I went on a trip to Japan. I’ve never been before and I knew I might not go again, so I took a lot of pictures. I shot RAWs and JPEGs, I shot some things in burst mode and I shot a lot of things twice, or three times, or four times, from as many different angles as I could think of. I took a lot of shots.
And then I came back and I edited my images in this application and that application, trying this look, trying that look until – guess what – I’ve got a couple of thousand similar but not quite the same images of hundreds of similar but not quite the same subjects.
I’m pretty sure some of them are good, but they are submerged in this sea of duplicates. Talk about a needle in a haystack! The more edits and experiments and copies I make, the harder it is to sort the wheat from the chaff. I’m doing some great editing work (maybe), but by leaving it in this growing tangle of duplicates, experiments and copies I’m actually burying it deeper and deeper, not bringing it to the forefront.
This is me; is it you too?
- So the first problem is that I take a lot of shots. That’s fine as a precaution, as long as I don’t keep them all, obviously.
- But then I keep them all. Why? Human nature. Just to be on the safe side. Maybe I will need the JPEGs to check against the RAWs some time? Maybe one day I’ll decide this angle is better than that angle? Maybe one of those 50 burst shots is sharper than the rest and I should check them all? Maybe maybe maybe.
- It’s a Catch-22 situation. I shoot so many pictures I will never have time to sort through them properly, and because of that I can’t get rid of any of them.
- This means I don’t really know which are the best ones to edit and enhance so I cherry-pick at random and create even more versions of different but similar images which might not be the best ones, so I create and an even bigger problem.
I need to take some urgent action! I need to thin out these images so that I can see the wood from the trees and see just what I’ve got.
Why culling? Why not use ratings and labels?
I have tried using ratings and labels to bring out my best images and hide the rest but it hasn’t worked. Of course, this might just be me, but I’ve always hit two major problems.
- Ratings and labels are impermanent. They are just metadata. They are simply a filter that disguises the problem of too many images and you still have to go through the same culling process to apply them. It’s too easy to change or remove ratings and labels by accident, or forget what you used them for or change your mind later and undo all your decision-making at a stroke. Metadata filters are just not decisive enough. or permanent enough. My problem is not one of organisation, it’s one of decisiveness.
- You can use ratings, labels, albums or whatever system you like to filter out your best images, but you will still be working with a big, ponderous image catalog. It takes up more space on your working drive, it’s slower to load and it’s slower to search. A smaller, leaner catalog will load faster, scroll faster and search faster.
How to get rid of culling anxiety
It can be extremely difficult to delete forever an image that maybe one day you might have a possible use for even if you haven’t thought of yet. Maybe that’s just me. But I have found a solution.
Separate your image archive from your image stock
This, for me, is the key to the whole process, and it’s turned out a lot simpler and easier and more obvious than I could have hoped. I keep all the shots I ever take organised into folders on one drive – my Image Archive. Then I copy them across to another drive to produce my Image Stock.
My image stock is what I work with every day, using it to try out different adjustments and looks and search for images to use in different projects. The folders are mostly a mirror of my image archive, but with new ‘edits’ added, custom albums and, crucially, unwanted images deleted.
This is the secret for me. By separating out my image archive, I can delete as many shots as I need to from my image stock to keep it lean, lightweight and easily searchable – and containing only the work that I think is the best. I don’t have to worry about deleting images any more because I know I still have them in my image archive if I need them. All the anxiety normally associated with culling images is gone, and I can finally make my image library work properly.
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Read more: How to cull images part 2: The triple-D – Duplicates, Duds and Dross
Practical tips on how to cull photos so that you finally get to see, enjoy and share your best work instead of just drowning in it!