Are you cold blooded enough to cull your images?

Stack of photos - perspective

My Ruthless guide to deleting photos.

I hope after reading this post I can save you hours, Nay! weeks of time and general heartache by learning from the mistakes I made when I came to edit my first beautiful eye watering shots (well they were to me) I took on my first DSLR.

Before the digital age of photography you had a roll of film which had to be developed in a dark room before you could see the final result of your masterpieces.

This meant photographers had to think a little more about about the shot before pressing the shutter release, in the hope that every image would be a keeper and no time or money would be wasted on the development.

Of course, in reality for most of us, after collecting our images from the chemist or film developer there were many shocks and failures, but they were printed anyway just to embarrass us and give the staff a laugh at the same time!

Laughing monkey

It is a fact though, that when you bought your first digital camera and editing suite you were aware that you can now take hundreds of shots of the same subject and decide which one is the best for keeping later and no worries of extra cost for developing.

Unfortunately, It is also a fact for this reasoning, that we photographers, this includes you! Have hundreds if not thousands of images on our iphones, DSLR’s laptops or pc’s that we keep but will never be happy with.

You keep them because you have become sentimentally attached and just can’t bear to part with them. Dangling over the edge of the cliff with one hand for two hours to get the out of focus shot of the seagull was hard work! And deserves to be kept

Maybe something magical might happen overnight and make them look in focus. Maybe one day I can edit better and make it look a great exposure. Maybe!

I know we want our ugly duckling to turn into a swan. But if we are really honest with ourselves that shot will never be 100% correct and we will never be happy to share it with someone let alone sell it on Dreamstime.

The Backstreet Ducks

Surely I can make them look better after 18 hours of editing in photoshop?.......... Wrong!

I wasted a lot of time trying to magically convert my ugly ducklings. So be bold..Don’t keep rubbish, in the hope they will magically improve. It’s only cluttering up the memory on your devices.

Selling images,sharing images, people enjoying our images is a bonus, inspiring and gratifying, but this is not the topic of the day. Suffice it to say I am sure 99.9% of photographers want to share their work in some form or other.

Let that work be the best you are 100% most happy with.

The point here is that the digital age makes it easier to be complacent and we can fall into that ‘I can correct it later’ attitude and not put as much thought into the shot as perhaps we really should.

This is really what separates the beginner photographer from the above average amateur or pro and while I understand that not everyone wishes to be a professional photographer I would suggest that we all wish we could take better photographs and have more ‘besties’ to show.

Digital photography does allow for us to be more experimental by taking many shots at different angles of our subject without extra costs and of course we should always try and ‘cover all the angles’ of our subject.

Unless you are going for a certain pose or look from your model is it really necessary to take so many shots of the same angle? Really?

Here is my guide to being a cold blooded culler of photos!

When it comes to culling. Be ruthless!

Ax Killer

Thinking about the basic fundamentals of why you wanted the shot, the exposure being correct, in focus and your composition is good, will be critical in ensuring that image will be considered for a keeper

Don’t delete in camera wait until your images are on a larger screen.

Remove any and every image that is out of focus or has camera shake.

Any image that is too bright has blown highlights. Delete.

An underexposed image be salvaged to some extent if you shot in RAW but it may cause noise which of course could be ‘de noised’ to the detriment of a softer photo but if you have a better exposed image. Delete overly noisy photos.

Take a break from your photos for a day or two don’t be in a rush to move into editing and enhancing. You are still emotionally attached after your shoot.

Go through your images again

This time you will have to be more cold blooded, maybe barbaric!

Don’t keep duplicate photos. Is there really a need for two?

Delete if someone is not posed to your liking, eyes closed, hand legs positions etc not correct.

A good composition image will jump out at you as you flick through the shoot.

Those images that tell a story have good lighting,sharper focus will be the ones you will be choosing as your ‘besties’ for your portfolio. Delete the others ruthlessly.

Even if it never sells it will still remain a technically good photo and one that that you are happy with because of your ruthless culling!

Swan Reflections

Good Luck!

Photo credits: Jostein Hauge, Lasse Behnke, Maxwell De Araujo Rodrigues, Melanie Kowasic, Piotr Sikora.

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September 05, 2018


Most of us are probably guilty of this to some degree. Purging duplicates/bad quality photos is a necessity. Wish I would have done that before uploading many of mine. Oh well, live and learn :)

September 05, 2018


Great article!

September 05, 2018


Very useful! And laptop will say Thank you master)

September 05, 2018


Excellent article. I'm so guilty of keeping too many images thinking they may be useful one day. But when your portfolio reaches 4000-plus photos, you probably already have a better version already! So, I'm getting out my ax. Thanks!

September 05, 2018


I do the same. When I have a few very similar images I look at them on the desktop at 100% and more just to pick the best and the rest go in the bin. Those that pop usually stand out. I don't do a lot of post production so really like my images to be ready to go straight out of the camera. Being brutal and ruthlessly culling has certainly made me a lot fussier about what I keep and saved me many Gb in storage. Even when I am browsing my images I delete any that are sub standard even though I may have kept them a few years previously in the belief they were good images. It's a learning process and we should never stop learning by our mistakes and improving the quality of our images!

September 05, 2018


Hi John, Thanks for your wonderful information and comments on your 'culling' workflow.I agree with you about deleting images in camera. It would make more sense and save you precious time downloading and sifting through them again.I didn't explain my thoughts very well at that moment in writing and so apologise to my fellow photographers.If I used burst mode for example and have several images to decide which one is the best. I would leave them until I can see on a larger screen to decide which one looks the best. (don't know why I keep seeing only half this comment after posting)?? That aside Yes it would be good to hear from fellow photographers their way of culling.

September 04, 2018


thanks for sharing. nice article

September 04, 2018


thanks for sharing... interesting facts.

September 04, 2018


Really good post and I agree with pretty much all of it apart from the deleting in camera bit. Usually I delete between 50% and 80% of my images in camera and don't even bother downloading them for all the reasons you mention. It is much quicker to delete in camera rather than in my editing software after downloading. Usually another 50% go after download and of the remainder about 10% are commercially viable for sale. So, if I take 1000 images in a day that means I might sell between 10 and 25 of them, that's 1% to 2.5% if my maths is correct! I still keep the odd one for sentimental reasons. Some I use for presentations and courses where they work very well but are just not "Stock". A really well thought out post. What do other people do I wonder?

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