The Science of Selecting Photos

The Science of Selecting Photos


The business of photography is a complicated matter. I spend hours after each photo shoot culling, processing and sorting the photos to tell the story of the day.

From a recent session of one of my own children, I realized that choosing the final photos can be described as a Venn Diagram! One circle represents images photographers love and the other circle represents images clients love. Some images overlap and some don’t.

To be successful, you want the largest area to be the one that overlaps: images both photographers and clients love. It is important, however, to be aware of what images may fall into the other areas.

Here is an example.

Professional Photographers Venn Diagram by Annie Ta bg

I had a photo shoot of my son just last week. He recently turned 6 years old, so this mini shoot was to capture how he loves reading, loves playing with Legos, and still has hints of having a baby face.

After the shoot, I went through the images as though this was a regular client gallery, but found myself saving a few images that I know would NOT have made it into a client gallery!

That got me thinking.

Are there photos that I’ve left out of a client gallery that should have been in it?

Below are examples of photos from this recent shoot that would make it into a client gallery…

Annie Tao Photography The Science of Selecting Photos article image that would make it into client gallery 2

Annie Tao Photography The Science of Selecting Photos article image that would make it into client gallery 1

Annie Tao Photography The Science of Selecting Photos article image that would make it into client gallery 3

Below are examples of photos that would NOT have made it into a client gallery, but I love…

Annie Tao Photography The Science of Selecting Photos article image that would NOT make it into client gallery 2

Above: he is playing with his hands and arms, which he does when he’s nervous.

Annie Tao Photography The Science of Selecting Photos article image that would NOT make it into client gallery 1

Above: he is chewing gum (I can even see it in his mouth – Oy!), which is his favorite treat.

What does this mean?

Note: I am writing this for Children and Family Photography, but this can apply to any portrait session.

  1. During the session, pay attention to the children’s behavior. What are the little things they do when they’re happy, nervous or excited?
  2. Have an open dialogue with the parents. If they feel comfortable with you, they will share details about what they love or the little quirks that represent their child. It could be something you wouldn’t have guessed.
  3. Remember your client when selecting your final images. Think about what images your clients may like that perhaps didn’t make it into your selection. There may be something you’d want to include in the final images that may bring a tear to their eyes or make them laugh, but isn’t “perfect” in your eyes.

In terms of photo selection, your job as a Photographer is to choose photos that represent your artistic style. You are also a Service Provider whose ultimate goal is to make your clients happy.

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Annie Tao is a Professional Lifestyle Photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area who is best known for capturing genuine smiles, emotions and stories of her subjects. You can visit Annie Tao Photography for more tips or inspiration. Stay connected with her on her Facebook page

  • BluesBro

    Would the same perspectives apply if he we not your son? In this case you are both the parent and the photographer…

  • Angela Burch

    Annie, I just love how you approach photography with such heart and compassion. I wish we lived closer. I’d buy you a coffee.

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Oh Angela, I would take you up on that offer, too! I love coffee! 😛 Thank you so much for your kind comment.

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Exactly! I would usually go through a client gallery and choose the images that “wow” me. Photographing my own child put me in the client’s position by seeing some of the images as valuable to keep whereas I wouldn’t normally keep them if I were only seeing it from an artistic point of view.

    My point is just to keep an eye out for images that may not “wow” you, but would wow your client. 🙂

  • Annie you are an inspiration. Your own experience opened up your eyes to small things that your “client” exhibited. I love your creative eye and the storytelling power of your work.

  • Gonzalo Broto

    Interesting and helpful opinions. And lovely pictures!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Gosh, that is so nice of you to say! Thank you, Praverb!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Thanks, Gonzalo!

  • Marty

    That last one is a gem, gum and all. 🙂

  • joel

    thanks for these article. I do have my own choice, but when I show all of the pictures for clients to chose what they like for the album, they would end up choosing some pictures that I personally don’t like, but THEY DO… of course, I follow what they want 🙂

  • Ted

    Annie, pretending that you son is the client, how many of your images did he like? Ted

  • Saravana

    Very good and interesting one. I’m gonna try this with my son. 🙂 Thanks of sharing.

