What Is Culling and Three Ways to Speed Up the Process

The process of culling is one photographers of any skill level are all too familiar with. In a perfect world, every capture is perfectly in focus, our compositions follow every rule to the T, and our subjects never have to blink. Not even once. It’s weird.

It’s safe to say, this level of perfection is almost never achievable (and it’s a good thing that it isn’t!), but culling is a practice that turns our galleries into something of a dream.

Culling is simply the process of choosing the best images from a shoot that will be edited and eventually delivered to your client. 

We do this for a number of reasons, one being to sort out any photos that are undesirable. Maybe they’re under or overexposed, your subject’s facial expression or posing is off, maybe the location you chose didn’t read well, or there are duplicates of the same scene.

It’s a good idea to start your post-processing with culling before beginning any other corrections. Getting rid of these unusable shots first will help keep your workflow organized as you won’t have to sift through the good and bad shots in the middle of editing. Knowing that any photo remaining in your gallery is one that needs to be edited will save you tons of time and, added bonus, you’ll be able to easily batch edit your gallery, making corrections a breeze. 

Making It All A Bit Faster In Lightroom

Lightroom is one of those programs that can almost do it all. In addition to offering a multitude of photo editing tools, the library module where you can cull and perform other organizational tasks are intuitive and customizable.

There’s no wrong way you can cull so finding the process that works best for you is key. 


Using the flagging method, you are able to assign a flag to the images you’d like to keep for further editing. After importing, work through your gallery and pick such images using the keyboard shortcut, “P”. You can simply flag the photos you’d like to keep, or designate a flag to every image in your gallery by choosing pick (P) or reject (keyboard shortcut X). Afterwards, you can view flagged images by adjusting the sort option according to flag type.

Color Coding

Lightroom offers a range of colors you can apply to your images to designate which photos you’d like to keep or reject. The colors could mean anything you decide is best for your workflow. Keyboard shortcuts numbers 6-9 can be used to quickly move through your gallery assigning a color label to each photo.

Star Rating

You can also cull using the star rating system. You can assign a number of stars to an image, one star up to five stars. The plus side to this process is that you can create this rating system to be as unique and specific as you need it to be. One star could be a low ranking and five stars is a top pick, you can assign a number of stars to signify a purpose for the photo such as for a social media post, marketing campaign, and so on.

A bonus tip using any of the above rating methods is the Auto Advance feature. When activated, as you make a rating decision on an image, Lightroom will automatically move on, saving you the need to click to the next photo. If this sounds like something that could help you next time you’re in Lightroom, make sure your caps lock is on or by going to Photo>Auto Advance.

Making It Even Faster In Photo Mechanic

While Lightroom is a great resource for culling and more, it does have it’s limitations. When sorting through a large gallery, there can be some lag time as you move from one photo to the next. While a 3-5 second lag time doesn’t sound like much, if you’re culling a photoshoot that resulted in thousands of photos, that could mean hours of added time. 

If you’re working on a tight turnaround time or are working on shoot after shoot, this minor lag could end up costing you big.

Here’s where Photo Mechanic comes in. The program is a super fast media browser that allows you to quickly work through RAW images by utilizing an embedded JPEG preview.

Similar to Lightroom, you can use different methods like star rating, color coding, all while moving the collection with zero lag time.

Utilizing DAM

Having a digital asset management (DAM) in place is a great way to help with your culling process. It’s also the most secure as photos are stored to the cloud rather than to your hard drive which, hopefully it never happens, but are subject to failure. 

Depending on the platform you use, culling processes may look different; however, the idea is the same. Designate the photos that you’d like to move forward into the editing process and get rid of those that didn’t make the cut.

One feature you can utilize with a DAM is perhaps there were photos that you didn’t exactly love, but your not quite ready to part ways with. You can put these types of photos into their own album so that they are out of your way when editing your favorites, but can be revisited later when you’re ready to make your final decision.

The downside to a DAM is that certain platforms can be unintuitive, they can be time consuming as they have no photo editing advantages, and depending on the level of membership can be costly. 

If this is the case, Stacks works with brands of all shapes and sizes to understand your photo goals and get you set on the perfect DAM track.

When you’re ready, we’ll talk you through which platform we think will work best for you, but in the meantime, check out our DIY Visual Asset Curation course where we talk all things culling and digital asset management!