How to choose few best photos out of few hundreds

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by BratNikotin, Apr 2, 2017.

  1. Hello,
    Just like the tittle says - this is a question I've had.
    I made few hundreds shots on a concert, and am trying to pick .. let's say 20ies. What is the best technique to do this? I spend hours in a light room, trying to work the image, and then end up liking what comes out, and eventually I end with 200 images out of 300 that I made, just because .. I made it a little lighter, a little saturated, and now - I end up liking it. I just want to understand what is a quick way or tools to "choose" the photos before working on them, and then working on those ONLY
  2. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    The "job" or "session" would (should) have a primary purpose or maybe themed purpose(s).

    Each image made (broadly speaking) has two elements of purpose - firstly to address the primary purpose of the job or session and secondly to be an outstanding individual element.

    I don't think one can begin culling from any session if there was not a clearly defined purpose for it; or Artist's Vision. Formally written the Artist's Vision is contained at the beginning of the Artist's Statement which would accompany a work or series of works.

    That's mentioned not to sound grandious but rather to outline one method by which Photographic Artists were (maybe still are in some areas) trained.

    The (main) purpose for a shoot neither has to be described in flowery words nor be much more than a sentence: for example you have shot a concert, there could one of many main purposes for examples -

    > To capture the indiviual performers of the band and show that set of images as a cohesive tight group.
    > To capture the vibrant element of the band
    > To capture the soul of the Singer and the Band
    > To capture the excitement of the night
    > To capture the peace of the performance

    It could be that at the concert there were several different performers and for each each one, you had a different Vision or Purpose.

    Or it could be as simple as your purpose was to capture the exhilaration of the evening.

    Let's say for the sake of conversation you shot 400 images and your main purpose was: "to capture the exhilaration of the evening"

    My method usually is to cut any image with a major imperfections - mis-shoots, focus inaccuracy, unwanted blur, framing error etc.

    Of the remaining I would start grading "more exhilarating" and "less exhilarating". Maybe slow at first if you haven't done this before, but with practice it won't take long to ping-out the twenty "most exhilarating images" and then proceed to the Digital Darkroom to post produce only those twenty.

    I think the key is, that you have to start the mission with a purpose.

    BratNikotin and john_sevigny|2 like this.
  3. I don't have Lightroom. My usual approach to concert photography:
    1. Use an overview program like Picasa / LR / Windows Explorer's XL preview to pick a typical & promising shot.
    2. Work on that one in your RAW converter and save a preset.
    3. Batch convert all your RAWs with that preset while you are AFK having lunch taking a nap etc.
    4. Use a fast fullscreen Image viewer like Irfanview to weed out your shots among the batch converted JEPGs. - Key here is getting the image close to instantly on your screen, flipping back to the previous one forth again until you found your reason to pick one of 4 or 5 shot in a burst. - You can set Irfanview to delete without confirmation. Delete for every reason that you can't fix by converting the image better or other means of PP.
    5. After weeding out that way I would work on the survivors or the "absolute keepers" among those.
    I know LR (& Picasa too) offer rating systems for images. - If those work for you: Fine! If they don't work for you yet: Watch 3 tutorials and get going!
    The big issue is to weed out before you personally work on images. The batch conversion & Irfanview approach works well with huge RAWs on underpowered PCs. If you own a killer machine you might not need it. But don't spend your life staring at a hourglass symbol!
    BratNikotin likes this.
  4. Editing is simple, but hard to get right. Cutting down 500 shots to 20 takes detachment. But it's more psychological than technical. You basically have to choose your best shots, which means you have to know what a good photo looks like. If all of them are masterpieces, or at least excellent, then I sympathise, because you'll have to cull not just second-rate photos, but first-rate photos as well.

    In short, don't be too precious. Ideally, editing takes place before processing (as Jochen pointed out). So edit, then process, then do one more edit to refine the selection. Boom. Done. You should be able to see your photos straight OOC (out of camera) and know if they're going to make the first edit or not.
  5. I typically start culling from the bottom up. It is usually easy to eliminate images that just didn't work for one reason or another. Then from the top there are usually a small number of images that are clearly at the top of the stack. After eliminating both the top and the bottom of the stack the job of working on the middle is the major effort. One technique I've used in the past is comparing only two images at a time. Decide which you like best and take it out of the stack. Work through two at a time until you are down to the number of keepers.
  6. I don't work by formula and sometimes not even by reason. I let my gut guide me. Even when I'm working on a documentary where I do have a stated purpose (to the world or just to myself), I think of the choosing process as a standing back and letting the photos speak to me. Often, they do so in ways I hadn't planned for. That will mean their adding to even my own understanding of the project or individual photo. My best photos can be as much teachers as they are reflections. They can reinforce, of course, but some can lead the way. I choose many but some choose me, when I keep myself as open to possibility as I am intent on making a point. You're not alone, Brat. It can be the hardest part of the workflow, which can also make it the most rewarding. I try to look at it more as an opportunity than a burden. I try also to learn as much from my rejections as from my keepers. If I've spent time working on a photo, as you say you sometimes do, only to realize it doesn't work, there was still usually a reason I latched onto it, some potential it had that it just didn't quite realize. That reason, even if vague, can be put into my next shoot and make me a better photographer.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2017
    johne37179 likes this.
  7. david_henderson


    I don't know what "best" is. What I do know is that when I show others my work, whether for amusement or for business reasons (eg stock agency photo editors) they make selections that might overlap with my own choices to an extent, but they are not the same. Ever. So if part of the process you're going through consists of trying to forecast what others will like best , then stop it right now, because that doesn't work. I can't even make an edit that my wife agrees with in entirety. I've lost count of the times I've sent a batch off to an editor whose choices I find in part incomprehensible and downright wrong, and don't include the images I'd have bet the house they'd accept.

