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I’ve given you a lot of assignments in my latest ebook 100 Creative Photography Assignments, and as a result you’re hopefully making lots of images. The question is, how do you pick your best photos when you get home and start looking at them on your computer?
Not having a good strategy for choosing your best photos can mean that you never get around to developing the best images and turning them into web galleries, prints, photo books or zines.
And if you’re not finishing your assignments, or any other projects you’ve set yourself, because you’re getting stuck at the editing (as in picking your best photos) stage, then it’s more difficult to move onto the next one.
Over time I’ve come up with several strategies for picking my best photos. I’m sharing them with you today because they’ll help you choose your best photos faster and speed up your workflow.
Strategy 1: Don’t make too many photos in the first place
The more photos you make, the longer it takes to copy them onto your computer. You’ll need more time to go through them, pick out the best photos and get them organized.
Making fewer photos is good. Get into the habit of thinking before you press the shutter. Does it look beautiful through the viewfinder? If not, then should you be making the photo? Is there a way you can improve the composition before you press the shutter?
But don’t forget that one way to find good compositions is to work the subject. You also need to get into the creative flow. You do both by making photos, exploring different angles, varying the composition and using different focal lengths.
The key is to find a balance between these two different ways of thinking. Work the subject, but don’t let things get out of hand. Engage your brain as well as your shutter finger. Make plenty of photos when you need to, but not too many.
Here’s a set of six photos I made of a car I saw in the street (shot for Assignment 39: In the area). You can see that I worked the subject, making photos from several different angles. But I only made six photos in total, making it easy to select the best one when I got home.
Strategy 2: Choose photos that fit the brief
Working to a brief is a great advantage because you can ask yourself which photos fulfill it the best. It’s different than asking whether a photo is good or not, or whether it deserves a three, four or five star rating. If you’re shooting Assignment 39: Urban decay, for example, then which of your photos show the most urban decay? Which ones fulfill the brief, and which ones don’t?
The brief gives you focus. Asking yourself if your photos fit the brief helps you get through them faster.
But don’t forget that you might have good photos that don’t match the brief, but can be used elsewhere.
Don’t fall into the trap of using ratings. The only things you should ask yourself are ‘Does the photo fit the brief?’ and ‘Is the photo good enough to make the final selection?’
Below you can see four photos that I made for Assignment 39: Urban decay. But which ones fit the brief best? I selected the two on the left. The other two photos aren’t bad images, and I might be able to use them elsewhere, but they’re not the best ones for this brief.
Strategy 3: Eliminate similar photos
If you have a group of similar images, then pick the best one. This is another reason why aiming to produce a set of images (see last week’s article for more on this) rather than a single image is beneficial. A set of images needs variety. The photos need to fit the brief, but also be different from each other. If you have a group of similar photos, you only need one. You don’t need others.
For example, of the six photos of the red jaguar I showed you earlier, this is the one I picked as the best.
Strategy 4: Be ruthless and don’t be afraid of making mistakes
Being ruthless means don’t be afraid to eliminate photos. If you have six photos of something (like the red jaguar) then choose the best one. If you have five good photos, but one fits the brief better than the others, then select that one.
Don’t worry about getting it perfect. It’s a process, you’ll make mistakes and you’ll learn from it. The important thing is to get good at making decisions.
It’s good practice to revisit your photo archives from time to time so you can look at your photos with fresh eyes. You often see new things and new connections.
It also helps you be ruthless with your initial edit. You can come back and put the “good but didn’t make the cut” photos to use somewhere else. You’re not going to miss any hidden gems.
Strategy 5: Don’t be afraid to ask for somebody else’s opinion
Let’s say you shot a particular assignment and that you made over a hundred photos. Using the strategies in this article you narrow those down to ten good images that fit the brief. Now you’d like to pick your final six images.
That’s a difficult task, so don’t be afraid to ask somebody else for their opinion. Even asking a non-photographer can be useful. They see things differently and can come up with surprisingly useful insights.
Strategy 6: Use the tools in Lightroom Classic
If you’re a Lightroom Classic user then use its tools to edit your photos.
I start by creating a Collection Set and a Collection inside it called A. I add all the photos from the shoot to Collection A.
I make another Collection called B and set it as the Target Collection. I go through the photos in Collection A, doing a rough cull and sending all shortlisted photos to Collection B.
I make another Collection called C and set it as the Target Collection. Then I go through the photos in Collection B. This is the time to get ruthless. The idea is to send as few photos to Collection C as possible. Only the images that I’ll send to the Develop module go there.
You can make other Collections as required. If your goal is to make a set of six images, you might make a Collection D for those photos.
If you don’t have many photos to pick from then you might not need three Collections (A, B and C). There’s no need to make three if only two (A and B) will do.
For example, below in Collection A I only had 16 photos, so I only need to add Collection B.
I started off with these 16 photos:
And narrowed them down to these six:
There are 100 assignments and 100 briefs in 100 Creative Photography Assignments. That’s enough ideas to keep you busy for a couple of years. But to make the most of the assignments you need to be ruthless and pick your best photos.
The good thing about this way of working is that the time you spend editing (as in selecting) saves you time in the Develop module. If you start off with 100 photos, and select ten, then you can give each of those ten images the attention in the Develop module they deserve. It’s much easier than trying to develop 40 or 50 photos because you couldn’t decide which ones were best.