Photo Editing 101 – Surviving the Tidal Wave of Data

Aperture Photo Editing
[Scott here with another guest blog post.  Today I hope to save you some time and heartache by giving you the nuts and bolts of editing large volume shoots…]

Painful memories I have: My first breakup, my first deceased pet, my first time moving, but perhaps most painful of them all is this; my first attempt at editing 15,000 photos.  Such overwhelming volume, such slow progress, so many similar photos.  Why, oh why, did they ever create the motor drive!?

The pain from the breakups, pets and moves have only faded a bit, but the pain of volume editing is almost entirely gone.  Call me masochistic, but I think I actually like editing big shoots.  On the surface the challenge is the same as it ever was, but years of photo editing for one of the heaviest trigger fingers in the industry have honed my skills.  And like a young ninja student who feels the sting of every misstep but grows to be a master, almost untouchable, oblivious to pain, I have conquered the edit.  You can too.

For some of you this will be old news.  But I am sure there are many who are like I once was; new to fast cameras and professional editing software.  Trying to figure out how to take an avalanche of data and come out the other end with “final selects”.  If you’ve never done it, it seems easy until you try.  If you’ve done it a lot, it probably is easy.  But if you’re somewhere in the middle it just might feel overwhelming.  Perhaps I can be of some assistance by giving you a few tricks I’ve learned along the way.

The foundation of my editing process is (drumroll)….Rating With Stars!!!  I know, it’s not groundbreaking.  Aperture has stars, Lightroom has stars, Bridge has stars, iPhoto has stars.  Almost every photo software on the planet has stars.  That’s the beauty.  Simple, effective, universal.  Aperture is my editing platform of choice, but this applies across the board.  There are 5 stars available.  Let me tell you what I do with each of them, hopefully you’ll find some wisdom in the why of the 5* editing system.

1* – Pace: Full Speed.  Main Criteria: Is it garbage? Before you even think about starting your first pass through your shoot, do yourself a favor: let the software build all of it’s previews and caches.  I know it can be hard to wait for this process, you feel like you’re wasting time, but trust me, it’s worth the wait.  Why?  Because the first pass through your big shoot should fast.  I mean FAST.

You’re not trying to pick the winners, you’re not even trying to pick the contenders.  Here’s a metaphor for you.  They let 20,000 people qualify for the Boston Marathon.  All you have to do in this first pass is pick the people who definitely won’t finish.  The guy in the Santa suit, the lady drinking beer, the dude with a broken leg.  Give a star to any photo that might make the cut.  Don’t look closely, just glance.  Is it way out of focus?  Is it way under or over exposed?  Is the model yawning, blinking, or otherwise looking at their worst?  No star for you.  Is it a remotely decent picture?  Then it goes on to the next round.

2* – Pace: Full Speed.  Main Criteria: Does it look OK? Grab a drink of water, quick snack, and then right back up to full speed.  Filter your images to show only the images with at least 1 star.  Now you’re only looking at images that aren’t horrible, but there’s plenty of room between horrible and average.  Volume editing is an elimination process.  This is your last chance to pull out pictures you never want to see again.

If you’re looking at high-action motor-drive images, this is the time to pull out the stuff that’s obviously before or after the key frames.  Remember, do not worry about picking the key frames here, just dump the ones that aren’t by leaving them at one star.  If you’re looking at portraiture or lifestyle shots, you’re trying to get rid of all of the shots where the subject is looking kinda bad.  Weird pose, funny face, etc.  No more stars for these guys.

3* – Pace: Cruising.  Main Criteria: Is it pretty nice? Filter again, just show 2* or greater.  You’ve been through these images twice now, you’re starting to get a feel for how the shoot turned out.  You’ve probably even started to sorta like some of the photos.  It’s time for these photos to get the nod.  This move from 2-3 stars is probably where I invest the largest amount of time.  You’re still looking at a lot of pictures, and you want to be somewhat critical at this step.  The 3* edit is the first one we’ll consider showing a client, and It’s where we draw the line between photos we don’t want to wade through and images that are all generally viable.  Look briefly at every photo and ask yourself:  Do I like this photo?  If the answer is no, no more stars.  If the answer is yes, it gets the 3 star rating.

4* – Pace: Calculated.  Main Criteria:  Is it nice when you look closely? Set your filter to show 3* or better.  If you were sorting through people here, now is when you would be deciding who you would consider a good friend, and who you think is just a nice person.  You would be happy to introduce your good friends to your clients or your peers, you’re confident that they will make a good impression.  You’ve spent enough time with them and examined their traits closely enough to know that they are good solid folk.  It’s the same way with 4* images.  If you’re not sure about focus, take the time to zoom in at 100% and make sure it’s good.  If you’re not sure about exposure, click over to your adjustments tab and knock the exposure slider around a bit, make sure you’ve got detail where you need it.  You’re making a commitment to these images, they are the elite of this shoot.  Choose them carefully.