  • WebSrfr

    Dumb question – why not show clients _all_ of the images, especially if they are presented on-line?

  • LarryC

    I recently tried the experiment with a shoot I did (non-paying) of a friend’s 6 mo. I asked them to pick their favorite 10 our of about 50 images. I likewise picked my favorite 10. Only 2 pics overlapped!

  • Carol Zytnik

    I love these! And I especially love the ones you wouldn’t have included in the client gallery. Why? For the reasons you talked about…with an underlying reason, that I think cuts to the crux of the matter. The images you love show us who this child is and all the endearing things about him that make up who he is. I photograph mostly pets and I look for those expressions and personal quirks. A beautiful photo is made so much better, I think, when the personality of the individual is allowed to shine through.

  • Mórrígan

    When I scrolled to the very last photo, my first reaction was that it hinted at what he may look like as an adult; a perfect transitional capture, gum and all.

  • Christine Palmer

    Beautiful inspirong photography and such a cute little man ..

  • Jordana

    These are lovely! I like all of them, but my favorite, from a mom’s perspective, are the last two. The others would be great on a magazine or card, and are great, but what a gift to catch that special moment that shows a persons true personality! I love the pics that show true joy and love of life and personal quirks.

  • You are welcome 🙂

  • Great experiment Larry. Do you think that the results would have been different with just 10 images?

  • KGPhotography

    I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment on DPS before but your article and images MOVED me. Your son is an absolute doll and I LOVE the images you chose for this article. I’m an African wildlife photographer that has been dabbling in pet and human portraiture since I no longer live overseas. Choosing the best wildlife image easy compared to choosing human ones…thanks for reminding me that the “imperfect” images from my standpoint might actually be the most treasured ones by my clients!!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Agreed!!! 🙂

  • Annie Tao Photography

    I agree 100%! 🙂

  • Annie Tao Photography

    I love that you did that experiment, Larry! I do ask my clients which ones are their favorites because they almost always pick at least one that wasn’t in my top 10. Very interesting.

  • Annie Tao Photography

    You are very welcome! And thank you so much for your comment! 🙂

    Are you in Africa now? I would looooooove to photograph African wildlife some day!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Thank you so much, Christine! Have a great weekend.

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Awwwww… that is a cool observation! And yea, I love that gum!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    That isn’t a dumb question at all! That is such a good question… one that I can probably write an entire article about actually!

    Basically, I would never show clients every photo. All the photos that my clients see (on my blogsite and password-protected gallery) are fully edited. It takes a long time to edit the images, so I cull the images down to the best of the best. I believe as a professional, you should always show only your best work (fully edited, etc).

    Here is what I do after a photoshoot. It’s quite extensive, I know, but it works for me! 🙂

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Have fun!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    That would be funny to ask him. He’d probably say “everything” because he is so sweet and thinks I’m the best photographer in the World! haha. 🙂

    So the thing is, I did put myself in my client’s position when I went through the images by seeing which ones I’d like as the PARENT of the child. If it’s a child photography session, the child is my subject and the parents are my clients. This is because the parents are the ones I’d work with to plan the session.

  • Annie Tao Photography

    You’re doing the right thing though. Often, people don’t put themselves in the position of the client. Our job is to be true to ourselves as photographers/artists, but we have to also make our clients happy. There must be a middle ground.

  • Christel Sarsfield

    These photos of your son are beautiful! I am new to taking portraits or people shots and find your style to be a great inspiration for me. Thank you for sharing.

  • Kelly G asper Photography

    No, I’m back in the States for good now but I lived in South Africa for 3.5 years! We traveled quite a bit and of course there were many safaris 🙂

  • Kelly Gasper Photography

    Nope, I’m back in the States now but miss Africa soooo much! We lived there for 3.5 years and traveled quite a bit to other countries. Africa is THE place for incredible wildlife and landscapes! 🙂

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    i shoot pictures for an animal shelter to help the pets find forever homes. i tend to find that the pictures that make the animals look a little quirky such as tongues hanging out, laying down for belly rubs, playing with toys, give them more personality and help them get adopted faster. Three of my favorites

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Delightful shots!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Gosh, that is so nice of you to say! Thank you, Christel!

