Culling Photography: How to Cull Like a Pro

Culling photography involves selecting and organizing the best images from a larger collection. Remember, photography is not just about capturing stunning images but also about presenting the best from your collection. This process is known as photo culling, and it’s a vital part of the workflow of any professional photographer. 

Are you struggling with managing a plethora of pictures from your latest shoot? Culling is an essential yet often overlooked step in the photography workflow. This comprehensive guide delves into the process’s importance, methods, and best practices. We will equip you with pro tips, techniques, and tools to expedite the culling processenhance your final collection, and streamline storage.

Keep reading if you’re ready to transform chaos into curated artistry! 

Key Takeaways

  • Culling in photography is selecting the best images from a shoot and actively rejecting unwanted photos.
  • Efficient culling enhances the final photographs’ quality, saves editing time, and clears up storage space.
  • Pro tips for faster culling include removing emotional attachments, culling before editing, utilizing AI tools, being decisive and ruthless in decision-making, and making the process enjoyable. Shortcut keys and sticking to one culling strategy are also important.
  • Techniques for culling pictures include using the Narrative Select method to tell a compelling story with your images and utilizing Lightroom’s features for efficient culling.
  • Tools such as AI-based culling software, Lightroom, and Photo Mechanic can streamline the culling process for photographers.

What is Culling in Photography?

Culling is the process of actively selecting the final images from a photoshoot and rejecting unwanted photos. It’s also referred to as “making selects.”

photographer culling

The process of selecting final images from a shoot

Culling involves rigorously sorting through photographs to separate what works from what doesn’t. After a photo shoot, you may find yourself with hundreds or thousands of images, but not all will make the final cut. 

Culling involves evaluating each image for technical accuracy and artistic merit. It’s about singling out the best photos that effectively tell your story or deliver on your client’s vision.

Efficiency stems from a keen eye for detail and a sound understanding of composition and storytelling principles. Effectively using software tools is also very important and will be discussed later in this article. 

Actively Rejecting Unwanted Photos

In an effective culling process, actively rejecting unwanted photos is crucial. It involves identifying pictures that don’t meet the desired criteria and eliminating them from the selection.

That could range from blurry images, poorly lit shots, duplicates, or photographs that do not fit into your envisioned narrative.

This process simplifies photo editing. By focusing only on high-potential photographs, precious time is saved – time better used to enhance selected images to their maximum potential or meet tight deadlines without compromising quality.

Furthermore, it clears up storage space which can be a significant benefit considering the large size of raw files.

Importance of Culling Photos Before Image Editing

Culling images is crucial as it enhances the quality of final photographs and saves time and storage space.

Enhances the quality of final photographs

Culling is crucial to enhancing the quality of your final photographs. As a professional photographer, you must analyze your work critically, identifying the images that truly stand out.

Through this process, you eliminate unsatisfactory shots and distractions, leaving only top-tier images. 

Saves time and storage space

Efficiently culling images enhances the quality of your final photographs and saves you valuable time and storage space. By carefully selecting only the best shots, you eliminate the need to sift through countless unnecessary photos during editing.

Save time

This streamlined approach lets you focus on perfecting your chosen images rather than wasting time on mediocre ones. Additionally, a curated collection of high-quality photos takes up less storage space, freeing up memory for future shoots and ensuring your photography workflow remains organized and efficient.

You can optimize your creative output and practical resources as a professional photographer with proper culling techniques.

Pro Tips for Faster Culling

To speed up the culling process, remove an emotional attachment and approach it objectively.

Remove emotional attachment

Removing emotional attachment is a crucial step in the culling process. Holding on to every photo taken during a shoot can be tempting, but objectively assessing and selecting the best images is essential for producing high-quality work.

By detaching yourself emotionally from your photos, you can make decisions based solely on their technical merits and composition, resulting in a stronger final selection.

Remember that not every image will be perfect or meaningful; embracing this reality will help you choose the best shots without hesitation.

Cull before editing

One crucial step in the photography workflow is to cull your images before diving into the editing process. By actively rejecting unwanted photos and selecting only the best ones, you can save valuable time and ensure you’re working with high-quality images from the start.

