Taking photographs is a lot easier in this digital age. However, post-processing them is not. Agree?
Yes, post-processing is a lot harder than snapping a photo in the field. But, it’s not as difficult and/or daunting as some might experience.
Sometimes it’s because of a wrong post-processing software and sometimes it’s because of the lack of skills. But most often, it’s because of the sheer number of photographs that we take.
Imagine coming back from a photography trip with thousands of images. If you have gone to one of those exceptionally beautiful places like Switzerland, Bharatpur, Paris, Blue-Ridge Parkway in West Virginia/North Carolina, Upper Peninsula region in Michigan, etc. you’ll come back with several thousand in a matter of a week.
While it’s all too exhilarating and enjoyable while you are in the field, it’s usually not the case while you are post-processing, right? Mainly because of thousands of images that lie in front of you.
In today’s article, I would like to share 3 quick and easy step that’ll help you get organized and select only those images that are worth post-processing. If you follow them, you are bound to save an enormous amount of time.
Step #1: Follow A Simple Folder Structure
You might not realize how important it is to follow a specific folder structure. For several years, I use to store my photographs haphazardly. I never realized if it was good or bad until I figured out a super simple way of organizing my folders. Now, I don’t remember where I read it, but it’s been a blessing.
Following a simple folder structure is of paramount importance in this digital age where you take thousands of photographs and mostly post-process them several days, weeks, or months later. If you are like me, a bit lazy :), you might very well post-process your photos years later!
If you check my Instagram photos, most of the photographs that I am uploading in the recent past were taken several months (and sometimes, years) ago! For instance, this, this, and this were taken several months and years ago. BTW, have you downloaded by free Instagram post-processing eBook–InstaPower–Convert Your Snapshots Into Great Shots In Minutes–yet?
Here’s a very simple and efficient folder structure that I follow from several years because it works like magic and is extremely easy to follow. Here it is:
You have a main Photos folder (in the above screenshot it’s Photos-NPS which means Photos folder for Nature Photography Simplified blog) for storing all the photos.
Under the Photos folder, you’ll have one folder per year. That’s 2016, 2017, 2018, & 2019, and so on. Basically, one folder per year.
Under every year’s folder, you’ll have three folders–RAW-Files, Masterprints, & Portfolio.
Here’s what they represent:
- RAW-Files folder contains all RAW files (which is self-explanatory). This folder contains all your RAW files—Good, bad & ugly ones.
- Masterprints folder contains the full-resolution files that are post-processed. This folder contains only the post-processed files.
- Portfolio folder (or you can name it as Social Media folder) contains the low-resolution files with watermarks that can be shared on social media platforms.
Under RAW-Files you can start creating folders for each day’s shoot. Basically, a folder is named in the following format to make it very easy to sort and find:
YYYY-MM-DD-The place name where you shot
Earlier I use to follow “DD-MM-YYYY-The place name where you shot” as you can see from the above screenshot. However, putting the year first makes it a lot easier, as suggested by one of my students. Here’s how it looks today:
As you can see, these are the folders from my recent trip to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary where I made my long-pending task of making a video course that helps all those who couldn’t or can’t personally attend my bird photography workshops.
Quick Update: The bird photography video course is been delayed due to an emergency at my cinematographer’s family. However, as you know, I am almost ready to release my first-ever video course–Post-Processing for Nature Photographers.
Let’s get back now.
The above simple folder structure allows you to get a complete overview of all your photography trips in a single year in one place. Also, it contains all the post-processed files from that year in the Masterprints & Portfolio folders which makes it easy for you to keep track of all the files that you have post-processed.
In the long run, you’ll be able to do many things with such a folder structure. Think about making a book on a particular place over the years. Or, perhaps to know which year, which month, and on what dates were you there on a particular place.
Perhaps, you can find out how you are progressing over the years, both in terms of field photography and post-processing!
There are “N” number of use cases.
More than anything, it makes your life easy. Isn’t it?
Step #2: Instead of Deleting the Bad Ones, Select the Good Ones!
The image selection process is typically known as Image Culling process. You have to select only a few photographs out of thousands in your RAW-Files folder to post-process.
I’ve mostly heard photographers talk about deleting the bad RAW files. I’d say, instead of deleting the bad RAW files, it’s better to select only the good ones.
Think about it for a second.
You are taking around 500 to 1000 images a day when you are photographing the whole day, considering that you have gone to a great location. Agree?
Now, most often, no matter the skills and the experience you have, you’ll end up liking only a very few of the whole lot. Right?
Let’s consider that you’ve one thousand images. And, 20% of the images are good. So, out of 1000 images, you’ll have 200 good shots.
Okay, now, do you want to delete 800 photos or select just the 200? I bet you said, 200.
It’s indeed easier to select the good ones than to delete the bad ones. Because good ones are the ones that have good lighting, good composition, fair enough sharpness, etc. And, it’s a lot easier to identify them even when you are checking just the thumbnails.
You could even have a specific thing you are looking at in a group of photographs. In the following screenshot of several similar looking photographs of the India Darter or Snake Bird is one such example. My selection was based on the Head-Angle of the bird, which allowed me to pick images 4 & 6 for post-processing. Of course, the lighting, composition, sharpness, and exposure are taken into account.
