Better Editing, Better Photographs

In Lightroom & Workflow, Resources, The Craft, The Life Creative, Tutorials &Technique by David96 Comments

Click play to watch this 8-minute video

I’d love to hear from you on this. Where do you find your greatest challenges when it comes to choosing your best work and doing something with them, staying organized, and doing all the work that happens beyond the shutter? If you feel like talking about it, drop me a note in the comments below and we’ll carry on the discussion there.


When I came home from Kenya last month, I had a hard drive filled to busting with 30,000 images. I’d been photographing for 30 days, so that’s a daily average of 1,000 photographs which, it turns out, is really easy to do when your camera can not only do 30 frames per second but do so completely silently. Things kind of got away from me a couple times! Combine that with my joy at just being there and making photographs and it’s no surprise that I couldn’t have squeezed so much as a tiny JPEG file onto my hard drive when I was done.

I also came home with my edits mostly done. And my development work. And the monograph I sent out to the photographers in my community a week after I got home. By contrast, I have a friend who shot a safari four years ago who still hasn’t done a complete edit of his work. After four years, his images are still sitting there begging to be seen, to be printed, or put into some form of creative output that can be shared with the world. 

Why? He gets overwhelmed by it all. And he doesn’t have a system. He looks at all those images and gets paralyzed and while I’m excitedly making prints and sequencing monographs or web galleries, he and so many like him are doing…nothing.

It’s not a criticism. I know so many photographers who walk in the door after making a bunch of photographs and say, “Well, that was fun. Now what?” And because the edit can be so intimidating, it gets reduced to an ad hoc effort at picking a couple good shots,  pushing some sliders around in Lightroom, and throwing them onto Instagram before moving onto the next thing. The reason I don’t criticize this approach (it’s really more a lack of an approach, isn’t it?) is because that’s how I used to do it, too.

Before I started doing assignment work, my editing was scattershot and intimidating. I probably still have folders of images from over 15 years ago that haven’t really had a fair shake. But client work forced me to get intentional about how I imported and organized my images, to be clear about my criteria for selecting the best of that work, and to be a little more systematic about the output.

That client work made a huge difference. Not just in my client work, but also my personal work. Suddenly I was anticipating the output and because I knew I’d be making something (a book or a monograph, for example) I started shooting more intentionally with that in mind. And I started thinking about editing much more creatively and purposefully. By “editing,” I mean the work of selecting our best images from among the dross—or what I like to call the sketch images. It’s the work a photo editor would do if you or I had one, and it falls to us because, well, we probably don’t. In fact, I started looking at everything that needed to be done after the camera work was over as a more exciting creative opportunity, and a chance to do something with my photographs.

This video is the first in a series in which I want to explore what we do after the camera goes back in the bag, and the ways in which that can make us even stronger, more intentional, and creative photographers when we take it out again.

The first question I want to ask (on your behalf) is, “How can I make the edit easier?” Less intimidating or overwhelming. I’ve got three initial ideas that I think can be really helpful and they’re a big part of how I was able to come home with 30,000 images already mostly edited and the best of that work ready for output rather than dreading the pile of images I had yet to go through.

Just Look for the Best of the Best

We all photograph for different reasons and we all do things differently, but I think edits, especially the first edits done relatively soon after shooting, should be selections, not ratings. My own edit process goes much more quickly because I’m not looking for every single image that meets some basic minimal technical standard. I’m looking for the ones that make me lean in. The ones that make my heart sing. The ones that grab me and won’t let me not select them.

You might have a great reason for rating images but I think trying to decide whether an images deserves 2, 3, or 4 stars slows the process and for me, because I’m looking for few frames that are a decisive “Yes!” I’ve found rating them makes me look for the wrong thing. For me, a 3-star image isn’t a Yes! It’s a yawn.

Consider being more binary. Yes! Or no. After all, how many images do you really need? Wouldn’t it be easier just to look for the best 12 or 24? It is for me.

Do Smaller Edits

Break it down. I do daily field edits and come home with main selections already made. This makes it manageable, but it’s more than that. Doing daily edits means things don’t get away from you. It gives you a chance to spot things that aren’t working. For example, you’re more likely to notice that you accidentally shot small JPGs all day when you thought you had been shooting RAW. Or you discover your lens isn’t focusing quite right. Or your sensor needs a clean. It’s better to discover that after one day of shooting and be able to fix it, rather than much later on when it’s just too late.

More than that, doing smaller daily edits harnesses the energy and excitement to comb through a manageable pile of images and give them your full attention, rather than later when the pile is much larger and your energy is diminished. Sure, I’ll do another pass later, usually a couple more passes, but the smaller edits make the best of my limited resources of time and attention (which wane after a few thousand images, let me tell you!).

Consider (or Choose) Your Output

Don’t just make photographs; make something with the photographs. I’ve found that knowing what I’m going to do with my images has made me a much better photographer and a much better editor. I now know what I’m choosing images for.

My clients taught me to do this, but the biggest rewards have come in my personal work. I come home and almost always as a matter of creative habit, put my work into monographs and collections of prints. I think now in terms of bodies of work and collections and sequences, and that too, has had huge payoffs in my creativity and the ongoing question of what I can do with my images rather than letting them sit on my hard drives hoping to see the light of day.

I think this is an important conversation, and it’s one that photographers don’t seem to be having. I want to keep exploring this in the next video, which I’ll post next week (actually, I’ll be sending that email on Wednesday).

For the Love of the Photograph,


  1. I love your advice on editing. I think you have talked on this topic before which has inspired me to try nd trend more towards this method of editing. Unfortunately it has been after years of things getting backlogged and piling up images that may never see the light of day. I wish I thought about editing like this when I first started out.

    I definitely try to think more about why I am creating the image and what I am going to use it for more now than I have in the past. I think a lot of that has come by way of inspiration from your books and blog. Thank you for being such a constant inspiration and friend to photographers everywhere.

    Kyle Reynolds

  2. This video is so timely. I’m that person – I get so much joy out of making photographs, but when it comes time for editing and post-processing I get very intimated and have ended up with many, many images that just sit there on my computer. Your suggestions are great and I plan to put them to use right away. I think the biggest thing will be having a goal in mind for the photos I make. This will make it much easier for me to narrow down which photos are the keepers. Another thing that holds me back is processing images in Lightroom. I worry that I won’t make the best of the images I’ve taken. Can’t wait to see what else is to come on this topic. Thank you so very much for sharing your knowledge and being such a wonderful source of inspiration.