Culling before editing lets you quickly identify and eliminate duplicates, blurry shots, or unflattering angles, leaving you with a more concise set of images. It streamlines your editing process and helps maintain organization in your digital library. 

Use AI tools

AI tools have revolutionized the culling process in photography, making it faster and more efficient. These tools use artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze images and automatically flag duplicates, blurry shots, or poorly exposed photos, saving you valuable time.

Additionally, they can help organize and categorize your images based on specific criteria or keywords. By incorporating AI tools into your culling workflow, you can streamline the process and focus on selecting the best shots from a shoot without getting overwhelmed by a large volume of images.

Cull positively and efficiently

One important aspect of culling images is approaching the process positively and efficiently. Instead of dwelling on the photos you don’t like, focus on selecting the ones that truly stand out.

That means being decisive and ruthless in your decision-making. Trust your instincts and quickly move on from images that don’t make the cut. By maintaining a proactive attitude, you’ll be able to streamline your culling process and save valuable time for editing and other tasks.

Make the Process Enjoyable

Culling photos can often be tedious, but it doesn’t have to be! Making the culling process enjoyable can help you stay motivated and efficient. One way to make it more enjoyable is by creating a comfortable environment.

Find a quiet space to focus and play your favorite music in the background. Another tip is to take breaks between culling sessions to give your eyes and mind some rest. Additionally, try experimenting with different culling techniques or methods to keep things interesting.

By finding ways to make the process enjoyable, you’ll improve your mood while working and maintain consistency and quality in your final selection of images.

Utilize Shortcut Keys

Shortcut keys can be a game-changer when culling images quickly and efficiently. Instead of relying solely on your mouse or trackpad, take advantage of keyboard shortcuts to speed up your workflow.

Most photo editing software, such as Lightroom, offers a range of shortcut keys that allow you to perform common tasks with just a press of a button. Whether flagging images for deletion, rating them, or moving through the photos in your library, using shortcut keys can significantly reduce editing time and make the culling process much smoother overall.

Here are a few Shortcut Keys to help speed up your workflow if you’re culling using Adobe Lightroom Classic:

Here are some Lightroom keyboard shortcuts for culling photos:

Ctrl + Shift + D (Windows) or Command + Shift + D (Mac): Enable/disable auto-advance mode.

Z key: Zoom in to 1:1 in Loupe view, and the Hand tool will be active for panning around the image. When done, tap the “Z” key again to zoom out and fit the image back in the window.

Shift + Tab: Hide or show all panels and filmstrip[5].

X key: Reject a photo.

Ctrl + Backspace (Windows) or Command + Delete (Mac): Delete a rejected photo from the catalog.

P key: Pick a photo.

Shift + Left Arrow: Move to the previous photo.

Shift + Right Arrow: Move to the next photo.

Ctrl + Shift + A (Windows) or Command + Shift + A (Mac): Deselect all photos.

Ctrl + A (Windows) or Command + A (Mac): Select all photos.

These shortcuts can help you quickly cull through your photos in Lightroom Classic.

So take time to learn and practice these shortcuts – they may become your new best friend when culling!

Stick to One Culling Process

Consistency is key when it comes to culling photography. Sticking to one culling process throughout your workflow is vital for efficiency and productivity. Changing your approach from shoot to shoot can confuse and slow you down.

Find a method that works best for you and refine it over time, whether using star ratings or color labels in Lightroom or utilizing AI-based culling software. By sticking to one process, you’ll streamline your workflow and be able to identify and select the best images from each shoot quickly.

Tools and Resources for Culling

There are various tools and resources available for photographers to streamline the culling process. These include AI-based culling software that uses algorithms to identify the best images, features within editing software like Lightroom for efficient culling, and additional tools such as Photo Mechanic for quick culling.

Culling in the Age of AI: Emerging Trends

With advances in AI and machine learning, the process of culling is becoming increasingly automated. AI software can now analyze images based on many parameters and suggest the best ones, speeding up the culling process.

AI-based culling software is a game-changer for professional photographers. With this software, you can speed up the culling process by automatically sorting through your images and identifying the best ones based on criteria like image quality, composition, and sharpness.

It eliminates the need to manually sift through hundreds or even thousands of photos, saving you valuable time. Additionally, AI-based culling tools often have advanced features such as facial recognition and duplicate detection, making selecting only the highest-quality shots easier.

