It is ironic that the first step in digital workflow is to actually delete most of the images that you have worked so hard to create. The images that were created with promise and passion must now be looked on without emotion or feeling and be culled, killed, deleted, zapped, smushed, axed! Such a cruel sounding words for your dear pictures Webster’s defines culled as, “Something picked out from others, especially something rejected because of inferior quality.” See, you are doing it because of ‘inferior quality,’ that should make you feel a little better.

Editing is the process of going to get rid of the inferior images now, not later. You don’t need them now and you’ll certainly never need them in the future, so why keep them on your hard drives? Yes, I know hard drives are cheap, but so what? Why keep inferior images when you have better ones? Software is always leaping forward and the things that we can do with images today are staggering to say the least. However, they are never going to create software that fixes focus, or composition, or subject or put chopped feet back on. Well, Ok you can sorta put feet back on, but ignore that for now, I’m on a mission. So lets get started.

Once your images are on your hard drive, use the browser of your choice to go through and get rid of the junk. I am currently using Lightroom and so this article is Lightroom centric, but the principles still apply. I use Lightroom because the process is so easy and simple and fast. Let’s start looking at the images and on this first pass our mission is to cull out the junk. We are not going to rate them or OOH and AHH, OK a little, but keep focused on getting rid of the bad stuff. When you see a stinker you simply hit the X key and that image is now marked for deletion. You have not deleted anything yet, but you have given notice that you intend to put that image in the trash can! Proceed through all of your images happily deleting the out of focus, legs cut off, bird flew out of the frame or otherwise obviously a waste of memory space images.

If you are an advanced user feel free to get rid of obvious dupes here as well. You neophytes, just get rid of the really bad ones. Now go to the grid view of the Library module and select the rejected flag. This will now show you all of the images that you just culled. Take a look at all of these images to make sure that you didn’t get falg happy and cull one too many images. If they are indeed all bad, select them all and then hit the delete key. Lightroom will ask if you want them out of the collection or deleted from the disk. You know what you have to do, deep breath…delete from disk! God job, Grasshopper. Don’t you feel better knowing those icky images are never going to show up to shame you on the internet?

This image shows a Lightroom screenshot.

Now this is why my editing process is called 5 star culling. Some people see that they have all of these stars and colors and other hoohaws to mark their images for something. We really only need 3 stars and one of those is special. Why in the world would you want to rank one of your images as a 1 star image? To me that says it is already marked for deletion so why not get rid of it now before your emotions over rule reason and you keep the stinker. If it is a 1 star it shouldn’t be in your library. Keep your best and then the best of your best. I’m a 5 star photographer and so I only want my best, 4 stars and the best of my best, my 5 star images. You should be doing the same thing.

So, in this pass of reviewing images we are going to go through the images and you now have 3 options (in my system) to deal with images, rank it 3 stars, 4 stars or delete it. We’ll get to the 5 star thing in a minute. So now is when we have to be critical of our work. The first cull was easy the second is much more emotional. So look at your images, the best get 4 stars and the ones that deserve a second look get 3 stars. If it doesn’t meet those categories then it gets the X and is deleted. This is where you get rid of all of the duplicate shots. You know that 8 frame burst that captured a stationary object…yes that one, keep 1 delete 7. Mark the keeper as a 4 and move on. Also, get rid of all semi-duplicates. These are the ones where the subject eyes are closed or the head is turned or something is off. There will be times when the image is good and you are not sure about it, give these a 3 star rating. You should still only keep the best of the series from these 3 star shots. As with the round one culls, use the flag to find and then select the rejects, delete them. Now, I select all of my 4 stars and move them to my working folder. I keep a folder that are my “to be edited” images. I like to do this step as it helps me with my filing system. That is another article, stay tuned. I now move the 3 stars to a further review folder. I usually wait a week or two or even more sometimes and then come back and look at these images with fresh eyes. I then repeat the culling process on these images.

Now the 5 star pay off. We have now edited the images from the photo shoot and we have only processed our best shots. We have deleted the junk and are really satisfied with life. Now is when you reward yourself with that last 5th star. The 5th star is reserved for the best images in your library. Your library should never have more than about 100 5 star images at any given time. These are the 100 shots that you use to brag with friends and family, to show publishers your chops and to just enjoy after the work that you put in to making those images. After you reach 100 then when you want to nominate a new 5 star shot move a lesser image to a 4 star image. Lightroom has something called smart collections and it will automatically keep track of all images that you have rated 5 stars and with the click of a mouse all of your best are right there ready to be proud of. Hey you are a 5 star photographer now too!

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