A Better Edit Makes Better Photographs

In Lightroom & Workflow, Resources, The Craft, Thoughts & Theory, Tutorials &Technique by David71 Comments

Take a few minutes to watch the video above or, if you’re more of a written word person, keep reading.

When I came home from Kenya last year, 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 of 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 five years ago who still hasn’t done a complete edit of his work. Five years later, 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. So 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 few good shots,  pushing some sliders around in Lightroom, and throwing them onto Instagram before moving on to 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 the 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 article 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 more creative photographers when we take it out again.

The first question I want to ask (on your behalf) is this:

“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 image deserves 2, 3, or 4 stars slows the process. Because I’m looking for a 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 cleaning. 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 now think in terms of bodies of work and collections and sequences, and that has also 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.

Those three ideas alone have made my editing simpler: looking only for the best and not worrying about the others, doing smaller bite-sized edit sessions, and consider your output, which allows you to think not only about which images are best, but best for what.

I’d love to hear from you about 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.

PS – I’m working in Kenya for the month and having a devil of a time with getting online. I’ll do my level best to reply to everything but please forgive me if I don’t get to everyone’s comments or emails. Doing my best, I promise!


  1. I hope a year-and-a-half after your post isn’t too late to ask a question… When i do a first or second pass at the images in my catalogue, I often find myself zooming in on part of an image and discover a better photo lurking there. (Yes, i do need to get closer before i press the shutter!) But when i’m culling images, how do i avoid going crop-crazy? Perhaps it’s just a matter of being more discerning during the initial look? Thank you.

    1. Not too late at all., Suzanne. With time you’ll get better at framing the image in the camera. Or you’ll get a longer lens. 😂 But is “going crop crazy” a bad thing? I mean, yes, you probably want to get better at composing with the camera, and you’ll get better quality out of your images, but if this is what it takes for you right now to get to the images that make you happy, then crop away. Better to do that than stand on someone else’s idea of how you should practice your craft and never make the images you want. Maybe I don’t see the problem. If it’s important to you, and you’re aware of it, eventually you’ll get it closer to right in camera.

  2. Hi, David ~ I’m arriving to this party late, so if somewhere in the volumes of your gracious responses you have already addressed this, my apologies for having you repeat it.

    How do you logistically handle to arrange/gather/store together the images that are destined for monographs, those headed to web galleries, those for a particular client or for a gallery or show? Do the originals always stay in their “home” folder aka date/location they were shot and then copies put into appropriate end output folders? For me it is a logistical nightmare and I always end up with so many duplicates in numerous folders that my hard drives bulges! :>)
    Thank you in advance for your reply.
    Blessings ~

    1. Author

      Hi Kathleen – Your questions are one of the reasons I created the Beyond The Shutter course I’ve opened for enrollment this week – https://www.beyondtheshuttercourse.com/ – but the simple answer is the Collections feature in Lightroom. Lightroom allows me to keep all my images in a simple folder structure and then create collections that include any of those images – so I have collections for prints, monographs, web galleries, and a bunch of other things without ever having to move images into different folders, create a million copies, etc. Best thing I can say is check out Adobe Lightroom, and if you’re already using it then try the Collections function. And if you’d like to learn more, I’d be thrilled if you joined us for Beyond The Shutter (enrollment is open until the end of this Friday, February 03) More information here: https://www.beyondtheshuttercourse.com/

  3. One of my challenges is knowing which photo is the BEST in a series, the one to bother spending time with.
    I don’t feel like I’m always the best judge . . .
    Any tips

    1. Author

      Hi Dolores,

      You are not alone in this. Editing down to our keepers takes time to become proficient at. It helps greatly if we know what we’re selecting that work for. That’s one hurdle. The other is knowing what we like in terms of our tastes in composition or choice of moment. This too takes time. One thing that might help is finding a more experienced photographer who knows you and asking for their help when you get down to a loose selection, and then asking WHY they prefer one image over another. For much of my own work it’s often just a better balance in frame, or a stronger moment. Sometimes it’s as simple as one frame telling a stronger story or having more emotional connection to me. My big rule is this: if it doesn’t make me lean forward and it doesn’t excite me, I don’t choose it. For me an image needs to be a strong “I love this!” or it doesn’t get selected from. The rejects teach me a lot.

