Each time I upgrade my camera, the bigger file sizes (especially shooting RAW), my bigger memory cards and happier trigger finger mean that my new photos are consuming way more space.

I even have a 3TB primary drive and a 2TB backup drive - and they are getting fuller every day.

But going through photos and deleting bad ones can be a tedious process. I've slowly been going through old photos and pressing delete if they are obviously out of focus or have too much motion blur. But it still leaves a lot of photos that just seem uninspiring, or where I have a lot of photos that are very similar, taking up space. Deleting them is actually a lot of work because for every string of 20 photos of something, there'll be a range that are of acceptable sharpness, some with good facial expressions or good framing, and so on, so it's never clear whether I'm actually keeping the best one - if not careful, I worry I'll delete one that was actually decent.

  • What is a good process for choosing what to delete and what to keep?

  • At what stage of the process do think it's best to do it?

  • 9
    PS: I like this question. It is an important question. Too many thousands of pictures pile up on harddrives never to be seen and never to be shown because they are not good enough - but never to be deleted too, so adding a lot of useless distraction to the collection.
    – Leonidas
    Feb 4, 2011 at 22:07
  • 2
    I don't have enough rep to creat tags on this site, but I think this problem should be know as the "curation" problem, and there should be a "curation" tag.
    – Zippy
    Mar 12, 2011 at 10:53
  • @Joey — it's trivial to pull the JPEG preview out of RAW images, so I bet you could whip it up in two hours.
    – mattdm
    Mar 12, 2011 at 14:05
  • @Zippy: good suggestion. I added the "curation" tag.
    – mattdm
    Mar 12, 2011 at 14:07
  • 2
    @labnut, this question's more concerned about how to do the selection of what to keep. Not whether to keep any or how many to keep. Mar 16, 2011 at 3:22

22 Answers 22


I don't know if this is a great system, but here's what I do:

  1. After the shoot/session is done I immediately sort through every frame I took looking for the 'keepers.' I do it this way because for me it is easier to choose to keep the great shots than it is to delete the borderline shots... That may just be me. :-)
  2. Next I sort through every frame I didn't put in the 'keepers' pile and look for anything that is bad enough to just trash immediately- usually there are a few out-of-focus or technically flawed photos that I didn't delete 'on-the-fly' which get taken out back behind the barn and put out of my misery.
  3. I then look through the 'Keepers' and see if there are any 'holes' in the shoot that I will need to fill with the shots that weren't good enough to make my 'keepers' pile, but weren't bad enough to trash... Call it my 'marginal' pile if you will. If there are holes to be filled I then pick the 'best of the worst' to fill in those holes.
  4. I post-process all the 'Keepers.' If it's a personal session I post 'em, if it's a professional session I work with the client further from there to close the contract. For client contracts this is it. I keep both the 'keepers' and the 'marginal' shots forever and get ingested into my backup solution (which is an entirely different process).
  5. After some time has passed (I usually do this every month for any personal work that happened 3 months prior in order to allow myself a bit of perspective) I re-examine the 'marginal' pile to see if time has changed my initial impressions of those photographs... Usually there are a few in the 'marginal' pile that I like enough to keep. The rest are shown no mercy and get to go to the round file from there.
  • I think this is great! I've been planning on something similar, but haven't yet refined it to a "formal" workflow. Kudos for good ideas. The re-review after few monts is a noteworthy addition, too. Feb 4, 2011 at 15:27
  • 2
    +1 for step 3 alone! I think a lot of us forget that aspect of it once we have the keepers. "Did I miss anything in the keepers needed to tell the story?" is how I tend to look at it, when I remember to do that step.
    – cabbey
    Feb 6, 2011 at 20:36
  • 1
    +1 Organizing photos before deleting is a great idea. If your not organizing photos, it doesn't matter whether you're deleting or not, as the collection grows, the cost of managing it grows too. Once the photos are organized finding and deleting the "bad" is very quick and painless. Feb 7, 2011 at 17:30
  • I reverse some of the steps. My first pass eliminates the losers. Nov 17, 2013 at 14:19

