A Complete Guide to Culling Photographs

By Scott Wyden Kivowitz

Last updated on 04/09/2024

Culling photographs is an important skill for any photographer, whether amateur or professional. 

Culling is also an important step in the photo editing process, but it can be difficult to know how to go about it.

It is essential for putting together a strong portfolio, or for the delivery of work to clients. Culling can be a difficult and time-consuming task that may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be!

This guide will walk you through how to cull your photos so that you can get the best results.

What is Photo Culling?

wedding photo by fer juaristi

Culling is the process of reviewing all of the photographs you have made and selecting the best ones to edit. This can be a tedious task, especially if you have a lot of photographs.

For example, the average wedding photographer finishes their day with around 3,000 photos. Because of that, it is important to be selective with your photographs, as this will help you improve your photography skills. 

Why Should I Cull My Photographs?

As a photographer, you should constantly be striving to better your craft.  Professional photographers delivering work to clients should also be working towards a story in their final product. Especially if it’s an enormous milestone in the lives of their clients, like a wedding.

Culling your photographs is an important part of this process, and while it can be difficult to know where to start, it can help to remove photos that aren’t quite up to your personal standards, or vision.

Through the culling process, you can bring that 3,000 photo count down to 800. Removing photos that are unintentionally blurry, or with unintentionally closed eyes. Photos that aren’t properly exposed, and even remove photos that are so similar they might be considered duplicates.

The point of culling your photos is to help you choose the most flattering photos from your session, and the ones that tell the story best.

How to Cull Your Photographs

There are so many methods for culling – whether manual or automatic. What is most important is that the method you pick works best in your workflow.

Here are some things to keep in mind when culling your photographs:

  • Evaluate the composition of each photo. Is the subject in the ideal position? Are there any distracting elements in the frame?
  • Look at the technical aspects of each photo. Is the exposure correct? Is the focus sharp?
  • Consider the emotional impact of each photo. Does it capture how the story and emotions that happened during the event or photo session?
  • Don’t rush through the process of culling your photographs. Review each photograph carefully and take your time to decide which ones you want to keep.
  • Be critical and honest with yourself when you are reviewing your photographs. If a photograph isn’t up to your standards, then don’t keep it.

A well-edited product is the key to a successful photography business.

There are mainly two types of photo culling: Cull in and Cull out. Both of these are the beginning phases of the culling process, but important to understand how they work so you know what works best for your workflow.

wedding vows photo by fer juaristi

Cull In

The idea behind Culling In is to add color, flags, or star ratings for any photos that you want to keep.

Cull Out

The idea behind Culling Out is to add color, flags, or star ratings for any photos that you want to be deleted or ignored. The simplest method for this is to use the reject flag.

After the first phase of culling comes phase two which is telling your story. Here you use your preferred attribution method to define which images are sneak peeks, to be edited, to be delivered, and so on.

My Photo Culling Process

My personal manual culling process is as follows.

  1. I Cull Out by adding rejects to any photos I do not want to look at a second time. But I do not delete them. I simply ignore them.
  2. Then I use star attributes to determine photos to be shared with clients in a digital gallery, photos to definitely edit, and then finally any client picks. Because I am a weirdo, my attributes are odd numbers.

    1 star for digital gallery
    3 stars for definitely edit
    5 stars for client picks
  3. Once the client has their proofing gallery, they send in their favorites, I will 5 star those knowing they are more likely to be ordered as a print. So those always get the most attention.
  4. Once the culling is complete, I move on to editing.

wedding photo by fer juaristi

Charmi Patel Peña Photo Culling Method

Charmi is an amazing wedding photographer who specializes in unique three-four day long weddings. As you can imagine, she is finishing her weddings with well over 10,000 photos to cull through.

When I spoke with Charmi for our podcast, Workflows, she shared two really interesting things about her culling process.

Charmi culls her photos the same day. Not only that, but when she does multi-day weddings, she culls each day on that day.


Because she has the story of the day fresh in her mind. Charmi culls manually and does not use automated photo culling software. She has her system down and can get through each day’s photos fairly fast.

The other really interesting thing that Charmi does with her culling process, is culling photos in reverse.

What this means is that she reviews her various sets of photos from the end to the beginning. By knowing she will have a first look set, she can be ready for the right expressions. But she also knows that she will be done with the set when she gets the expression she wanted. Culling in reverse offers her a faster way to cull because she mostly looks first at what would be the pick from each set.

Interesting, right? 

You can learn more from Charmi about this in the snippet from her episode of Workflow below, or by listening to the full episode here.

Culling Photos with AI

As I mentioned earlier, culling your photographs is an important step in the editing process, and there are a few different ways to go about it. The quickest way is to use software dedicated to the culling process.

Imagen is focused on developing game-changing technology aiding the professional photographer, and we are bringing our AI to culling.

Personalized adaptive technology will enable you to preserve your unique style during culling too, so you spend more time on what you love, and less on tedious, mundane work.

Imagen what you can focus on when we are handling your culling and editing in one painless workflow.

Subscribe to Imagen today to get instant access to Culling (beta)

5/5 - (10 votes) Rate this post!

Related Posts