5* – Pace: Slow and thoughtful.  Main Criteria:  Is it outstanding? These are the winners.  They are perfect in every way.  You want to blow them up and print them the size of a house.  You want to put them on your website and in your portfolio.  They don’t just meet the goals of this particular shoot, they meet the goals of you as a photographer.  In order to choose which images make the jump it 5 stars, we’ll often take a number of our favorite 4* images into the adjustments tab on Aperture and start to play around with treatments.  If the image starts to take on dazzling traits when some post production is applied, it’s a good contender for a five star rank.

Often times this five star designation is applied only as an in-house distinction.  Everything that has received four stars is going to be shown to the client.  It is often an enlightening exercise to have the client choose their favorites from the 4* edit, and independently do a edit of our own.  It is interesting to see where the favorites sync up, and it is a good starting point to begin an engaging conversation with the client about which images are indeed the best of the whole shoot.

I hope that you have found some kernels of information that will reduce your suffering, and perhaps even tip the scales toward joy the next time you come home with a pocket full of memory cards.

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Denny says:

I have played around with the stars in Aperture but never figured out how to make it productive. Thanks for the confidence to move forward. Always hard for me to delete a picture. After all, it might edit down to something useful so I end up with thousands of garbage images. Any other tricks in Aperture? I don’t feel like I get as much as I can out of this software.

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Jussi says:

Pretty much described as my workflow except i skip 1&2 stars and start from 3. Everything below that gets deleted. 3 for keep, 4 for client images and 5 for portfolio and ads.

Mr. Me says:

Great tips. I usually go through photos like this. The first time through I’ll go through and delete all the garbage pictures. uninteresting out of focus images, pictures of the back of someones head, etc. These pictures all get permanently deleted. As I go through I’ll also rotate any pictures shot in portrait mode, and I’ll brighten the few pictures that are so dark you can’t tell what’s happening.
After that I’ll do a few more passes through the pictures moving all the bad pictures into a folder marked duds.
Then when I think I’m ready for it, I’ll stop eliminating pictures, and instead I’ll go through and pick my favorite pictures, and move these into a folder called final. If I will be using these photos in a sequence to tell a story as is the case with wedding photography, then I’ll spend some extra time moving pictures between my final folder and the folder with the second to the best pics. The entire time I am trying to build up a a good storyline with my pics in the final photo.

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Adrian says:

Brilliant article this, need to look more closely. At one stage I started to use Aperture as a personal development tool and rated the raw unprocessed (and RAW) files only:

0: Keepsake (no matter how bad) / retain ‘just in case’ and image not available elsewhere.
1: Technically poor. Requires extensive post processing (adjust / crop) to produce a usable pic
2: Technically better. Minimal processing needed, creates a usable shot
3: As above but produces a good shot (e.g. pose / look / appeal better)
4: As above but produces a stunning shot (e.g. show – stopper look /pose from model etc)
5: Stunning shot with little or no processing.

Still not sure which way to go. Above complicates the issue by introducing a gauge as to the quality of the original shot (always good to improve), and, for instance, little way to track and recover a great shot that may have been produced but only after extensive processing (e.g. 1 above).

Equally, this way is purely qualitative and until your skills are up to it, may lead to countless early (processable) shots getting trashed.

So, still pondering the best way and whether to ‘Star’ the original images only, or the result too (essential if you want to retrieve once you want to track your best / published shots, regardless of how good they were originally. Better to separate your development as a photographer from the quality tags of your library maybe but pert of me thinks it’s good to have a gauge on how poor/good the image was when it started out. Decisions, decisions :-(

Very interesting concept, but would there be a large time savings if you only did one pass using all 5 stars? IE the theory just mentioned but done all at once, and not looking at the exact same pictures potentially 5 times?

Dave Wilson says:

Great post but I have a HUGE problem with it. for my first and second passes I would LOVE to go FAST! But I can’t! I only have Bridge and Lightroom at my disposal since I’m on a PC. But no matter what settings I use, I’m constantly having t wait for the software to catch up. I”m trying to Love Lightroom like so many people do, but I’m always getting slowed down by the LOADING thing. I’ve tried to let the program sit for over a day to build it’s reviews but it never seems to do it. So I’m thinking something is set wrong. But no matter what settings I change, no matter how I import my photos, I can never avoid the LOADING thing. I’ve asked different people if they can help me, but no one seems to have this problem. But I’ve re-installed on a totally different computer and got te exact same results so that tells me it’s just how it installs. If anyone can tell me how to make lightroom fast enough that i can just fly through my shots to cull the bad ones, I would be forever grateful!

Jussi says:

Sometimes my previews load slow and then i realize i’m in develop module, switch back to library and images start flying!

SimonC says:

Thanks for sharing Scott – great read. If I can take another tack. Would you have shot that much if you had to buy the film and pay for processing?
I find shooting as if you did a great self-editor and my hit rate is much higher.
Permission granted to use the word dinosaur, each to his own I guess!!!

