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A Guide to Photo Selection Process: 7 Steps On How to Stay Organised

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In the age of digital photography, when memory cards provide more and more storage capacity, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the quantity of photographs we take. The skill of sorting, organising and storing digital photo files becomes just as important than any other photographic skill. As a professional photographer, I came up with my own routine of dealing with large quantities of photographs on a regular basis. In this article, I will guide you through theย 7 steps of my photo selection process and hopefully you will find some helpful ideas to apply to your daily life as a photographer.

1. Classification & Import

The most common photo classification types are by date, theme, or location. When I just started, I would simply create a folder with the name of its contents and import the photos there. As time went by, I started having more and more of those folders that needed to be organised into some kind of system. The system that I use now looks as following:

  • Every year has it's own folder: "Photo 2014", "Photo 2015", etc.
  • Within each "year" folder I create several "theme+year" subfolders: Travel 2015, Family 2015, Events 2015, Portraits 2015, etc. Including a year to the name of each subfolder will facilitate your search later, as you will be able to distinguish between "Travel 2015" or "Travel 2014" folders.
  • Each "theme+year" subfolder contains folders of particular sessions, again including a year, for example, Photo 2015 => Travel 2015 => Vienna 2015.

Sorting photos 2

Once you have your classification mapped out, you are ready to import the newest photos directly into the appropriate folder. For importing and sorting the images, I use Adobe Bridge software. It allows me to rename the files at the moment of import according to the folder they will be stored in + sequence number, for example folder "Vienna 2015" will contain files named "Vienna_0001.jpg", "Vienna_0002.jpg", etc.

2. Back up

A very important step not to be overlooked! Once you have imported the photos toย your computer, back them up onto an external hard drive.

3. Pre-selection

Once all the files are imported into their folders, I go through all the photos in Adobe Bridge and mark only those that are worth keeping with one star (in full screen preview mode you can add star rating by pressing "1" on your keyboard for one star, "2" for two stars, etc.). Photos worth keeping are those that are well-composed, in focus, and are interesting visually and/or important in terms of their content. If there are several similar photos, all of good quality, I mark them all.

Sorting photos 3

At this stage, it is important to mark the "keepers" rather than those to be deleted later, as these will be the ones you will be dealing with later. This will also give you a better feeling about the work done.

After you're done, move all the photos that did not get a star into a new folder named "xxx_other", for example, "Vienna_other".

4. Selection

Now let's go back to our potential "keepers" marked with a star. Depending on how many photos you have, you may decide how many of them you are ready to edit. For example, from a day of traveling and taking photos I'd keep around 50-70 best images, sometimes less. Go through the photos again and select those 50 images by marking them with two stars. This time, try to be more critical, select only one out of a series of similar photos, try to choose those with an emotional connection. If you have selected more photos than you are ready to edit, go through them again and eliminate some more. Yes, some decisions are hard to make, however, you'll be glad you did later.

Once ready, place the photos you selected for editing into new subfolder "xxx_select" (e.g. Vienna_select). Other photos marked with one star go subfolder "xxx_maybe" (e.g. Vienna_maybe). Such separation will allow you to easily import the photos for editing into the editing software you use (for example, Lightroom).

After all these manipulations, the main folder from a particular session will contain three subfolders: "select", "maybe", and "other".

Sorting photos 1

5. Editing

Once the photos are edited, I create two more subfolders: "HD" for high resolution edited files to be used to send to clients, for print, etc., and "LowRes" for low resolution files to be shared online. Therefore, when visiting any of my folders, I find it clearly organised into original selected photos ("select"), edited photos ("HD"), photos to use online ("LowRes"), some extra unedited photos just in case ("maybe"), and finally photos to be deleted ("other"). You may of course use any other markings and words for your system, as long as it makes sense for you.

6. Back up again

After all the work with the particular session is done, I back them up again on the external hard drive by overwriting the first back-up. This time, your second back-up folder will contain all the photos neatly separated into the appropriate subfolders.

7. Delete the unnecessary

This is my favourite step! After all your photos are organised, edited and backed-up, simply go back to your main folder and delete the folder "Other" without even looking at what's inside. Remember all those decisions you made when marking the photos? This is when it pays off and saves you a great amount of time and space on your hard drive. After some time (from a few days to several months) you can also delete the folder "Maybe", thus keeping only the best of the best.

That's it! Now all your photos are well organised and you can easily go back to any folder containing photos from any trip or event and enjoy the cream of the crop! Let us know how you organise your photos and share your ideas with us!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.