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Culling Images

Lesson 26 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

26. Culling Images

Lesson Info

Culling Images

I really want to dive in to talking about what happens after the shoot. There's a lot involved, a lot to talk about here. I'm gonna go over the images from the family that we talked about in Light Room and we're gonna take that through the process. But before I do that, I want to talk about training your editor's eye and finding the best shot. Really, what does that mean? For me, it's based on what my client's needs are. What's that information that I gathered during the pre-consult process where I ask them what their goals were. And sometimes I have lots of information about that and sometimes I have very little. I may ask, hey, do you have kind of a tendency to like close-up images, do you like interaction images, do you love it when people, do you feel like you want most of the shots where we're looking at the camera, is that something that's valuable to you? And some clients will say, no, that's not important to me so I'll consider that during the shoot but also during the editing.

I'll try to get everything that I can, as much variety as possible while I'm shooting but when I'm really taking the time to choose the images that I'm gonna share with the client, I want to make sure that I'm limiting the amount of overwhelm, I'm not having them experience overwhelm, I'm limiting the number of images that they can see but giving them just enough where I feel like they feel complete with their choices. It's really based on the client's needs in terms of commission work and how I'm choosing those images. If it's for my portfolio, when I'm looking through my images, that's a different kind of consideration. It's what are the images that I want to put out there on my portfolio for the next client to hopefully say, hey, I saw that image on your website and I'd really like more images like that. That choice might be very different than something that I would choose to show a client or that I might show the client but not expect them to necessarily purchase that image. I might put in there and say, well, it's okay, I know they probably won't pick that but I felt like sharing it just to give them that variety. My choices are gonna be different for commercial uses as well and also for stock, and we'll talk a little bit more about that. We mentioned before there's a difference between as I'm editing and I look at my images, there's always that little bit of nerve. I typically don't edit my images and pull them into my computer until for a little while and give it kind of a little bit of a break so I can start to separate my experience of the shoot and the editing process. That's just for me how, it's pretty, it's pretty helpful. I'm aware of some of the great experiences I have and I might look, oh, I had fun and I had a great time, and everybody seemed like they had a great time and then I look at the images and maybe they're not quite as strong as I thought and then also the reverse happens. It's also helpful to have an experienced photographer take a look at your images and start to get your mind thinking about why they choose the images they choose. Not just having them say here are the images that I think are your best but starting to understand why those choices are made. Most of the time my portrait clients, those decisions are, there's a huge emotional factor involved for portrait clients. We were talking a little bit earlier about, some of you I was speaking with, about the concept of getting things perfect and kind of being concerned about the posing and did I crop this right, and all of that, and really the ultimate goal for me is does the image, is it have emotion, is there a moment there? Yes, I want those other things to line up. This image is a little bit blown out in the background and the cropping maybe is not ideal for me and there's certain things that but to me it's like, it was a real moment and that's the one I'm gonna pick is that real moment that's happening there. That emotional impact is huge. There's a difference between what's gonna sell sometimes and what I love and that's an important consideration. And I try to balance the two when I'm editing. The more I choose the images that I love, the more I'm gonna be able to get clients that are expecting those types of images instead of constantly being reactive to what I think clients are gonna want and what I think that's going to sell. I have a bin in Light Room that I use for ideas that didn't quite work but might later so I suggest doing that however you're processing or going through your images and saying, hey, I was almost there on that image. That could be something I do again so I'll pop that into Images for Later folder. That also kind of helps me feel like it's serving a purpose, like my mistakes or my misses or my failures are helping me later on so I actually have a place to go. That can be something you can consider. I'm also making decisions, in addition to the emotional side, I am choosing images based on some of the technical aspects like the exposure and the quality of light that is present in the image. Is the focus where I want it? Is it sharp enough that if the client ordered it that I wouldn't completely freak out if they ordered it and I was worried that it wasn't quite sharp. That's kind of a stipulation. Would I be okay if they ordered this image or would I kind of wince? That's, on a technical basis, am I feeling strong about how the images hold up for the final product? Noise is a factor, for sure. I'm trying to be more free with the, the technical aspects sometimes can be secondary to the emotional. For