  4. David,
    Your last three posts have brought the biggest difference between my film photography of 35++ years ago and my transition to digital into better focus for me. I have found myself doing some of the things that you have been recommending spontaneously: most notably revisiting my digital contact sheets multiple times to re-assess my images, my edits, and the role that each image might play in some of the projects that I have started to develop. I have been editing my RAW files in Darkroom, and I always choose to save both my edits and the original files. This habit, combined with a conscious effort to photograph with bodies of work in mind, (always on Manual mode), has definitely changed the way that I approach my subjects, my edits, and made my efforts much more intentional.
    I have just signed up for “Beyond the Shutter”, and I am very much looking forward to continuing to improve my thought processes and my editing process, and to continue to find my “voice” after the camera is “back in the bag”.
    Your positive attitude and your encouragement for all of us to “shoot like ourselves” is very much appreciated.
    Thanks! And very much looking forward to learning more.


    1. Author

      Thank you so much for this, Paul. Sorry the reply is so late in coming. I’m in Kenya this month and the internet has been a constant issue until the new camp at which we arrived last night. I’m out in the field most of the day with an astonishing number of rhinos but wanted to say thank you so much for your kind words and your trust in me. It means the world!!

  5. Hi David

    Really sound advice here, really enjoyed reading it.

    At previous projects i have had similar volumes as you mention here. I did a ballet project for 18 months and this resulted in a huge amount of photos. I could have between 1000 and 3000 images from one day. This was a drag boiling down to 100. Small edits didn’t seems to work for me. The purpose of the day was on the other hand clear, meaning easy criterias.

    Today i am retired and only do personal projects (the best thing ever). Working with eg 4×5’ camera and film gives me around 4-8 photos on a busy day. This is fairly easy to manage.

    My proces today is as follows.
    I use primarily 6×6 film, having around 120 images pr day.
    I make sure that i have really clear criterias for the editing.
    I edit one film at a time (12 or 24 images), this is very swift.
    I stack up the choosen one in collections. These collections are edited when they gets too big.

    Reading your post here is very useful inspiration for sharpening up my proces. Thank you.

  6. Perhaps it is because i do not have any clients – just a handful of people who can sometimes see and get my printed images. Sort of personal artistic aspirations, perhaps.
    You have clients and mileages can differ…
    Anyways 30 000 images after a trip sounds more or less terrifying. 30 frames / sec helps of course … But why ?
    Some times ago i could come home with some thousand images. Now i try to concentrate more and try to do some thinking before i push the button. If i’m spending a day on some island in the Archipelago National Park (Southern Finland) it sometimes happens, that i’m just stunned by the beauty of it all and make only some dozen images – and at home i delete 50% of them and edit perhaps five… I try to push the shutter button when i know there is something i can capture and perhaps print on paper later.

    1. Author

      I think it depends what you photograph, Kari. 30K images when photographing wildlife for a month is not unusual, and there are some excellent tactics for managing the edit and making it less terrifying – like stacking for example. If I’m in Venice, though, it’s very different, and 30K images would be unnecessary. I look at this work like sketching and the more sketches I make (within reason) the more likely it is that I will create work I really love.

      1. Oh boy, this has been a learning process for me and I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. I’m a high school sport photographer and it is so easy to blast the shutter, especially when I shoot an unfamiliar sport. I have the demand to post game photos within 24 hours on social media, then the rest on a share site usually within the week. I want images that capture the feeling of the game without embarrassing the students. It can be overwhelming, so I am looking forward to the rest of this series. Also, did I mention this is a side hustle to my day job.
        As an aside, on a shoot, I met a guy who works for a big sport company ($$$) and he boasted taking thousands of shots and using an app to do the first sift through the images. To prove his point, he started taking rapid-fire photos when the action started up. I swear he was shooting 1000 to my 1! I definitely don’t want to be that guy…
        Thanks for the timely article!

      2. Of course i understand the way you work with wildlife ( if they are really wild). If i`m lucky and happen to meet a bunch of seals resting on some islet, the action is not very spectacular. Some stay and continue snoring and the others go fast under water and just swim under my boat… perhaps i’m just envious because i do not visit Africa…

  7. The takeaway for me is: “consider your output”! While loving photography, also editing and the creative process, I often get lost in this, because my focus is on the images, not on that, what I could/should/will do with them. The final product. This change of focus makes throwing away all but the best images much lighter and easier. Thanks a thousand times for this impulse (and all the other thousands before, of course!)
    BR from Norway,

    1. Author

      You’re welcome! Knowing what my outputs are, knowing what I want to DO with my photographs, makes the editing so much more meaningful. And, as you said, much easier. Best to you from Kenya!