  3. Pingback: Monday Missive — March 28, 2022 | Nature, Fine Art and Conservation Photography

  4. David, This is an awesome video as is the next. Please keep going. It is great to have such concise and meaningful advice.

    I am struggling to make sense of years of photos on drives where I have done nothing with them. I’m going to have to break it down and go through them a bit at a time, with a project (or two in mind).

    How right you are about the benefit of incremental work – I too have discovered an incorrect setting too late, something that could have been avoided. The main thing is not to get overwhelmed and to get inspired rather than finding it a chore. That means more regular and intentional work.

    thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Thanks David — very helpful comments on the editing process — I like the approach you describe. I’m finding my biggest challenge has more to do with the next step — what to do with images that I’ve selected (and maybe edited) and that I then want to share (the “output”). I’m getting tired of sharing on social media — too much effort, not a broad enough audience, and not worth the time invested. I like the idea of thinking in terms of collections or groupings of images … but I struggle with what options might make sense to share those images. I’ve done lectures / presentations, and a few exhibits, but when I return with 30 great images from Kenya or Alaska (or Rome, where I am for the month), what to do with them? Or I have a great collection of water abstracts from around the world — what to do with that? How to share with my audience? I haven’t tried monographs, or e-books, or self-published printed books. Maybe a blog is a way to go? But if sharing with an email list, I’d prefer something more tangible — but also something affordable … and something that I could do relatively quickly on a month or quarterly basis. I’m guessing this is a topic you’ve already addressed in your various teaching platforms, but can’t immediately find anything directly on point. Would love your thoughts. Thanks for your continuing inspiration!

    1. Author

      Hi Jim – Blogs are great! So are anything you can link to or transmit digitally. The monographs I’ve been sending to the people on my mailing list for years are a good example of this. So are slideshows in a video (mp4) format. Combined with a blog and more material outputs like books and prints, cards, etc., and there are so many options!

    2. Hi Jim
      I faced similar concerns and then did a website. This doesnt require particular skills these days as the curent standard “WordPress” is foolproof and a phot Website is one of the easier ones, when it comes to layout. initially I sorted my existing pictures in three broad categories, some months later I rearranged them (eg. changed what I called initially “urban/industrial” to “street life”. This is easily done as you can change the attributes in a bulk. Recently I created a new page “portfolio” where I put five similiar pictures in a row. Once your work is collected and presented in that format you can then go the next step and send series of pictures to magazines or exhibition places. Just my five cents 😉 Best, Adrian

  6. Thanks for your comments which are always thought provoking.
    I’m not a pro, just a very keen amateur but shoot for print panels and making audio-visuals. As such I do a daily quick scan through what I’ve shot that day to get rid of abject failures and then a later scan through to select promising ones. I oftren find that revisitibng a shoot after three to six months can be rewarding in me seeing things that I didn’t notice straight after the shoot.
    Incidentally I love the post-production work which can turn an OK imagfe into a creative one from time to time.

  7. You hit on one of my biggest issues as a wildlife and travel photographer– being overwhelmed at the end and not ever getting the images edited! Your practical tips are very useful to me, and I will use them after my new trip. “Less is more” is a good motto when it comes to selecting the most powerful images to focus on.

  8. Before I start, if my comment has been touched on above, I apologize.

    While I accept in principle virtually all that you’ve suggested, do you ever go back & peruse older stuff & find an image that you initially skipped over & now it engages?

    1. Author

      Hey Marty, no apologies needed. YES! I absolutely go back and look at my images. I almost always give my images 2-3 passes and often one of those is a year or more since the image was captured. We all grow, our tastes and skills change. And so does what we’re looking for. I think it would be insane not to give our images the advantage of time to convince us we might have missed something. 🙂 I have several images in my catalog for instance that were passed over when I thought I was creating a series in colour and they just didn’t work, but later when I was looking through a black and white lens, they worked brilliantly.

  9. I had a system when using aperture, which is now toast. Lightroom confuses and terrifies me. File management and external hard drives really confuse and terrify me. I have far too many images just sitting on the sideline. On cards, hidden in drives and not sure where to find them. I need help. I have tried books, done Scott Kelby’s online courses etc, nothing is sticking. This is really the hardest part for me. kinda sad eh?

    1. My system of initial editing is all done through LR. I edit with a very heavy hand. If I find an “outstanding” image that I want to be first in line for editing I will use a color rating. For me purple (similar to 4-H grand prize ribbon” means it receives priority over all other image(s). Followed by blue color rating, for 1st place images. Beyond that no color ratings are given for anything less than “blue”. I will quickly “flag” with an “x” those I wish to immediately delete from LR. I don’t want mediocre images within my catalog taking up space, nor would they be images I would share with someone (for the sake of showing). I’m with you David, I’d rather have 25-50 outstanding images to share, print, publish, than a catalog full of 1,000 images thinking it was a successful trip. Exceptional images don’t come from amassing large volumes of images, but rather being deliberate in the process of taking the images and knowing the direction where they will be used afterwards.

  10. I’ve sorta evolved towards a process that I think helps me get to a similar point…

    1. I do rate a session’s images in LR asap once the session has ended. I assign a ‘1’ to all those I wish to delete the first time through. I am judicious in this and only mark those where I’ve missed focus or exposure, or know the composition just doesn’t work or are so close to a perfect duplicate of another. Once I’ve made the initial overview, I filter down to those rated ‘1’ and delete those.

    2. The second one has me looking for those I believe are worthy of at least a cursory edit to see what may be brought out in them. The large majority in this round are rated 2, but the ones that really reach out and grab me will get a ‘3’. As often as not, there will also be a smaller number that will be assigned a ‘1’ and deleted as above at the end of the round. There will also likely be a sizable number of ‘unrated’ once this round is complete.

    3. Once the second round is complete, I start with the full processing of all the ‘3’ images. Sometimes the initial appeal that got them a ‘3’ proves accurate and processing is completed on those. Occasionally, I can’t find a ‘vision’ for some of those and drop the processing.

    4. Once all the ‘3’ images have been addressed, I start sifting through the ‘2’ shots. Sometimes I find a nugget or 2 in this group after an initial edit, change the rating to 3, and complete the processing on those. I probably spend more time sifting through the 2’s than I should, but haven’t yet figured out a means of whittling the time down on that group.