me, the emotional is kind of a top priority and the technical sometimes takes a secondary position. But it's definitely a part of the decision making. Listening to my client and hearing what it is that I'm hearing they want, what was there in our discussions, a need for something on the wall? Do they really like close-up pictures, are they looking for details, are they interested in capturing the connection between their children and their animals? I was talking to Meg before the shoot that we did on location at their home with Grant and she was saying, I just love how, I would love to capture the differences in their, in kind of their size comparison, just where they are now, and that's really powerful, it's really meaningful for her to capture just that physical difference in their scale and difference in size. That was kind of on my mind and was on my mind as I'm choosing to select the images. During the shoot, too, sometimes people will comment either positively or negatively to things so I'm thinking about that as I'm editing. I'll think, maybe I was in the middle of taking the pictures and I heard somebody say, oh, that one was really cute, I love that, I love that! That doesn't, that means something so they're already connected with that moment, they're connected with that image before they've even seen it and I'm gonna definitely think about that when I'm in the editing process. As long as the technical stands up to where I want it to be, that's gonna make the cut. I try not to get too stuck on what the client will think. I find that it's really helpful to set a timer when I'm editing so if there's 300 images for me to go through, I could spend all day doing it or I could spend a couple of hours or an hour. Really, I'd prefer to spend a couple of hours and not all day. I think as my coach in marketing and business always says, things will fill the space allowed for them so if you give yourself all day to edit, it will take you all day to edit. I try to set myself a timer and it helps me not overanalyze too much. Oh, are they gonna like it if the dog's mouth is open or closed? Open or closed, open or closed! And I'm going back and forth and it's just kind of maddening so it's like pick one! Or pick both, just choose something. I find that I can get pulled into that analysis paralysis moment with my editing and so I highly suggest setting a timer and setting parameters for yourself for that process. The other thing I'm gonna be looking for is variety. It's, I think, an important part within the locations for me, and you saw that as I was working throughout the locations, we were in, like in the cat situation with Libby and Willow, we photographed in the kitchen, we photographed in the main room, on the ledge. I was kind of moving around the space and trying to give a lot of variety. I typically shoot maybe three locations within a space and with the idea being that they somehow fit and are coherent together, that they could kind of make up a story together as one piece. And also, they could be kind of viewed as these three different segments. It gives a lot of variety and that will definitely play a role when it comes to my editing. I'm looking at, okay, what do I have in this situation? And I try to make it as even as possible but it's not always a requirement so maybe I'll choose 10 images from the kitchen and I'll choose 10 images from the ledge area and try to give that variety to the client. The more interesting and more variety I have, it's gonna help my sales. It's gonna help them, they're not gonna buy all of the same images and the same moment so the more variety I have, the better opportunity I'll have to sell more images. I'll have a variety of close-up shots, wide-angle, I try to give as much variety with the detail shots, the interaction shots, as I can. I make editing decisions on body language. Do people look good? Do animals look good? Do they look comfortable in their space? In the space, are there, that body language we talked about in the beginning with the animals, like how does it read in the image? Even if they were in good spirits but does that convey in the image. And that can change from frame to frame so I might toggle back from one image to the next and pick an image that may be the eyes look a little bit more relaxed and connected than the previous image. And are the ears perked up? I mean, those are things that I'm going for most of the time. Are they, do they look connected with the camera, if my goal work was to have them looking into the camera. Maybe I'm looking for sweet quiet moments with just the pet and their pet parent or maybe I'm looking for fun interaction. Depending on what my goal was, I'm gonna choose those images accordingly. Also looking at composition. That's a huge one for me and I feel like that's kind of a, it lays the groundwork for my images and kind of builds the strength. And our ability to compose images kind of sets us apart from amateur people so we have that power to kind of create a different dimension with our work using composition so it's a really important part. Lines. Are the lines where I want, are the lines straight, am I using the space well, is the color being considered, contrast, all of those things really play a role in choosing the best images. And just overall in the bigger picture is are the images that I'm choosing aligning on as many levels as possible? Are they aligning on the composition, are they aligning on the lighting, is the client, is it aligning with what the client needs and what the client wants and what I like? Ideally, that's what we want is that whole big picture and some will feed more areas than the other and that's okay. Sometimes it's not fulfilling every aspect but