I took my family to New York City recently to visit my father for lunch. My six-year-old son doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with Grandpa… so I always view these get-togethers as something of an ‘event.’ And as with any family gathering I attend, I typically bring a camera along to snap a few photos.
I should stop right here and admit that my definition of a ‘few photos’ is likely to differ with that of most members of my family… including my dad.
My 83-year-old father is always one to tell it like it is, and as we were wrapping up our visit, he turned to me and whispered with a touch of sarcasm, “Are you sure you took enough pictures?”
I couldn’t really succinctly respond to his comment.
So I let it go…
Why So Many Pictures?
The truth is I do take a lot of photos.
And why is that?
I think the simple answer is I find it difficult to get the shots I’m looking for. So I take multiple versions, hoping to capture ‘that moment.’
Now, this may be because I’m just not that good a photographer, and I can’t get what I want on the first try. Or perhaps the cameras or lenses I’m using aren’t up to snuff.
Sure, someone else with better gear and experience is going to have leg up on me.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself…
In Search of the Perfect Photo
I think I’m looking for specific shots that are actually tough for anyone to get.
Having to deal with low light and trying to freeze the action with a six year old running about… That’s ambitious!
Plus, I often turn off the camera’s flash, because of the harsh look that can create. And of course, many of the resulting shots have too much blur. Then, I get so frustrated when I take a look at my camera’s playback screen, and I realize I missed ‘the shot!’
So taking multiple consecutive shots in the hopes of successfully freezing the action is something of a necessity… Isn’t it?
(And it doesn’t cost anymore… other than to fill up your camera’s media card faster.)
Even if you’re taking an easy-peasy, everyone “say cheese’” shot, if there’s more than one person in it… chances are someone’s blinking.
So again, you’ve got to try several times to nail the one with everyone looking at the camera.
Overwhelmed with Too Many Pictures
Let’s agree for the moment that it’s okay to take lots of shots.
What exactly are you supposed to do with all of them?
Well, there’s the problem of having to spend all that extra time to review all of the pictures to figure out which are the best.
And believe me… I can tell you from personal experience that snapping lots of photos and then going through all of them can really delay sharing your favorite photos with family and friends.
So I’ve found you need to employ some brutal selection practices to find your top photos.
Time to Walk the Walk
Recently, I had to go through over 300 photos I took during my son’s sixth birthday weekend. To be fair, there were multiple events that contributed to such a high photo count.
But when my wife asked if I could get her four or five pictures to share around online, I realized I had my work cut out for me to figure out the essence of all those wonderful moments in five images.
To get the job done, I created a workflow that follows six steps…
The Six Tips
Here are my six tips to help you get hundreds of photos down to a handful:
First, review all of your photos and assign a number to them.
(Both Lightroom and the old Aperture let you do that.)
- 5 = Great
- 4 = Good
- 3 = Okay
- 2 = Not good
- 1 = Useless
You should delete your 1’s and 2’s immediately. If you have some backbone, you should consider getting rid of the 3’s too.
(I usually can’t do that.)
Go through your 5’s again and eliminate the multiples.
What I mean by that is if you took a particular shot three or four times, there should be only one best version. Sometimes this can be hard to figure out, but you need to spend the time here to choose your champion.
Once you’ve selected the winner, change all the others to 4’s.
Edit, color balance and tweak all of your 5’s as needed.
This step is really a time suck. So the fewer fives you have at this point the better.
I bet you probably still have too many 5’s than you know what to do with.
Review all of your 5’s again and pick out the best of the best. You’re going to have to deal with the fact that certain strong shots just aren’t going to make it to the finish line.
(Lightroom lets you ‘flag’ your picks, which is essentially giving them a ‘6’ rating. Alternately, you can create a separate folder of the best of the best.)
So out of my 300 shots, I came away with about twenty 6’s.
How are you supposed to get that down further?
This is the stage where you’ve got figure out the ‘visual story’ you want to share. Do you want to forward on just the posed shots? The action shots? A combination?
I don’t think there’s only one answer here. You’ve just got to pick five to get to the essence of what happened. So just do it.
The good news is you’ve still got your twenty best pics. You can still use them in a photo album/book… or digital photo frame… or on your smartphone to swipe through.
You’re not done yet…
Remember all those 3’s and 4’s? Go through them again.
I’ve found that going through your losers one last time can occasionally unearth a winner.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of perspective what constitutes a great photo. An unconventional ‘miss’ may actually be something of great value if you look at it the right way. And honestly, when you’re zooming through hundreds of family photos to eliminate as many as you can, you can easily miss something that’s priceless, especially if it doesn’t fit your predetermined criteria of what you’re looking for.
If this final step unearths one or two more photos, add them to your 5’s or 6’s and thank the photo gods for your good fortune.
(It’s also a good reason not to get rid of your 3’s until you’ve gone through them this second time.)
When I was a Kid…
Of course, another way to get to your five photos is to only take five pictures.
That’s what my parents did at my birthday parties when I was growing up.
(All right… maybe six.)
And those few pictures from my own sixth birthday did a perfectly fine job capturing the moment.
(…It certainly took a lot less effort.)
The Need for Speed
I think another reality is any photo you share from your child’s sixth birthday party is a winning shot. As long as the picture is in focus, everyone is going to love it.
If you wait until his seventh birthday to figure out which is the best photo to share from his sixth birthday… it’s obviously too late.
(Delaying to find and share your 6’s clearly has its drawbacks.)
So move quickly. Be brutal. Find those best few birthday shots. Then enjoy them with others.
And don’t forget to eat some birthday cake…