By utilizing AI technology in your culling workflow, you can streamline your editing process and ensure you always deliver top-notch images to your clients.

Features for efficient culling

Efficient culling is crucial for professional photographers to streamline their workflow and save time. Fortunately, several features are available in culling software that can help enhance the efficiency of the process.

These include advanced sorting options based on ratings or keywords, batch editing capabilitiescustomizable keyboard shortcuts for quicker navigation, and the ability to compare images side by side.

Additionally, some software even offers AI-powered tools that can automatically analyze and select images based on composition, sharpness, and other criteria defined by the photographer.

Culling Images in Lightroom: A Quick Guide

Adobe Lightroom is a popular tool among photographers for culling images. Its library module lets photographers quickly review and rate images, making the culling process efficient. You can use keyboard shortcuts to move to the next photo and assign ratings, speeding up the process.

Culling photos in Adobe Lightroom allows you to sort through your images and make the selects you want to keep, edit, or deliver to your clients. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to do it:

  1. Import Your Photos: The first step is to import your photos into Lightroom. You can do this by clicking on ‘File’ and then ‘Import Photos and Video.’ Select the photos you want to import and click ‘Import.’
  2. Library Module: After your photos have been imported, go to the Library module. It’s the best place to cull your photos because it lets you see a grid of all your images.
  3. Flagging: The flagging system is one of the most popular methods to cull photos. You can flag your images as ‘picked’ or ‘rejected.’
    • To flag a photo as ‘picked,’ select the image and press ‘P’ on your keyboard. In the grid view, a white flag will appear on the top left corner of your thumbnail.
    • To flag a photo as ‘rejected,’ select the image and press’ X.’ In the grid view, a black flag will appear on the top left corner of your thumbnail.
    • If you want to unflag a photo, select it and press ‘U.’
  4. Filtering: After flagging your photos, you can filter them to see only the ‘picked’ or ‘rejected’ ones.
    • To see the ‘picked’ photos, click on the Attribute tab under the Library Filter at the top of the Grid view and select the white flag.
    • To see the ‘rejected’ photos, do the same but select the black flag.
  5. Rating: Another method to cull photos is the star rating system. You can rate your photos from 1 to 5 by selecting an image and pressing the corresponding number on your keyboard.
  6. Color Labeling: This is another method to cull your photos. You can assign different color labels to your photos. Select an image and press 6 for red, 7 for yellow, 8 for green, or 9 for blue.Deleting Rejected Photos: Once you’ve culled your photos, you can delete all the rejected ones by going to ‘Photo’> ‘Delete Rejected Photos.’

Remember, culling is a personal process, and photographers have different methods. Find what works best for you.

Culling Photos Using Photo Mechanic

Photo Mechanic is another popular tool for culling photos. It’s known for its speed and efficiency in handling raw images. It offers various culling methods like star ratings, color coding, and tagging, which can significantly reduce the time spent in the culling process.

Photo Mechanic is an excellent tool for photographers who need to cull their photos efficiently. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

  1. Import Your Photos: Launch Photo Mechanic and navigate to the directory where your photos are stored. Photo Mechanic will quickly generate thumbnails of all your photos. You can also drag and drop the photos folder directly into the app.
  2. Previewing Photos: Once your photos are loaded, double-click on any image to preview them. Navigate through your photos using the arrow keys on your keyboard.
  3. Rating: You can rate your photos using the number keys (0-5). Typically, photographers use a system of rating photos from 1-5, with 1 being the least favored and 5 being the most favored. Press the corresponding number on your keyboard to rate an image.
  4. Color Classing: Besides rating, Photo Mechanic allows you to assign color classes to your photos. To assign a color, press Shift + a number key (6-9).
  5. Tagging: Press ‘T’ on your keyboard to tag a photo. Tagged photos will have a checkmark on the bottom right corner of the grid view. This method can be handy for a quick cull, where you only tag the photos you want to keep.
  6. Filtering: Once you have rated, color classed, or tagged your photos, you can filter them based on these criteria. That is done in the filter bar at the screen’s bottom right.
  7. Exporting: Once you’ve culled your photos, you can export your selection to a specific folder or directly into another program for editing, such as Adobe Lightroom. Select the images you want to export and drag them to the desired location or program. 

