Ruthlessly Efficient Workflow

Earlier this month I posted a story called Prisons or Doorways. In the course of the story, I talked about how I've embraced the time limits I have for photography and a byproduct of that is a ruthlessly efficient workflow. My friend Darren Button was intrigued by this, asking to know more. Maybe you're curious as well.


Sidebar: If you've been a reader of my blog for a while, you'll know I started with Aperture as my asset manager. I wrote Effective Aperture Workflow, describing my entire workflow process. It was quite popular wit the Aperture crowd. If you've read the book, you can probably skip this blog post. It's OK. We're still friends. Come back for my next post. :-)


In this post I'm not going to describe my entire workflow. In all honesty, I'm still fine tuning it after moving to Lightroom. Workflow is always a work in progress, however at this moment in time mine is especially fluid. I'm also not going to talk about tools. What tools you use to sort and cull your images doesn't matter.

I'm going to focus on the ruthless part of my workflow – culling.

On a typical shoot, I'll shoot between 50 to 150 frames, depending on how long I'm at a location and how long the light is good. Most of these images will never get into my photo library, let alone go through my entire workflow.

I recently returned from Spain and Portugal and have been sifting through the various shoots I did. On one shoot I took 85 photos and imported only 26. On another, I imported 45 of 132 frames. A third example... 73 photos taken, 19 imported. And I'll point out the imported counts include bracketed shots and the I-was-here photos. I don't get awesome shots everywhere I go and some photos are simply memories of a time and place.

Culling is where I am most ruthless with my photos. Being ruthless up front saves times on the backend. When I view and rate my photos, I am brutally honest with myself. Is the shot composed well? Is it sharp? Is it well-exposed? Do I already have a similar shot? Which one is better? These questions are mentally answered in a matter of seconds. And photos drop out quickly.

After importing the images into my library, I fine tune my rating using a 5-star scale, 5 being the best, 1 being the worst. Some photos may still get cut. I may have a burst of shots and only need one. For example, the vast number of churches and cathedrals I visited in Spain don't allow tripods, so I'll shoot handheld. I only need one shot of the cathedral ceiling that's sharp. The others are deleted. And I mean deleted, in the trash, not just removed from my photo library. When rating is finished, only the 4-star and higher photos go through the rest of my workflow (keywords, geotagging, and processing).

This may seem like a lengthy process, but it's not terribly so. For the shoot with 85 frames, I spent about 6 minutes culling it down to 26. And from there, only 7 photos went through the rest of my workflow. Well, strictly speaking, only one shot was a 4-star candidate, but I needed 6 other frames for some compositing work.

As for the untagged, unprocessed photos in my library... I visit them from time to time. Especially during stretches where, for whatever reasons, I can't get out to shoot.

So.... how do you approach sifting and culling your images? What's your strategy?