ideally I'm looking for that alignment. Ultimately, I think the biggest thing that I'm looking for when I'm choosing a couple of, looking between a series of images, especially with people and animals together, is that sense that there's this life and presence and a connection there. It sounds kind of like dramatic but it's really what I'm looking at and something that I've had to think about as I'm trying to put into words how I make these decisions. It's like, what is that it factor, what is it I'm looking for? And I've noticed there's just a dif-, there can be a really subtle difference between somebody looking like they're there and they're posed and I'm doing, I'm holding this dog here, and that's what I'm supposed to do and I'm looking at the camera. There's a moment that's different between that and like a, oh yeah, I'm with this dog, I'm with my loved one, I am embracing them and I am in that moment where I'm forgetting that I am in front of the camera and I'm not doing this for anyone else but me and I'm in that moment. Those are the things that I'm looking for. It sounds kind of dramalama but I think that's really the essence of what it is when I'm comparing and choosing those images for sharing with the clients. They're just more full of life and they're engaging with the camera, if that's what I'm going for, they're connecting with each other and that camera is forgotten. When I'm working for stock imagery, it's kind of all of those. What I was just speaking about was more specific to how I deal with editing images for the commission work, for commission clients, those are the things I'm considering. When I'm working in stock, for example, they are, they're all the things that I consider in terms of how I approach stock with animal work. It's all the things I consider when I'm working with commission portrait is that kind of life, that essence being there, that connection, and with an additional element of maybe some, maybe the cropping or having more space and some more technical elements as well. There's typically an editor that's in the process that kind of takes a little bit of the weight off of, off of me, to say, well, you choose. Because they base it on what's needed in the market and their decisions are based on other things so that helps me a little bit when it comes to the stock work. But technically, does it hold up to, will it hold up for a submission? Will it be accepted? The requirements for stock photography and the requirements for on a technical level in terms of focus, sharpness, in terms of noise, and those kinds of things, we were speaking about that at lunch a little bit. Quality of light and exposure. And is exposure right on? I couldn't pull up the exposure two stops in Light Room and expect that to be able to be submitted to us and accepted in a stock situation. I'm considering when I'm editing the white space, the extra space where the text can go. That's gonna make a decision, that's gonna help me make my decisions with that. And can it be cropped easily for various needs. Stock images tend to be more vertical, the ones that sell tend to be more vertical or even square because they can adapt to different formats. That's something I'm thinking about and also how it reads as a thumbnail image. When people search stock imagery sites it needs to kind of be picked up quickly and readable as a small scale thumbnail. That's kind of hard to do, right, but it's something that's kind of in my mind when I'm doing it. With stock imagery and the editing process I'm also thinking about he concept. Does the imagery convey the concept that or the emotion that I was trying to convey? Is it believable? Is it funny, is it ironic, is it too perfect? What is it that my goal was in terms of the concept? When I'm working with commercial and editorial images, they're typically the final selections are made by somebody else ultimately. But the original selection that I send them are basically is it, does it fulfill the client's needs and goals? Am I giving them variety that they want? Am I happy with the selections in terms of the moments that the animals and the people are sharing or how does it fit their goals and their needs? If there is a specific format required, like horizontal or square, vertical, that's also considered. And for editorial, does it tell a story? Is it really illustrating what the assignment was? What the project goals are and does it represent me as a photographer? Whenever I work with either commercial, on a commercial application, or editorial, the images that I put out there that they are going to choose from to then publish, like, I want those images to speak to me as much as possible to how I want my work, what work I want out there. I'm considering that, if I'm gonna share 20 images with an editor, if they picked any one of those 20 images, would I be happy with that, would I be okay? That's my consideration as I'm doing that. I don't typically put in an image that I'm not sure about because maybe they want that, maybe they don't. I need to be, feel strong about the possibility that they'll select that image and then publish it. Something to consider. Keeping things interesting. Is there an opportunity to do something that you want to do that's kind of own your own? This was during that project that I shared with you earlier where there wasn't a lot of time for doing my own kind of veering from the typical, the original agenda, but took some moments to do that. And I wanted to share those images because it might be something that they didn't think about and that they would want to do some more of later down the road. Sometimes you can consider adding just a little bit of your flair to projects and that can help you choose your images