Here's some of what I do:

  • Throw out the worst first. Blurry, blown out, excessively dark/noisy. Back-of-somene's-head is usually included here too.
  • Repeat the above rule a few times, raising the bar for "worst" so that it's relative to the new set.
  • Try to eliminate duplicates. This is an especially big deal when shooting in burst mode. Take X pictures that are very similar, keep exactly one. Picking the best 1 out of 5 is easier than picking the best 10 out of 50.
  • Do a very brief pass over the remaining pictures, and assign some sort of rating (usually 3-5 stars by this point) based on a very brief impression of the picture. You're looking for overall aesthetic impression here, and I find that it's best judged at "first impressions". Don't think about this too much.
  • Depending on how you rate your photos and how many you have, you'll probably only want to share/publish a fraction of your highest-rated photos. Less is more; even a dozen really good photos from the same scene can get boring. Throw out anything that's at all uninspiring.
  • Don't get bogged down by technical qualities: framing, exposure, contrast, colour, blemishes, depth of field. All of these can be fixed in post-production if it's worth spending time on. Do pay attention to anything that can't be fixed in post: focus errors, posing.

Basically, the idea is to get really aggressive with throwing out pictures, and then spend time editing the keepers to make them awesome.

Adobe Lightroom makes this very easy; you can "reject" pictures (flag them as "bad") with one key. If your filter is set right they'll disappear immediately from your working set. You can also change your filter to include them; nothing is ever lost/deleted.

Getting good at culling the photographic herd means that you can let yourself take more shots on-site, which in turn increases your chances of getting that one amazing photo.

  • 21
    Start with the realisation that selecting 10 out of 300 is impossible, but throwing out the worst half is easy -- and it continues to be easier to throw out the worst half than to select the best until you're down to one remaining image. Then it becomes a show/no-show decision. One out of 300 is actually a pretty good rate for exhibition.
    – user2719
    Mar 11, 2011 at 23:12
  • 1
    Good point. Do you also kill images on the camera right after you shoot them?
    – Zippy
    Mar 11, 2011 at 23:15
  • 8
    I don't, unless they're absolute duds (like completely black from flash misfires) and even then I usually don't bother. 1: It's easier to judge a photo on the big screen, not the small. 2: It's quicker to burn through them on the computer than it is on the camera. Just make sure you have enough space on your card. Mar 11, 2011 at 23:25
  • 10
    I think one of the first ways to find the best of a shoot is to eliminate "takes". It always annoys me when a photographer posts 10 versions of the same photo, no matter how good they all are. Mar 12, 2011 at 1:15
  • 2
    "Do you also kill images on the camera right after you shoot them?" If you're shooting something that gives you the luxury of having plenty of times between shots without concern of missing a shot. If you're shooting action you'll quickly learn to trust your camera and settings and ignore the display after the first couple shots, otherwise you'll be chimping, look up and see the tail end of a nice shot disappearing.
    – Greg
    Mar 12, 2011 at 6:16

Not sure that a picture with incorrect histogram, excessively dark/noisy or blurred should be removed immediately. Sometimes I see that even defective picture looks good after time. For example (as for me):

geniusua.livejournal.com (c)

So I found the best method to select the best pictures: I just show the pictures to my wife.

  • 7
    The wife filter works for me too since she doesn't care about exposure or out of focus if the shot is a good picture of her or the kid is actually smiling at the camera.
    – AngerClown
    Mar 12, 2011 at 18:29
  • 3
    @AngerClown, I recently took a photography class, and the instructor (who does a lot of wedding work) said that all that matters is if the bride looks good. The groom is just a minor detail, as is the rest of the shot. This may be a bit sexist, but the point is good: histograms, focus, exposure, etc are all nice, but what matters is the main subject. If that looks good, its a good shot.
    – pkaeding
    Mar 13, 2011 at 6:06

First of all my workflow is based on Lightroom, but I know other software allows you to work like this.