  8. Here is my process – open each image in turn in Lightroom as full screen, mark it either an X (reject) or 1 star. Then open all one stars and do a basic edit – 2 stars. Then (now I am very familiar with the set of images), choose which ones to do full LR edit, and mark them as 3 star. Then take each 3 star (decide on how I want to edit in Photoshop), take each into Photoshop for “manipulation” – eg curves, selection, removal of objects etc.). Those I do not take into Photoshop get moved down to a 2 star.
    Once out of Photoshop – I have my 3 stars and am ready to use them

    1. Author

      Sounds like you’ve got a system that works for you, Michael! There must be at least as many good ways to edit down to our keepers as there are ways to make those photographs in the first place. 🙂

  9. I would be a photo hoarder if I didn’t sore through them right away. While I use my photos primarily for painting reference, I try to keep as little as possible, because that still ends up amounting to a lot.

    After each excursion, I go through three passes. The first, anything out of focus or a useless shot. The second, I ask, “would I ever print this or use it for reference?” Because a bad photo can still be a good reference.

    The third pass, “Seriously, will I EVER print this or use it for reference?” 🙂

    1000 shots quickly becomes a couple of dozen.

    Always love to read your posts, David!

    1. Author

      Hey Patrick! Thanks for chiming in. I think you’re a great example of someone who knows exactly what he needs the photographs for and so you can approach the edit really mindfully, without the burden of “I need to keep every damn image, you know, just in case!” Regards from Kenya!

  10. Thanks David, this was an additional “push” to lesson 10 of the “Voice” workshop (great recommendable workshop!):
    To have in mind, what I want to do with the photographs after shooting triggers additional thoughts during shooting.
    And from my experience I FULLY agree that editing timely after shooting in small break downs is effective and an important part of the “photography building” because I almost never do 1-time-editing. I need to run an editing cycle 2-3 times and during this time there is also an emotional development which leads to photos I am satisfied with.

    1. I have just recently come out of that phase of shooting EVERYTHING! and with various techniques. Started to consider what my actual genre or interest really is. Fortunately your course on finding your voice, crossed my path which helped a lot. In Feb off to India for the 3rd time and hope I can now stick to my intentions of focusing on a plan of what I want to shoot (and edit) this time round having been there before, and what I want to do with these photos. So wish me luck and please post any further suggestions innorder for me to stick to my new resolution! Thx for the inspiration.

      1. Author

        Hi Trix – I’m thrilled to hear the Photographer’s Voice was helpful to you. Have a FANTASTIC time in India! It’s been a couple years now and I am dying to get back there. Wishing you a wonderful adventure!

  11. So very true. I appreciate especially your suggestion that we think of what we actually want to do with our photos. Is it a book, a blog post, a club competition, or??? That would indeed impact how I choose and edit my photos. Thanks!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, David! I have found that one simple idea so helpful. If we know what we’re choosing the images for – not only in terms of output but what we hope our images will accomplish – then it makes it easier to ask not only “which are my best images?” but “which are the best images for what purpose?”

  12. Hi David,

    Just read your article on edits. You are spot on.

    My workflow has evolved to this:

    I used to rate in LR. Is it a 3 or a 4? Maybe a 4 ½… A waste of time. Now I go through a shoot rating 1 star for “yes,” and rest without a star are given the heave ho. Later I will go round again. Sometimes days or weeks later. I use red in LR for printsblue blue for some other purpose. (6 for red, 9 for blue on keyboard.) Any that jump off my computer screen and grab me, a rare occurrence, I might share or use to some other purpose. I give these a red 5 star and they are picked up as such in a smart collection. Looking back over my older work, the 1,2,3,4,5 star workflow, I realize I have way way too many images that will never see the light of day. I’ve wasted a great deal of my life doing that in the old days.

    Your blog is one of the few I always enjoy, and alway learn from, sometimes to my head, and often to my heart.. Thanks a bunch!

    Peace and good health,

    Jan Armor

    1. Author

      Thank YOU, Jan. You just made my day (well, your comment and the hour I just spent with elephants in the fog here in Kenya – that was pretty epic!). It means the world to me to know that what I write and teach makes a tangible difference to people like you. Thank you!

      1. Hi David,
        Great to see that the issues you are raising in this series are clearly resonating with lots of people. I can also very much relate to the challenge of returning from a trip and having a mountain of images to work through. My wife and I recently returned from a fantastic month in British Columbia (your stomping ground David). It was a great trip and yes we came home to SD cards full of images. However little got done with the images while I was away so I have a mental note to improve the timing of that part of the workflow when we next travel.

        I could relate to Jan’s approach of using a simple star rating to do a first cull and allow the focus to go to a set of better images. In that sense, I think the stars can be a useful culling tool but not when you try and grade on a 5 point or heaven forbid a 10 point scale.

