED by pressing 6 on the keyboard.

Now you have a process for refining images to just your favorites!

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  • user image

    Hi Aaron
    Thank you for the best photoshop videos on the net.
    Can this be done in photo shop CS6?

  • user image
    Ken Hatley

    FYI, shortcut to delete rejected files without having to filter your rejects is command delete.

  • Gene

    A faster way to remove rejected images is PHOTO>DELETE REJECTED PHOTOS… or
    [ctrl] + [backspace] on Windows machines. This is a very good subject.

  • user image

    Hi Aaron
    Thank you for this awesome tutorial and i just wanna ask you something I also use Capture One Pro but i just only use it for tethered capture and its fast than lightroom for this but i don’t know how to use it for culling, retouch images etc. can you tell me how you work with capture one

  • user image

    I like your system. I am not sold on the use of colors ratings though…It just seems sort of abstract. What if you used 4 star rating during the star phase…Then, when you pick the one out like, up it to 5 stars. Just a thought.

  • user image

    The compare mode has some useful shortcuts. The Up and Down arrows change the left photo in the comparison, the Left and Right ones change to right image. I use that to make decisions if I have many very similar shots (too many for the survey mode).

  • user image
    Beth Herzhaft

    Very helpful and systematic. Question for those of us who shoot in a documentary style i.e. Not in a studio setting with images largely being very different from one another: Do you ever have comments or do tutorials about that? Studio or set up portrait has a high degree of consistency but shooting a wedding (for example) has 1500 or 2000 + images that also need editing (although not down to only one image). It is a nightmare with different locations, lighting conditions, not to mention picks / faves for the Photog would be very different than picks for clients.Thanks!

  • user image

    It would be nice to follow up with how you process your pick to the finished photo from here.

  • user image

    Really liked this tutorial and especially using the inset so we saw both the instructor and the screen on the same shot. Nicely done. I have pretty much only been using the colors and use 7 (yellow) as you did 5. The reason why I like colors better is that they toggle. The stars do not so to clear one, you have to either choose another number or hit 0. Since you ended up applying a color only to your best choice, skipping the stars is one less step but with the same result.

    I do use colors to rate thru the editing process as well. I start with yellow 7, as they are edited they move to green 8. If they are really special I might use purple 9. If I want to flag them for special processing I move them to red 6.

    Lightroom gives options to people to do whatever works for them. Stars do not seem to have the value since the don’t toggle so that is the key for my workflow using colors.

  • user image
    Wouter J. van Duin

    Hi Aaron,

    Like your videos and tutorials. But here I think you skipped an important annoyance right even before the start. Imagine pro-photographers (I’m not) with their hundreds/thousands image shoots. The time it takes to first have all these images imported and cataloged in Lightroom even before you can start your culling. In comes On1 Raw. If only for the culling to only limit to the images to further look into in Lightroom (or On1 Raw). It’s the cataloging that takes a lot of time and makes no sense for most images from the shoot.

  • user image

    First, I have created a filter for .cr2 since i shoot .jpg and .cr3 simultaneously. Then I wiz through marking my possibles with 5 stars, then filter for those. At this point I examine all similar ones in Survey mode. Here is where I diverge a bit. any of the possibles already marked with 5 stars are carefully screened for the “pick of the litter,” but then the closest runner-ups are reduced to 4 stars. My reasoning here is to allow me to easily find use parts of those (if needed) for compositing purpose should an element of the favorite need fixing or replacing.

  • user image

    Is there a way to delete both the CR2 file and the LR image at the same time? This is what I don’t like about using LR to make my choices although I really want to use the comparing features. I did just try this with some images and it only got rid of the LR file. It’s a waste of my time having to go back and delete the originals.

  • user image

    thanx a lot, that was really helpful and gonna save me hours I already used to waste before , u r amazing 😀

  • Natalya Bolgarova

    Thank you so much! Your video is just on time as I have been buried under more than 250 images from the last photoshoot and have spent already a week sorting them out!

