rich cirminello

Lightroom Image Culling


Lightroom provides many tools for reviewing and organizing your photos. In this post I’m going to share my process for culling a shoot from it’s entirety down to a final edit ready for post-processing. While some people like to just jump in and start post-processing their favorite images, I find that this often leads to wasted effort and double work especially if the images that initially caught your attention turn out not to be the strongest or not what the client wanted/needed.

Prepare the Workspace

Grid View

Auto Advance

While the images are downloading from the memory card, I’ll sometimes go ahead and make sure that Lightroom is correctly set up for me to work as efficiently as possible. I know that I’m going to need to make several passes through the images before I settle on my final selections for retouching and manipulation, therefore I find it best if Lightroom is set up using Grid view (G) in Library mode. Because I am often looking at images from multiple cameras at once, I need to make sure that the view is set to sort by ‘Capture Time.’ For this to work properly the internal clocks on both of my Canon 5DmkIIIs need to be in sync. Believe it or not, they can drift quite a bit so I have gotten into the habit of remembering to synchronize them before each shoot. If I happen to forget, there is a handy feature called ‘Edit Capture Time’ in Lightroom that will allow me to batch adjust the images from one of the cameras.

I also find it helpful to have Auto Advance turned on. Having Auto Advance on means that as soon as I mark a photo Lightroom will automatically show me the next one.

Sort by Capture Time

  • Library Mode
  • Grid View
  • Sort: Capture Time
  • Auto Advance

Now that my photos are downloaded to my computer and Lightroom is set for me to begin working I’m ready to make the first pass.

The First Pass – Dealing with Rejection

What I’m usually looking to do on the first pass is simply remove the junk. ‘Junk’ can be anything that I am pretty sure will be unusable.  Test shots taken before the subject was ready, misfires and out of focus frames, shots where the studio strobes failed to fire, where the model blinked, and such things can all be considered ‘junk.’ and safely rejected.n]

The easiest way I found to get rid of the junk is by scanning over the library in Grid mode, selecting the

Select Rejected Photos

offensive images with a single click and using the X key. This adds the ‘Rejected’ flag to the image and they become slightly greyed out (but still visible) in your grid view. Once I feel I have gone through and picked out the obvious rejections, I filter the library to show only the rejected photos (Attribute Filter: black flag) and ‘un-flag’ any that I am not ready to part with. If I have any doubts, I leave it unflagged and in my library.

When I feel satisfied that these photos will be of absolutely no use to me, I go ahead and delete them from the Library and from disk. At this point you may be staring at a blank library so you’ll have to deselect the rejected filter to bring your assembly back into view.

Time to Backup

With my initial rejected photos cleanly deleted, I am ready to backup the shoot. Some purists my argue that I should have backed up the entire shoot before doing any culling at all, but I have learned to trust my instincts with rejected photos and while many seem to think that ‘storage is cheap’ these days, my time isn’t. I want to avoid giving myself more work later on having to scrape old photo collections and delete junk from backups as well as bogging down resources unnecessarily while uploading or downloading from the cloud.

Only after the non-rejects from the shoot are backed up and I have copies in at least two places do I format my compact flash cards.

With the junk thrown away and the trash taken out, you’re ready to start organizing your images.

Stacking the Deck

For fashion and beauty shoots where I have lots of similar images taken consecutively I find it helpful to stack. What stacking allows you to do is create a virtual ‘pile’ of images (I know, I could’ve said ‘stack’) with one image on top which represents what is contained in the stack. If I’m going to stack my images, I often find it helpful to do so immediately after backing up my images.

Rising Stars – Rough Edits One and Two

The next step is to start making your image selections. For this I often use the star rating feature in Lightroom. If you have Auto Advance enabled, you can go through the entire assembly fairly quickly using the right arrow key and the number 1 for one-star. If I am culling using a single screen or on my laptop I will select the first image and view it full screen (F). If I am at home using two monitors I will have the library in grid view on the left and the selected image shown full screen on the right in Loupe view.

If I think the image has any potential, I press the number 1 (1) to mark it with one star and Auto Advance takes me to the next. If I don’t think the image has potential a tap on the right arrow skips that image and takes me to the next. I continue using number 1 (1) or right arrow until I’ve made it all the way through the entire assembly.

One-Star filter

Next I filter the assembly by one star (Attribute Filter: left-most star), and start again from the top of the

assembly but this time marking the ‘better’ photos with number 2 (2) for two-stars. On this pass I’m looking for the ‘better’ images and may start weeding out images that have similar compositions or looks.

Final Edit – Three Stars

When I’ve gone through and upgraded some of my one-star images to two-stars I have what I consider to be a rough edit. To whittle the assembly down further, I must filter it by two-star images (Attribute Filter: second star from the left), go back to the top and do another pass for three-star images using the three (3) key.

The goal of this next pass is to find the images that I will ultimately end up retouching from this shoot and submitting for publishing or sharing with the client.

It does me no good to have multiple photos with three-stars that all look very similar as retouching two very similar images would be c waste of time and therefore I am extremely selective during this phase of the culling process.


There you have it! Using Lightroom to go from your original shoot to the final edit. I typically keep all my non-rejected photos available at least until a project is finished and the client has signed off. Sometimes I will keep them indefinitely.

I’d also like to point out that you could do this process by yourself in your own studio or with a client. Sometimes I’ll cull down to two-stars then sit with a client to go from two to three. I rarely ever show a client the entire collection of images (unculled) as I find giving the client too many images to look at only wastes both of your time.

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