  1. I never delete anything on camera.
  2. Import everything into Lightroom, I prefer not to skip any images at the import stage, this also means everything gets copied to my archive.
  3. First pass, in loupe view, image at full screen, I use the flagging system to set any OOF/poorly composed (I shoot motorsport, so a low keeper rate) etc shots to "rejected", this is really easy using the X/U/P keys (handy hint - CAPS auto advances to the next image), at this stage anything that is an obvious keeper gets flagged as a pick.
  4. Before deleting the rejects I have a quick scan through to make sure I don't want to keep any.
  5. Delete the rejects (you can also use the "Refine Photos" command to delete rejects and move other images down one flag level).
  6. I now have another scan through all the images to promote some to "picks" then review them, to come to the final selection.
  7. Process the "picks"
  8. I use the colour labels to make images I have sold/sent to clients/uploaded to my website or the star rating system to mark any images I want to keep for my portfolio.

To tie in with my marking system I have a smart collection, which selects images that are over 1 year old, I have not assigned a color label or star rating to. Periodically I review these, rate any I want to keep and delete the remainders on the basis that if I've not used them or sold them after 12 months they're probably just clogging up my hard drive (they are still in my archive though).

  • +1 'cause I think this will be how I do it if I have time to change my workflow :)
    – m_sc
    Feb 6, 2011 at 16:11
  • 3
    I like the smart folder for catching unreviews things after a period of time has elapsed!
    – Michael H.
    Feb 6, 2011 at 17:45
  • +1 I like the idea of flagging or rating the images before actually choosing what to delete. First, this process of adds value to the collection and is easier to do because your not actually deleting anything. Secondly, it makes the process of deleting all rejects very quick and simple (i.e. if you start running out of space, you can delete all rejects—or just the really bad ones if you are deleteaphobic—instead of having to sort through all images to find bad ones to delete). Feb 7, 2011 at 17:27

Delete the bad ones vs. Keep the good ones.

Until some months ago I have always taken the usual approaches: Mark the ones which are not really good, delete them, and repeat this step multiple times. I found this was very time-consuming and at the end I still had a lot more pictures than I wanted to have.

My new way is the opposite: Mark the images you want to keep. After quickly going through all images to get an overview, I only tag the images where I really think: Wow, this looks cool, I have to keep this one.

This has two advantages: The first being that you can simply ignore the worse images. You spend extra effort on the good images instead of on the bad ones (tagging). The second advantage is that with the usual approach I tend to have lots of images like «yes, it is sharp … and the special thing about it is?». I.e. it is not a clear candidate for deleting, but not interesting either. These are the images I won't take a look at later anyway, and which don't pass the second approach (keep the good ones).

Also it's faster and requires less iterations :)

  • 1
    Five star system... 1 star = delete. 2 star = delete. 3 star = delete. 4 star = delete. 5 star = next.
    – xiota
    Jan 4, 2019 at 13:40

If you've ever stood over a light table, not a light box, but a table that's 4'x4', covered with 35mm and medium format transparencies, you'd notice that some images jump out at you. Even with hundreds of shots in front of you, some grab your attention and others are invisible, even though, by themselves, they'd be great photos.

That's why LightRoom, Aperture, PhotoMechanic, and other high-end editing programs have a gallery view, where you can see multiple images at once.

Switch to that mode, sit back, and look away for a while. When you look back, notice which images grab your attention immediately, then mark them. Scroll to another group of images, and look away and repeat. A day or two later, look through the first selects and do the same thing. When you're done, throw away the first group that didn't make the first cut. Do that a couple more times and you'll be down to stronger images.

Keeping every image makes no sense if there are minor differences between them. Find the strongest ones and toss the weak ones.

I learned to shoot with transparencies and went through grocery bag after grocery bag of slides. It was expensive and really annoying to toss out shots that didn't turn out, but there was absolutely no point keeping shots that weren't good enough to keep.

The same applies now, even though you're "only" filling a drive with electrons. You'll still never use the images that are kinda-good-enough, and odds are good nobody else will ever see them or care. Be critical of your work and learn from your mistakes, and don't keep crap.


