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21 Apr 2024


Term: Culling
Description: Culling in photography refers to the process of selecting and removing unwanted or low-quality photos from a larger set of images. This typically involves reviewing the images one by one and making decisions based on factors such as technical quality, composition, and overall artistic merit. The goal of culling is to narrow down the selection of photos to a smaller, more manageable set that can be further edited and used for final output such as prints, digital files, or online galleries.

Digital cameras offer great power, but they also require great responsibility. One of those responsibilities involves culling a large batch of images you just captured during a photo session. Culling is the process of separating the keepers from the reject images in your Lightroom catalog, and there’s no better time to do it than right after your session while the images are fresh in your mind.

Culling images in Lightroom can take hours if you don’t know what you’re doing. In this article, we’re going to show you how to quickly cull a large batch of images in Lightroom in five steps. Although we’re using Lightroom for this tutorial, the workflow tips can be applied to other apps. This is just a snippet of knowledge from our Mastering Lightroom course, so if you’re looking to dive in and get to know the ins-and-outs of Lightroom post-production I highly suggest you give it a look.

Step 1: Always Work from the Library Module

Library module for quickly culling large batch of images in Lightroom

The Library Module is going to load a different type of preview than the Develop Module. The developing preview that gets rendered in the Develop Module takes longer to load than the Library Module previews, which means you can cycle through your images much quicker in the Library Module.

Step 2: Render Out Your Previews

Before culling, and certainly before processing your images, be sure to render out your previews. All you really need is Smart Previews, but I recommend just creating all of your previews at once; if you render 1:1, Lightroom will create everything you need, but it takes longer. Here are a couple ways in which you can render out your previews.

2a. Use Grid View to Render Previews

G for Grid View quickly cull large batch of images in Lightroom

First, press G to bring up the Grid View in the Library Module, and then press Ctrl/Cmd+A to quickly select all of your images.

Build 1 to 1 previews for quickly culling large batch of images in lightroom

Then, with your images selected, use the File dropdown to select Previews (Library > Previews > Build 1:1 Previews) and choose your preferred preview format. Again, 1:1 will give you everything you need for editing.

2b. Render Previews Directly from the Import Dialog Box

Alternatively, you can render previews directly from the Import Dialog Box by simply pressing Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+I, which will bring up the Dialog Box; then, choose your preview preference from the “File Handling dropdown.

alternate way to render quickly cull large batch of images in Lightroom

As a minimum, I like to select Smart Previews when I’m importing images because Smart Previews can be generated quickly, and you can use them for culling and editing. If you want to import quickly, you can leave “Build Previews” on “Minimal” (see image above), and then turn on “Build Smart Previews.”

If you want to import your images and have everything done for you, select 1:1 from the “Build Smart Previews” dropdown menu. Just keep in mind, once Lightroom is finished importing your images, your computer’s performance will slow down as it’s rendering the full 1:1 previews. The speed will vary depending on your computer and how many images you’re importing.

Just so you know, 1:1 previews for a large batch of images and can take a couple of hours, which may or may not be a big deal to you. If you don’t need to work on your computer for a while, then great. Otherwise, it may not be worth generating 1:1 previews.

[Related Reading: How to Organize Your Photos in Lightroom in 10 Steps]

Bonus Tip: Quick Start Your Edits with the Preferences Dialog Box

bonus tip dialogue box quickly cull batch images in Lightroom

Press Ctrl/Cmd+, to open the Preferences dialog box. When the box opens, click on the “Performance” tab and locate the “Develop” panel. Check the “Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing” option. As noted in the image above, this option will increase editing performance, meaning you can quickly start editing via the Smart Previews. The downside is there’s also a decrease in the display quality since you’re using a lower quality preview; however, if you click on the file, a full preview will load while you’re developing.

Step 3: Simplify Culling to Keep or Reject Images

There are several ways to rate your images in Lightroom, and we discuss why we need to rate images for various purposes in our full Mastering Lightroom course, but for the sake of this tutorial let’s keep this about culling. The trick is finding the most efficient way to choose the images you’re going to keep and edit.

