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The discipline of culling (a.k.a. I can't stand to look at massive photo albums)

Organizing and culling the thousands of photographs taken on a trip so that only the cream of the crop remains is an extremely tedious task. For statistic junkies out there, on big trips, I'm usually left with 2% to 4% of total pictures (between 15 to 40 pictures total). That represents a significant amount of culling, but I do it for a couple of obvious reasons. First, there are a lot of redundant pictures so picking the best out of a series is easy and necessary. Second, if I don't have the patience to sit and wade through someone else's extensive picture gallery, what makes me think that someone will have that type of patience for my galleries?

Let's face it, in today's 140 character world, you have to grab someone's attention and imagination as quickly as possible and let them be on their way because there isn't anything else to see (on a given subject), as opposed to them leaving because they are bored and overwhelmed by the same picture over and over again. Being longwinded online isn't a virtue.

My strategy for culling starts with organizing my pictures into broad categories. This is key because I typically photograph over several days and I have identical subjects spread over multiple days. Once everything is categorized, I can begin to cull pictures within categories (e.g. lions, a church etc). I typically cull a picture for a variety of reasons, including: composition; poor lighting; soft/poor focus; duplication; distracting background. To get to 2% to 4%, you really have to be honest with yourself though. You have to detach yourself emotionally from your pictures and ask yourself: is this picture really that good? It can be hard on the ego, but it shouldn't.

To start the culling process, I begin by rating good pictures with a single star. Those without a star are essentially culled and out of contention. I'll then review the ones with one star and assign a second star to the ones that stand out a bit more. Those without a second star are culled. This goes on until I have five star pictures. The five star pictures at this point are *almost* the cream of the crop. Before I start to edit them in my photo editing software, I do one last cull: if I have too many five star pictures (yes, it's that subjective) or if some of the remaining five star pictures are no better than the ones that I already have on my site or elsewhere, then I reassess one last time and move some pictures back down to four stars. It's my personal belief that you should measure yourself against your entire portfolio (i.e. African wildlife is an example of a portfolio. Obviously, if you're doing portraits or fashion photography, then each session can become its own portfolio). This also means that if you now have pictures that surpass (as opposed to compliment) existing ones, well, out with the old, in with the new!

With the culling complete, I can begin to edit the pictures. My workflow ensures that I'm not overwhelmed by the sheer volume of pictures that I come back with, it allows me to compare similar subjects against one another over several days and it allows me to select the cream of the crop in an organized and systematic manner.