        I also like the concept of thinking about the end game. I have a colleague who specialises in organisational planning and his favourite phrase is ‘What does success look like’. That will depend on what you are setting out to do – is it be be some posts on social media, a digital or printed album of a great trip or a series of prints. As Stephen Covey once wrote in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ – “Begin with the end in mind” (I hope I am quoting him accurately). Giving thought to what I want to do with the images helps focus my mind at the time of capture and also when culling and post processing. Having one or more hard drives full of images is probably not the ‘end’ that would really drive the creativity of most photographers.

        Thanks David for exciting us to join you in this journey. I have enjoyed the first two articles in this series and look forward to further instalments and the thought provoking issues you will no doubt raise.

        Best wishes,
        Geoff (Melbourne, Australia)

  13. For travel, I seek to tell a story of my trip. My two criteria for Smugmug post of every trip are: do the images tell the story of the experience and what would a first-time viewer feel about that experience when viewing it on Smugmug. Second, I also now decide what images would be candidate for my annual calendar I gift to 25 friends each Christmas. To test the latter, my wife selects the 13 finalists from 30 or so candidate shots — that helps assure that those selected do not reflect my “insider” bias, but are rather evoke a positive 30-day experience for my 25 friends and relatives. Periodically viewing the selected posted images on Smugmug brings the trip back to me while saving them in the cloud.

    1. Author

      It sounds like you’ve got a pretty well considered and mindful approach, Lawrie. That’s uncommon. Many photographers are a little too reactionary in their edits and I think without some guiding questions (like yours) it’s really hard to make the best of the editing. Well done!

  14. The topic and the comments intersected with what is top of mind with my photography. I am struggling with nailing down a workflow system that will stand the test of time. I started using Lightroom about ten years ago and was so excited to get started that I didn’t think through how I wanted to approach the workflow. It has evolved into a Frankenflow that I want to completely restructure from start to finish into something consistent that I can live with for a long time. I find that a cluttered back end approach makes me not want to do the fun stuff (field work) because I know what will be waiting for me.

    What I’d like for a final outcome is a one page flow chart to reference that covers everything from importing, filing system, backing up, key wording, culling, collections, developing, exporting, printing, and sharing (along with which of these steps can and should be automated). Has anyone found an optimal process that they are happy with?

    1. Author

      You’re not alone, Steve! So many people end up in this position. The good news is that Lightroom makes it really easy to adapt to a new workflow and it’s not as scary a task as you might think. A few simple tweaks and some guiding questions can really help. Keep checking out the stuff I’m sending over the next two weeks, it might really help!

  15. Hey David,
    I have done quite a few African safaris along with a tiger safari in India and recently came back from the Pantanal in Brazil so I get the subject of this series all too well. Wildlife photography is addictive and my latest 2 weeks in Brazil generated 17k images. All our safaris are with a small group of friends and led by an amazing photo editor/photographer guide (Karine Aigner the 2022 Wildlife photographer of the year). I can’t over emphasize that the quality of the leader has an immense impact on the learning experience and how to edit. Bluntly as a beginner wildlife photographer i did not know how to effectively tell a wildlife story, proper composition, understanding the options for light, animal behavior so that you can anticipate the event before it happens, where to shoot from to make impactful images, etc, etc, etc. Its actually a lot like sports photography which I grew up with. When I look back at the images from my first trip to Tanzania I cringe as there are almost no keepers but now I know why.

    For wildlife trips there are tons of great photographers leading these adventures who are crappy teachers but I’ve found that actual photo editors cut through the BS and teach you why your masterpiece is crap. Tough love has real merit. If you can put aside your ego and absorb the input you can truly grow to start seeing and making better photographs. This is how i beleive you learn to edit.

    We set milestones during our trips. Every 3 days or so there is a photo review and critique of 5+ of your “best” images projected on a bed sheet on a mud wall or whatever we can cobble together. During each mid day break after lunch we have 3 hours to review, process and edit. At 1K per day that’s a lot to absorb in 3 hours but it does what you talk about in terms of identifying the best quickly. Beyond image analysis we use these sessions to discuss techniques and storytelling. It’s invaluable.

    Most of our group develops monographs or presentations for the local photo club and in my case my company has a brown bag lunch every other Friday which we view videos, discuss practice issues or present personal projects, etc. Your point in having a purpose motivates all of us to do something with the images beyond Instagram.

    I also never rate images. When i get home from an adventure it usually takes me months to process fully as i throw out the processing I did on the trip and start over with a large screen and the knowledge of what I have learned on the trip. What I knew about jaguars changed by day 6 vs day 1. Invariably some software update has happened in the months of processing so I use this as a means to refine my process. Perhaps I take too much time processing but what I am really trying to achieve is understanding in a less pressured environment of what worked and what didn’t and how to alter it for the next time. Unlike a professional that makes his living taking images I have a huge luxury to do this in my free time knowing my paycheck comes from 7:30-5 work five days a week. Karine our leader is always heading off to Nepal or Texas for another shoot so I recognize her process needs to be vastly different than mine. It’s important to know we are all motivated differently. For me the editing is the culmination of a successful image but challenges me to be experimental and helps direct ideas on my next shoot.