Here are two common methods people use to cull their images:

  • 0 to 5 Star Rating: Use numbers 0 to 5 to rate your images 1 star, 2 stars, etc.
  • 6 to 9 Color Labeling: Use numbers 6 through 9 to mark the images with one of four colors

The problem with the Star Rating and Color Labeling methods is you have to think about multiple levels of cataloging your images, from rejects to keepers, deliverables, portfolio images, and so on. This means for every image you look at, you have to consider multiple possibilities for how to use every single image. This slows the culling process significantly.

Instead, I recommend that you use the flagging method to simply keep or reject each image. If you want to keep the image, flag it by pressing P. If you want to reject the image, mark it by pressing X. It’s that easy. You can always go back and rate the images further based on what you want to do with them, but for the sake of culling, keep your process quick and easy.

Step 4: Use a “Culling In” or “Culling Out” Workflow

What does it mean to cull in or cull out? It’s simple.

culling in large batch of images in Lightroom

A “Culling In” workflow means we’re going mark everything as a reject and then cull in the keepers. To do this, go back to Grid View (G), select all of the images (press Ctrl/Cmd+A), and press X. This will mark every image as a reject. Then, press Ctrl/Cmd+D to deselect the images. Use Loupe View (press E to open Loupe View) to scroll through the images, and as you find photos that you want to keep, flag them by pressing P. This method reduces the amount of keystrokes you need to use to cull your batch of images.

Culling out method large batch of images in Lightroom

Adversely, with a “Culling Out” workflow, we’re going to mark everything as a keeper and then cull out the rejects. In Grid View, select all of the images (press Ctrl/Cmd+A) and press P. Just like before, use Loupe View to scroll through the images, only this time you’ll press X to mark the rejects.

So, how do you know whether you should cull in or out? If you feel like you’re going to deliver the majority of the images, like you might do for a sporting event with several action sequences, go with a “Culling Out” workflow. On the other hand, if you’re only looking for a select few keepers, go with a “Culling In” workflow.

Step 5: Cull from the Loupe View

I mentioned this in Step 4 above, but it’s a significant step for streamlining your culling workflow.

expand filmstrip loupe view quickly cull batch images in Lightroom

After pressing E to open the Loupe View, I like to expand the filmstrip at the bottom to the largest size possible (see the image above). This way, the image is maximized, the thumbnails in the film strip are easier to see, and I can more quickly identify my keepers (or rejects). I use the filmstrip to get an idea of what images are coming up as I scroll through and I check the larger image in the loupe view to verify sharpness.

grid view in lightroom for quickly culling large batch of images

The Grid view is less ideal for quickly culling large batches of images in Lightroom. I feel this way because, even though the presentation is fine after pressing Shift+TAB to close down all the panels and increase the image preview size, I still have to double click on an image and go back to Loupe View to verify its sharpness.

Bonus Tip #2: Cull Images Right After Shooting

I said it before and I’ll say it again. Cull your images as soon as possible after wrapping the shoot. The difference in culling a thousand images immediately following a shoot is a matter of spending 15-30 minutes using the above workflow vs. waiting a couple days and not having the images fresh on your mind, which can add an hour or more to the culling process. You can always develop the images later, but definitely cull right after the shoot.

Related Articles to Culling Definition


Example of Culling-In Workflow in Lightroom

In this tutorial, we will go over the preferred workflow process we currently use at Lin & Jirsa Photography. If you have seen our tutorial from the Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD, you will know that we have also used the “Editing Out” Culling System. There are many different workflow processes, but we now use the “Culling In” Workflow Process because we have found it to be much more efficient than any other workflow processes. Feel free to use whatever workflow process to suit your own personal needs as there is no one “right” workflow process. However, we hope that you will pick up a few tips from this tutorial that will help speed up your production workflow.