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How To Choose Which Images To Keep Versus Delete


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I travel worldwide doing wildlife photography and also teach photo lessons. I’m often asked, “How do you go through so many photos so fast?” and, “How do you know which ones to keep and which ones to delete?” When I came back from Africa I had 8700 pics and 6 hours of video. My wife had another 8600. I processed them all in under a week at no more than 4-5 hours per day. This is what I teach; the idea is simple…pick the obvious keepers and then go through a “ruling out” process on the rest.

The 5 types of shots

There are 5 types of pictures; ‘BAD’, ‘documentation’, ‘keepers’, ‘unique’, and ‘GREAT’.

1. ‘Documentation’ shots are those that help you remember your trip even though the pic may be horrible. We were traveling through Alaska and a major goal of mine was to see a Gyrfalcon. We searched everywhere with no luck. On the last day I became so exhausted I fell asleep in the car. We had been traveling for over an hour when I suddenly woke up. In the half second that I woke and looked outside, I caught glimpse of a shape hurtling behind the rocks and yelled, “STOP!” where we had just enough time to get out and view 2 Gyrfalcons soaring high before they went out of sight. Just before they disappeared, I was able to fire off a shot. It is a flat out terrible shot, but I keep it because it ‘documents’ my memory of seeing it.Documentation-shot-600x450 How To Choose Which Images To Keep Versus Delete Guest Bloggers Lightroom Tutorials Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

2. ‘Unique’ ones are the ones that you aren’t sure what to do with, but you have a gut feeling you shouldn’t delete it. I have a pic from Africa of a blurry forest and the glimpse of a hawk’s feet and tail in it. I had a feeling that I shouldn’t delete it. After finding it a couple years later, I played with it and turned it into a really great pic that I now use in my classes to demonstrate motion. It was just one of those unusual kind of shots and falls under the ‘unique’ category.

Unique-shot How To Choose Which Images To Keep Versus Delete Guest Bloggers Lightroom Tutorials Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

3. ‘GREAT’ shots are obvious. They jump right out at you immediately. You spend extra time focusing on the right editing for them and they are the kind of shots you can’t wait to print and frame.

GREAT-shot How To Choose Which Images To Keep Versus Delete Guest Bloggers Lightroom Tutorials Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

4. ‘Bad’ pics are just that. They are either simply bad or there are others that are clearly better.

5. ‘Keepers’ are the in-between. They aren’t “great” shots, but they aren’t bad either. You feel bad when you go to hit the delete button because you swear in your head you can use it at some time.


How to you choose what images to keep:

I use Lightroom, so this method works well using the flagging. I go through first and black flag, then delete all the ‘bad’ ones. I delete them right away so they don’t confuse me in the batch when trying to categorize the others. Then I go through and white flag all the ‘great’ ones and the ‘unique’ ones. The ‘keepers’ are the hardest. There are usually 10-50 of the same thing you have to look at side by side. I always look at the eyes first and black flag images where the eyes aren’t the cleanest or are off angle. Then I look at lighting, color, and composition and do a comparison, black flagging the ones I’ve ruled out. I then pick just 2-3 that are the best out of the leftovers and they become ‘keepers’ and I black flag the ones that didn’t make the cut. Now I delete all black flagged pics. Choosing How To Choose Which Images To Keep Versus Delete Guest Bloggers Lightroom Tutorials Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

What’s left are white flagged ‘great’ and ‘unique’ photos, and un-flagged ‘keepers’. Now I just turn the filter on to show only the flagged photos. I go through and edit them, then export them to my ‘edited’ folder. Now I have two folders; the original folder which has the raw images which contain all ‘great’, ‘unique’, and ‘keeper’ shots, and the edited folder with all the shots that have received post-production editing, including those down-sized for the internet.

When you travel a lot and often come home with 20,000 shots as you are leaving for your next trip, it’s important to develop a sound system in choosing, deleting, and editing.

This article was written by Chris Hartzell, a wildlife and travel photographer. Visit his site and flickr stream.




No Comments

  1. Laurie on September 26, 2012 at 11:49 am

    This is GREAT! It makes so much sense and will really help me in my organizing of photos. I really like how you let us “keep” those snapshots that document our trip/activity without feeling like each one should be a masterpiece. :)Plus, your photos are fabulous! Love it! Very doable.

  2. Myer Bornstein on September 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    An excellent post on how to do it, which is hard to do. I have a touch time deleting but am getting better. will try your system on a set of shots

  3. cynthia on September 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    This is ALWAYS a challenge for me and often has me on frozen. Thanks so much for sharing you very logical and straight forward method!!!MUCH appreciated!!!

  4. clipping path on September 27, 2012 at 1:03 am

    This tutorial was really helpful for both newbie & advanced user. You’ve done really excellent work. I’ll visit your blog again.

  5. Erin on October 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    This was very helpful, now I just need what the average number of pictures to keep…Is there a ratio or just what you like?!

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