Here’s the Key
The key is to just start selecting the ones that you think are good. You don’t have to spend too much time analyzing them. Just browse through all the photos quickly and start selecting the ones that look good. Kind of, the ones who jump off the screen types, you know.
Adobe Lightroom software gives a super easy way of selecting these files either by using Flag or Rating in their Library Module. I have explained both the Flagging & Rating system in detail in my upcoming video course—Post-Processing using Adobe Lightroom for Nature Photographers releasing this week.
I am assuming a decent post-processing software should provide some way of marking a photo as selected.
Step #3: Iterate Through The Good Ones
Now that you have selected the good ones (as noted in the previous step) which are well exposed with good light, composition, & sharpness, etc, it’s time to iterate!
Let’s consider the same example where we “hypothetically” selected 200 photos from 1000. It’s time to bring this number down.
Sounds crazy? Read on to understand why.
Check each of these 200 photos one by one in full screen and see if they are worthy of your time. In other words, are they worthy of post-processing?
Here’s what happens when you browse through the good photos.
You are going to be more critical this time around checking the exposure, light, composition, sharpness, & emotional impact of the photo. You’ll select only those photos that are very good.
Hopefully, if you did this process well, you should end up with 100 or so photos.
So, you now have 10% (100 out of 1000) of the entire lot, right?
So far, so good. Now what?
You can either do one more round of check to see if each of these 100 photos are really worth post-processing and printing/sharing?
Sounds laborious. But it’s not. You know why? Because you are only checking the very good ones. So, you’d be happy to see them again, don’t you think so?
When you see the same photos from the third time, you might start to notice that some are not as great as you thought in the beginning. Basically, by doing this exercise you are being as critical as you can about your own photos. So, what you end up after the third round are the best ones.
What Do You Think?
I hope you are convinced that you’ll save a great deal of time with this process. Isn’t it?
Instead of getting overwhelmed by 1000 photos, you are now having just 100 or below that. You don’t have to worry about the 900 photos that are not that good. You don’t have to bury yourself in front of a computer trying to “save” these photos.
That’s a great relief by itself. Don’t you think so?
Here’s a quick behind-the-scenes look at how I did Image Culling for my Leh-Ladakh Exhibition.
I’ll be soon putting up a Clearance Sale of my Leh-Ladakh exhibition prints. You’ll be able to buy these ultra-high-quality archival prints (with frames if you are in India) for rock-bottom prices. Please keep an eye on your mail as there’s just one print available of each of these photos. Below is one of those photos that were displayed in the exhibition.
Here’s the Kicker
While you definitely save a lot of time by going through this iterative selection process, there’s another implicit benefit that you get by doing this exercise. And that is…
When you do this iterative process of selecting the photographs, you’ll realize this:
- What looked good in the first round, didn’t look that good in the second round.
- What looked great in the second round, didn’t look that great in the third round.
- And so on.
You’ll have to apply this technique practically to understand the above statements.
There’s a term that defines this process. I can’t remember what it’s called. But, loosely it’s based on the following concept:
When you see a good photo amidst bad ones, it looks great. But, when you put this good one against other good ones, it doesn’t have the same impact.
You know what I mean. It’s like the good photos fail to impress when put amidst great ones.
No wonder, what you feel like the best ones, fail to impress the judges in a competition. That’s because they are seeing the best of the best ones. You have no way to know how your photos fair. Because you don’t have the right reference.
Now you know why you aren’t winning the competition? Don’t worry it happens to all of us.
So, by recursively selecting your photos, you are discarding the okay ones or not-so-good ones, and selecting the best ones.
There’s Another Side-effect
Now think about it for a second. If you are only left with the best ones, wouldn’t you be thrilled to go ahead and post-processed them? I bet you do.
The more stringent your selection criteria become (which happens over time), the more aware you become about what kind of photographs do you want to take in the field.
Just read that statement one more time.
The next time when you are clicking, you don’t want to load yourself with more photographs as you know you’ll anyway throw them out in the post-processing stage.
Basically, you are training your eye to look for the best photos in the field. How wonderful is that!
That’s the whole point of my upcoming video course on Adobe Lightroom releasing this week. I am going to only teach you how to post-process the good photos and make them look great. I’ll not teach you how to magically fix the bad ones. Because I don’t do it myself. It’s rare that I spend too much time post-processing a photo. I don’t like to spend much time in post-processing at all.
I have even demonstrated what happens if you spend too much time in the post-processing stage. One of the workflow examples 35+ minutes long! That’s crazy, I know. But, sometimes, it’s necessary to show it than say it. Don’t you think?
Okay, I hope I have made you think about post-processing more of an image-making process than an afterthought process. Hopefully, this process saves you a ton of time and make you feel great to work with the best images.
For now, I recommend you to read my article Simple & Practical Bird Photography Post-Processing Workflow Using Adobe Lightroom.
P.S. Adobe Lightroom has a Rating concept in their Library Module, which I have explained in depth in my upcoming post-processing video course for nature photographers, that allows you to rate a photo from 1 through 5 stars. It helps a lot in the recursive selection process that I explained above. In case you don’t use, Adobe Lightroom software, you can select all the good ones from the first round of selection and move these photos to a different folder. Then, start selecting the best of these select photographs. It might be cumbersome, but it’s a lot better than post-processing all the photos.