Delete is my friend and I use it frequently:

  1. Delete immediately in-camera if I know I missed a shot. Things like people entering the shot at the wrong moment, forgot the camera was in MF, etc.

  2. Delete anything that is not technically perfect: sharp, focused, well exposed, well framed, correct WB, level, etc as a first pass on the computer, using PMVIew Pro on Windows or Geeqie on Linux.

  3. Delete everything that is too similar, keeping the best of course. Pass 2.

  4. Import into Lightroom, apply keywords and rank as the third pass. Here is the time where things that are documentary but not so interesting get ranked low:

    A) Zero stars are reserved for things that are not pictures such as panorama pieces.

    B) Things that are technically perfect but not so interesting get 1 star. I try to crop them and see if they get more interesting, in that case they get upgraded to 2 stars. I ask myself why then I did not frame it like that in the first place. Sometimes I just was not paying attention, other times like framing fireworks, it was nearly impossible.

    C) Technically perfect and interesting gets 3 stars unless:

    D) It is also evocative and deserves to be printed, in that case it gets 4 stars unless:

    E) There is NO way the picture could have been improved by a change of position, framing or camera settings. In that case, it gets 5 stars.

What I try as a personal goal is to stop shooting the 1-3 stars shots, so my ratio is constantly improving. I always ask myself why something came out poorly and what was I thinking when I took the shot. I tag anything that got cropped (or worse ;) so that I know the times when I failed to do things properly.

Closing words from Jay Maisel:

"If you are not your own harshest critic, you are your own worst enemy."

  • 3
    I usually skip #1 so I won't miss another shot. Feb 5, 2011 at 6:29
  • 7
    +1 for defining your rating system. Coming up with an objective, repeatable rating system is something I continually struggle with.
    – user2910
    Feb 6, 2011 at 21:01

Since some people in the question comments repeatedly told me it was rather trivial, I actually did it: An application that sorts the images in the current directory by leaving the actual head-to-head comparison to the user.1

Written in C# for .NET 2. Works on Mono (tested on Linux so far), too. Requires dcraw on the PATH (compiled executable for Windows or OS X can be downloaded here).

Currently the user interaction is very rudimentary. This is probably subject to change. Also the code is an evil mess as usual with such a hack-job.

The application has to be started in a directory that contains the images to sort. It then proceeds to load all images it can find and handle (JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP are supported natively, all other formats are either supported by dcraw or skipped if not). Keep the number of images reasonable, as every image is preloaded in memory to speed up display – I tried starting it on a folder with around 600 images and terminated it at around 2 GiB memory usage.

After that you get a two-pane view with an image on the left and on the right. Click on the one that you consider the best of the two. You will then get two new images. Continue until done. You can close the program if you want, it will resume where you left off.

Comparison view

After all necessary comparisons have been done2 the result can be seen:

Result view

It has the sorted list of images on the left with the highest-ranked at the top and the lowest-ranked at the bottom.

Todo list:

  • Allow selecting the images to sort.
  • Solve the issue that portrait pictures are always displayed in landscape orientation (at least for raw images. dcraw allows rotation but cannot do so automatically and I don't see an easy way of finding that out externally).
  • Reduce memory usage for large numbers of images.
  • Shuffle the images beforehand so bursts of nearly identical images are less likely to be compared directly against each other.
  • Change synchronization between the sorting thread and the UI to no longer rely on Thread.Sleep and polling but to use proper synchronization methods.
  • Add a 1:1 preview (or at least a larger one). Currently this cannot be used to judge things on the pixel level.

It's 5:26 here, so I stop hacking on that now.

Source code can be found in my SVN repository and is released under the MIT license. I welcome patches ;-)

Images in above screenshots are my own.

1 Of course it wasn't as trivial as others would want to make me believe. After a long struggle with Libraw, I simply went the dcraw route. Not pretty, but works with minimal amount of code.

