Whatever your discipline of photography, there’s one skill that is crucial to catapulting your success: culling. That boring, obnoxious task of sifting through all the good, the bad, and the downright ugly in order to finally surface with a body of work worth looking at (or showing to the client).

Why Cull Images?

Include too few photos and your clients feel gypped and they scoot out the door with the bare minimum purchase. Include too many photos and your clients are so overwhelmed theyre incapable of discerning the images they love from the images they like in order to complete a purchase. Either way, youre ending up not earning as much as you should.

It sounds like it should be a simple enough task, but looks can be deceiving. All too often I find myself looking at galleries, blogs, and portfolios, and I get bored. There are just too many photos. Its not that they aren’t decent shots. Most of them are. Theres just so much redundancy the photographer has lost my interest. I see immensely talented photographers fall victim to it. I see newbies fall victim to it. I see myself fall victim to it.

Why is it so hard?

Why is culling so hard?

Simple…. As image makers, were all attached to our images. They are our babies, our genius, our heart, and our soul. We want to believe each and every frame is profound in its own way.

It isn’t.

You have to find that one moment that tells the story or emotion best. Unless that frame says something (really, stops you in your tracks and makes you think something other than meh, nice”) its useless.

5 Tips to Improve Your Culling Skills

Here are 5 tips to improve your culling skills:

  • Start in camera. Don’t spray and pray. Really think How does this tell the story? What does this image mean? before you click that shutter. Slowing down and asking will naturally cut down the amount of extraneous frames you shoot in the first place.
  • Take a day off. Once youve imported, detaching yourself from the photos for a day can do wonders to see the images you took with fresh eyes.
  • Make it FAST. On my first cull run through I only give myself one second to look at an image and make a decision; Blinker? BAM! Get outta here. Funny face? POW! Youre gone! No excuses. Your gut knows. Hit the x key and move on.
  • Shrink it. Stop looking at your images so large. A great friend of mine gave me this tip once and it completely transformed how I culled. When you shrink your gallery down to around thumbnail size, your eye can more easily spot framing and composition discrepancies. Try it. You’ll be floored how easily you can pick out the stronger compositions and find your rock star images.
  • Rule of 3s. This is my own personal rule as a wedding photographer but it works in other disciplines, too. Basically, if you need more than three shots of any one thing, you should throw them all out because you can probably do better. Seriously, no one needs 12 versions of their shoes from wedding day, the same way as no family needs three of the same pose, same focal length, and lighting for a portrait.

Lisa is Co-Founder and Lead Photographer for SoftBox Media Photography, a Washington, DC based studio founded in 2006 and is committed to providing excellence in visual services. SoftBox’s areas of expertise include local & destination wedding photography & videography, boudoir, and environmental portraiture. Visit her for more info.