Tutorial: Picking your best photos. How to?

You probably know this feeling very well. You’re back from a trip or a photo shoot, you import your images from memory card onto your hard drive and you realize there are hundreds or thousands of them. What’s more, many of them are very similar or almost identical with only slight changes in composition, exposure or focal length used. For me this realization is always very tough as I know it means a looot of work. And these image also occupy a lot of space on your hard drive.

But luckily not all of the photos are good enough to be shared or processed – in fact you will never decide to process vast majority of them. It’s very important that photographer is good editor at the same time. You need to be able to pick your best photos and develop them. You also have to be able to reject and delete photos that aren’t good enough as there is no need and point in spending time on images that even you don’t like.

This image illustrates some of the concepts described in this tutorial. First of all note, that all photos are groupped into stacks (number in the thumbnail corner tells how many images are in the stack). This makes the catalogue less cluttered. Then, some of the photos have 5 star rating – it means that they are worth to be processed. Some of the stacks are marked as rejected (note black flag with “x” in it in thumbnail left corner) and some are also marked as picks (white flag in top left corner of image thumbnail) – i.e. worth processing. Also note that I use various different colours – I use green colour to mark the photos I already processed and red colour for photos that I especially like and really really want to process them.

So today I would like to share with you some easy tips I use to pick my best photos (ones that I would like to process) using Adobe Lightroom. Although I use Lightroom to catalogue my photos, some of the below concepts are more general:

  1. First and most important. Give yourself a few days rest from the images. Working on images just after taking them is never a good idea. Photographer has stronger connection to his images than any viewer will ever have. For you photo is probably something more than just image – it’s related to some memories, feelings or emotions. But for your viewers, image is image. Nothing more. If it’s not interesting even the best story below it, won’t change that. By giving yourself a few days or weeks, you become more similar in assessing your photos to your average viewer (as memories start to fade away a little bit).
    I usually start working on my images 2 to 4 weeks after taking them (there are sometimes exceptions to this rule though).
  2. Then I start to go through my photos and group similar looking images (ones with similar composition, exposure etc.). This way I can show one image per group and thus reduce amount of images displayed in my Lightroom catalogue. I use stacks in Lightroom for this purpose (to create stack just select similar photos and use CTRL + G shortcut). Stacks are nothing else than groups or folders that you can collapse and expand. After stacking images make sure to collapse stack so it takes less space in Grid view thus making it less cluttered.
  3. As you go through your photos and notice some really spectacular image that stands out from the rest, mark it as good one so you remember later to process it. Otherwise you can miss it later and forget about it. I usually use Pick flag in Lightroom (CTRL + UP ARROW) or high rating (4 on your keyboard for four stars and 5 for five stars). Additionaly you can mark your good photos with colour so they are more visible in the Grid view. I often use Red colour for this. This is especially useful if you have thousand of unprocessed images in your Lightroom catalogue. When I’m looking for an image for processing while scrolling through my images, this Red colour quickly attracts my attention.
  4. Sometimes you will also notice some spectacular fails at this stage (like completely out of focus image due to the fact someone accidentally tripped over your tripod and moved it… yeah it happens). I mark such photos with Rejected flag (CTRL + DOWN ARROW). It means that I have to delete it later. Marking with Rejected flag has one more big advantage. You can remove all rejected photos at once by going to Photo -> Delete Rejected Photos (or by hitting CTRL + BACKSPACE).
  5. Now with your images grouped into stacks the real fun begins. I go through the list once again (for each group only one photo is displayed so there are much less photos) and try to pick the best of the stacks by using Pick flag (or high rating) again. I also try to Reject stacks that I don’t like at all. If I reject whole stack it means that I reject all photos in it.
  6. After rejecting the stacks that I don’t like I start to look for images to process finally. I usually start with stacks or photos that got either high rating (5 stars) or which I marked as Picks. I then enter such stack and compare the images inside it, trying to select the best of them. I take a lot of things into consideration, eg. whether exposure is correct, whether photo is razor sharp or whether I like composition. During this phase I usually reject photos that are slightly out of focus, have their horizon off, have some subjects clipped on either side, etc.
  7. I end up with one or two photos inside a stack and select one of them to process. Finally 🙂
  8. Then I start processing my chosen photo 🙂
  9. Once the image is developed I mark it with colour label (most usually green by pressing 8 key) so it shows differently in the Library module and I know that I already dealt with this image and I shouldn’t care about it.

These steps might sound like a long and tedious task but they often save me a lot of time later (not to mention disk space) and thanks to them I usually process the images that I really like.

London Underground
South Kensington underground station in London, United Kingdom. Normally this place is really busy as South Kensington station is just a few meters from some of the London top museums (Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and Science Museum). To get this photo without people I visited it late in the evening (when museums were closed already) and it was pretty much deserted.

2017-01-17T19:42:40+00:00 June 17th, 2014|Posted in: architecture, london, tutorial|