When you photograph a family event or a client, do you edit and print all the photos you took?  Or do you choose only the best?

If you’re like me, you take way more than you use.  I might take 200 photos per client, with a goal to give her only 30.

Lightroom makes ranking and filtering those 30 photos so easy – this one feature alone makes me wonder how I ever lived without Lightroom.

Now, there are a zillion and three ways to rank & cull photos in Lightroom.  I’ll describe my favorite method – we might talk about others in a different tutorial down the road.


The Flags are my favorite ranking tool in Lightroom.  Each photo ends up with one of three ranks:

  • a white flag for picked (good) photos.  Type P to pick.
  • a black flag for photos to be deleted. Type X to reject.
  • no flag for photos in between.    

Once marked, you can filter out those photos with white flags for editing and giving to the client and you can easily delete the photos with black flags.

After I import my photos, in Lightroom’s Library module, I look over my photos quickly in the Grid view and rank what I can.  The Grid view is the Library view where you see more than one photo at once – type G to access it.  If I see any photos that are beyond repair in terms of focus or exposure, I click on the photo and hit the X key on my keyboard.  This flags the photos to be deleted later.

Next I move to the Loupe view by clicking on the first image and hitting Enter on my keyboard.  This view shows only one photo at a time.  Using the left and right arrow keys on my keyboard, I quickly scroll through each photo in this larger view.  I mark the photos that I love with a P to give them white flags, and the photos that are simply a waste of hard drive space get an X to mark them for deletion later.  The vast majority of my photos remain unflagged, meaning that they aren’t terrible enough to delete, but not good enough to use. 


At this point, out of a shoot with 200 total photos,I might have 10 marked with black flags, 70 to 80 with white flags.  The remaining 100 or so photos will be unflagged.  These 70 or 80 photos are the cream of the crop, but number way to many to edit and give to a client.  I need to narrow them down further and find the “cream of the cream.”

Return to the Grid view (type G) and click Attribute on the Filter Bar.  If the Filter Bar isn’t visible, type .  In the Attribute section, click on the white flag.  Now, your Picked photos are filtered and are the only ones visible.  Return to the Loupe view by clicking Enter and use those arrow keys to go through your photos again.  When you get to a photo you are willing to eliminate from the Picks group, type a U for Unflag.  This doesn’t delete the photo or even mark it for deletion.  It only removes the white flag and takes it from your current filtered view. 

When you have a series of photos that are very similar, you only need to find the best one, right?  You’ve got a couple of ways to narrow this down quickly.  First, select the photos.  You can click the first, hold down your shift key, and click the last to select a group of contiguous photos.  For non-contiguous photos, hold down command/control while clicking the photos you’d like to look at together.  After the photos are selected, type N for Survey.  And don’t ask me why N stands for Survey, because I haven’t the slightest idea!

Now, in this Survey view, you are looking at your selected photos together.  When you see a photo that isn’t as good as the others, hover your mouse over it and click on the X that appears in the lower right corner.  This doesn’t mark the flag with an X for rejecting, it simply removes it from your current view.  As you remove photos from view, the remaining photos will expand so that you can see them better.

Need to compare photos in even more detail?  Use the Compare view.  With multiple photos selected, type C for Compare.  Your first photo will become the Select.  This is the “base” that you are comparing all others to.  The other photos are called “Candidates.”  Use the arrow keys on your keyboard or your screen to scroll through the other photos in your group and compare them to the Select.  If you find one that is better than the Select, click on the Make Select Button to move it to the left.  Now you can compare all photos against this one to mark as select or rule out.  For those that “don’t compare well,” use the U key to remove their white flag.  You can zoom in on photos in the compare view to check details, like which photo has the sharpest eyes.


Repeat these steps until you have a good number of photos to give your client or use at home.  At the end of this process, you can easily filter out  only the best of the best.

Next, let’s delete those photos we marked with X’s to reject.  Go to your Photo menu and select “Delete Rejected Photos.” 

You will see the photos that you ranked with Black Flags and get a message asking whether to delete them from your hard drive, or only remove them from Lightroom’s catalog.  I always select Delete from Disk here so that the photos are deleted from my hard drive.   Remember that it takes a pretty bad photo to earn an X from me.  If they’re that bad, I don’t want them anywhere!

The only photos left with white flags at this point should be the ones that you want to edit if necessary and send to the client, print for the scrapbook, or do something else with.  These flags are now part of your photos’ history and won’t be removed until you unflag them yourself.  Next time you need to access the photos from this shoot, open Lightroom, turn on the Attribute Filter for white flags, and you will return immediately to this Best of the Best view. 

I think that gives you plenty to work on over the weekend!  Do you feel the urge to rank and cull your Lightroom photos now?