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This article is a pre-release chapter in Jeff Carlson’s upcoming “Take Control of Your Digital Photos,” scheduled for public release in August 2013. Apart from the, these chapters are available only to ; see “ ” for details.
The title of this chapter was originally “Rate Your Photos,” but that just wasn’t the right term. Rating implies something casual, like comparing pears to see which ones are the most ripe. Your photos are more important than that.
Instead, you need to be judgmental about your images. That means scrutinizing them with specific quality levels in mind. Sure, it’s easy enough to say one photo is okay and another isn’t so hot, but where does that leave you? With a lot of gray area. And in your mission to take control of your digital photos, you don’t want gray areas. You want to take specific actions to make working with your library better and easier.
Judging your photos achieves two goals. It sets up a practical workflow for later, so you know right away which shots you want to share with others and which ones need work in an image editor before being ready to be made public (and which should be deleted or hidden). Judging also helps you become a better photographer, because it helps you look at your shots critically to determine what you’re doing right or wrong, and in what areas you excel or need to improve.
In this chapter, I offer a system for judging and flagging your photos to make them most useful in your library. I also discuss what to do with the shots that don’t make the cut.
(And remember, if you’re in a hurry you can start with a minimal rating system, as I described in Chapter 1 in Alternative Strategies.)
Despite my encouragement to be a ruthless editor of your imported photos, this step is usually a lot of fun. You get to study the images you shot and experience the sense memories of capturing them.
In most applications, you can assign ratings—typically a scale of zero to five stars—by pressing a number key. In Lightroom and Aperture, for example, you press 2 for two stars, 3 for three stars, and so on. In iPhoto, press the Command key in addition to a number key, such as Command-2 for two stars. Each program also gives you the option of clicking rating buttons that appear under the image thumbnail, in an information sidebar or panel, or both (Figure 1).Figure 1: Rating a selected photo in Lightroom using the mouse." />
I prefer using the keyboard to apply ratings as that allows me to tap a number key and then tap the right arrow key to switch to the next photo. This way I can move quickly through a set without touching the mouse or trackpad.
But before you start assigning stars, make sure you know what each of those stars means for your workflow. Not only do you need to be judgmental while reviewing photos, you also need to be consistent. You can assign any weight you wish to each star level. The suggestions below are my recommendations not only for assigning stars, but also flags and labels (if supported in your program).
Here’s the rating system I use:
You’ll notice I didn’t start with zero stars (unrated)—that was deliberate. As mentioned in the last chapter (specifically in Apply Metadata at Import), some photo-management applications let you assign a baseline rating to all of your images during the import stage. I tag every incoming photo with one star during import, because I’m confident that at least most of my shots will meet this minimum qualification.
But why not start at zero—the default rating—and build up from there? After all, I’m going to review and assign ratings to every photo anyway.
A few reasons: I’d rather reject a few bad images than potentially tap the 1 key dozens or hundreds of times. Also, to my mind, unrated photos are in a photographic limbo—since they’re not rejected and not rated, they’re “undecided.”
It also helps me think more critically as I’m evaluating the shots: I’m not deciding whether a given photo is just good enough to include in my library, I’m looking to see if it rises above the others. When I do encounter a shot that’s obviously no good, I mark it as rejected.
Star ratings aren’t the only options for judging photos. In Aperture and Lightroom you can apply color labels to photos as well. Aperture, Lightroom, and iPhoto additionally include a flag—an on-or-off label—for marking photos. Labels and flags act as an extra layer of metadata describing your photos, usually for specific purposes.
For example, you may want to assign a color label to photos belonging to a client or related to a particular job. Or maybe the labels signify steps in your editing process: regardless of rating, you could mark photos you want to edit first in red, less-important photos in orange, etc.
Flags act as labels for short-term actions. For example, I often use flags to mark photos I want to upload to Flickr, because it’s easy to quickly display only photos that have been flagged. In Lightroom, choose Library > Filter by Flag > Flagged Only, or click the Flag button next to Filter in the Filmstrip panel; in Aperture, press Control-/ or choose Flagged from the Search field’s pop-up menu (Figure 2); in iPhoto, select Flagged in the sidebar. When I’m done uploading the photos, I remove the flags.Figure 2: Displaying only flagged photos in Aperture." />
Another way I’ve found labels and flags to be helpful is when reviewing a group of photos with someone else. After a vacation or other photo-heavy outing, my wife will often want to choose photos I’ve shot to share with family members. However, no matter how much I respect her opinion (she has a great eye), I don’t want her to change my ratings. Instead, she can label or flag photos she likes.
I want to reiterate that there are no solid rules regarding rating, labeling, or flagging photos. The software developers put the tools there for you to use as you wish, so you can determine your own rating system.
After you’ve passed judgment on your photos, you’ll end up with a set that probably includes a lot of one-star images, a few two-star images, and a sprinkling of three-star and four-star shots as well as some rejected or hidden ones.
The next question becomes: what to do with those unwanted photos? Some people don’t want to throw anything away, and fortunately the price of hard disks makes that possible. But are you really going to scan through your rejected photos someday to see if perhaps a hidden gem is there? Also, storage isn’t infinite, especially if you’re using an SSD. You have three options: do nothing, hide the photos, or delete the photos.
Having rejected or hidden photos in your library isn’t going to hurt anything, and requires no more work on your part. The downside is that they occupy a lot of storage space on your hard disk; also, in Lightroom, you’re confronted with them whenever you scroll through your images. If they weren’t good enough to keep, why let them clutter the library?
Depending on your software of choice, you can hide the photos from view. For iPhoto and Photoshop Elements, hiding is your only choice. You can make them visible again easily enough: in iPhoto, choose View > Hidden Files; in the Elements Organizer, choose View > Hidden Files > Show All Files.
When you mark a photo as rejected in Aperture, it’s hidden by default; view rejected images by selecting the Rejected item in the inspector. (In Lightroom, rejected photos still appear in the library, but are dimmed. )
The advantage to hiding photos is that they’re out of the way, but still around if you believe that nothing should be thrown out (or in case you realize that some blurry outtake is actually a fantastic abstract work of art). The disadvantage is that those hidden photos take up space on your hard disk.
If you really don’t want the bad image files stealing your disk space, delete them after you’ve gone through your initial pass. (You could also delete individual photos as you review them, but I think it’s more efficient to stay focused on finishing one task—rating and flagging—before moving to the next.) Each program treats deletions differently, so I’m including instructions for each application I mentioned in Chapter 3.
In Lightroom, choose Photo > Delete Rejected Photos. You’re given the option of removing the images from the library’s catalog (in case you want to hang on to the originals) or deleting the image files from disk; I recommend the latter.
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