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Ha ha… I agree. It shows his personality!

  • Michael Kessler

    I need help selecting photos for a website. Any ideas where I can turn to learn how to pick the right photo or anyone I can hire.

  • Daniel Schilperoort

    They are all awesome but I like the last two more I think. They have a more childish energy.

  • Michael Yenor-Photography

    I just did this too, this weekend of ANOTHER photographers family. I chose 50 images and knocked it to 10 and let them do this from the entire gallery. The entire venn diagram looked like two photographers picked the images that we liked, as photographers. When we were done, we talked about what drew us to the images and both agreed that the ones we would have chosen as parents were the ones less likely to make it to the pile for the customer – kid cutting up…boogery nose-poses a total mess.

    It goes to show that – as photographers – perhaps there needs to be another pile that we take our photographer hats off and look at them as a parent.

    Great article…

  • Annie Tao Photography

    I love that! Thanks for sharing your experience, Michael! I can imagine that: the parent in us loves the photos that represent our child, boogars and all! The photographer in us wants a cleaner image and one that is composed perfectly.

  • Emma Metcalfe

    I’m just starting out. Is it a really bad idea to ask your client to look through the raw material with you and pick out a few they love and delete a load they hate? Only asking as I have spent a lot of time editing images that look lovely to me only for the client to say “I look fat” or “I don’t like my son’s expression” etc.

  • I just wished you said the reasons why you wouldn’t put that 2 last images in the client’s gallery.
    I mean, what are wrong with them? Why are they not perfect to a photographer’s eye?

    Great article, had to comment to express my grateful. (=

  • Annie Tao Photography

    Hi Yuri,

    I did include those reasons, directly under each image. Here is a cut and paste…

    First image I would not typically include:
    “Above: he is playing with his hands and arms, which he does when he’s nervous.”

    Second image:
    “Above: he is chewing gum (I can even see it in his mouth – Oy!), which is his favorite treat.”

    I would NOT typically include those bec the arms block his face and I can see gum inside his mouth! That’s pretty self-explanatory why those wouldn’t be considered in a client gallery. However, when there is MEANING behind those activities, then they should be CONSIDERED to be included in the gallery. Sometimes a meaningful image is more important than one that is photographically “perfect”. 🙂


  • Annie Tao Photography

    Such a great question, Emma! Sorry I didn’t see this until now. <:) I'll answer it just in case this can still be helpful to you or someone reading this.

    The answer depends on how much time you have and your workflow…and even how well you know your subjects. For me, I would never show the raw images to a client. Never. The main reason for that is because, to me, when my clients hire me to capture images, they are saying they believe in my artistic vision. So I am always the first one to go through the images and I only show the best of the best to my clients, even if they're good friends whom I've known for years.

    On that note, I always deliver a good number of images to each client, so I rarely get the question, "But are there more?" So I make sure I include images I LOVE and some images I like, but I think THEY'LL love! Hope that makes sense. 🙂


  • Annie Tao Photography

    There are probably marketing services you can hire to do that, but in my opinion, why pay someone to do something you can do better? You know your business, who your clients are (or should be), and what kind of message you’re trying to create with your website. 🙂


    I figure the pictures you adore demonstrate to us who this tyke is and all the charming things about him that make up his identity. I photo for the most part pets and I search for those expressions and individual peculiarities. A delightful photograph is improved so much, I think, when the identity of the individual is permitted to radiate through.

  • it’s been 2 years and just now I saw your reply. haha
    first, let me say I’m sorry I didn’t see it before: I’m sorry! (=
    I think those reasons are good reasons to SELECT those images, and not to exclude them from the gallery.
    I couldnt agree more with you when you say “Sometimes a meaningful image is more important than one that is photographically perfect”.

    thanks for answering.

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