when you're editing. Like I mentioned earlier, creating something for yourself at least once during these projects and as you're editing, pulling those images out and maybe it's using them for your portfolio. Sometimes the clients will like it and sometimes they won't but you got to try it. Like these images, for example. I just love the simplicity, the texture. They weren't necessarily like a portrait for the client but it was something that I felt like exploring in the moment and felt like I could put out there as work that I'd like to continue to create. That impacted my decisions to keep or trash. It's like, oh, well, I really like that. And I don't, sometimes you don't really know why or maybe it's not exactly the assignment but we'll go with that. And sometimes I'm like, is that too much tongue? (audience chuckling) I thought it was funny and it made me laugh so sometimes like if I smile or if I laugh out loud when I'm editing, like, to me that's an indicator that I should keep it. If it really brings even an emotional response from me, then I can only imagine that it would for my client. Now, they could see this image and be like, this is terrible, I hate it, but they ordered it, they loved it. It was a little risky and it's not technically perfect but I just thought this is silly and fun so I just threw it in there and it felt like it made the cut for that reason. Listen to your intuition. If you're editing and you, if you find yourself having that initial response to an image, then I think that one should be a keeper. Unless it was kind of like a blooper but, yeah, I think that's. I also tell people that in the sales process when, and we'll get into that a little bit more, but during the sales process a lot of times clients want to rely on you to help them pick the images. Which one do you like is a question I often receive. And my response is usually like what was your gut instinct, like what did you, what did you respond to, like what was your first pick? What settled in with you? And usually that's the one that they should go with. I'm happy to give my opinions but I think our natural reactions are important. And sometimes, I ditched the, I really got this vision of using this like outdoor curtain and I was like, oh, that was neat, that'd be neat if we could do a silhouette and so I tried for like five minutes during this shoot. This was another point where it's like I know they knew I shot that and it didn't work. And I might have said, like, that didn't work as well as I thought it was going to but I put it into my Ideas for Later folder because it didn't quite hash out the way I wanted it to, so that would kind of be a dumped image. Let's see, any questions? Yeah? I want to open it up to questions before we start looking at some of those images. I had one from online when you were talking about stock images and selecting them. Can you, I know you talked earlier in the class about stock as well but how do you go about identifying the themes and the things that might be on trend or that you go out then and shoot on spec, how do you identify those things? That's a really good question. Sometimes you can work, if you're working with an agency they might tell you this is something that's needed. A lot of times if you have a smaller agency they'll be able to tell you those things. I know that Getty Images, for example, sends out emails to contributors saying, basically a call to action saying we need more images of this, maybe it's technology and such-and-such. There are those kinds of pieces of guidance there but really you can, I mean, I would encourage in the way that stock is, the way that the market is right now, I would encourage you to make images that you want to make as kind of I don't just make stock photography for money, I talked about that earlier, is I also use it as an opportunity for other things. If I'm gonna take the time, my time, to make images, I'm gonna try to make images that I want to make and usually it's to, these are images that are reflecting an emotion or a concept versus like a product. I think if you just pick something and with animals what is it about? It's about connection, it's about how they're family, all the ways that animals are involved in our life and that sometimes changes, technologically speaking. There's just, there are lots of opportunities to work with animals and stock photography and ideas out there for illustrating the concepts of connection and family.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code
Norah Levine Resource Guide
Pet Packing List
Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews


Norah is really great and I learned a lot watching her. Even non-pet related things, like how she's continually trying to better herself were really inspiring to me. Since watching this, I've learned to take every shoot as a learning opportunity by evaluating what went right and what didn't, and thinking of what I can do next time to do better. I liked the way she showed interacting with animals in a way that doesn't stress them (well, depending on the animal there may be some level of stress anyway I guess...) too. Great class.

Chelsea Beauchamp

So inspiring! Great information on both family pet photography as a craft as well as the business side. Norah obviously knows what she's doing and has tons of experience, so it's a good chance to hear/see what it's really like to take this on as a specialty whether it's the focus of your work or one of many parts of your work. She focuses not just on the mechanics, but on the personal side of working with people and animals. You can tell she's passionate about what she does, too. It's only been one day of class and I already feel totally inspired!

Student Work