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Taking out the Garbage – 7 Tips for Choosing Your Best Photos Fast


One of the most time-consuming and difficult things in photography is going through all the unedited images you took and choosing your best photos, the ones to keep, and which images to pass by. When I first started out as a photographer, I’d get hung up on this every time. I’d spend way too much time agonizing over every photo, and worrying so much about throwing away a good one. If this sounds like you, then read on, maybe I can save you a lot of time and headaches with a few simple tips!

#1 Don’t take so many in the first place

When you take hundreds of images at a time, the idea of looking through every photo and choosing the best is daunting! If you take each photo with intent, and wait for the right moments before pushing the shutter, you won’t have so many throw-aways to wade through. Be careful to notice composition as you shoot, and focus carefully. Time is money (and if not money, time is sanity), so don’t waste your time with so many extra images to go through.

#2 Choose images that reflect your style

It’s actually quite surprising how much the images you choose reflect who you are as a photographer. Two different photographers could take the same set of images and they’d choose completely different images to keep or toss. This is actually a great thing. It’s what makes you stand out from all the rest, and it lets your heart and soul shine through. I might keep images that others wouldn’t, and toss some that they’d keep, but many people have told me that they can always tell a Melinda Smith, and that is one of the greatest compliments anyone could give me.

#3 Watch for distractions


You may notice something in the photo that you know you’ll have to fix in post-processing. You have to decide if this is a deal-breaker, or if it’s worth the fix. In the image above, there was a garden hose (I should’ve moved it before we took the photo, but it was someone else’s home, and I didn’t know how much I should disturb). I decided that I loved the style of the image (my style) enough that it was worth fixing the garden hose. Other times I might decide that I have enough images that don’t require extra work, and it’s not worth the hassle. It’s your call, but try not to keep too many that require extra time.

 #4 Blurry photos go


If any photos have softness, or blurriness, they’re automatically out. What if the client wanted to print that particular image on a huge canvas? I don’t want to be the one to have to tell them that yes, the expressions are adorable, but it’s going to look horrible when it’s blown up big. It’s so hard sometimes when everything else is great, but if you missed it, you missed it. You can’t fix blurry. You might have to pick a second choice photo, but do you want to be the photographer that gives out blurry photos? There are rare exceptions to this; sometimes a photographer will shoot out of focus on purpose, or a particular photo will work as an abstract blurry image, but be very picky. This rule can also apply to any photos that are way off with exposure. Just let them go!

#5 Eliminate similar photos


You may have two (or more) photos that are very similar. They might both be cute, but one must go. You will lose a lot of impact with your collections of photos if many of them look the same. I know that it can be hard to give up a photo that you like, but nobody needs five photos of nearly the same look and pose. Decide which one speaks to your style better, check sharpness, or choose the one that shows the subject’s personality a little better. In the above set I chose the photo on the right. They are almost the same photo, but the one on the right was slightly more enthusiastic, and this little girl was FULL of enthusiasm! I had to keep it.

#6 Don’t miss the hidden gems


You might have a photo that you know could be really great with just a little bit of work. Maybe a head swap, or a little bit of magical editing will make it into a photo you absolutely love. Sometimes photos that you might pass by initially may end up being your favorite. Watch for those photos that might be your favorites with a little wave of your editing wand.

#7 Be ruthless, be quick


I know, this sounds like a contradiction of the last tip, but unless you want to be agonizing over every photo for hours, you have to move quickly. You have to be somewhat ruthless as you go through your photos. You can’t edit every single one, and sometimes you just have to make quick judgment calls and move on. In the photos above, the one on the left is cute, but I decided that I liked the connection in the one in the middle the best, so that’s the one that I kept. If I’m having a really hard time giving photos up, I will give them star ratings as I go through them; five stars for definite keepers and four stars for maybes. I usually end up with more five stars than I need, so the four stars automatically go. Sometimes it’s easier to let them go after you’ve given them a fair trial.

What are some strategies that you use to choose which photos to keep and which to toss? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments:

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Melinda Smith
Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

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