2 This is in the order of n log2 n where n is the number of pictures compared – so, for 20 pictures you can expect something around 20 × 4.3 ≈ 85 comparisons – I know, it's not a small number. For the 300 images you mentioned you'd get around 2400. The actual number that has to be performed manually is (a) different (since complexities omit the linear factor) and (b) as far as I observed so far, smaller. To avoid inconsistencies the user will never be prompted twice on the same two images (either order) and never prompted with the same image on both sides.

  • 1
    This is a great idea. It would form the basis of an ideal voting system in photo challenges/competitions.
    – labnut
    Mar 13, 2011 at 7:35
  • @labnut: Well, there are already web applications (and open source code) out there doing that sort of thing. Basically you only need to create a total order from people's votes. An image compares either better, identical or worse to another. Obviously every image compares identical to itself, for the rest you couild simply look whether more people considered it better or worse and use that.
    – Joey
    Mar 13, 2011 at 12:44
  • That's awesome. :)
    – mattdm
    Mar 13, 2011 at 17:46
  • 1
    I've started a similar application which displays 4 images at a time, let you pick the best of 4 and then moving on to the next 4. It's not scientifically as precise but lets you get through a large number of images more quickly. It's open-source and written in Java: github.com/atramos/photo-tools/tree/master/ImageViewer
    – Alex R
    Dec 17, 2016 at 19:51
  • 1
    @Christoph: I think the major thing that should change from the current (hacky) approach would be to use topological sorting to figure out pairings (and maybe randomize them) so fewer comparisons are necessary and to not have the problem that you always compare half the images against the pivot. Quicksort is fine when you already have the metric you're comparing, but not when you make it up on the fly.
    – Joey
    Jan 7, 2019 at 8:46

Take Fewer Photos

Slow down.
Be more deliberate.
Consider the "why" of each image before you capture it.

Of course, you could go back to your smaller camera!?


  • Actually the "smaller" camera is much bigger, it just has a lower pixel count of 6MP - Nikon D40 ;) Feb 4, 2011 at 13:11
  • Just as a FYI, a higher pixel count doesn't necessarily equate to a better image. Larger senses have larger pixel sites, which gather more light, resulting in lower noise. It's amazing what sort of photo you can get from a well set-up 1D image, even though it's the oldest sensor of Canon's digitals.
    – Greg
    Feb 5, 2011 at 2:06
  • Very good reasoning, but not helpful if you did shoot more :)
    – Leonidas
    Feb 12, 2011 at 22:54

Deleting comes first in my workflow. As I mostly take photos during vacations, some many pictures add up. I have noticed that often the same process holds if I go shooting some special site/object only:

Deleting done

  • sometimes already in camera (you know when you f*ck up)
  • at first review: I move everything I do not like into a deleted-folder1
    • this way they don't distract me while editing the set
    • thus I can revive one of these after sleeping on it (seldom)
  • during editing/second review: sometimes a picture that might have been worth it turns out to be crap (that is a real deletion then)
  • really after I finished the set and reviewed the "tagged as deleted" another time (that might take seconds for a whole folder)

Finding out which pictures are worth to keep, that is difficult. Methinks that will differ the most (I'm looking forward to the other answers).

I try to ask myself, if I'd show somebody this picture, if it is worthy showing. So, if I find the n-th picture showing the same setting without anything new, without anything exciting, without something better than the other, in short without anything keep-worthy: then I delete most of them. That means sometimes that the first review takes long, as I go back and delete.

1First-Review-Delete-Move-Algorithm works as following:

  • rescale pictures to full-screen size in another dir
  • review these smaller pictures, delete directly
  • compare directories, move everything that as been deleted to folder "deleted"

This article by Chase Jarvis explains his awesome workflow. He shows how he selects few pics to put on his portfolio and show to his clients from a set of about 15K clicks..

This is the summary: There are 5 stars available in any workflow management s/w like bridge or aperture. He uses the stars in following manner to sort the pictures out.

1* – Pace: Full Speed. Main Criteria: Is it garbage?