    Thanks again for a great article

    Best always David

    1. Author

      Wow, thanks for that, Charlie. There are a lot of little (and no so little) pearls of wisdom in what you just wrote. I love how patient your process is, and how you take it in stages and allow it to evolve. I’m working in Kenya right now, just finished 2 weeks and have 2 weeks to go. I just hit 18,800 images, with what I believe to be about 70 images that are worth more serious consideration when I get home. I love the thrill of seeing a body of work come together! Your trip to the Pantanal sounds amazing.

  16. I don’t think I’ve ever produced 30,000 images in a single year much less in 30 days! But I do have a family, a house to take care of, a cat, donate time to charities and so on. So the time editing down the relatively small amount of images I produce is still worth refining, making more efficient.

    Your presentation in the UW Certificate in Photography program was so impactful to me and several other students of that program. We still refer back to it and many of us have purchased your books, get your bi-weekly newsletter and attended your online classes since.

    For me the biggest epiphany on this topic was when you talked about determining how your images would be used, what the final product would be and letting that be your guide. I really worked on my feelings about this and discovered that I most enjoy telling a story with my photography, one that may someday be in printed form.

    That “discovery” has gradually re-shaped everything for me from my approach to subjects to the final product. I find stories everywhere and sometimes find it difficult where to spend my time because there are so many stories to tell.

    In post I use a variation on the “star rating” to cull my images, where each rating is a cut of the previous rating until I am down to what I consider the keepers, the ones that actually tell a story. The first cut is where I “lean in” as you say but also what contributes to telling the story. I’m pretty ruthless about editing and rarely need more than 3 stars.

    Depending on the story I may not always have the most stellar images in the final set but leaving those “lesser” images out would detract from the story. I sometimes find myself going back to the 1-star images or even those that were not initially selected at all to fill in gaps in the story I am trying to tell. I lay out storyboards over and over until I feel a story is being told then usually put it “in the drawer” to be taken out days or weeks later for additional review and refinement.

    In a rather large nutshell and minus backups and DAM that’s my workflow.

    Thank you, again and again, for the sharing of your insights and life experience. I’m better off for it and enjoy reading how others have benefited from it as well.

    1. Author

      Oh man, thank you so much for that, John. I had to laugh at your comment about not making even 30,000 images in a year and citing “I have a cat” LOL. I can only imagine how your little beastie might get in the way. LOL. To be clear I wouldn’t call this “producing” 30K images so much as engaging in a process that fits the subject – fast moving wildlife benefits from many more attempts and “sketch images” than street photography or portraiture might. But you’re right, no matter how many images we need to make to get to the best work, it’s worth the effort to consider what it will take for us to edit down to our keepers. Best to you from the Maasai Mara!

  17. This is a really helpful way to look at culling images. Absolutely, agree rating photos is a waste of time. i will start using this method today.

    1. Author

      To clarify, Charles, I don’t find rating images a strong approach, but there are some who use the ratings to indicate other things, so while I’m really glad you find this helpful, it could be that throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn’t what’s needed. Still, if being more binary helps (it sure does for me!) then I think you’ll save a lot of time and free yourself to be more focused on what you’re looking for. Best to you!

  18. I would love to see an example of one of your monographs. My biggest struggle is what to do with collections and, therefore, how to plan for them. Most of my photography is just memory keeping or creating works of art for the joy of creating something I find thrills me. What kinds of options and ideas do you have for being more intentional on collections—a lot of coffee table books with various collections in them? That feels like it would just eventually be clutter. No? I fall short when I think “what would I do with a collection of these images in order to be able to enjoy them?” I really feel like if I found a way to collect them everything else would click for me. I’m open to collections on the computer as well. A blog? That seems cumbersome. I’d love your thoughts. Thank you for this! It really spoke to me.

    1. Author

      Hi Kelli – I’m not sure how long you’ve been reading my emails (assuming you’re getting them) but I have sent links to these monographs out frequently as a gift to those who subscribe. They’re free to download for the first couple weeks, but if you’re wanting to look now, I have two collections you might consider looking at, and they’re only $20:


      What I love about collections is that they help me put my photographs into bodies of work (again, I think the monographs above would be really instructive here). Sure, you can make coffee table books, but you can also create slideshow/multi-media presentations, online galleries, or other digital presentations (like PDF monographs). Lots of ways to get your work into the world, whether it’s just for you and your family or for a much larger audience.

