Have you ever come home from a wedding feeling overwhelmed about the amount of images you have to go through? Have you ever really struggled to narrow down a set of images?
I used to struggle with culling too, but these three tricks, properly utilized can significantly reduce the time it takes you to cull—for me personally, doing all 3 of these things every time I cull reduced my culling time by 75% and has made culling through images a lot less overwhelming. I hope they help you get more time back to do other things in life.
The biggest game changer for reducing the time it takes you to cull is to do “positive selection” in your culling process instead of “narrowing down” by picking rejects. Essentially positive selection means you never pick which images you are rejecting, you only pick the ones that you are selecting to edit.
A normal 8-hour elopement I photograph results in about 4,000 images, of which I normally deliver around 400. If I needed to “pick” all the images I wasn’t going to edit, that would be 3,600 clicks vs. 400 (if I only pick the ones I’m planning to edit)—it’s 9x less clicking effort to do positive selection and get the same result.
In addition, picking selections instead of rejects is a much more intuitive process to a photographer—because it’s the exact mental process that you go through while you shoot. During the entire wedding day you are constantly searching for the “best” way to photograph what’s going on. You effortlessly & intuitively reject the other 9 “not as good” ways, and instinctively go shoot in the best lighting, with best perspective, and best pose. The concept of positive selection while culling is the same—you go through your set of images and ignore the poor & mediocre ones, and focus on selecting the BEST—the ones that make you feel “WOW!”
Lastly, picking selects instead of rejects allows you to not overanalyze and agonize about the images you are rejecting. You don’t have to have a mini “mental funeral” for each photo that you’re not going to edit. When you’re focusing on picking the BEST, you don’t have time for second thoughts or remorse of the images that aren’t getting picked—and you’ll find that you arrive at a wonderful selection of the best images from a shoot a lot quicker, and feel better about them.
The second huge game changer for reducing culling time is getting yourself in the right space to cull efficiently. A lot of photographers like to watch TV while they work, and while it may feel like it makes working long hours easier—do a test to see how much more efficient you are culling with no distractions. You could cull in less than 1/2 the time (I found I could cull in less than 1/4 of the time following these instructions), and with all that time I saved, I could watch that Netflix episode curled up on the couch with my dog and enjoy it after I was done culling instead!
Don’t believe me? Try this test and I’d love if you shared the results:
Step 1: Pick a standard-length wedding with an average amount of images for you, and using your normal culling process & environment (with TV, podcast, in the normal location you cull/edit etc). Start your timer when you start, and stop it when you stop. Record the number of images you culled from, and down to, and how long it took.
Step 2: The next day, pick another standard-length wedding with an average amount of images and try this process for culling instead:
Remove all distractions from your space.
Turn off the wifi on your computer, put your phone in airplane mode
Turn off Netflix or any TV
Turn off any music or radio (except white noise or quick-tempo instrumental)
Close the blinds or turn your desk so you can’t see distractions happening outside a window
Find some time to be pet free, partner-free, children-free to be 100% focused on your task
Sit down and focus on culling—nothing else. Start your timer when you start, and stop it when you stop. See how fast you can get through a culling task when you focus. Record the number of images you culled from, and down to, and how long it took.
When I did this test for myself I found I could cull in 1/4 the time. It’s amazing to see the difference in efficiency having a dedicated space to focus. Culling is something that takes 100% of your attention to do efficiently (and not have to go back through images to make sure you make the right selection). I've also found that its super fun to time myself and “race myself” and see how efficient I can be when I focus.
The last important culling tip can take a little bit of practice & confidence to master—but not only will it reduce your culling time, but also improve your client’s experience. I know many photographers have a mentality that the more images they deliver, the happier their client will be (i.e. quantity over quality).
But consider this… If you had someone take photos of you and when you looked at the set they delivered, you adored every single one of them? Imagine looking at every single image, and seeing that you were looking your best & had the most flattering light & pose, and it was just jaw-dropping & incredible. How good would you feel about yourself? How talented would you think your photographer was?
And then consider looking at that same set of images, but it was 3x as long—those BEST images of you were still there, but they were “watered down” by an extra 2x volume of images that just weren’t quite as good. In these other “not quite as good” images you may have noticed things that you didn’t particularly love about yourself due to the angle they were photographed, something unflattering due to the lighting or pose. The same number of “great” shots were still there, but instead of loving ALL of your images, you only loved about 1/3 of them. Do you think you would feel just as good about yourself looking at this set? Would you think the photographer your picked was just as good at showcasing your best side?
Curation is important. Culling a set of images down to the very best options is just as important of a process as taking the actual photos. It may seem like more of an “active” choice to not include a certain images when culling—but remember that even when you’re taking the actual photos, you’re actively “curating” each moment all the time. When you shoot, every time you take an image, you’re actively choosing to not take another one. There are infinite moments happening simultaneously at every shoot & event, and documenting them takes trusting your instinct to take the “best” shot. If you’re a wedding photographer, your client has hired you because they trust you to “live cull” their wedding day by choosing what moments to document, and also which ones not to—they trust you to put them in the “best light”—and this trust promise continues in your culling process.
It’s easy to get caught up in “well what if they like this other image better?” “How do I know which one of these is a better shot?” Always go with your gut. You were there, and based on your connection & relationship with your client, you instinctively know that “that” is her real smile—that in “this” moment, he was the most relaxed and having the best time. You know that “that” moment is when they were connecting the deepest with each other. Don’t overthink it—you know which images they will love the most.
A point for clarity—obviously this doesn’t mean to only include 10 “hero” shots when you deliver a wedding day—of course its important to include all the important moments of the day, and to thoroughly tell the whole story. It just means that if there are several nearly identical images of basically the same moment, only include the very best 1-2. Do your client a favor and showcase their best side—put them in the “best light” and remember how happy they’ll be and how good they’ll feel about themselves if every single image they receive of themselves looks amazing. No matter what number you cull down to, there will be the same number of “amazing shots”—so don’t water those down. You’re not doing anyone any favors by including the poor or mediocre. Trust your gut.
Do you feel like editing suck all your time? Are you frustrated that you can't quite get your images to look and feel as you want them to? I built my presets and editing workshop to help photographers tackle every difficult lighting scenario and learn lightroom in-depth so that they can develop a unique style they love. Learn more about the workshop and presets by clicking here.