2* – Pace: Full Speed. Main Criteria: Does it look OK?

3* – Pace: Cruising. Main Criteria: Is it pretty nice?

4* – Pace: Calculated. Main Criteria: Is it nice when you look closely?

5* – Pace: Slow and thoughtful. Main Criteria: Is it outstanding? These are the winners.

You should really read the article.. it has really helped me alot!!


At events with a lot going on (races, air shows, sports games) reviewing in camera and being more considerate with your shots aren't always that practical. The latter comes with experience, but even when experienced you still want to be taking a series of shots in these scenarios (guaranteed you would end up with a silly facial expression or closed eyes if you only took 1 shot of everything).

My strategy for reviewing shots just involves several passes:

  1. Delete obvious bin shots (wildly out of focus, poor exposure, unusable composition). This pass should be pretty quick as the aim is to get rid of the obvious rubbish. This can be sped by up marking them as 'rejected' using your software and you can delete them all in one hit at the end
  2. Remove slightly out of focus shots. This takes longer to find the slightly out of focus stuff as you need to be reviewing at 100% to see what is truly sharp. Again, flag as rejected and delete them all at the end. While doing this as you come across sharp images, mark them as passed for later review
  3. !!!Back Up Your Work!!!
  4. This is best done several hours / a day after step 2 to give you a cooling off period and to look at the images with fresh eyes. Go through what you were left with from step 2 and flag as pass or fail each shot appropriately. If it is uninspiring enough that you don't process it - be strict with yourself and bin it because you won't make an effort to come back for it if you can't be bothered to process it now as you will have forgotten about it
  5. !!!Back up your changes!!!
  6. Process your winning shots :)
  7. !!!Back up your changes!!!

Not a perfect process and you do have to be hard on yourself but it can work pretty well :)


I have struggled with the same question on occassion. One of the first things to look at is how you are reviewing the images. There are various tools out there that can help with the task. For example there is Lightroom and PhotoMechanic to name two of the popular ones. These have rating tools, or flags for setting Pick or Reject. However this task can also be done with things such as Windows Picture Viewer and Macintosh Preview.

The key I have found is to do a complete backup of my images before I start culling the images. The reason I find that to be helpful is that after that I no longer stress about, what happens if I reject a keeper. If I do, I go to my archive of the image and bring it back.

The other thing I do is not to look at all the images at once when starting. I look at one image at a time, so that I do not know if there is a similar image next in the collection I am reviewing. I also don't get overwhelmed. I quickly discard images, just simply out of focus, glare, not framed well, someone blinked, plane in the sky... etc. I go back and do it a second time as I have a little more perspective.

On the third time through I go back through and look at the whole gallery to start seeing if there are images I can group together to compare to one another. I do not try to compare three images to each other. For example if I have three images, A, B, C I do not look at all three. I pick the better image between A & B. I then pick the better image between the AB Winner versus C. I find it easier to just compare two items to each other than to try to look at three or more as the variables start to get larger.

I see where my count is after that first "grouping" through and repeat as needed.

I also take breaks between the review sessions as after a while objectivity gets lost. Everything starts to blur together and fatigue sets in for me.

  • 1
    I can't emphasize the importance of time away from the images enough. As Brad says, everything starts to blur together after awhile. There's an old story about some of the best photographers back in the day dropping rolls of 35mm in a big box, and not developing them for a couple months until the box is full, then starting a new box to collect exposed rolls in and picking rolls at random from the full box to develop and print. The couple months that the roll sat in the box gives them the objectivity to cull the frames without the memory of what they say on location clouding their opinion.
    – cabbey
    Mar 12, 2011 at 21:19

The best for what, is always the question.

If something is going to be printed large or shown where you want people to admire both technique and artistry, then you start by removing technically flawed images.

If the image is going to someone who is not going to be primarily judging on technical merit, you probably want to look for the best composition or expression and lean on tooling to help recover an image that is technically flawed.

Often you have to step outside yourself, and think about why someone besides yourself may like an image for reasons you would not consider personally important.