    After the above process is complete, I pretty much consider work on that session complete. In the end, all the 2/3/unrated shots become permanent residents on the drive.

  11. I always read your topics with great interest and curiosity, they are always so clear and useful . What particularly hit me is that : 30 frame per second completely silently. What camera is that?? My best regards and good job , Giuseppe

    1. Author

      Hi Giuseppe. I’m using Sony a1 cameras now, though all mirrorless cameras should now be able to do silent mode at any FPS.

  12. Hi David,
    that validates my impressions when sitting in front of the amounts of pictures I took.
    On one hand (after deleting unacceptables) nevertheless much of them will never be looked at… On the other I can’t delete. Maybe later I’ve got an idea to transform the one to a “Yes” by editing!? By changing exposure or balance… a few times (for me) it worked by changing the section.
    So, what are you doing with the frames that remain. You said (…or I understood so..), you differ them in monographs, sequences, books or else. If a monograph also belongs to a sequence, do hold it twice; or can it be solved by better tagging?

    1. Author

      Hey Michael, like you I never delete unless it’s a black frame, total 100% crap that catches my eye as I scroll past, or it’s years later and I have given all my images in a sequence many, many chances to prove themselves. The rest get used for different things and I use collections to keep them organized.

  13. Hi, David ~ Good suggestions all! I’ve noticed that after a month or two after a shoot, when I go back to review the images I change my mind about some of them. Some of my Selects aren’t as good as I thought and once in awhile I find a non-Select that deserves to be a Select. Have you noticed this “passage of time” effect in your work?


    1. Author

      Absolutely, Scott! I always give my work multiple edits over time, and find so much changes because of the passage of time. I think we’re nuts to do one edit, call it done and delete or forever ignore what remains.

  14. Interesting …I have just returned from a week in Kenya and am trying out a totally different approach this time. I usually try to do smaller edits while on the field, but this time I stayed away from doing it. I wanted to build a little gap between taking the image and either picking up the top favorites or editing it, to avoid the emotion of the moment from influencing the decisions. I have often seen that happen. Not sure how this approach will work, lets see. The point about choosing your best instead of rating them is interesting. That is always a problem and I think this is definitely something I will try. Thanks…a fab post as always.

  15. Hi David – I agree with the others who have commented, this is a brilliant topic. It’s clearly the issue that holds me back the most from enjoying my photography and finding a way to express my creativity. I look forward to hearing more about your workflows and, more importantly, how you think and react as you do your edits. Thank you for giving hope to us who are daunted by our drives full of images.

  16. Another great discussion point, David. And one which I keep struggling with. Like you, David, I have the habit of letting the shutter run wild:-).
    It’s now two years ago since I joined my photo club and took up photography as a hobby. Following much searching around for how to organize and select images I have ended up using a combination of Photomechanic and ideas from your great fellow Canadian photographer, Judy Hancock Holland.
    Photomechanic is set up to simultaneously save the images onto two harddrives, each into a main folder called …2022 (last year …2021) and subfolders, i.e. date + subject, say, 2022.03.21 [subject name].
    In Photomechanic – while downloading – I make initial quick selections of images I believe worth working with, i.e. 1-5 second glance per image (for initial selection I use the 3-star ‘yawn’ haha). ‘Does the image appeal to me/others’? Quick glance, Yes/No?
    Recently I shot 2000 pictures at a sports event and ended up with 45 images I was happy with. The initial quick selection was about 150-200 images. (what to do with the 1800 or so unused images? So far I am in the keep-mode).
    In Lightroom I only import images as ADD – see Judy Hancock Holland’s video about organizing images.
    The process may sound tedious, but downloading 2000 images and making the initial selection takes about an hour. The final selection takes much longer – ‘what do I want to tell/show with that image’. It’s here your books and videos, David, are highly appreciated, and obviously too in the field when pondering about the shots. Thanks for all your work and posts.

  17. David, from your email:
    ‘Where do you find your greatest challenges when it comes to choosing your best work and doing something with them, staying organized, and doing all the work that happens beyond the shutter?’

    I find it a necessity, or an enabler, to actually do rewarding things with my pictures, like monographs, portfolios, web galleries and such.
    But oh the motivation/energy drain!
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you approach keywording, when you do it in your workflow, how extensive or sparse an approach you have to it….or whether you don’t keyword at all, and if so, why.
    In any case, many thanks for offering your thoughts, and for offering them in such a easily accessable, compelling format. Greatly appreciated!

  18. Thanks David for a very insightful and pertinent topic for exploration.
    I am a long time student of yours.
    Have bought most of your books and courses.
    I have never corresponded with you before now.
    However, this topic interests me , as I struggle with editing my photos.
    I look forward to your further insights on editing.
    Thank you for your continued inspiration.

  19. Yep. This is the definition of me. Years of image files I have not yet looked at. Overwhelmed with quantity. Motivation volatility that looks like a stock market timeline. Reinventing the workflow every other year with hopes of better clarity. And wanting a way to effectively archive outside of Lightroom chaos. You’ve got my attention if this is a preview of a Beyond the Shutter course. Especially if it goes deep into your print storage or monographs. I think a lot about what we will leave behind that can be meaningful and still viewable. Maybe it doesn’t matter but surely a folder of raw files is not it.

  20. Author

    Thank you all so much for the comments. Wow. I feel a little bit like I’ve created a monster. But so many good ideas in here. I love hearing how different people solve different problems. I’ll read all the comments, but please don’t be hurt if I don’t reply. Keep your eyes open for this Sunday’s email!

  21. Like some of the other comments, my big issue in doing the initial selections is the feelings from the experience of the shoot influencing my picks. I just went through my shoot last week from Antelope Canyon and the experience was so impactful I wanted to pick almost every image (except the technical misses). I have to separate myself from the shoot and look at the images with different eyes and a different mindset – that of the editor with a purpose in mind. In your upcoming articles, if you have ideas on how to put on this different hat, it would be tremendously helpful.

    1. Author

      David, I think this is a struggle we all deal with. I’ve found doing 3 different main edits helps – one immediately to harness the enthusiasm and energy, and a couple more with some time between them, to give me some perspective and new ideas.

  22. Fairly often my reviews are subjective. The mood of the moment I captured the image influences my evaluation of the images, so I have to ‘let them cool’ for a period before I can be objective … except for the obvious duds, misses, etc.

