If you are anything like me and you don’t cull your images, you risk drowning in a sea of duplicates, RAW+JPEG pairs, half-finished experiments, virtual copies and images that were probably not worth shooting but you never got rid of.
It’s only when you get rid of all the images that AREN’T contributing anything that you can really start to work on those that ARE.
The trouble was, I suffered from culling anxiety. I am a hoarder who keeps everything, just in case. However, I think I found the answer. Part 1 of this article explains how I learned to beat culling anxiety.
Now that I don’t have to worry about deleting images I can concentrate on thinning them right back down so that I see only my best work, learn from it and move forwards, instead of getting constantly bogged down in a mass of mediocre experiments.
I do actually have a lot of shots I’m very pleased with, so I want them in plain view and not buried.
So here’s the three-step plan I use to get rid of all the images that are just getting in the way. It means getting rid of duplicates, duds (failures) and images that are just plain dull.
1. Deleting the duplicates
It’s very easy to collect duplicate images that you don’t actually need and which just get in the way. Here are the three main habits I have that lead to this, and which perhaps a lot of other photographers have too.
JPEGS+RAWs: I’m in the habit of shooting both, partly in case I might need to quickly share some JPEG images ahead of processing the RAW files, and partly because I like to keep checking that the RAWs can indeed give a better result. The fact is, though, that once any immediate sharing/publishing needs are met, I invariably work wit the RAW files – so all those JPEGs can do. That halves the number of shots in my catalog straight away.
Burst sequences: Very occasionally I shoot one of these with the idea of reproducing it as a full sequence to show how burst shooting works. That’s very rare. Usually, I use burst mode so that I can pick a single best shot later. Well, now’s the time to do it.
Multiple angles: If you see something you like, you tend to move around it and shoot it from all sorts of angles, and maybe a few times from the same position, just to be sure you’ve got the shot, right? So now’s the time to keep the good one and ditch the rest. The different angles might be so different that you can treat them as different images, but mostly, there’s one shot that’s better than the rest – so you don’t need the rest.
What if you can’t decide? I get this a lot. I narrow a set of images down to two or three that I can’t decide between. Well, there’s an easy answer. If you can’t tell the difference, it doesn’t matter which you keep! As long as you only keep one.
2. Deleting the duds
By ‘duds’ I mean the obvious technical failures and the kind of accidents where a passer-by walks into the frame at exactly the wrong moment, you’ve got your thumb or your coat sleeve over a corner of the lens or you’ve got a shot of your feet because your camera has a touchscreen with a touch shutter mode (yeah, I’ve got a lot of those).
You might also have focus errors, shots ruined by camera shake, hopeless overexposure with unrecoverable highlights, complete timing and composition failures, and so on.
Once you’ve thinned out your duplicates in step 1 (and often while you’re doing it), these duds are easy to spot. You can’t use them, there’s no point having them, so just get rid of them.
3. Deleting the dull
Once you’ve thinned down your shots to the unique and the technically competent, you’ll find it much easier to see which ones you like and which ones you don’t. Very often, ‘banker’ shots which seemed a good idea at the time can quickly lose their appeal.
Of course, you often can’t see an image’s true potential until you’ve done a little editing work and tried a couple of presets or profiles… but all the more reason then for weeding out all the duplicates and duds first.
There are both pros and cons to today’s non-destructive editing software, but this is where it really scores – it lets you try out different looks on an image without committing to a final version.
Does this culling process actually work?
All I can say is that it works for me. Once I realised the obvious solution to my old culling anxiety (part 1) and now feel free to delete unwanted or duplicate images without a second thought.
Best of all, when I start up my cataloguing software, all I see is images I’m happy with, feel enthusiastic about and I’m keen to develop and explore. In my old ‘keep everything just in case’ days, that was not always true!
Read more: Best image cataloguing software