Lewis Walsh says:

I do the exact opposite. I go through quickly and 5* all those I know I like and want to process. Then I go through with the 5* images hidden and 4* those I missed first time round. Same again for the maybe’s with 3*. If they don’t get at least 3* I just don’t bother with them.

Great work! You are a true inspiration! T Easter

Eric says:

Since you have 10+ years archive, it’s possible some projects is off line and stored in different disks, how do you handle the search for some particular projects quickly? Thx.

Thanks for the great article. I hope you’re still reading replies. I have two questions.

If a photo has no stars, how do you know that it was a photo that didn’t rate even one star, rather than a photo you accidentally skipped over and never rated?

You said it takes about a day to go through 15,000 photos. At 2 seconds a photo that would take just over 4 hours for the first pass. That gives 4 more hours (unless you are working longer days) for the last 4 passes. Subsequent passes have less photos, though take more time. Is that a good estimate of how your time gets used?


The first pass has to be quite systematic in order to avoid missing photos. To that end, it is very important that the whole set of images has been imported and ideally has had previews rendered out, so that there is nothing to keep you from quickly looking through each and every image.

As to the time breakdown, I would say that I spend less than two seconds per image on the first pass, and then take more time on the later passes when we’re looking at actual contenders.

Kara says:

Interesting to read someone else’s method for culling images! I so wedding and portrait photography and actually work in the opposite direction — I have an idea of how many images I want to show my client, so I make a first pass and select only the “5 star” photos — the ones that immediately jump out to me as being close to perfect as far as facial expressions, composition, etc. I move those into a “favorites” folder, then make a second pass and pull out any that I’d consider “4-star.” Usually this brings me up to the right number of images, so then I look through the favorites and make sure I’ve got each pose, location, or event covered. That saves me going through the “non-finishers” three times just to decide the worst of the worst. Then again, I usually have 100 images for a portrait session (pared down to 20-25) or 1800 for a wedding (pared down to 600-700) — so, never 15,000. So perhaps working in your direction is more efficient for extra-high volume.

Samuel Fu says:

I have a question:

In the workflow video, Dartanyon says that the files are renamed to be


Is this accomplished using the “Rename files” upon import?

If so, how do you get multiple custom fields? Currently, if I add one custom name and then add another custom name, when renaming, both custom fields display the same information

How do I get it to display say the project in one field and camera in another?

I am using Aperture 3 btw

Much appreciated


The easiest way to do this in Aperture 3 is to Rename Files on import. The trick is just to make a really long custom field that you change for each import. For something shot today for apple I would create a custom field (20110607_Apple_1) and then add the additional filename to that (_AAA4524). The result creates the type of names we outlined in the workflow video.

Mick Buston says:

Scott, thanks firstly for a great post.
I am now on my third pass of my 25,000 existing library and for me the best thing to come from this is by passing through your ‘worst’ shots more than once you get a feel for mistakes you keep repeating. I have shot for over 15 months without doing a ‘proper’ edit and could have improved my photography ‘quality’ immensely by looking more closely at those not making the cut rather than patting myself on the back for the keepers. Thanks again, Mick

David says:

I find myself referencing this post fairly regularly and figure you might appreciate me finally telling you how valuable I’ve found it. So, thanks! Until reading this post, a certain book out there had me thinking stars were a waste of time and that flags in Lightroom were the way to go.

Flags are cool and all, but I personally find this method to be both more efficient and more effective in filtering out the best images.

Thanks Scott. Love your posts.

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Paul S says:

Excellent post Scott. I’ve been following you guys for several years now and recently been enjoying these extra snippets. I just finished designing my own rating system a few weeks before this article so it was interesting to compare notes. As I’m not a professional photographer I use Aperture 3 in a slightly different way. I was using labels to filter out rejects and keepers:

Red – reject
Orange – possible reject
Yellow – review
Green – keep

I was keeping the star rating system for my keepers to define the best of the best. I found I was consuming too much time deciding what would be in the orange and yellow categories on 1000+ photo projects. In turn I’ve adapted your method so that:

Red – pass 1
Orange – pass 2
Yellow – pass 3
Green – pass 4
Blue – final cut

In comparison to my old method I recently filtered through my newborn photos using the modified workflow and completed a 1000+ project in about 4 hours. The previous 1000+ photos using my older method took about 10-12 hours. This definitely helped a lot. After I have my final cut I then rate all my images, tag, and mark which ones I want to edit.

Thanks again for this article and keep up all the great information.

Iksa says:

This is a great post. Really helped.

Mikelangelo says:

You just made my life easier. I do something similar…but you’ve just made it better. thanks!

Eduardo says:

I will adopt this.


Stu Bailey says:

Another great post Scott! Really useful info that I will apply to my own image selecting :-)

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Great post. Thank you. I think it would also be a good idea to point out Fraser Speirs Aperture-specific guide to the same work:

Thanks for this guest post. It is good to know the process is the same for even a 15,000 photograph shoot! I have never had more than 1,500 so far.

