What Is Culling in Photography? Plus Tips for Faster Results

What Is Culling in Photography featured photo

As a photographer, I take lots of pictures so I don’t miss the perfect moment. But that also means I will have to edit more photos for my portfolio or client. Fortunately, a photography technique called culling enables me to cut editing time in half.

Culling in photography is the process of selecting the best photos worth keeping from a shoot. It is an essential step that separates professional photographers from amateurs. 

However, culling is more than choosing visually pleasing images. You must also understand the factors that make photos great and how to tell a story through them. This article will cover the steps in photo culling. You will also learn about the importance of photo cutting below. 

What is Culling in Photography?

Culling is a photography method that involves choosing the best images taken during a shoot. It is a crucial step to perform after capturing the photos. 

During culling, the photographer goes through the image gallery to check all the photos taken. They will pick the best ones that meet the project requirements or personal creative vision. They can also take a different approach by deleting bad photos.

After identifying the final images worth keeping, the photographer will process and edit them as needed. Then, they will send the final output for printing or publishing.

Overall, culling is an essential part of the photography workflow. It helps you select the best images to create a cohesive and stunning project.

Why Do You Need to Do the Photo Culling Process?

Culling images is important for several reasons. Below, you will learn why you need to perform photo culling after every shoot.

Eliminate Duplicate Photos

Eliminate Duplicate Photos

Do you remember when I said I usually take many photos during a shoot? Most professional photographers use burst mode to capture every moment and nail the focus, especially when shooting moving subjects.

However, that leads to several duplicate images. Having too many similar photos can weaken the overall impact of your photo gallery.

Fortunately, culling can help you remove any duplicates you don’t need.

Remove Bad Shots

No matter how good a photographer you are, you can still take bad images during a shoot. These include blurry shots or missed focus, people with closed eyes, and other flawed expressions.

Culling allows you to delete these subjectively bad images, so you can focus on finding the best one. You can also get more storage space when you cull photos.

Save Time in Photo Editing

When you remove duplicates and bad photos during culling, you will have fewer images in Lightroom or any app to edit. As a result, you can speed up the editing process and save time from tweaking pictures you don’t even like.

Impress Your Clients

Your client doesn’t want to see overexposed or underexposed and out-of-focus shots. Likewise, they probably wouldn’t like it if you showed them near-identical images.

It is essential to cull photos and be selective about what you deliver to your clients. You can submit as many pictures as you like. But always remember that quality is more important than quantity. You can impress and retain your clients if you carefully cull images.

Improve Your Photography Style

The process of selecting and discarding images during culling can help hone your photography style. It helps you identify why you choose certain photos over others.

So in your next photo session, you can knowingly avoid the factors that ruin images for you. For instance, you may discover that you prefer shooting underexposed instead of overexposed to prevent losing detail.

How to Cull Pictures? The Essential Basics to Know in Photography

By now, you already know why you need to cull photos. The next thing to learn is how to cull images.

Below, I will share tips for quickly culling photos to spend less time editing.

Cull In Instead of Out

There are two main types of culling in photography—culling in and culling out.

Culling out involves selecting the images to delete, whereas culling in is choosing the best photos to keep.

Some photographers use the cull-out method to reject images. But I think this approach is a waste of time. It can also affect your culling workflow and overall confidence in your skills. Think about it. Since you’re actively looking for bad shots, you are likely to feel like a mediocre photographer.

I recommend using the cull-in method because it basically accomplishes the same thing. If you choose beautiful photos, you can easily eliminate the rejected images.

Culling in also saves time—you will select fewer photos than you would be rejecting. Plus, you can feel better when searching for the best shots you’ve taken instead of focusing on the bad things. Simply add a rating or star to the images you want to keep. 

Perform a Fast Cull, Then Edit

During the culling process, you may second-guess whether a photo is good or not. Or you might still have an emotional attachment to the image. However, these kinds of hesitation can slow down the photography workflow.