1) Did you take a picture?

2) Keep the picture.

That's it.

Take a blurry picture of your shoe by accident? How do you know in ten years you'll not be into abstract shoe shots? Or perhaps just want what happens to be the only image of what turned out to be your favorite shoes.

The point is, there's no need to decide. Just keep. Over time review what you have and you might be surprised as you proceed with photography, what you passed over before...

Storage is cheap, and costs less than the time it takes to comb through photos actually deleting things.

  • 6
    This used to be my policy, but the growing number of gigabytes on my hard drive, and backup drive, mean that it can no longer be my policy ;) My two 640GB drives weren't THAT cheap (although I guess, when you compare them to my cameras...) Feb 4, 2011 at 11:46
  • 9
    @Kendall You are right, storage is cheap and will keep getting cheaper, but time --to review, to organize, to search-- is not. Do you have more than 10^4 images on your system yet? 10^5? (Just glancing at 10^5 pictures at one per second would take over a day.) Making best use of one's time is really the point of this question.
    – whuber
    Feb 4, 2011 at 16:01
  • 2
    2 terabyte drives are now getting down to reasonable prices... So I'm a fan of this method.
    – chills42
    Feb 5, 2011 at 3:48
  • 6
    This advice doesn't work at all for me. Maybe it's because I'm mostly taking pictures of a baby, but I wind up holding the shutter down to take 6 shots of a particular pose & situation, so I can get one picture where she was still enough with a nice expression. I've got some great pictures of her -- but there's a lot of deleting.
    – Michael H.
    Feb 6, 2011 at 17:47
  • 4
    @khedron - I also often take multiple images of the same subject. I still keep all of them because you never know what is in the others you are missing, even if they seem dead similar - and it's not worth the time to remove the others vs. simply rating one image that you like the best at the moment. Feb 6, 2011 at 18:33

I have consistently found that an iterative approach leads to the best results. How you do the iterations depends on many factors, including what you mean by best, the % of good and bad photos you take, how many of your photos are technically ok (in focus) etc.

Either way, the goal is to eliminate more photos quickly in the early passes and pay closer attention to each photo in the later passes. In the first pass I eliminate maybe 75-90% of my photos (the obviously unusable ones, or the ones that are too similar to other photos). In the second, I start cropping some photos to get an idea if the composition works well. In this and later iterations I start rating my photos to get a general ranking. In the second or third I will start doing basic retouching. On the last couple of iterations the idea is to spend a lot of time on a few photos.


There are some great answers so far, so I won't reiterate what others have stated. On a different level, I think it should be stated that there is not necessarily one correct, "algorithmic" way to do this. This process is one where the human mind truly excels, and where rigid algorithms and "computers" break down.

Choosing the top 10 "best" photos from a set of 300 is a very subjective, even emotional process, and one best suited to the individual. What may seem like a superb photo to one individual may seem like crap to another, and the factors that go into making such a judgment for each person are going to differ, possibly even be diametrically opposed.

I think the best way you can help yourself figure out what images to keep, and what images to throw away, is to develop your sense of vision and style. Vision is your ability to "see" into a scene or photo shoot, and visualize what you want to get out of it. Style is formulating your own personal sense of aesthetic appeal and a pattern of consistency (or, even, lack thereof.) If you know what you want when you sit down to shoot, and understand what is aesthetically appealing to you, filtering through 300 photos to pick the top few that are keepers becomes a much simpler job.

It'll be an entirely personal process, one built on your own outlook on life, and possibly incompatible with many other people...but it will help you in more ways than simply picking the photographs you want to keep from a shoot. It'll ultimately help define who you are as a photographer in the end.


I think if you're working professionally, leave the deleting until after the client has signed off. Yes, there may be some photos you will obviously never use but it's always good to stay safe and keep the ones that aren't total rejects. If you delete a photo that was only marginally unpleasant you can never get it back in case it's needed (whatever reason that may be).