I use a very similar star rating system. In Aperture 3 I also use its color labeling system too, especially for when images are in final, edited ready for the client form. Some photos I know the client does not need, but I gave them 5-stars, to I color code them for me to be able to later go back and use.

Next time I will try going through faster on the first look. Last night I definitely went too slow on the first pass through of 400 event shots, even stopping to crop and straighten some!

julesberry says:

I think your method is quite inefficient. …that is, assuming that the majority of images end up getting 1 star. It sounds rather like you are marking thousands of images with 1 star! You should mark the rejects in the first pass (“9″ in Aperture) and then only mark those that deserve 2 stars. Of course your 2 star category is the largest, you might also consider marking the rejects on the second round as well.

Matt Bostock says:

Nice piece Scott

I especially like the fact way you use the star system to differentiate between good images and good and *in-focus* images, very useful when you’re sorting the commercially usable work from more ‘artistic’ images you just feel good about.

I tend to use Lightroom’s flags to pick/reject photos in around three passes or less, but then I’m usually starting out with a lot less than 15,000 images ;-)

JP Danko says:

Interesting that you give your clients your 4 stars and let them make the final picks. I am always amazed at how different my top picks are from my clients.

Jim says:

Scott, this is awesome. Just yesterday I was trying to revamp my rating system after fumbling around with 1000 photos the other day. I’m usually pretty organized but this time was just bouncing around too much due to time and wanting to get the model some edited images.
I use LR3 and the first thing I do is select the rejects and delete them. Since storage is at a premium for me right now I am definitely interested in erasing the crap.
Here’s my new modified version I decided on yesterday.
1) reject the rejects and delete them. (your 1*)
2) flag anything that might be usable, filter to show unflagged and delete them (your 2*)
3) now i start my 1*/2*/3* rating
4) edit the 3* photos and then 4* the virtual copy with the edit I like best since sometimes I create a few versions of an image
5) filter to my 4* images and then select the best ones to share or submit and rate them 5*

And then to complicate things I’ll bring the color rating into it if I want to narrow things down to a particular model (in the case of a fashion show) or a particular look if there have been multiple setups during the day.

and to add
@sherrie, that’s a great idea. i tend to keep some samples on the iphone, but on the card is a great idea too. gotta try that.


Adam Leahy says:

Thanks, I have a similar system, I wish I had a similar assistant to do it all! (I’m in the middle of one now actually). Hey, after doing one of these sets, how do you get your eyes un-crossed?!

Skisimi says:

Love the shots by the way

Mark says:

Hey Scott,
Maybe it was mentioned already and I missed it, but do you ever delete your no stars, or one stars seeing as these runner will never cross the finish line?


B. Moore says:

simple and it works.

appreciate the insight,

thank you

Gabriel says:

Great post. Thanks for sharing this type of info. I do something similar ( but do some basic post to the 2 star ones before moving on. I guess you guys shoot way more than many of us, so it makes sense to be more ruthless in the first few passes.

David Jackson says:

Awesome explanation of your workflow, I’ve struggled with how to rate photos and now it very clear now. Thanks Chase.

David J

Thanks for sharing this! Very straight forward and clear. I actually tried this out today with a shoot I’ve been needing to sort through and process…and it actually works pretty well! lol :) I’ve never had a super specific way of sorting through my photos, I usually clear out all the obviously bad ones and then just work through the rest and clear the ones that don’t make the cut out as I go. This way, purposefully sorting the bad ones out multiple times before you really start to mess with them, helps make it easier to see which ones really shine! Very appreciated. :)

cweezy says:

great post. makes me want to do a large shoot a soon as i can!

Marian says:

Really good article with useful comments – thanks for sharing important part of your workflow…

Here’s a tip that might help some during this process. I have made sorting rules that eliminate the photos as i rate them. I use LR3 so first pass as soon as something is rated is ‘disappears’ from the sort. Being a busy parent (photography is my hobby, not my livelihood) I am often interrupted mid-sort. This way when I come back the work that is left is what’s on the screen. You can make sorts that drop the photos out of the sort with 2*, 3* etc…. I also use the reject flag in LR to facilitate the first high speed pass.

Just what I do.

Michael says:

Great article Chase, it’s very important to build a good functioning routine for dealing with that first import and initial selection.

Vern says:

Good article and well written. After taking 5000+ pictures in South America and another 4000+ on a bike trip I more or less evolved into this technique. Still working on the speed aspect so will take the suggestion for doing the first two stars at a much higher rate. Not being a professional my criteria is probably a little different. First I want the 5 stars to be my best but at the 4 star level I want to get a good sample of my trip and keep the number down to the non-boring level of having too many pictures. In the past I have had to many pictures in the 4 and 5 star levels and simply weeped these down by repeated looking at the fourth level. This has taken a considerable amount of time. Consequently, although not still fully developed I am thinking that after doing the 5 star pass I will develop an rough outline of how many pictures I want in total and how many for each theme/location. The number of pictures actually chosen will obviously vary somewhat by the number of 5 star pictures that I probably would not want to eliminate and how interesting the location/theme would be to myself or my viewers. I will then go back to the 4 star level and sort based on how the picture fit into the overall story of the trip/theme, much like a story board. If necessary to built the story I could go back into the 3 star level to look at a particular set of pictures. With a certain amount of discipline I think this approach will significant speed up the process.