  19. This is a great topic. I love to travel and I shoot for different end games. I love to shoot to tell the story about our trip for a book or something. I also shoot for hopefully one or two I can put in a frame (Landscape or an animal). So I would like some suggestions on how to flag and export them. I have somewhat of a system but I end up exporting into multiple folders. Thanks all for your suggestions

    1. Author

      Hi Robin – If you’re using Lightroom the flagging is simple, and exporting is just as easy, though there’s no real need to keep your exports in different folders. Have you looked at using Collections inside Lightroom instead? If you’re not using something like Lightroom, I can’t recommend it highly enough for keeping everything organized.

  20. I really like your approach to editing. Maybe because I do it almost the same way. My first pass is also just a yes and no, but yes meaning anything that triggers me and might be a photo. The second pass is when I get more critical. Still only yes and no, but then looking for what is a good photo and discarding those that only hold a potential. I find the editing easy and not too time consuming. The hard part is writing captions and keywords, and I wonder if you will share some thoughts about that? Or maybe it just always will be time consuming?…

    1. Author

      Hi Otto! Yup, it’s always going to be time consuming. 🙂 But anything can be made more efficient. And sometimes the easiest way to do that is to ask which tasks you really need to be doing. For example: captions? keywords? I almost never do either. Once in a while for clients there is a need to do this, but these days I do almost no client work (rather, I am my own client). If you don’t need keywords or captions, not dedicating effort to creating them is huge time saver and you can put that energy elsewhere. 🙂

  21. Hi David, not sure about this comment, but here goes anyway, I don’t really have a purpose in mind when I’m out with the camera (either film or digital). Nor do I have a specific subject that I want to shoot. I walk with the camera and photograph whatever takes my fancy. I might have macro, landscape, abstract or all manner of other subjects on my recording medium. I enjoy taking the shots then they languish on/in my storage system forever, hardly ever seeing the light of day. Probably this is because I don’t think my photos would interest anyone, nor do I feel that they are good enough for any purpose. I look at computers for most of the day so the thought of spending hours in front of a computer looking at photographs to edit them only to probably end up with loads of storage and no images doesn’t feel like it’s worth doing. Am I missing something here?

    1. Author

      Hi Ian! Sorry for the late reply, I’m in Kenya and the wifi at the camp seems to be having a bad couple of days. I think this is a brilliant comment. Your question at the end: “am I missing something here?” is one only you can answer, but we all do things for different reasons. If you love photographing as a process, as a way of exploring the world and being more aware of what’s going on, or hell, even as a daily distraction, and that’s enough for you, then you’re probably in great company. But there are others who also find joy in creating bodies of work, editing, processing, and outputting. It’s all different ways of being creative and I find so much joy there that I find it almost impossible to imagine not feeling that. But it would be a mistake for me to say “yes, you’re missing something really wonderful” when, in fact, you might not be missing it at all. All you can do is try. And if outputting your work in some form doesn’t have the rewards for you that it does for me, but you love the camera work for its own rewards, then keep doing what you’re doing! 🙂

  22. First of all David thanks. I’m retired now and have decided to seriously become a better photographer, producing better photographs and edits. I don’t have clients, and I don’t plan, at least for now to sell photographs. My output so far has been posting to Facebook and Instagram. I think for me, at least for now my goal is to create my own website and to create books for my family. If you have any other thoughts, let me know. Thanks again.?

    1. Author

      Hi Bob, sorry this took a couple days, the wifi out here in the Kenyan bush can be a little unreliable. I think increasing your outputs to include books (digital or paper) and a nice website with different galleries would be an excellent next step. These conversations are an introduction to a video series I’m releasing next week that might be of real interest to you, so keep an eye open!

  23. I totally get your concept of “choose the best, leave the rest.” I have been doing that for about a year. My challenge is that most of my photography these days is client-based which means that when selecting I choose what speaks to me, but I also have to have some idea of what my client is going to like which can be challenging and increases the pool of the “first cut” of images. Typically I’m starting with 2000-3000 images and making the first cut to 200-300. My goal is typically 100-120 “proofs” with the hope of selling 30-50 images. If there is a way to do this more efficiently, I open to hearing it.

  24. Sunday, Jan 22

    Hi David and Other Fans,

    Your email (I thought) was a little different
    take on a subject that is much needed and
    (as you have done) needs to be addressed
    more often.

    My first “Comment” thoughts fall into several
    areas and I am interested in whether they generate
    any additional “comments” and what they turn out
    to be.