  23. This was an excellent article and so timely. I have set up a NAS system recently because I simply have too many photos to keep on a pile of external hard drives. I couldn’t find anything. I am now in the process of getting my LR catalogue all organized. It has been a relief to get this done and now I find myself with 14TB of stuff that I need to decide how to handle. My question for you relates to culling – or deleting photos. I delete all the awful shots – sure – everyone does that. But what about “yawn” photos as you call them. The 3-stars – they are not bad, they are not great, others are better but …. do you deleted them? I would like to hear some thoughts on that – how deep to we cull and why. Thank you.

    1. Author

      I never delete images, Janis. If I do it’s YEARS later when I’ve given all those images several chances to change my mind and for me to change my tastes. But eventually, if I’m really extra double sure they aren’t a “hell, yes” and if storage space is important, I’ll delete them. Remember, it’s not the duds you’re looking for, they can sit there for eternity.

  24. First excuse my clumsy english. I appreciated many points evoked in David’s comments about editing.
    There is a great difference between a pro like David and amateurs like me. It is about the client and the pressure that the pro feels everyday. The pro needs to have results and is omnibulated to succeed and get the best of any situation. He is looking constantly for the best and the competition.
    The amateur has little pressure, only some proudness to show his work. He may be satisfied simply to have spent a good photographic session without going beyond. In my own practice, which is slowed by other professional activities even after retirement, my main pleasure comes from two points: editing my own photographic books (which I do with Blurb) and improving my website:, but I now hate the competition after a long life of academic competition at university.
    Thus, I will remain an amateur while some others are pros. I respect and admire their work. It is a different world.

    1. Author

      I would count myself, these days, as more amateur than pro according to the way you use these words, Jean-Pierre. My goals have more to do with enjoyment of my work the desire to create the best I can, and to share it with my world. There might be more urgency in my work but the goals and methods are the same. You mention the word “competition” twice. I don’t compete at all. I have no patience for it, and it has nothing to do with the editing. Just my desire to create the best work I can.

  25. The toughest thing for me, David, is to start with the process. As an enthusiastic hobby photographer, I have to set myself therefore some simple goals and very importantly integrate them in my daily routine. My workflow is to select a theme and make around 500 images about it over a time period of 6 weeks. Then select 12 images and post one by one as a series over 12 days. Thereafter start all over again. I‘m doing this now over 3 years and I‘m enjoying it so much. Did I become a better photographer? I don‘t care. I simply enjoy the journey and love to read your Sunday emails. Thanks so much to help me with your inspirational thoughts. Greetings from the Palatinate, Michael

    1. Author

      Always happy to help, Michael. And to get a note from you. You’ve forever connected your name to the Palatinate for me! LOL.

  26. Thanks David, you hit the nail on the head and summed up my dilemma, I’m paralysed with way too many images. Great advice, I particularly like your monographs idea. Thank you, you inspire me 🙂

  27. Boy, if you didn’t mean me, you surely described me to a ‘t’… Looking forward to the rest of this discussion and trying to put it into practice even now – just made my first pass at the images I shot last night. More to do, always. Thanks for the inspirations!

  28. Hi David,
    I was introduced to your material in the “5 Day Deal” 6 years ago, and along with Lindsay Adler’s “Posing Pitfalls – 5 things which ruin poses and how to fix them”, out of all of the supposed value in the 5 Day Deal you two have made an enduring impact on my work. Yours was always the “why”. I am still here, a studio photographer needs to have a “why” as well. Thank you for the intervening years. In the studio a three hour shoot nets around 180 images, and I process them all, because repetition is the Mother of Skill. And now I shoot smarter and I process quicker. The best excuse for getting the post production done is because every session of post is making one a better photographer … if one is paying attention. I do not use Lightroom or Photoshop as they do not have versions for Linux, so darktable is my RAW processor and I rarely need to use the GIMP. I have been an Open Source Software advocate since 2000, that was the year I had my last BSOD.

  29. Such a thoughtful and insightful post, thank you.
    I make a photojournal/book of each trip when I return, but I don’t take that into account when I compose and shoot.
    I can’t cull or edit in the field as I find the camera display too small to make an informed judgement.
    After each session when I come back to base, I load photos into Lightroom, back up to an external drive, and reformat my card. In that LR session, I keyword as much as I can while it’s fresh in my mind e.g. species, location.
    My first “binary” pass is to flag (Y) any image that is in focus – that may sound silly but I mainly shoot wildlife on burst mode so many images are not in focus 🙂 (Plus I also have issues holding the camera steady.)
    Plus assign 1-star rating to anything that makes me “lean in” (I LOVE that description! Thank you) It might be I captured an unusual animal beahviour, or I’m just thrilled with the composition.
    The focus yes-or-no is also important as my resulting photo journal contains an image of every species I photograph (quality or otherwise) so when creating the photobook I filter by one keyword at a time, then filter on in-focus/flagged etc.

  30. A couple of comments, and a request…
    Firstly, just as well you don’t have a new Olympus OM-1 which can shoot at 120fps rather than 30fps. You’d need another HDD.
    Secondly, my method of culling uses the Flags in Exposure X7. I assume Lightroom also has flags. I flag it if it wows me, use a “x” flag for rubbish (eg out of focus, taken a photo of my foot – again) and leave the rest. Then I delete all the “x” photos and work on the Flagged photos.
    However, I quite often go back at some time in the future to edit some of the other photos. This gives me practice at editing – something I badly need (but getting a lot better). – but without destroying my “wow” photos. I don’t care if I totally stuff these photos up trying new editing techniques.
    Now the request…
    How do you recommend making photos more public for amateurs who will always remain that way? I don’t like social media ( a combination of previous work in the IT industry and my autism kicking in), so Facebook is out. A book will only allow a very few people to see the images. Any suggestions welcome!

    1. Author

      Hi Bruce – My favourite way is books and monographs, either printed or digital. I don’t use social media either, but a great website can do wonders. So can going old-school and passing out your work in printed form. Submitting to magazines, doing a local show somewhere. I don’t think there’s a real difference between how so-called pros and so-called amateurs need to approach this.

