Digital cameras make it easy to shoot lots of photos. They don’t cost anything to take, and high-capacity memory cards are relatively cheap these days, so you can take hundreds of shots in a single session.
That’s good from a financial point of view, and it means you can freely experiment and perfect your technique, but it’s bad news when you need to go through your photos later.
This is when you discover your photo library isn’t just vast and growing ever larger, but contains so many near-misses, poor-quality shots and similar-looking versions of the same subject, that your best shots are swamped in a sea of also-rans!
So here’s a six-step guide to sorting through your photos before they go into your archive, because if you don’t do it now, you’ll kick yourself later…
1. Delete the duds
This is easy. Just quickly go through your photos and delete the ones you don’t like. It doesn’t matter what the reason is – you’ll know straight away which of your shots leave you cold, so just get rid of them.
If you agonise over it and hang on to them ‘just in case’, you’re only making work for yourself later, and diluting all your good shots with dreary second-raters.
2. Check the composition
If your framing isn’t quite right, you can easily crop your photos in your image-editing software. It’s things like your subject being cut off at the edge of the frame that you can’t fix, or people standing in the way, or telegraph poles coming out of your subject’s head.
So be honest, be ruthless and dump your failures! Or, if you’ve got shots you really can’t bear to delete, use your image cataloguing software to create two new albums: one for images you need to fix, and another for shots you want to try to re-shoot and get right next time.
This will give you something to do on a rainy day in front of the computer, and handy inspiration when you’re looking for something to shoot.
3. Exposure errors
Underexposed digital images can be rescued relatively easily in software, but overexposure can’t. If you have large, blank white areas of sky, for example, you’re not going to be able to recover any detail whatever you do.
RAW files may contain extra highlight detail you can claw back using RAW conversion software on the computer, but there’s only a small margin for improvement even here, so be realistic and get rid of the hopeless cases right at the start.
4. Focus failures
Now go through your shots and check for sharpness. You can fix slight softness with sharpening tools, but camera shake and focus errors can’t be put right, so bite the bullet and delete the failures – or, if you love the shot anyway, put them in your ‘Try again’ album.
These first four steps will get rid of your technical and creative failures. You’re never going to be happy with images that fail either test, so there’s no point keeping them.
But you may still be left with lots of similar-looking images from the same shooting session. That’s the problem with digital cameras – you can often end up shooting the same thing a hundred times from a hundred different angles, ‘just to be sure’.
5. Delete the duplicates
Most photo management programs will let you browse your photos and make side-by-side comparisons, and when you do this the best shot may be obvious straight away. And if it’s not, and you really can’t decide, then look at it this way – if they’re so similar you can’t split them, then it doesn’t matter which you choose!
Some programs, including Aperture on the Mac, Adobe Bridge and Lightroom, let you group, or ‘stack’ similar images, and then pick the best shot to place at the top of the stack. This means you get to keep all the images (if you must!) but they’re represented by just a single thumbnail in your image browsing window.
Alternatively, Canon’s Project1709 will automatically recognise duplicate images as you try to upload them to the system using its desktop uploader, ensuring that you don’t end up with multiple versions of the same shot.
6. Rate the remainder
Finally, when you’ve weeded out all the creative and technical failures and thinned down all those duplicates, now’s the time to add star ratings – you can do this in most image browsing and cataloguing programs.
It’s scarcely worth bothering with one or two stars, but you could use three stars for photos which need work, four stars for good, solid pictures, and five stars for your absolute favourites.
You may have your own ideas about how to sort through and edit your photos – these are just suggestions for getting started. But if you do this after every shoot, your photo library will be faster and leaner, and it’ll be filled with great, inspirational images that make you want to get out there and get shooting all over again!
Have these tips been helpful? Do you find it easy or hard to edit your own photo collection? Let us know below…