    1. I am fortunate enough that Photographic Art
    has been a really fun hobby for many years.

    I have loved Fine Art since I was a young boy and
    I ran across “The Persistence of Memory” in an
    Art Book and was immediately fascinated.

    .2. I have dabbled with photography (and Fine Art)
    for many years (and I think I have some really
    good stuff), but I have never actually sold

    However, I have some marketing ideas I would like
    to try out.

    3. For the last 4-5 years I have done everything on
    my iPhone in combination with several photo
    editing apps and because of the convenience
    of the systems I don’t think they can be beat, plus
    in my opinion the images you can get with an
    iPhone are flat incredible and are tough to beat
    with more expensive photo equipment.

    4. The iPhone filing systems are tough to beat !

    5. I am interested in asking your other Blog
    participants how they go about marketing

    Any thoughts or comments are appreciated.

    From Dallas,

    The SyberArtist TM
    15150 Preston Road Suite 150
    Dallas, Texas 75248


  25. Personally this is really no problem for me since I have been working for 40 years as a newspaper photographer. First 25 years I developed film and made prints about three times a day, and when we got over to digital I followed the same routine. Out on a job, download and postprocess, format the card and out on a new job.
    Now I´m retired but I have taken the habit with me so when I come home from a photoshoot, I will download the files at once into a date folder with a short description and I will take a look at what I have done. Then I format the card and is ready to go out again on a new adventure. Because of that I never get overwhelmed with pictures.
    And I mostly know what to do with my selected pictures. Print them and hold them in my hand as I have always done.

  26. Two questions: 1.) how do you shoot intentionally when you are shooting 1,000 images a day; and 2.) when you return home and do a 2nd or 3rd pass edit, do you go through the entire database of images or just the ones you culled out during your travel (to see if they still grab you)? Thanks!

    1. Author

      Hi Michael! Two replies:

      1. Here’s an example from this morning in Kenya. I see a scene (in this case it’s a very rare foggy morning on the Mara) and I know what I want it to feel like. But do I want elephants in the fog or giraffes? I don’t know yet, so I try both. Do I want to photograph from one angle or another? Not sure, let’s find out and shoot my way through the changes. Same with composition. Is this a wider composition with a 100mm lens or a tighter one at 600mm? Not sure, so I play with them both, and some in-between. All very intentional in terms of what I’m trying to accomplish, but experimental in the sense that most of the 1000 images I made this morning (including other scenes and 3 hours out making photographs) are only sketches. They’re “let’s see what this looks like” and though I might have done as well with only 500 sketches, or even fewer, I’ve found it better for me to overshoot a little, and use the editing process to decide between one frame and another later on to really nail my composition, choice of moment etc. For me the editing process is as intentional as the shooting and they go hand in hand. Of course this is just with wildlife, with street work in a place like Venice I’d make many fewer frames – generally people don’t move as fast, are a little more predictable, and I can control my own approach a little more.

      2. Yes, I re-edit ALL my images to take advantage of looking at it all with fresh eyes. To only go through my initial selects again and again would be to trust my first instincts more than I’m willing to do.

      Hope that helps!

  27. “Consider the output” will help me enormously! I can see how this approach will guide my yes-no picks and my editing process, whether I’m sharing immediate family pics by phone message or creating a photo book. So I will try to be more explicit about what I’m creating as the finished product. Thanks for your words, and I look forward to the coming lessons!

    1. Author

      Thanks Carter! Nice to see you here. I hope you’re well. Best regards from Kenya!

  28. When I was doing street photography in London, I was generating hundreds of photos a day. At night, I was exhausted, but I always took time to move all my images onto my iPad (and thence to the Cloud for safe keeping). I did a super fast edit, sometimes only getting images roughly sorted into albums (portraits, bicycles, shadows, Chinatown, etc.).When I got home, I was in the midst of your series class and spent days on end trying to find a series.

    Then I destroyed all the albums, put that series aside and started all over again because I had learned so much about my various “output” opportunities (three shows, three different presentations each on a different topic using the same pool of images.).

    I could go on about the weeks I have been doing this work, but what I want to say is that time is a great editor. The more focus I got on the expectations of each project, the better my edits, which is your point, and this ain’t my first duChemin rodeo!

    1. Author

      ” time is a great editor. The more focus I got on the expectations of each project, the better my edits,” – you nailed it, Sandy. As for, “this ain’t my first duChemin rodeo!” well that almost had me spitting coffee out my nose. 🙂 Thank you for that. 😉

  29. Shooting intentionally to create a body of work for a client sounds straight forward, editing and selection under you control, management. However what do you do when your client doesn’t do his necessary part in publishing. Let me explain: a continuing body of work photographing the construction of building project where the client is responsible (his choice) to publish the work (as video slideshows on YouTube) so that his friends can see and appreciate the evolution of its progress over an expanding timeline. Only he doesn’t do that. Prefer to do everything myself but client wants control of publishing.

