How To Select Your Images :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Select Your Images

by David Peterson 6 comments

How many pictures do you take on an average shoot? If you’re at all like me, it’s at least a few hundred. With so many photos and so little space, how do you choose which ones you want to keep and which ones don’t deserve your attention? If you have too many images, you risk losing track of them all, but if you delete everything, you’ll have nothing to show for your efforts. How do you make the call?

What you choose to keep says a lot about you as a photographer. If you keep 100% of what you shoot, many would say you have no taste. I don’t mean to be cruel, but it’s simply not possible to get a great photo every time, unless you’re extremely methodical about every picture you take. As a matter of fact, you should delete most of the pictures you take, and you should be highly selective when it comes to picking the keepers.

Think of it this way. When you look through a fellow photographer’s portfolio, and you see a few mediocre images mixed in with some outstanding ones, what does it make you think? Now, imagine what you’re thinking when every photo blows you away. It’s not what you keep. It’s what you decide to get rid of that matters.

How selective should you be?

Although you can’t just assign some numeric ratio and assume it will work, I think one image out of every hundred images is a good place to start. That sounds pretty selective, doesn’t it? You’re going to be frustrated with this rule because it’s going to force you to make some tough decisions. But in the long run, when all of the photos you show your friends are nothing less than the best work you’ve ever done, you’ll understand why this is so important.

You can eventually relax these restrictions once you learn how to be selective. Sometimes you’ll get a few lucky shots in a row, so there’s no reason to throw away good photography just because you’ve got standards. There are times when I’ve gone out and taken back more than a few keepers. On other occasions, I come home with 500 images that all get deleted. That’s just how it works.

Never pick more than one of the same type of image

If you’ve taken 50 portraits of grandma sitting in her rocking chair, pick the best one of them all. Nobody wants to look through a portfolio with 20 different variations of rocking chair positions and knitting techniques. The image you pick should best express the theme you’re trying to get across. If it doesn’t do that, get rid of it. You can always take more.

This rule is somewhat gray when it comes to different perspectives on the same subject. A landscape looks different when you change the foreground object, or when you switch out your lens. A different perspective on the same subject can often produce an entirely different image with a completely different theme. In that case, keep both, or make a collage from all the images.

Keep combing through your portfolio

You may not call it a portfolio, and you may not consider yourself a professional yet, but great photographers are born the moment they decide to become more selective. Perhaps you thought a photo was really awesome when you took it, but now that you look back, it’s somehow lost its original appeal. Don’t try to hold on to what might have been. Because that was then, and you have become a much better photographer since you took that picture. Get rid of it.

Comb through your photos and promise yourself that you’ll delete at least one of them each time. I know it’s hard, but you’ve probably got hundreds of photos lying around. It’s like pruning a tree. There are always a few things you can do to make it look a little more clean.

You don’t have to get rid of all of your not-so-good old photos. I always keep at least a few, just for the sake of nostalgia. If you tell yourself that you can’t keep any, it will make it that much harder to delete the photos you don’t like. Have fun, but be practical. Just like the company you keep, the photos you keep say a lot about you. Pick the best ones, and you’ll always make a good impression.

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  1. Shelby Snider says:

    Since I have had a digital camera, I try to always get 3 pictures of each shot. I always download my pictures to Picsas on my computer at the end of the day or the next day. There I can view them, crop, and edit them, then I will keep only one of the best ones out of the three and delete all the rest. Then I save them to a folder which I will transfer to my flash drive. This has helped me a lot and saved me many headaches afterward.

  2. Winston says:

    Love this article as it is all me. I realized that you will surely run out of hard drive space. From time to time I do go back over my past photos, I do delete at least 10 pics per every date I have taken. I store my photos on external drives, once bitten, not losing again. I store them in folders labeled with date and location. It makes it so easy for me to find what I need when searching. So far I have 4TB of pictures. It does take time to go back to them, but I do put aside some time to review them from time to time. Family photos and family get together are kept separated from my other shoots. Thank you David for the article, it told me I was on the right path.

  3. Zeny johnson says:

    Another great article, David. thanks. i travel a lot and take hundreds of photos each trip but have problem deciding which ones to delete. With your tip, i will attempt going back to my album and start deleting some of them. thanks again.

  4. Ellen says:

    Like your other wonderful comments, this makes a lot of sense.

    One of my personal methods is to set the DSLR to take both RAW and small jpg photos. Then, if a few of the less successful images seem worth keeping, perhaps for sentimental reasons, they will already be in a format that takes up less space than the rest. However, doing so may cause unnecessary wear & tear on the camera and, of course, the memory card also fills up relatively quickly.

  5. Margaret says:

    Thanks, David for this article! I have way too many photos, but how do you select the very best ones? I'm not sure if a photo is any good. Maybe I just don't have that many "Wow" photos yet? And I'm afraid to get rid of it, I might discover a way to salvage it in Photoshop with a filter or something. Help!

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Margaret,

      If you're happy with the photo, it's a great one and you should keep it! A photos doesn't have to be a 'wow' photo to keep it, as it could be sentimental.

      If you're not sure if deleting is the right thing, then move it to a special 'to delete' folder. Go back to that folder in a couple of months (or a year) and if you still think it should be deleted, you can delete it then.

      I hope that helps.


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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.