    2. Hi Bruce
      allow me to share my personal way and copy paste what I said to Jim above “I faced similar concerns and then did a website. This doesnt require particular skills these days as the curent standard “WordPress” is foolproof and a phot Website is one of the easier ones, when it comes to layout. initially I sorted my existing pictures in three broad categories, some months later I rearranged them (eg. changed what I called initially “urban/industrial” to “street life”. This is easily done as you can change the attributes in a bulk. Recently I created a new page “portfolio” where I put five similiar pictures in a row. Once your work is collected and presented in that format you can then go the next step and send series of pictures to magazines or exhibition places.”
      Just my five cents 😉 Best, Adrian”

  31. Thanks David for the stimulating topic. The one thing that has released me was a workflow by ….. name will come to me which was to start a new catalogue in LR for each shoot. This simplified the process of importing a pre formatted workflow as a collection. So each pass is a binary – yes or know. That way I have found that I take a 2000 frame shoot down to 40-20 in one night. I know the gurus talk about having one catalog – but naming each catalogue appropriately – enables me to still find the separate shoots. That way for instance I have also started to understand what I like to shoot – the style I have – I can collect the best of each shoot to begin to build that portfolio. Many outcomes from this – another one is that having done the edit I have become more efficient in processing as I am just working on the photos I really like and getting them to a standard where I can print or post to the world.

    Looking forward to what have next to say on this topic. Max Stewart

    1. Author

      I’ll offer up 2 reasons why I would be cautious to approach my work this way, Maxwell. First, one catalogue means I have one LRCat file to make sure is clean and backed up, not many. But also when dealing with many catalogues there can be no communication between them. So, if you want to do a book from across multiple catalogues, it’s much trickier. A retrospective in which you work with 10 years work of images? Painful, and almost impossible. Especially if you want to put them all in one place and develop them with some consistency. If it works for you, great, but my advice is one large, very well organized catalog or library followed with the use of Collections. Just my 2 cents worth. I did multiple catalogues for years and it was nothing but a great big giant headache.

  32. Hi David, thanks for your email it couldn’t have come at a better time as I’m about to go through the last 4 months of images for a personal photo project today. I love your idea of choosing only the best instead of getting hung up on rating images. I get stuck knowing where to go once I’ve chosen the best images. I stopped using social media and my project goal is an exhibition in a year’s time but knowing what edits to do without specific short term goals keeps me stagnant so I tend to just choose my best images and leave it at that. Any tips on what to do next would be fantastic! Really looking forward to your next email. Thanks, Chris

    1. Author

      HI Chris. Sounds like you said it yourself. You need some specific short term goals. How many images will be in the show? What’s the theme? How will you sequence them? Lots there to keep you thinking and playing. Then there are test prints and all the many decisions about presentation. One step at a time, my friend.

  33. Hi David Many thanks for a useful email – I have never before thought about what I am going to do with my photos and like the photographers you mentioned they sit in external hard drives lonely and forgotten – I would like to hear more about how to use them what is a monograph and how else could I think of using them – look forward to the next email Kye

    1. Author

      Hi Kye – A monograph is a book made on a theme. If you’ve been getting my emails for a while you’ve seen them come to you as downloadable PDFs – the last one was my Savannah monograph, about 40 images all neatly laid out in digital book form that is easily shared and viewed on devices from iPhone to tablets to desktops.

  34. Thank you David, confirms to me that I have made a very small start, but I think your plan hits the nail on the head and can be implementable by everyone, especially me, thanks again!

  35. Hi David,
    Great article, I try to download a mornings shoots that afternoon or evening at the latest. I usually remember a couple of wildlife scenarios that I want to look for. I’ve cut back a little on wild shots and try not to shoot stuff running away anymore. I use the Lightroom Cloud and typically select interesting sequences for review later. I’ll grab my iPhone during TV commercials and rate and sort for what I want to edit later. I do final edits back on my laptop and again before submitting to my club for competitions. As an old film photographer who recently got into wildlife I’m still conservative when I hit the shutter.

  36. I really enjoyed this video — I read the transcript in email first, and then watched you perform it, which was way more engaging. For me, there seems to be a period of percolation after a major shoot. Short assignments get in the mix and sometimes the images from a long trip get sidetracked. Case in point: I shot a lot of images on a recent sail around French Polynesia. It was perhaps the first trip I’ve taken where the principal goal was NOT to come back with photographs, but rather to enjoy the trip and our friends. Everybody on the boat shot pictures and posted them on a shared site in Apple Photos. A couple of the amateurs had a really good eye, and I found myself holding back from posting anything at all for fear of judgement before doing an edit. I didn’t have a laptop, and doing an edit in Lightroom Mobile was challenging.
    Returning to the studio, I had some keepers, and a lot of video, intermingled with iPhone snapshots from my phone. Work and other projects got in the way, and those images, and some other specific shoots are waiting until I have some free time to look at them again.
    I find that I like to put some space between the initial edits and the final output. On the French Polynesia trip, I know I want to do a monograph to share amongst the other folks on the boat, and perhaps a video as well. In the past ten years, I find that shooting to gather raw material for fine art prints, composites, video and other outputs is just half the battle. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about how you approach this task.

    1. David- This truly resonated with me. I really was just thinking of how intimidated and guilty I felt for not getting through all my Kenya images from last September… I had gone through the images, and picked a few as you noted, that really struck me right away and processed to put on my website. Then I rated them (I give anything worth considering for editing a 3, then give it a 4 if it wows me). Then after the first go through I go and edit almost all the 3’s. And it is overwhelming. I am extremely excited to hear your tips for how to handle images and how not to feel guilty for not processing all those 3’s… Thanks, as always, for your insight and willingness to share! -Tracy

      1. Author

        Don’t feel guilty, Tracy! The 3’s are your sketches. You owe them nothing. Their job was to get you to the good stuff. Don’t waste your time. Just look for the best of the best, deal with those.

  37. Wonderful introduction.
    How many edits—cullings—do you perform before you proceed to preparation for output to the web, printing, etc.?

    1. Author

      Sometimes just one or two, sometimes by the time my work gets out there it’s 4 or 5 passes. There’s no formula, just a principle: more edits in smaller chunks with time between them.

  38. Hello David. First I’ve been following you for quite some time & although I’ve wanted to “interact” previously (you crack me up plus offer great info), I just haven’t. This conversation is spot on for me in-the-moment as I am attempting to pull together/curate collections (still somewhat without a purpose).