Great point about going back to the 3* edit in order to round out your story. Sometimes there is a little more to the picture than pure artistic merit. Everyone should think about how to massage the techniques in this post in order to apply it to their own style of photography.

Jeremy M says:

Great info, especially for a beginner. I wish that I would have read this a few weeks ago when I was trying to edit through my first newborn shoot. So many similar images. Thanks for sharing your process.

DanielKphoto says:

Sounds like a great system of sorting out the good ones :) I’m definitely gonna apply this method the next time I come home with a boatload of photos :)

Thanks a lot for sharing Scott!

Clay says:

Yeah, great post Scott. This if pretty much the system I’ve developed as well, although not to this detail. Probably use this to fine tune my process just a bit more!

Luis Seco says:

I can’t thank you enough for these tips. I really like taking photos and even editing them but I always struggle with the workflow of choosing the best photos. I usually get fed up with it or my available time runs out before I can take the picks with which I’m satisfied.

I’ll definitely try the stars ranking now. Thanks.

Marc Altman says:

Very interesting post — thanks so much for sharing. One question: can you give us a sense of what percentage of shots get cut from round to round? In other words, in this example, how many of the original 15,000 frames became a 1*, 2*, etc?

Thanks again,


When I was writing this post I tried to do that, and looked through many of our Aperture libraries to find the best example. The challenge is that it is almost completely dependent on the subject matter and style of shooting. Some shoots are very well orchestrated and a great many of the images are very good. Other shoots are more experimental and have a great deal more chaff to sort out. I’ll try to figure out if I can find some sort of average.

Heh – this is indeed exactly my process!

Another benefit of a super fast first-pass edit is it helps you avoid depression…

Scott, a very nice introduction and description how you guys approach the selection of photos. It sounds quite logical and easy to adapt. I was wondering about an approach for some time, but did not take the time to seriously develop one by myself. So, this blog post was an appreciated eye opener how this can be done.
Also a thank you for the quick information about how you guys deal with the Aperture libraries.

fas says:

Awesome stuff, thanks for the tip.

Ted McAusher says:

Great idea, while the star system sounds simple, its one of those “too simple to see” ideas. I can’t wait to use it. Although I have far less volume to worry about

katie says:

I like this. I do this, but find so much frustration with lightroom’s ”sort” – i rate initially then sort the images in the filmstrip by “rating”… then when i up the stars I’m jumping all over the filmstrip… or I leave sort at ”capture time”, then I’m still wading through the no-goers… what am I missing???

Matt Simmons says:


If you sort by file type or file number lightroom should order your pictures the way you want. I never use capture time sort for the reason you mentioned.

Great post Scott! I will say that I often work with stylists and models who have their own opinions on images. I’ll often use the color coding system in lightroom in addition to the star system to denote the favorites of each. Yellow (7) for the model – red (8) for the stylists.

alfanick says:

My idea of implementing 5*+0 in Lightroom is through Smart Collections (assuming you creating a new catalog for each shoot).

Create five Smart Collections in each you should choose to require one star more than in previous, begging with one star, in same time require your Smart Collections to use pictures that are not flagged as rejected. I use “rejected” flag for technically wrong images (underexposed, moved, whatever).

Than create “Probably exporting” Smart Collection – using “4 or more stars” and “Pick” flag you will choose the best and the very best pictures to export.

This is how I’m doing this for few months now.


The key word here is “sort”. You want to sort by capture time or filename to keep your photos organized in a linear fashion, do not change how you’re sorting. What you want to do with the star edits is “filter”. This control is in Library>Filter by rating, or the star icons above the thumbnails toward the bottom right of the window. This is how you narrow your photos down by the number of stars you’ve given them.

katie says:

thank you! x

Inspiring post, as for now I hated editing large volumes. Let’s see if the star rating trick will help :)

This is usually how I edit too… only problem is: I’m so critical of my own images that almost nothing gets up to more than two stars. I guess I’ll have to either lower my standards or start improving on the quality of my photography :-)

Hemmi says:

Thanks for a great post, Scott

One question – Why Aperture?

All the best,


It’s a great one stop shop for getting images from their RAW unedited state into an edited, renamed, tagged, processed output. There are a number of contenders in this arena, and I encourage use of whichever works best for you.

Brilliant post! We can all relate to the scale of the job.
Thanks for the tips.


Mathieu Wauters says:

Thanks for this post, Scott. The process reminds me a bit of idea generation and selection where you funnel those ideas and end up with only a couple potential winners. 15,000 images in 1 day is very impressive!