Remember, finding a system that works best for you is crucial.

How to Cull Photos in Aftershoot

Aftershoot is an AI-based photo-culling app that makes the photo selection process quick and efficient. Here’s a guide on how to cull photos in Afterschool:

  1. Import Your Photos: Launch Aftershoot and click the “New Project” button on the home screen. Name your project and then select the folder where your images are stored. Click “Next.”
  2. Select Preferences: Aftershoot provides options to filter out photos based on their quality, sharpness, eyes open, and smiles. Adjust the sliders based on your preferences and click “Start” to begin the culling process.
  3. AI Culling Process: Aftershoot will start analyzing your photos. This process might take a while, depending on the number of images you have. Once the AI has analyzed your photos, it will rank them according to your preferences.
  4. Review Your Photos: Once Aftershoot completes the culling process, you can review the photos. The app automatically marks the best images, but you can manually select or deselect pictures.
  5. Exporting: After you’ve reviewed and selected your photos, you can export them to a specific folder. Click on the “Export” button and choose your desired folder. You can export the images into Lightroom or other photo editing software. Aftershoot, will export both the original files and a .CSV file with the details of your selected photos.


In conclusion, culling photography is a crucial step for professional photographers to enhance the quality of their final images and save time and storage space. Photographers can efficiently select their best shots by utilizing pro tips such as removing emotional attachment, using AI tools, and sticking to one culling process.

With techniques like the Lightroom culling process, along with the help of AI-based culling software, photographers can streamline their workflow and deliver exceptional results.

Personalized methods and processes also play a role in efficient image selection. Overall, mastering the art of culling is essential for every photographer’s success in creating stunning visuals.

Watch “An Easier Way to Cull Images in Lightroom” for More useful tips:


The term “cull” in photography refers to selecting the best images from a photo session. It’s an essential stage before the editing process, where you review, select, or reject images based on quality, relevance, and the narrative they carry. A well-executed cull can streamline your workflow and enhance the visual impact of your portfolio or project.

Culling is a critical step in a photographer’s workflow. It helps you to manage your work effectively and save valuable editing time. It ensures that only the best images get showcased, enhancing your reputation as a professional photographer. It’s also important for meeting client expectations, particularly when working with a high volume of images, like a wedding photographer or event photographer.

The culling process varies from photographer to photographer, depending mainly on their workflow, the type of photography they are into, and their personal preferences. Some photographers start culling immediately after a photo session, while others wait a day or two to review their shots with fresh eyes.

It’s essential to keep a backup copy of all your original photographs before deleting any rejected ones during the culling process. It allows you to have a safety net in case you change your mind or need those deleted files for specific purposes like client requests or additional editing options.

You can use culling software designed for photographers to cull your photos quickly. These software tools streamline the culling process by allowing you to navigate through your images fast, compare them side by side, and easily mark the ones you want to keep or discard.

The best practice for culling and editing is to separate the two processes. First, focus on culling and selecting the best images without getting caught up in detailed editing. Once you have finalized your selection, move on to the editing stage, where you can fine-tune the chosen photographs to achieve the desired result.

Culling is an important step in the photo editing workflow because it helps you narrow many images to a more manageable and high-quality selection. Eliminating redundant or visually inferior photos saves time and effort during the editing process.

Yes, manual culling is still necessary even when using culling software. While the software can assist in the initial culling process, it is important for the photographer to personally review and make final decisions on the selected images, as they have a better understanding of their creative vision and intent.

Some popular culling software options include Adobe Lightroom, Photo Mechanic, Capture One Pro, and FastRawViewer. These software tools provide photographers with various features and capabilities to cull and organize their images efficiently.

When choosing your best images during the culling process, consider factors such as composition, exposure, focus, storytelling, and emotional impact. Look for images that effectively convey your intended message or evoke the desired response from viewers.

Culling before you start editing your photos ensures you invest time and effort in enhancing the most promising images. By removing excessive or weak photos early on, you can focus your creative energy on editing the best photographs and maximizing their potential.

While it is possible to cull and edit simultaneously, more efficient approaches exist. Separating culling and editing allows you to focus on each task independently, preventing distractions and ensuring a more streamlined and effective workflow.

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