Magic Monday: Be a Good Editor


Its not referring to what you might be thinking.  I was struck by an important concept made my Scott Kelby recently, on the importance of being a good editor of your images.  Meaning…EDITING OUT all the bad, sub par, mediocre, good, and fairly good images, and only showing the BEST BEST BEST images.  He makes a pretty compelling argument, that people will think you’re a fantastic photographer if you’re only showing the fantastic shots.

Deleting, culling, narrowing down… whatever you want to call the process, is always the most time consuming part of my workflow.  Certainly more than editing the color/post production of the images by far.  Sometimes I might spend 1-2 hours just sorting through the images to choose my top 50 for presentation.

I used to present much more than I should to clients.  (Like 200 plus images) and though I had been warned about doing so, I had the little thought in my mind “but they might like this one…” so I’d present it despite the fact that there were other shots that were better or that I preferred more myself.

The consequence?  People have a difficult time selecting an image when they have to choose between hundreds of images.  The less options they have, the easier the decision.  I try to be around 30-50 images now.  Though I think that goal has made the culling process that much more time consuming.

Until yesterday.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

But I tried a new twist to my regular workflow.  Instead of making several rounds through all the images, each time cutting more and more until I was down to my desired final picks… I made two rounds.


Delete all bad images (blinking, out of focus, poor composition, unflattering…)  This is also a good time for me to get a general idea of what we got from the session.


Flag only the images that I feel are outstanding.  Not just good, not just nice, but the really super fantastic ones.  (It was also nice to not be in the frame of mind of choosing what to “delete” but instead choosing what was really “compelling”.  I think the frame of mind made a difference as well.)

Guess what?  I had my final number and it took 15 minutes instead of an hour plus.  I’m definitely making this a part of my regular workflow.  Now, I edit the ROUND TWO images and that is what the client will see.

And what about all those unflagged and undeleted images?  If they weren’t compelling enough to make round two, then they aren’t strong enough to be released.  They’re not bad, they’re just decent or just “nice”.  And by not showing them, spending time editing them, or keeping them around, three things happen:

1. I save myself oodles of time.

2.  I look like a much better photographer

3.  Its easier for the subject to choose which images to print and use with less to choose from.

In Scott Kelby’s words,

“If you want to be taken seriously as a photographer and you want people to start to view you as a pro-quality photographer, then take a tip from the working pros, which is: only show your very best work. Period. One thing that makes a pro a pro is they’re really good photo editors–they’re really good at picking and only showing, their very best stuff.  You don’t see their so-so shots or the shots that would have been great, if only… You also don’t see them showing seven or eight similar shots of the same subject. Only show your best of the best.

Your shots have to stand on their own, without you telling a story about why you like the shot. If you have to explain to someone why you chose it or why you think it’s special, it doesn’t belong in your portfolio.”

-Scott Kelby, The Digital Photography Book: The stepby-step secrets for how to make your photos look like the pros’! Volume 2 p. 195.

P.S.  I try to do extreme culling of my personal images as well, though it is much harder.  I really don’t need hundreds of images of my cute kid, and there really are the usual handfull of truly captivating images mixed in with a bunch of “nice” images.  But when it comes time to print or make albums, its usually only the captivating ones that make the cut… so in reality, I need to do better of making a digital cut much sooner in the workflow.

p.p.s. Flagging, rating, or coding your images is possible when using a photo organizer/editing program like iphoto, Lightroom, or Aperture.  A complete necessity for anyone who takes more than a few shots 🙂

What helps you be a better editor?

Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She grew up on a dirt road on the outskirts of town where her neighbors consisted of wild life…which of course made walking to the bus stop an adventure. She has been chased to school by a herd of 114 Elk, a skunk, charged by a Moose, and they once had a wild mink sneak into the living room. Sometimes life for her can be too exciting. She currently enjoys living in her suburb hundred year old house in a quiet neighborhood where so far the only “wild life” is the neighbors pigme goats that keep escaping.

Brooke teaches private photography lessons as well as monthly photography classes in Logan, Utah.

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10 Responses

  1. This is going to take some practice from me! It was a much needed post! I am famous for editing almost all of them because although it may just be “nice” to me I think “But they may love it!?” haha 🙂 Thanks for this! I will for sure be applying it from now on! 🙂

  2. I think I am horrible at this. I am sure I give WAY to many images for every session!! In my own pictures I am better able to weed out the average ones. Maybe the mind change like you had could help me. I’ll have to give it a try! How many do you think I should give for a wedding?

  3. Hmm…. I’ll have to give this a try with my current backlog of images. I’m usually pretty good about only showing my best work, but I often spend an hour or more just sorting.

  4. Not only does it save you time, but also hundreds of dollars in hard drives! Especially shooting RAW 14bit color!

    Thanks, Brooke. A good reminder. I’ve begun using the import tool in LightRoom to cull before even importing. You can unchecked any images that don’t make the cut before you even import them, which not only saves me time, but also loads of space. Once they’re on the computer, for some reason they are just harder to delete completely, so not even importing the bad ones has become a lifesaver for me.


  5. I’m terrible at narrowing it down and end up staying up until the wee hours of the morning editing 100+ images even though I only say they’ll have 20-35 in a gallery. Ugh – thank you for this reminder and encouragement to only keep the BEST!

  6. Great tip Levi! I’ve been trying to do the same thing, but sometimes find it hard since the thumbnails display so small. Do you have a solution for that?

  7. I definitely need to do this. I have said the same thing to myself a million times, “but they might like this one.” You’re right though. I think it’s time for a change.

  8. This is SO hard to do! I am always hanging onto too many images & thus editing WAYYYYYYYYYY too many… because I can’t decide if they might like this one a bit more because of this or that random reason. Thanks for the tips on how to do this… I will try this next time!
    PS love your blog & thanks for all the awesome tips… I so wish I could come to one of your workshops.

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