Thanks for the write up. At the moment I don’t have a real workflow or rating system. I started organizing my photos in a folder structure, but rating them I didn’t do yet and this will be a good way to start with.

Geoff says:

I have a big interest in Workflow and Digital Asset Management, and it surprises me that you use 5 star ratings. Both which is a fantastic resource on workflow, and The Dam Book, written by the world’s leading expert on Digital Aset Management, Peter Krogh, recommend only using 1,2 and 3 stars (OK, maybe 4 if you are Chase Jarvis) when you are rating your images. The simple reason behind this is that you should leave room to grow as a photographer. Where do you go when you use 5 stars all the time. When your photos get even better, what are you going to do then? I think there’s just no need to go past 4 stars (and reserve a little humility for the future) ;)

Geoff says:

Sorry, of course I meant

Mathieu Wauters says:

Geoff, I think it’s hard if not impossible to “standardize” ratings over the years. If I use the rating system Scott wrote about and continue to use it, it will imply that as I become a better photographer, the 5-star shots will have a higher quality than the 5-star shots of x years ago. Comparing those shots will show for the difference in growth as a photographer.


For me, the simple act of editing the kind of volume we’re talking about here makes it improbable to get all of our editing done in just three passes. If we’re editing 15,000 images, I’ll have at least 1,000 images with 3* which are all quite viable in some way. I need to have more room to further refine. As with everything in this field, to each his own.

Brant says:

Hey Scott,

Thanks for such a great little tutorial.

Was wondering if you guys ever compared (head-to-head) the NEF to TIFF conversions between Aperture and Nikon NX2.




We have used the NX2 software when working with the D7000 and D90 before there was support for them in 3rd party sofware. The RAW conversions are quite good, but I don’t feel that there is enough difference to justify the inconvenience of working outside of Aperture for the conversion step.

Brian H says:

First- It’s awesome that you guys are blogging a lot recently. Can’t tell you how much I enjoy and appreciate hearing from your team.

Second- Wow is it cool to hear the big dogs break down sorting through 15k photos into something that’s humanly possible. Granted it still requires a ton of effort and hard work….but there’s not any magic spell behind using Stars to rate images. Systematic and consistent. Simple. Reminds me not to overthink.

Keep up the great work!

Thanks Scott.

I’ve been doing exactly this for a few years now, and all i keep thinking is what did we do before programs like lightroom/aperture ?!

I mean, i remember long editing times (in photoshop), opening and saving several different copies of files through Photoshop (RAW, edited PSD and then final tiff or jpeg)

I’m loving these guest posts from you Dude, & the rest of the guys, keep em’ comin’ :)

Jeni says:

Well, now there’s a duh-huh moment to roll with!!! Great job explaining it to make it make sense to me. That’s not always an easy task.

Paul Rohde says:

This is great, and something I’ve done similarly for a while, but over time I have two questions similarly related to this:

1) How would you design or build a machine to tackle large shoots with this editing process in mind? Whats important? How do you manage speed vs backup / archiving of photos?

2) Along those lines, how do you manage and organize large numbers of shoots? With more modern non-destructive editing tools like Aperture and Lightroom I struggle between having a lightweight catalog with a single or small number of shoots in it vs the ease of having a large catalog that allows me to quickly pull out all my good shots and / or filter on a particular genre or tag, what have you tried and what works for you?



Our studio workstations are designed for speed in editing with Aperture and processor intensive tasks like photoshop and final cut. Fast processors, lots o’ ram, and multiple hard drives set up with a hardware raid 0 (this means that the computer writes data to multiple internal hard drives simultaneously). The raid is the biggest upgrade I have noticed in terms of how this machine feels as compared to my old workstation which didn’t have the raided drives.

As to the organization of libraries: since we’re dealing with so many images (10 years worth), and we store our libraries on our server, we need them to be relatively small so that we can quickly move shoots back and fourth from the server to individual work stations. We create a separate library for each shoot. We often export high res versions of all of the best images from a given shoot to the Live Work area on our server, this way we can easily access the images without the assistance of the Aperture Library.

007_checker says:

Scott, great post and I followed all the comments! One thing I don’t seem to get: What is meant by “the Live Work area on our server”?



That references a partition on our server where we store the work that is in progress. All of the details are in this post and video from a few months back:

Don says:

Thanks Scott! Great post!

Just got a Mac with Aperture 3 so gonna def be trying this out, never really used the star rating system before..Excellent stuff Scot.

Stephen says:

Scott, thanks this will help me out immensely as I am just starting out as a pro and was dreading having to go through large shoots and figuring out a way to filter/pick the good ones. I have 1 question, I read the older blog post where Chase discussed the work flow you use and am implementing a Raw Data/Live Work type work flow with separate partitions on an external drive. Do you do the rating on the raw data side and then bring the 4*+ into the live work or do you do it on the live work side?