Hard disk space is so damn cheap now that racing to delete files should be the last thing on your mind. Using cataloguing software like Lightroom is a great way to reject photos then later review them and finally remove them from existence.

I've adopted my own method and that is to flag them as rejects, finish the shoot and carry on with life, then later down the track (perhaps at the end of the year before I create a new catalogue), skim the rejected files over the whole year and delete them. You never know what diamonds may be in the rough.


I would suggest, as my previous speakers too, to start with sorting out/deleting. I try to get down to one keeper per subject, though I do not force myself. Since I am shooting to get pictures it does not matter if there may be more than one keeper per subject. However, the goal of one keeper per subject, enforces me to just keep really good pictures of a subject.

In general I keep the final picture as a JPEG in my library and save the RAW file on a external hard disk, the JPEG's use significantly less storage capacity on my computer an are fair enough for my day to day use. In case I need the RAW file later on, I grab it from the external drive. The downside here is that either your photo organization software has to be capable of this (RAW+JPEG association) or you need to have a strict concept by yourself.

Although sorting out pictures is a must in my opinion, storage is really cheap nowadays, why don't combine better sorting out workflow with a bigger (or additional) hard-drive?


Your first hurdle here is to define what you mean by "best" in the context of that particular set of images.

What's the purpose that collection of 10 is going to be put to? Is it for submission to a photography course where they'll be judged on technical merits (and which?)? Is it a wildlife shoot for National Geographic? Is it for a wedding album of your niece? Or maybe a wedding of a paying customer? Is it simply vacation snapshots of you and your family? Is it a submission to a themed competition? Are they to be added to your personal portfolio to be used as a marketing tool for potential customers in any of the above or a dozen other categories?

Each of those (and think up your own) scenarios will require a different (but maybe partially overlapping) definition of "best". Some of those criteria might be very easy to judge, some almost impossible without serious thinking about each image.

Personally, I have typically no problem throwing out 50-75% of a shoot in a first sorting. After that it gets harder as images now conform to the purpose of the shoot, and have to be compared to select which is of higher technical quality and/or better subjectively (and worse, has the best overall combination of the two, a technically inferior image might be so much more suitable for inclusion than a technically superior one on emotional or otherwise subjective criteria it does win out in the end).


Everything I shoot goes, unsorted, nothing deleted except complete failures (like flash failed to fire, causing a completely black frame, shutter failure) on DVDs labelled with datastamps and project name. Using 4GB CF cards helps, I just burn each card to DVD. Each card then gets processed in turn, yielding a new (2nd) DVD with processed versions in TIFF and JPEG format of the useful images from that CF card (meaning anything good enough to consider for future use). Per session, finally, there's one more DVD (usually, sometimes maybe 2) with the "keepers", forming the end result of the session, which is a condensation of the 2nd set of discs.

I do go through quite a few DVDs :)

In practice, the 2nd set of DVDs may never be created, instead only the first and last, leaving the partially processed images not chosen for the final cut to be deleted (they can of course always be recreated from the raw footage that does get retained, always).

  • 1
    Except for the cost of DVDs and physical storage for them. I like the part of making a full backup. Then you can be completely unmerciful deleting all but the best from your drive. If you accidentally delete a good shot, or you need a "not so good" shot to tell the story, just reach out that DVD and replace the missing shot. Having no mercy is the best way for me to keep my hard drive from collapsing!
    – Jahaziel
    Sep 26, 2011 at 17:38

I delete photos that are technical failiures - grossly out of focus, vastly misexposed, etc. Other than that, in principle I don't delete. Instead, I get a bigger harddisk once in a while.

With 640 gigs for photos AND videos, you are in an eternal space crunch. Get more and bigger disks. Seriously. They are cheap.

You are effectively burning your negatives because you can't be bothered to get more storage. This seems short-sighted to me.

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    But sometimes you exactly do that: do not process the negatives, throw the film away. Not because of storage just because they are the junk that one throws away. Only reason I did not use to burn single frames of a film was that I kept rolls.
    – Leonidas
    Feb 12, 2011 at 22:51

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