  • user image
    Phil Dickson

    Great tutorial, always good to see a different way of culling, as it’s something I spend way too much time on. This has definitely given me a few tips.
    It may just be my old Mac, but I also need to build the standard-sized previews first. Otherwise they take a second or two to load up, which is too long if I have 1000 photos to sort through. Building 1:1 previews can take up to 30mins, which is easily put into my workflow, as there’s plenty else to be doing, but sometimes I build standard size for the entire shoot, then 1:1 previews for those that made it past the first two culling hurdles.

  • user image
    Jay Cole

    I think you can actually render on import also. I find that when I have a large shoot, I prefer to reject everything at first, then unreject them instead. Mentally it makes me more discriminating to then unreject them. I’m sure there’s a psychology reason behind this but I find I cull about 20% more photos working inverted and my selects are actually the better photos on average. In addition, I go backwards through the photo stream. When shooting, you take a shot, you might not like it, then you adjust take another, etc. The final one is usually the one you were happy about. By going backwards, you unreject the final version first and then when you pass through the previous versions, you just skip them. I then don’t need as many photos in the survey mode, because I’ve eliminated all the very similar ones in the first pass and didn’t pick one where a better one exists down the stream. Finally, never cull in develop mode, it will slow down rendering for your choices immensely. Finally on your final set, zoom in and render full size so you can find soft focuses, etc. They aren’t always evident till you zoom in.

    Finally, the first pass for me is “delete it” I don’t want it, nor will I ever publish it. I still don’t physically delete it, I just filter until I’m at the final step. Why? You may need some of the other images if something is screwed up with your final choices. Then, I delete them. More is not better, more is more 🙂

  • user image
    Carlos E. Read

    Excellent! I rarely use Lightroom (believe it or not) But this way of picking the best shot is fantastic! It could make my life earier. Thanks for this tutorial!!

  • user image

    Hi Aaron. Thanks so much for sharing this video.
    1. I do my Absolute No’s in Bridge. As in delete them totally.
    2.Then input IPTC Core Metadata for the rest.
    3. Import into LR.
    4. Selection in LR is pretty much the same as yours except for the colors.
    5. I basically use blue to denote that I am bringing that photo into Photoshop as that program is color Blue.

  • larry4

    Thanks for another great video. I do something similar to you but where I run into problems is after I have my picks. You narrowed this to 1 out of 217 images. What do you do with the other 216? I find myself keeping what I feel is too many photos after the fact that were not picks to begin with. Do you delete any of them?

  • user image

    I have learn so much from your videos of Photoshop and Light-room… That my Photography is being notices 1000% more than before… I want to thank you for taking me to another level in this craft… AndinoGil

  • user image
    Marilynn B.

    If there is time when I’m actually shooting—I’m not under pressure as a professional, just personal interest stuff—my rejects get dumped from the camera on the spot, never to see the light of day—or studio as the case may be. Some shots are best put out of their misery immediately….

  • craigalance

    I have a systematic process for culling and it starts with the camera. It’s easy to tell if a photo is flawed on the camera’s 3″ LCD display; maybe due to camera shake, shot the ground, or just nothing useful in frame. I always keep in mind that I could use the background of a useless photo as a layer to improve another photo. Those are deleted.
    Next, since I can rate images in-camera, I’ll do a second pass for those: 5 stars for money shots, 4 for possibles, 1 for probably should delete, 2 & 3 for somewhere in between.
    Then, after reducing the count I Import into Lr.
    I cull like Aaron (or Erin?) does only stars are for actual rating; I refine the star ratings when I can view full screen the image. Color labels are reserved for the state of and image: red for selected, yellow for pre-process, green for done, blue for published.

  • user image

    Aaron, I enjoy your tutorials. I hardly use Lightroom anymore My workflow in software is.Bridge, Camera Raw, Photoshop. I believe there are many of us in this boat.
    I think a Bridge tutorial would be appropriate for you viewers.
    Most of the steps you describe are part of Bridge…

    A North of the Border Fan


  • user image
    St. Ini

    Hello Phlearn, following your tutorial in Nigeria has really helped my graphic design skills. God bless you. Can you please do a tutorial on how to create the splash image? I have attached a sample I came across online. Thank you in advance

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Refine and Cull Images in Lightroom