At this step of the process the images are stored in the Raw Data side of the drive. The Aperture library is stored on the hard drive of the computer being used for the edit. The aperture library (local) references the raw files (server) during the edit. Once we have completed the edit, we’ll genrally begin outputting files from Aperture that have had some adjustments. At this point, the work moves to the Live Work partition on the server. Let me know if this is clear. Thanks!

Stephen says:

I’m still new to Aperture but I think I’m following. You place the original RAW files on a sever (or external hard drive), then in the Aperture Library you reference the file (original RAW file on the drive) and Aperture then saves the changes/editing you do and you export the the files to Live Work? So do you leave the library on the HD of the Mac with Aperture or do save the libraries somewhere else?
This may seem like a lot but I don’t have the skittles Chase does so I’m still a one man show with a Mac, Aperture and some external HD’s for backup. I’m still trying to figure out a good workflow for me that also provides me some back up. Time Machine is great but I still like to have another backup that is easy to access. and can be stored somewhere safe.


You’ve got it. To answer your final question, we store the aperture libraries on our server in the Live Work partition. We create the libraries locally, do the edit, then copy them to the server where they live until a point at which we need to access them again, in which case we copy the library to a local machine, do work, and then move it back to the server.

If you’re using external hard drives instead of a server, you can keep the Aperture library on the external the whole time, Aperture doesn’t mind working across a firewire or USB, you only run into needing to move them if you’re accessing the data via a network drive (server).

Srikanth says:

Thats really great Info. Though I haven’t edited many photos yet, it gives me an idea what to consider when you have a LOT.

Thanks so much and Keep writing up the good stuff

Brian Carey says:

Thank you Scott, your guest posts are always informative and helpful.

John Lafond says:

Critically useful info for time saving…thanks.


Such a great post, full of great information! Chase Jarvis and his collaborators do not stop to amaze me and this blog is a great tool for every photographer to learn ways of producing photography nowadays!
Thank you guys for the effort in thinking about and helping others! cheers

tim says:

Thanks for the tips! I just purchased Aperture, this will be a huge help.

JoshCarey says:

Great post!! Thanks so much for sharing this process. My friend Arron does this almost the same exact way in Aperture. I asked him how he does it (although its usually a lot less, only around 500-600 images) with so many images, and explained it pretty similarly to this method.

I’m in my second year of wedding photography, and while I LOVE the shooting process, the editing is what kills me. I almost work backwards – I choose my 5* images first, then 4*, and then a mixture of the other three.

Your solution makes so much more sense, and should really help me save some time. Thank you.

Matt says:

Nice write-up of the 5* approach. Generally, I X the 0* items–which in Lightroom is the X key.

I’m curious on your portrait workflow, when you’ve got the 4* items. Is there a goal number of shots to remain in the 4* category? Also, do you take the pictures through the full retouching edit in Photoshop prior to presentation to the client? I personally don’t show anything to anyone before I’ve had a chance to work them over, frequently in Photoshop, but sometimes only in Lightroom (depending on the person’s complexion). What’s your average time/image to glam them up?


Sterling says:

Out of curiosity’s sake, generally speaking, how many out of 1000 of Chase’s photos get a 5-star?

David Roddis says:

Although I’ve generally used the five-star method, this article explains it brilliantly and memorably. Thank you!

I love this. Easy to understand and to adhere to.

Rich Park says:

scott is awesome – thank you for all the tips!

Matt Walsh says:

Hey Scott,

You’re posts are awesome keep it up.


Drew says:

Great post Scott. Most importantly, it’s simple and scalable.

I finally advanced from the basic Canon Photo Professional software to Lightroom, and have been using a combination of stars / flags, but this seems quite a bit easier. Thanks.

Scott Nickell says:

Thanks for sharing this valuable info!

Thanks Scott, this is a huge help.

Sherrie says:

Norbert – I make it a rule not to delete any photos for at least three months. I can’t tell you how often I have, in a bored moment, just gone back through a shoot and suddenly fallen in love with photos I had passed over. In the time that has passed since the shoot your perspective can change quite a bit, and suddenly the lighting in a late-sunset photo is epic, or a lonely shell on the beach is perfectly composed. You have to give yourself time to see the photos with new eyes.

I also – does anyone else do this? – keep 3-5 of the best shots from a shoot on my memory card, just in case I’m out with my camera but no portfolio and want to show off. You never know when a curious friend or stranger can turn into a customer.

Dave says:

@Sherrie – that is a great idea!

Phil says:

Great article! I’ve personally used the Pick/Reject method, but I’m looking forward to trying your workflow. Try setting your filter to Exactly # stars instead of At Least… your process may be a little faster because fewer keystrokes will be needed.

P says:

Thanks Scott for your insight from the trenches—it’s always enlightening.

P.S. Can’t imagine facing an edit of 15,000 images. * passes out just thinking about it *

Brian says:

I have been struggling with this for sometime. Thanks for posting this as it helps tremendously. Now I have a system.

