Watching the tides roll in, under the boardwalk - Venice Beach

Less is More – Culling your photos

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The Importance of Culling Your Photos

In my previous post, I talked about less editing making more stunning results. This post will focus on the culling your photos. There is a famous quote from the movie Highlander “There can be only one“, this should apply to your photography just as it does to the immortals in this movie series and TV spin-offs.

Watching the tide roll in on Venice Beach
Watching the tide roll in on Venice Beach

In the days of film photography, you limited the number of pictures you could take by your budget. This kept people from taking several pictures of the same thing, sometimes even hundreds of pictures. It was cost prohibitive to do this. These limitations have been removed in the age of digital photography. Hard drive space is cheap, you can keep a decade’s worth of photos on a drive for $200 or less.

Without cost being a barrier to keeping photographs around, many people have hundreds or thousands of photos of the same thing(s). Some people keep garbage and blurry photos around. This makes finding photos even harder sometimes, and why I use Keywords in Lightroom.

Culling Your Photos – Process

Lightroom gives you several options for culling your photos or selecting the best photos from an album. The one I use is the star. I start with a single star on the photos that have potential and I like the composition of them. The next step is to compare similar photos and pick the ones that have potential, see these 6 shots from under the pier.

Culling Your Photos - Comparing Photos from Under the Pier
Comparing Photos from Under the Pier

Several of them had potential, with a great composition. The water in each of these long exposures was different. I upped several of these to 2 stars and looked at them more. I then noticed, there was also a lady running in and out of the frame who is a ghost in 2 of these 4 images. I liked everything else about 2 of those shots, but they stayed at 2 stars and will eventually be deleted. I take the remaining contenders into “Survey” mode in Lightroom to compare the images like this:

Culling Your Photos- Comparing the Best Photos from Under the Pier
Comparing the Best Photos from Under the Pier

Remove the ones from the view until I have the very best from that view and give it a 3 star. I then continue to cull the entire shoot in this fashion. Once I have my best images together with 3 stars, I can compare the best of the best in one place.

Culling your Photos - Comparing the best photos from the shoot
Comparing the best photos from the shoot

These photos are all different, even though several are very similar; however, this culling process has taken me down from over 800 images to just 4. I feel the 2 on the right are superior images, even though I feel all 4 of these images are stunning. This brings me down to these 2 images:

For me, I think the view from under the pier is more peaceful than the sunset behind the pier. Both are superb pictures and bring me a lot of joy and it was an extremely close call. This is just the one that makes me happy. There you have it, from 800 images to 1. Do you see the importance of culling your photos now?

Watching the tides roll in, under the boardwalk - Venice Beach
Watching the tides roll in, under the boardwalk – Venice Beach

Less is More: Especially in your portfolio!

My conversation with Serge Ramelli about Less is More went beyond just editing of a single photo. He opened my eyes to it applying to your portfolio of work. Looking at his gallery, you can see no more than 20 photos per category. And when you think about it, most good photographers have lots of great images, maybe even hundreds of stunning images. The trick is to keep your portfolio to a minimal amount on each subject, 20 images or less. Is it hard to limit your selection to 20? Absolutely; however, keeping this to a minimal number increases the impact by eliminating anything that could be less than stunning. Every image is then your masterpiece.

What happens if you take more photos of a subject? Simple, if they are better than the top 20 you had, you remove your weakest image. This is something most professional photographers do, that amateur ones just do not. Next steps for me? Revisiting my portfolio and culling photos.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

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