    And how many times have you seen a photo competition where you think the selected winner is less good than several others buried amongst the commended or even the also rans, no matter who judged and how many judges.

    So realise this. If its impossible to forecast what others like, then your choices matter less than you think. An extra hour or two in front of the computer is unlikely to change other people's perception of how good you are or what sort of job you've done.

    A couple of "rules" to make the job a little easier. First no matter what the good qualities are , resist the temptation to include photographs with significant flaws or distractions. Generally people will notice flaws and not too many of them will think that the look on the second violin's face makes up for it. The flaw will stick with some people and will rub off on the pictures without flaws. Second don't make selections that have the audience struggling to tell the difference between the images. Doesn't matter how good "similars" are, they are adding nothing to your portfolio. Try and select images that are different from each other.
  8. Fred makes an important point -- learning from every image is part of the process. Understanding why your rejects are rejects and what might have been done differently or if it was simply one of a large sequence with the intent of capturing the moment.
  9. If I have many very similar photos, and I need/want to reduce the collection to something more doable, I go through them in various passes, without post-processing at all. First a quick selection on instinct - which photo works for me at very first glance. That usually cuts down some 50%, and leaves me typically with many quite similar shots. For those similar ones, I start looking better and longer. Either there is one that really is just composed better, or they're really all alike (in which case, any will do, and all the others can go).
    At that point, I have the photos I will start working on, making the basic edits. Start with that, and the best that really work for me come to surface.

    I guess for me the main point is: do not start with processing right away (not even some default). Judge the raw mateiral, you'll recognise a good photo even if it still may need some work done, because it's qualities (such as composition and interesting lighting) should already be there. Plus a photo needs to communicate something. So, as said above, letting a photo speak to you is a great and simple way to bring down the number of photos.
  10. Stuff learned from experience. The first and last shots you take tend to be pretty good. With the first you've got fresh eyes and with the last you felt like you were done. If you're not working on a tight deadline, show them to other people and ask them which ones they like. There's also something to be said for shooting less than a few hundred photos. Otherwise, if you've looked at enough photography, your own eyes are the best tool you could ever use. Keep in mind, almost nobody wants to look at 20 photographs of anything apart from their own wedding. Get it down to 5-7 for editorial purposes. And remember, most of your photographs don't quite make the cut. Nor do most of mine or most of anyone's.
  11. I use Lightoom. I copy all the files from camera cards to appropriately named directories. I then import them into LR with no default processing.

    I then view every photo and quickly assign it a score of 1-5 based on my first impression. I typically then return to the 4s and 5s to decide if I want to proceed further. I typically mark processed 4s and 5s with a flag, so I can easily select them for export as JPEGs.

    On my recent trip to Cuba, I took about 350 photos (50 a day), and culled to a first cut of ~120, then selected about 60 for preliminary processing, and about 35 for final presentation.
  12. I probably post process 20% of what I shoot, but I save all of them -- memory is cheap. I have over a million original images with three backups. I delete only those images that were accidental trips of the shutter. I don't delete that "bad" ones because even if they are not visually what I want there is information there that I can use and learn from.
  13. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    If one is shooting in a concert situation with any type of active lighting, this is pointless. The light changes far too often to make this a viable method of processing and can make it far more difficult.

    As someone who does this regularly, and also is the editor of a site which publishes concert images, William's response should suffice. It's very simple in Lightroom to first remove the images that don't work for technical reasons, then use the "P" function to pick the ones that could be useful. Then just view those and use the star ratings. In the end, you should be able to have a fairly small number of five star images and then work on those. If they can't be corrected, then remove the rating.

    As William says, look for the moment that embraces the event...sometimes it's not what you expect.

    Die Antwoord
  14. Walk away for a day. You need your mind to be fresh.
    Then as said, you need to take yourself out of the formula, IOW don't pick a pix because it was a tricky shot, or some other reason to keep it.
    You need to be brutal.
    As was mentioned, culling the bottom, is a fast way to cut down the number of shots.
    Then you need to think WHY to select each of the ones to keep. Sometimes it is impact, other times composition, etc.
    If necessary, get someone else to do the selection.

    I had is problem with my vacations slides. I wanted to cut down to 2 trays, my father wanted LOTS. He paid for the trip, film and processing, so we ended up with 4 or 5 trays, for him.
  15. All of the above for sure, especially for getting rid of what you know is out, but I always ask for the opinion of others. I'll ask my wife, brother, friends. I'm just too close to the subject to be impartial.

    Same goes for writing. What author does not have an outside editor? Before I published, I had lots of outside advice and a pro editor. I didn't always take their advice, but often did.

    You might like a photo because it means a lot to you, or maybe the angle was just right, but it does not follow that anyone else will like it. Yes, you caught the lead guitar playing your favorite lick, and you love the sweat on the drummers forehead, but will anyone else feel the same?
    kenkuzenski and William Michael like this.
  16. Very very true, at least for me. Last year for my employer's "employee art show" I put together the half-dozen photos I thought were most likely to do well, and then asked a half-dozen friends, including some artists, to pick one favorite.

    I still didn't win anything, not even 'honorable mention.' Next year I'm gonna shoot color, and get a basket ot KITTENS, and photograph 'em playing with a ball of STRING--that's the sort of thing the judges seem to like. Or a stinking LIGHTHOUSE at sunrise. :-/

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