The one, the only
How do you select the right image out of hundreds? You're getting ready for a photo session - selecting location and time, planning the shots you want to take, preparing your gear and taking care of any small detail you can think about. And then you come home with hundreds or even thousands of images. How do you choose the right one?
I'm an eclectic person. The definition of eclectic, according to Oxford dictionaries, is "a person who derives ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources." Essentially what it means for me is that I enjoy diversity and I'm having troubles with selecting something that I like the most. It took me years to zero in on my favorite song ("Bohemian rhapsody" by Queen, thank you for asking), up until that day I can't answer unequivocally what my favorite movie or book is, as the list of contenders is just too damn long. And when it comes to selecting the best image/s out of a photo session, that's when being an eclectic becomes a real issue.
How am I supposed to select only a bunch of images, or even worse, only the one? It's torture, but it has to be done. So here are a few steps I do to eliminate the majority of the images and remain only with the crème de la crème.
Step 1: Forget about your session
Perhaps sounds strange, but it's a good practice to forget about your fresh photos for at least a week. When you take your photos you become emotionally attached to them, thus making the process of elimination much harder. Beside, taking a week break helps you to look at the photos with fresh eyes, which eventually helps you to select the best images.
True, sometimes you just can't wait to see the results. Recently I bought a new lens and took it for a first ride. Of course I was dying to see what I got! So I popped the photos into Lightroom and began the other steps of elimination and post-processing. Here's what I cam up with:
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
Shot at 16mm, f/22, 4.0 sec, ISO 100
So there are exceptions. But in general it's a good idea to stay away from the photos for at least a week. I got this advice a few years ago and embraced it. Well, for about 95% of my photo sessions. But it did help to eliminate some of the photos easier.
Step 2: Eliminate the obvious
Now that you're (almost) not attached emotionally to your photos, it's time to make the initial screening and eliminate all the obvious rejects. Frankly, I adopted this habit only recently. I import the pictures to Lightroom and begin the process by going over the images one by one and look for clear problems: the image is out of focus, legs or arms cut in the joints, weird facial expressions etc... I color code these images with red color. When I'm finished with this process I'm selecting all the images colored with red and delete them. From the disk. Forever. I know there's nothing I could do with them, no point for them just to be there on my hard drive, taking a valuable space.
Then I repeat the process. This time I look more closely at the images: are the eyes in focus? Is there any ghosting or unwanted flare? Perhaps too much noise? Again, I color code them with red. But this time I also color code the other images: green for accepted and yellow for the ones that are up for a revision. Lightroom allows to color code also with blue and purple, but I haven't found a use for them yet. Well, not yet, at least.
When you're done - delete all the red coded images.
Extra tip: don't rush to delete an image - try to find a use for it, perhaps some artistic expression. For example, these 2 images are from one of my recent sessions. They were clearly over-exposed. But before deleting them, I thought about trying to convert them to B&W, see how that works. I found the result quite pleasing:
Step 3: Look for duplicates
After eliminating all the obvious rejects, you're now supposed to be remained with only yellow and green coded images. Now it's time to look for possible duplicates. I Ctrl+click (I think it's Command+click on Mac, correct me if I'm wrong) the images that look alike and then check them on Survey view. Lets see the following example:
4 images of a model in a sexy pose, in the shallow water. The most left image looks OK, but I really liked the lock of hair on her face on the second left image. The 2 images on the right also have that lock of hair, but they also have that splash of water at her knees, which make these images more interesting. Well, for me, they do. And the second right image has more splash, I decided to go with that one.
At this point I no longer delete photos. Who knows, maybe in a month or in a few years I'll need this image without the splashes. You never know... Hey, maybe I'll color code the duplicates with blue or purple! There, I found a use for one of them! I was just removing the color coding from the remaining duplicates, and if needed, code the selected image with green, but now I may just re-code the duplicates. Something to think about...
Now I have a bunch of images color coded with green. These are the keepers. That's when I start my post-processing. And here's the final, post-processed image of model above:
Step 4: Forget about your session
No, it's not a mistake. You really should forget about your session for at least a week again. Why? Because you just spent enormous amount of time in selecting your images and doing the post-production, you put a lot of work and effort in the process and as the result, you become again emotionally attached to these images. Put them aside, let them rest for a week. Then come back to them and review the processed images.
This is the step that I find as the hardest of them all. You really need to eliminate already done images. It's hard, it's brutal, but it has to be done. You really need to look carefully and choose only the best images. Try to see why one image might have an advantage over the other. Perhaps it's a facial expression, that little, hardly noticeable smile that make the image just slightly more appealing. Or maybe it's a little bee that unexpectedly entered the frame and made that flower image look more interesting. Take your time and review your images carefully. It's going to be hard. As an eclectic person I know it. But the "wow"s and "OMG"s you receive afterwards are worth the process.