    1. Author

      Norry – sadly, this is just one of the downfalls of client work. You could perhaps have a conversation with the client about this, some kind of clause that gives you the right to also publish what you make in the context of your portfolio, so even if he doesn’t publish it you still can. You can do anything your client agrees to, so see if there’s a compromise to be found. Or wrap this one up and make sure these kinds of considerations are part of your next contract if it’s important to you.

  30. Thank you for this. I’m halfway there. I always edit som photographs after a shoot or a trip, but not enough to make something. I made some books of gorgeous trips to for example Antarctica, India and Rwanda, but I made so many other trips that still need a book or something else for that matter. On the other hand I also do shoots of animals like horses and pets and most of them are still on my hard drive, except for the ones my client wants. I want to make some composites with my equine images. I even did special shoots with that in mind, but life so often gets in the way and although I have great ideas they never materialise. I hope I do get organised and start getting those things done. I really enjoy editing by the way. For some photographers it’s a chore, but I love it.

    1. Author

      Life does indeed get in the way, Betty-Lou. Have you considered setting some time aside in a more disciplined / regular way? Maybe once a week put aside a block of 2 or 3 hours. Or an hour a day…whatever you can do is more than what you’ll get from waiting for a block of time to magically show up. Make a date. Pour a glass of wine, put some of your favourite music on and consider this playful creative time. Stop hoping and put it in the dang calendar! 🙂

  31. Hi David
    I really like the idea of a “decisive yes”…being more binary about my selections. I want to try that in my next few sessions, where that fast shutter speed can easily result in 1,000 images to edit when I get back to the computer. Yes, fatigue often sets in.

    I’ve heard some photographers say that they intentionally wait a period of time (sometimes a long time) before returning to edit. Not 5 years maybe, but maybe a few weeks or months. I think the idea is something like wanting to have a more a “balanced” or “detached photo editor” mindset, not clouded by maybe a vested emotional attachment to the session. That’s kind of opposite to what you’re saying. I imagine you’ve heard of this approach. It never appealed to me…I do my edits right away.

    Anyway, I’m going to try being more binary! I love the challenge. Thank you.

    1. Author

      I like both approaches, Mark. Immediate and binary, and then much later and more considerate. I usually edit any one project at least 3 times, and that allows me the benefit of both approaches.

  32. Great suggestions for editing on the fly! However, what would you say to those who still have years worth of images already waiting for attention on their hard drive, whose owner gets so overwhelmed at the very thought of having to sit there for weeks on end staring at a monitor trying to cull thru them all that it becomes easier to ignore them and do nothing except continue to add to the ever-growing stash? Asking for a friend, as I have no idea who would behave in such a reprehensible manner… 😏

    1. Author

      LOL. Thanks for the chuckle, Lori. What would I say? I’d say make it easy on yourself. Make it a creative act, not an obligation. Sit down with one project – maybe from a trip or whatever your folders of images consist of – and make a goal of finding 12 images. Or 3. Whatever. I like 12 because then it’s a series and it gives me something to play with, to print, or put into a PDF. For me I’ll go back to, for example, images from Iceland in 2010 and give myself the goal of finding a few images. It’s an exploration and when I can do this without any sense of obligation, I find it really rewarding. So that’s one idea. The other is just bite-sized pieces. Once a week sit down for an hour and go though some old work. No more than an hour. Just chip away at it. That’s 52 hours of editing by the end of a year. Combine the two and then start outputting your work in a form you enjoy and can share, and that might help you, or, oops, might help your friend. 😉

      1. Thank you, David, I’ll try breaking it down into bite-sized chunks with an end purpose in mind and see if that helps… my friend…. ☺️

        Thank you for the great advice, as always!

  33. I appreciate you dragging all of this to light David. I think not completing editing is something many artists do in many different ways. When the process itself is a siren song, the seeing, the selecting, the shooting, it can be tough to let go of that trance and step into a more concrete phase. But it’s SO important to see it through. You taught me that years ago, but I needed this reminder too. Thank you for loving the photograph so deeply, in all it’s many phases.

    1. Author

      Hi Vanessa! So good to hear from you. Yes! The siren song! The alure of the artsy fartsy stuff! The constant pull towards the next shiny thing in our periphery! I think it’s so hard for some of us to move into the more concrete phases, as you put it. Hard but very rewarding. It’s been a while since we connected but I hope your own output is bringing rewards. Miss you!

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