    I do feel compelled to thank you for the Sunday Sermon (those prior & the laughs)! Thinking in terms of projects/purpose before a trip – will undoubtedly help me with travel photos. Purpose is important in all of life, eh?

    Thirty days in Kenya must have been amazing & glad to hear that you are loving your new camera. 🙂

  39. My problem is that I can’t edit on my laptop (I know, buy a new one). Sharpness is something I can only judge on my big monitor screen at home and that is step one for my editing. Binary. I do look at them in the field to see if there is a problem, like the unsharpness problem I had last month with a different camera than I was used to. Once I’m done culling unsharp and uninteresting images, I like to let them cure for a while to let the sentimentality wear off. Too much of what I invested (in energy, time, tears) in taking that image are still there. I am much more ruthless with each week that passes. Maybe the new 45 MP camera will help (if it ever arrives). I can factor hard drive space into the equation. Like being sponge-worthy on Seinfeld. The last edit is the hardest; is it great, yes or no.

    1. Author

      Don’t worry about the laptop. Do your field edits based on the emotion, the composition, the mood. Make your picks. Then when you get home do the critical work and if the frame you chose isn’t sharp enough go looking for one that’s better. My laptop screen is small, hides some details, and isn’t calibrated, so I always do subsequent edits at home looking for the technical stuff. I find this helps. One part of the editing process is done on the field, another pass or two done at home. For me this is much faster and lets me pay attention to the task at hand with the tools at hand.

      1. Hi David
        Many thanks for the great blog, as always. Allow me a follow-up question to your “first editing in the field”. I understand you transfer the pictures from the camera to your laptop in the evening and then undertake the first selection there. So far, so good. But how does this first selection then transfer to your home desktop PC for the second rounds? Do you transfer the LR catalogue from your Laptop to your PC before and after your travels? Thanks for further elaboriting on this in a future blog. Best regards, Adrian

        1. PS: I must add that work on LR classic on my desktop and have not really tried how it interacts with the mobile versions, but maybe this is the solution?
          thanks and best regards, Adrian

        2. Author

          Hi Adrian – Thanks for chiming in on this and with some of the other readers’ comments. Much appreciated. You’ve asked a good question. Here’s how I do it. I do my field work, do my edits, and when I go home I select all those images and choose the File > Export as catalog which I put on the same external hard drive I’ve been using in the field. It’s just an LRCat file so it’s small. Don’t export negative files, they’re already on that drive. Then plug that drive into my main computer with Lightroom open to my main working catalog and then choose File > Import from Another Catalog and choose the catalog (LRcat) file that you made minutes ago when you exported as catalog. Specify where you want those image files all to go, and LR will pull in the images to your chosen location but with all ratings, flags, labels, keywords, and collections, etc. It’s pretty amazing. Does that answer it? Give it a try, you’ll see how easy it is.

  40. That’s a great article that gets right to the point of an ongoing issue for me.
    I find it essential to do some significant selection and editing as I go. Looking at a days shooting that night also helps me decide what I will shoot on the next day.
    My big question. Do I need full Lightroom with plenty of processing grunt available to me to do this? ie., do I need a laptop with a fair bit of power plus some portable memory storage . Or. Can I get away with something like a higher end tablet while I travel and mark my keepers and discards and keep the processing until I am home with a bigger computer?
    I like the idea (and I do it already) of immediately selecting the photos that I know will be my big numbers. I do this and then do a little PP of them while on the road.
    It is the next couple of tiers where I have problems. While going through a shoot for the first time and marking the big winners, I fairly ruthlessly discard what I’m confident I don’t want- I want to reduce the volume of what I am wading through.
    Then I go through them again. Second time around (with the now reduced numbers) I’m looking at the shots that didn’t get my first approval. This time I am especially looking for shots where cropping will give me a better shot with later PP. I also look at sequences intended for panoramas (I do a few of these) and I’ll stitch them into a single image and decide if it’s a keeper. At the same time, on the second run through, I again do lots of discarding.
    How much backing up ? How much do I share with friends as I travel?
    I keep all SD cards with all my original shots until I am home . Just in case what I have been doing on my laptop and plug in storage is lost. SD cards are easy to carry on me in planes. On my laptop and plug in storage, the whole trip will have been kept as edited as I go on a new LR catalogue. Once home, the new edited travel catalogue is amalgamated with my main master catalogue.
    To return to my original question. I need a new laptop OR a powerful tablet OR a new travel system. I’m considering an Apple M1 Air. It seems to have the grunt I think I need with the minimum size weight. Perhaps a tablet with plug in storage and do less editing as I go? Just use it to store; to discard: to identify what will be given more attention back home?

  41. Hi David.
    So glad you’ve brought up this topic. I often feel overwhelmed when I come home from taking photos, but I generally make myself upload them into light room immediately. I go with my gut and reject as I scroll through.
    But what I hate is when I prevaracate over 2 similar ones, and I suspect if I had an end result in mind, like a book, I’d be able to make that decision quicker. So I shall try that approach, and look for the relationships and connections between the images instead.
    Looking forward to your next post!
    Thanks for always sharing your experience and wisdom!

  42. Thanks for your inspiration, David. I have just put together my first monograph. Partly to learn a new publishing software and partly to go through the process of deciding which images belong (which is the hardest part for me), what to say about them, and how to organize them so they flow cohesively. It took awhile but what a worthwhile learning curve. Recently, my “keeper” rate has dropped because I am being more critical of my work and, as you said, how many iterations of the same subject does one really need? But the ones that are kept, ahhhhhhh!

    1. Author

      WHoot! Congratulations! I love hearing that people are beginning to make monographs. Sounds like you’re making some wonderful strides! Forget the keeper rate. A good keeper rate means your standards aren’t high enough or you’re not taking enough risks! 😉

  43. Ah, I remember when I went on a few safaris many years ago and averaged about one film (36) per day. All that money buying film & paying to get it developed on our return home. Then, sifting through for only about one film’s worth of prints – the kid next door getting loads more for his school project LOL.
    And, it was such a frustration to put in 800iso film for evening / early morning but then needing 200iso film during the day & not quite finishing a complete roll.
    I guess, now 25 years later (including 20 without a camera), that same approach largely stays with me – OK, sometimes I fire short bursts these days. But, I still think “is the shot worth taking” more often than not before pressing the shutter. So, a lot of my editing is done right there and then.
    I like editing each day at a time – picking the best few from each day. However, IF I ever had 30k to go through then I’d quickly get rid of 90% & then get rid of another 90% on a 2nd pass, and then much more carefully pick the best 30 for some post processing. I shoot raw + jpeg, use the smaller files for culling, then process the corresponding raw files for completion.

