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Archive for February, 2008

Selecting shots

Posted in workflow on February 3rd, 2008 by gregr

Once you get off the set, the next big challenge starts…how to select just a few great images from all of the shots you just took. I just read a couple of forum posts where folks were discussing how they did this, and I thought I’d share my process with you here. It varies depending on what the shoot is for, and who the client is, but it generally goes like this.

In the example I have in mind, this was a shoot for a model’s portfolio. In these cases, I usually make final selections myself, rather than showing the client hundreds of images to choose from.

First, get some sleep. Really! If I just did a shoot today, if at all possible I try to wait until tomorrow to start the selection process. What I’ve found is if I start culling photos immediately, I’ll eliminate some of them based on things I remember from the shoot (oh, I discovered that hair light was a third of a stop too hot, better delete these), rather than evaluating them based on their merits. Be rested and fresh.

Next, I’ll go through all of the photos from the shoot (I currently use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for this, and I used to do the same thing with Bridge), and assign one star to any photo that has any aesthetic value whatsoever. This eliminates shots where eyes are closed, they’re unintentionally out of focus, strobes didn’t fire, etc. Also exclude any photos that are technically ok, but you just don’t see yourself using for whatever reason. On the example shoot I’m looking at as I write this, I had 315 total photos, and 195 of them get one star.

One key point – don’t delete all of the 0-star photos at this point! If they’re black frames or something, sure, delete them…but don’t delete anything just because you didn’t intend it or don’t like it. You never know what you might think about it tomorrow. Or 3 months from now. Or a year from now.

So now we’re looking at the 195 photos that got one star. I now go through these, and either leave them alone, or upgrade them to 2 stars. A photo gets 2 stars if it’s really a potential candidate for the client. Be hard on yourself here; you’ve got 195 photos that could work – but which ones really deliver?

Now I’m down to 80 photos with 2 stars. Now I go through them again, upgrading some of them to 3 stars. The criteria I use here is “is there any chance I’d consider this for my (or someone else’s) portfolio?” In this example, 40 got 3 stars.

One more time – I go through and upgrade some to 4 stars. By now I know the photos pretty well – and I’m choosing the final photos I’m going to retouch and deliver. I’ve got maybe 5 or so per look to choose from, and I’m narrowing each down to the one hero shot…in this case, we’re down to the 6 shots I’m going to use.

What about 5 stars? I rarely use the full 5-star rating; when I do, it’s a shot that I know for sure I’m going to put into my own portfolio.

There are a lot of caveats to this process; for example, if I need a sequence of photos that form a story, I’ll keep that in mind as I’m choosing photos, to make sure I’m selecting not only the best stand-alone photos but the best photos that will work together. This adds another layer of complexity, as you’re thinking not only about your photos, but page layouts and such as well.

One more example – for this shoot, there were:

922 total photos
340 1-star selects
159 2-star selects
34 3-star selects
9 4-star selects, used in the final sequence

So what about colors, and other flags? I use colors along the way to mark shots for something out-of-band; for example, if I want to mark some shots to send to the hair stylist (because perhaps they focus on the hair, useful for her but perhaps not part of the final set of images), I might mark those with a specific color as I go.

So anyway, there’s one example of a process for selecting images. I don’t do it this way every time; sometimes I send out the 1+ star images for client selection, for example on a recent commercial shoot with tons of variations of group shots with some different moods and emphasis…and if I were doing (say) a catalog shoot, I’d do things pretty differently. But at least this gives you a rough idea of a place to start!