It is important to be decisive in photo culling. Select only the photos that really resonate with you or meet your client’s requirements. Or, to make things simpler, add a star or rating to pictures that look good at first glance. These steps allow you to delete bad shots faster and retain the good ones.

There is no need to worry about choosing the perfect image at this stage. You can always go back to the photo gallery and edit pictures later.

Use Shortcut Keys

Most photographers use image software tools for photo culling. These programs allow shortcut keys to speed up your workflow.

For instance, in Adobe Lightroom, pressing the arrow keys allow you to navigate through photos quickly. Use the numerical keys to assign a number rating or color label for the images you want to keep. Then, press the “\” button to show or hide the library filter bar.

The “Z” key is another shortcut worth remembering and using. It allows you to zoom or magnify the subject and check if it is in sharp focus.

If you are using another editing software, check their website to learn the quick command functions.

Consider Using A.I.

Besides shortcut keys in image editing programs, consider employing the help of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and other tools.

One of the most popular tools for photo culling is Narrative Select (for Mac users). This software uses A.I. to help you cull thousands of pictures in seconds. It offers handy eye and focus assessment settings. These can identify if the subject is in focus or if they blinked when you captured the image.

Narrative Select also has a close-ups panel for group photos. It can eliminate the need for repeated zooming to check everyone’s faces. 

Remember that A.I.-powered tools still have their limitations. Avoid relying on them entirely. At the end of the day, you are in charge of the final selection of images.

Stick to a Single Culling System

It is easy to get overwhelmed when culling photos, especially considering the different culling methods and the countless tips online. Plus, every photographer has their own way of culling images.

You may be tempted to combine all these culling workflows.

However, I highly recommend sticking to a single culling process that works for you. Then, master that method.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by culling images daily. The more you cull using your preferred way, the better you will get. 

How to Cull Images in Adobe Lightroom?

As previously mentioned, Adobe Lightroom is one of the best photo culling software tools for photographers today. I also use this program to speed up my entire editing workflow.

Below, I will share three different ways you can cull images in Lightroom.

Add a Star Rating

You can set a star rating for all the images you want to keep. Press the numbers 1 to 5 on your keyboard to add a star on your selected images. The lowest number usually represents the rejected photos, while the highest figure denotes the best pictures during a shoot.

I personally do not use the star rating that much for culling images in Lightroom. The reason is that it can be a complicated system.

Imagine rating an image five different ways while browsing your gallery. For instance, you might use one star for rejected images, two stars for potential keepers, three for keepers as RAW images, and four and five for the best shots. It can be challenging to think about these things, which ultimately slows you down.

That said, I still recommend star ratings after culling your photos. It can help you determine the images worth adding to your portfolio.

Use Flags

Another way to cull photos in Lightroom is to use the flagging method. 

Press the “P” key to add a flag for the keeper photos. Then, use “X” to mark the rejects or bad shots.

If you added the wrong label to flagged images, you can unflag it by pressing the “U” key. 

Do you want to go through your library module even faster? Hold the Shift key and the “P” or “X” to automatically go to the next photo after the image assessments.

Remember to press the delete key on reject images from the catalog to free up storage space and eliminate clutter on your display screen. Press CTRL and backspace (Windows) or CMD and delete (Mac) on your keyboard. Then, click on “Remove” when the pop-up window appears.

Apply a Color Label

You can also put a color label when culling in photography. Press the numerical keys between 6 and 9 to select a shade.

Below are the colors available and their corresponding shortcut keys in Lightroom.

  • Red – 6
  • Yellow – 7
  • Green – 8
  • Blue – 9

The color labeling system has the same problems as the star method. So I do not use it as often as the flag system.

Fortunately, there is a way to keep things simple. I recommend choosing only two colors—one for the keepers and the other for the rejects. 


You can capture as many photos as you want during a shoot, assuming that your memory card has enough space. However, you must only select the best shots if you plan to present them to a client or make a portfolio shot. 

Culling in photography refers to the process of choosing the best images to keep from a shoot. It can save you both time and storage space, among other benefits. Follow my tips above on how to cull photos.

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