  44. Spot on David. Looking forward to the conversation I need to hear it. Thanks

  45. My process is similar to yours in some ways, and isn’t similar to yours in other ways.

    If I’m on a trip, I don’t take my laptop. I don’t do daily edits or make selections. Then again, the mass of images I import after a trip doesn’t overwhelm me. If it did, I think this is excellent advice to do a daily edit/selection.

    When I do import my images, I do an initial selection – similar to yours. While I rate them either 4 or 5 stars, that 4 or 5 stars means it’s a yes. 3 stars means it’s a maybe – there may be something there that I’m not currently seeing that would make for a compelling image, and no rating means it’s a hard pass. Then I leave the images alone. I don’t edit them, don’t look at them, nothing. I’ll do this for anywhere from a week to a few weeks before I revisit the images.

    At that point, I’ll look at the “yes” images (the 4’s and 5’s) and further cull down those images to select which ones are truly worthy of the time to process. This isolation from the images helps provide some emotional distance from the images and helps remove the potential upgrading of an image based on the emotional feelings of the moment, vs the true aesthetics of the image. Too often, for me anyway, the emotional experience of the moment can cause me to feel an image is better than it actually is, and this separation for some time helps remove that. Now, in the processing of the images I choose to process, I return to that emotional feeling as best I can. The importance here is the separation from that emotional experience in culling or editing the images to be edited.

  46. I hated to edit because I needed to be near a computer. Once I got onto Lightroom mobile, I could edit anywhere on my phone screen. I know how photographers swear by Lightroom CC/Desktop.

    The desktop WAS the problem. In any case, Lightroom mobile and desktop can work together, so that you can have the best of both worlds.

  47. Similar thoughts, different technique.

    Everything gets imported into ipad Lightroom and get three stars too start. ThenI go quickly through them and change the ratting to either two or four. If any require special processing (PANO or focus stack, for example) I color them red.. When I get home the four star images go into collections organized in some way (date, or city of some other logical grouping) the ref ones too into their own collection, to be dealt with later.

    Then I go through the collections looking for the ones with potential to get edited into five star images and mark them as such.

    That’s where the editing begins.

  48. 30,000 images. Yikes! I’m new to digital photography, and I know very little about post processing. I may crop just a bit, adjust colors a very small amount, and that’s it. I’d love to learn an adopt a newer, more efficient system.


  49. Hi!
    I’ll share my routine:
    I am not a professional. I do regular family shoots, at home or on holidays.
    Each day, during or after each shoot, I take the time to erase all the “it’s sure it’s NO” from my sd card directly on my camera. I am very careful about composition. If it is not to my liking in the tumbnail view, I don’t keep it. Once a day, if there is really a stand out one, and I don’t want to wait to share it with friends, I send it to Darkroom app on my phone. I do a simple edit and post it. Then at the end of holidays, or once a week, I transfer pics on Capture One. Then I do another selection. I mark the best and only edit those one. This is the longest step. Because if for a scene, I took 5-6 pictures varying angle, distance, aperture… I have to select only one or two pics to avoid repeat myself.
    Then I edit the best one. Pretty fast because I have organized my tools for my workflow and I only use one camera and one lens (40mm) when I shoot digital.

  50. This is a highly relevant to me. I cannot exhibit my work in any way until I cull the ones I like from the herd. Making a yes-no decision right away lets me select with a mind that is fresh with my motive for making the images in the first place. When interviewing a subject in sociology it is imperative to make notes right after the interaction. The longer I wait the more detail is lost to me. It is the same with making an image.

    Thank you! I will follow with interest.

  51. Always thoughful. As I am progressing into my photography where I want to be good at the moment of the shot, not after, your thoughts here is right on what I need. At time I was shooting as crazy keeping in mind that I will decide which photos are the winners. I plenty agree with your say about knowing what I will do with my photo. Where I will exposed them? How many time I came back from a 1 hour shoot with 500 photos and they are in the computer after years. They didn’t have an intention at first and I don’t know which one are a good value.
    Thanks for that video it is really enlighting.

  52. Hi David,

    As always, you’re inspiring and on target! Your thoughts on editing with the intended output in mind really resonates with me. Recently I started thinking about groupings of images and how I might use them rather than stand-alone wall prints. I haven’t yet let go of the wall print being the pinnacle accomplishment, but I have started thinking more about the story in which my images were made. This is changing my editing mindset. Looking forward to your future thoughts on editing.

  53. Thank you David,
    A camera club enthusiast for many years, initially like many a wildlife and landscape photography, my photography has recently suffered a huge shock. Change has been enforced by gradually increasing immobility. Unable to walk far or stand long, landscape and wildlife photography have become impossible. I changed the obvious, DSLR to Mirrorless, and about that I have no complaints. More difficult is identifying that which I am able to photograph. Having to think in advance about this and plan carefully, transport and movement, has dramatically reduced the number of images I make. I tend to know what images I am going to shoot and what I am going to do with them. This all of course helps restrict the time needed to edit. I will also stop rating images as you suggest. That seems to sit well with the approach I am adopting. I want to drastically reduce my time in front of my computer and simplify life as I have been retired for some years now. I am only taking images for myself and enjoy telling stories. I still have difficulty identifying those stories and that difficulty increases as my mobility decreases. I think adopting other aspects of your suggestions will also help. I am sorry if I have written too much but I wanted to encourage others who might experience similar enforced changes to their photography, to confirm how helpful some of the changes you suggest have already been, and to pick yours, and any others’ brains about what genres of photography might be most suitable for more mature (i.e. elderly) photographers. Currently I try street, documentary and can manage some local charitable event photography, but only if the event conforms to certain characteristics. Thus I can photograph concerts in our local Norman Abbey from a seat in the front row! Any suggestions as to projects, genres, and editing gratefully received.
    With many thanks,

  54. How do you come up with these insanely pertinent lines of thought???? No answer, please.
    When I spent three months in Europe and one month in Alaska, I made about three travel videos, digital stories, a week, and when my Mom was alive and visiting, I did daily one minutes day in the life videos of her.
    But I’m not doing video now. I’m taking photographs.
    I go out for a hike every day and easily return with 50-100 photos.
    I flip through, edit half dozen, post to social, put a good one in an album for later, and stick a fork in me, I’m done.
    What are the nature and mechanics of your projects?
    What is a monograph, actually, and how do you make one and then what do you do with it?
    What are you calling a print collection?
    Some of us have no idea what the potential projects even are, so feel free to spend some time spelling out the basics.