J Rainey says:

I started doing this rating system my first time through because, well it seemed like common sense at the time to rate them so. For even smaller shoots i’ll skip over the first couple stars and start out at 3 then go to 4 and 5 stars. I can’t imagine going through 15,000 photos at this time (especially when my largest to date was just under 1,000)!?

It’s difficult to tell on my dumpy work monitor, but are these Jackson Hole photos?? I was just there a few weeks ago and was absolutely torn between bringing a camera and having to hold back/miss out on shredding :( Out of plain curiosity, how long does it take to get to your 5* images out of 15,000?


These photos are from Stevens Pass, Washington just last week. It was an amazing day, and expressly fun because I got to sneak to the other side of the camera (I’m the guy in the blue jacket).

A 15,000 image shoot will generally take me somewhere around one day of work to get through.

J Rainey says:

Well congrats on being some 5* photos! The west coast has been getting dumped on and it looks like you guys couldn’t have asked for a better day. For how much i love photography and snowboarding, it is very challenging to sacrifice one for the other; glad you were able to sneak to the other end of the lens for some shots!

A full day of weeding through images is unimaginable. FYI the previous commented idea of a collection of the worst outtakes is a winner :)

Jennifer Bak says:

Thanks for the info on streamlining the process! I was doing okay with my current setup, but you’ve just made it better. Thank you. :)

Nick says:

Great post Scott!
I shoot mostly fashion/lifestyle and use a similar system. Most of my shoots are just tests so I don’t have a paying client to run my 4 star images by. If this is the case how often do u suggest bringing in another set of eyes (friend/gf/whoever) to look at the 4 star images and give their opinion? I imagine bringing anyone in before the 4 star stage would be just lead to more confusion?
Any tips for that?



It seems to me that the 4* edit is where you would like to have another set of eyes. I have the luxury of having some very visually gifted people in adjacent desks to mine, so sometimes I’ll even bring in a second opinion to spin through the three star edit. Generally this is after I’ve already completed my entire edit, and the motivation is to see if there is anything that should be upgraded that didn’t catch my eye. Collaborating with your models or photographer colleagues can be a rewarding experience when finalizing your edit as well.

Nick says:

excellent info. thanks scott!

Norbert says:

Thanks for this. It’s very helpful! One question: I notice that you don’t delete any pictures. Why not?


It’s a long standing tradition in our studio that dates all the way back to shooting all slide film. The relative price of keeping all of the photos is not too high, and gives us the luxury of always being able to look back through the entire library should the need ever arise. Perhaps at some point we’ll want to make a collection of the worst outtakes, find artistic merit in some images that were previously thought to be worthless, etc. If storage costs are a major issue for you, it may be very valid to delete the first or maybe even second round.

A great article about something that I for one always feel some anguish about.

mel haynes says:

Thanks for this post Scott. I have not had the pleasure of dealing with a set that large, but these techniques will definitely help out. I’ve always done the reverse of this, but this method makes more sense to me. I also forgot that important “snack” step. I joke, but it does help to walk away from the photos for a moment and come back and look again.

Thanks for sharing this.


Bridge has stars but I have never found how to tag them with a star as easily as you can with Aperture by pressing the number 1-5. That’s a big plus of Aperture even though that does sound pretty simple.


In bridge you just need to hold the command (control on PC) button and the number in order to give a quick star rating.

Sterling says:

You can also change the Bridge shortcut so that Ctrl is no longer needed.

Tim says:

Cmd- or Ctrl- number in Bridge thumbnail view. No modifier key required either in the carousel or slideshow views.

Thanks Scott – Well needed info and tips!

This is exactly the way I’ve been doing this. I have been developing this system since I started in photography and with every edit it becomes more pleasant.

One thing I would add here is that one should be very careful not to try and look closely at the first or second star. If I ever catch myself looking too closely I take a short break and come back to start again with fresh (and fast) pace. While on 3rd edit I usually let myself be a bit more scrupulous.

Great post Scott! Thanks a lot for sharing!

Excellent post. Thanks for the tips Scott.

Ron Putnam says:

This is definitely hard for some people to get. We can become very attached to our photos and don’t want to let things go. For myself I use the same multi step process described above except rather than stars I use Flags in Lightroom and just commit to letting photos go. At least for weddings this process works for me. Just pick and move on.

Fran Efless says:

Looks like i was putting the cart before the horse.
Much easier than giving 4 or 5 stars to some of my pictures.
It was a pain to rate the pictures :D
Defly i’m going to try it this way.

Thanks for sharing!

Mick Buston says:

Thank you so much. I have been using Aperture and stars but have no formal system that works. This seems to be a great way of approaching it and one I will adopt and adapt for my own workflow. Thank you for sharing.

KFinn says:

ninja editor!

Great info Chase! I remember you talking about this on a live webcast a few months back.. glad you finally wrote it out! :)

Anonymous says:

That was Scott! Not Chase..

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