    1. I would add that plenty of us don’t use either PhotoShop or LightRoom (I have Affinity but rarely use it because I don’t really know how and don’t seem to need it to be successful ) as there are so many much easier app options. So speaking in generic terms rather than brand specific is a suggestion…

      PS Referring back to a recommendation you made much earlier to read Seth Godin on marketing. You must be his IAA, but YOUR IAA certainly isn’t. You can both write and think your way in circles around him. He has a harried, bullet-point voice. Your voice slows down and just starts systematically unpacking a topic in layer after rich layer. He is boring. You are interesting. Just sayin’!

    2. Author

      Sandy, you’ve been getting my digital PDF monographs for years – it’s a book made on a theme – usually a smaller book. All the PDFs I send out after my trips are monographs. We need to get you acquainted with Lightroom. 🙂

  55. Pingback: Better Editing, Better Photographs - Ahmed blogs

  56. Thank you for these comments, David. I also find the daily quick edits when downloading and backing-up the day’s images works well for me. I really appreciate your advice that we should be thinking more what we are going to do with the photos we are capturing, i.e., to be more intentional about the ultimate output both when photographing and editing.
    Do you use specific software for editing and how do you “mark” those images that “sing”?

  57. David, what works for me is what I call “ruthless culling.” It involves screening the shots on the card before I download them, and (this is the important part for me), returning to them on different days to get those 5 or 6 shots that really stand out (for travel photography, that number grows substantially). The letting them sit overnight after a culling session for me is critical; somehow my brain is processing things subconsciously overnight and I can the take fresh looks the next day. Then I process. Love your stuff and your emails. They have taught me a lot. Thanks

  58. Great discussion. I find myself equivocating between two similar images rather just reacting to which is the “wow”. Your talk has been very helpful. Thank you

  59. Bonjour toujours pas de traduction en Français dommage.
    Paillard Guy

  60. David This is a problem that I hear so many times from so MANY BEGINNING photographers including myself. Where and how do you start with Adobe Lightroom Classic. I have had so many people tell me how and each one tells me a different way. The Last person that tried to help me was the HEAD EDITOR from CBS ( he claimed to be an expert on the subject ) and as a result I lost over 4000 photos. Do you start your culling in camera or on a computer? After culling do you transport them to a folder on a external hard drive or do you send them to a folder on the desk top and from there do you put them in catalogs or sub catalogs. I have been told so many different ways that I am totally confused and I heard this same complaint from so many beginning photographers and it ends up they put there cameras on the shelf and their it stays. No one has written a precise article on how to start and it seems as though every one has their own way of starting. Total confusion. Donald Goeschl. PS LOVE YOUR ARTICLES

  61. As, usual, very salient comments and suggestions. Thank you. Because I get so overwhelmed at the thought of editing the images on my SD card, I have learned to be more “selective” even before I grab my camera. Much prefering film to digital, I do have some built in restraint given film is more expensive and by design trains one to create images more thoughtfully. Your article reinforces the philosophy that “less is more.”

  62. Editing is my nightmare! I’ve been shooting for 50 years and therefore, having learned with 36 Velvia rolls, I don’t shoot much, because I think about it first. But when I return after (for example) 1 month in the Andes in Chile Argentina and Bolivia, I find myself with 3000 images. I find it very easy to delete the 2% which is worth nothing. But I struggle a lot to extract 50 images that I consider the top. If I redo the choice after a year I choose completely different photos. If I let another photographer choose from my photos, he will certainly choose different photos from the ones I chose. How to do?

  63. After shooting film for 40+ years, I just recently transitioned to a digital kit. So this topic is very applicable for me. The freedom to “play” and shoot many more images is exciting and liberating, but knowing the back end work in post is daunting. If the quest is 8-12 “keepers” this process is simply, a ton of work. So I still try to shoot intentionally, but the reality is I will need a process to keep the “fun” in the hobby!

  64. Thank you David for this topic. I will spend this week thinking about selects and what to do with them. My most recent adventure is to think of making the little photos I take on morning walks into postcard prints. Not big and important but noting the day’s gift. Thanks so much for your help.

  65. Hi David,

    Many thanks for this installment with some great advice and practicalties !. I hope that somewhere in the future you’ll do one on backing up with the same practical tips ?. I especially struggle sometimes with slow internet while on the road or with equipment / software not behaving as it should.

    Looking forward to your tips in any case .

  66. Hi David- I love the idea of thinking in terms of sequences or collections. I am not sure I have done that. I do pretty much everything else you describe-daily passes, quick edits to pick images that jump out to me, I also flag obvious throwaways.
    Please, say more about thinking in terms of sequences or groups. I do print my work, so I think about what images I might like to show.

  67. One of the most important things I learned from you, David, is the power of collections – a monograph, a book. I have slowly come to realize how important it is to think about the images I make in terms of their relationship to other images rather than making this image, the next one and the next without any context in which to place them. A single image that I love does give me pleasure but nothing like putting it together with ten or fifteen others that open it into a much more complex and compelling story.
    Though I take pictures throughout the year, my wife and I take a month long trip every August when we disappear together on our annual back country canoe trip. Photography is central to that experience and I usually come home with 10,000 images or more. And yes, it has been and still is overwhelming to sit down and go through them. I have tried to adopt your approach and only flag those that really stir something in me and make me feel like, “that guy seems to know what he’s doing!” I don’t have a timeline and spend a lot longer with my post processing than is probably necessary and I used to feel that that was fine – after all, I’m not a professional so what do I care? But I’m starting to feel differently and really do want to move a little more quickly and especially, more confidently in choosing my images. I have come to realize that, in fact, it’s not so much choosing images that holds me back, as putting off starting post processing for fear of how or if I can pull it off. That really is my biggest block – holding back because I’m afraid I’ll miss something and won’t do justice to an image that I actually do love. I can’t believe I’m the only person who struggles with this specifically so I hope you will address it at some level in future presentations. So, I’m very much looking forward to your next couple of videos on this topic. Thanks.

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