3 Steps to Declutter Digital Images – Step Three

We’ve made it to the big finish. Keeping with the moving theme, we are ready to decorate your rooms. (If you missed the move, you can read how to prepare, move your boxes into the house, and how to quickly unpack.)

Step Three: Culling

What is your design style? Minimalism? Shabby Chic? Hoarder? 🙂  Think about it for a just a moment. Don’t know if you have a style? Ask yourself a couple of questions. Do you like clean spaces or a place that looks lived in? Do you like to have tons of family pictures on the wall or keep them neatly stored in albums? Do you care at all if your furniture matches or just use what was handed down to you? Whatever your answers are, they hold a clue to how you’re going to cull.

Culling is the process of removing. You need to remove all the images on your computer that don’t belong. Another word for this process could be curating. You are picking the best out of the masses. If you went to a museum and they showed you everything they owned. Everything. You wouldn’t know what to do or even where to look. Museum curators diligently search for themes,  specific artists, or time periods within their collection to help us interpret the content.

How do you want to display your collection within your “house”? How do you want to catalog or store your collection?

With all that in mind, let’s get started.

  1. Open your browsing software program.

At this point, you have to have something. If you don’t have Lightroom, Bridge, or something of the sort, I highly recommend ON1 Browse. You can download a free trial to help you get through this culling  process.  It might even help you to get this done within the next 30 days! (P.S. While you’re there, pick up ON1’s latest version of Effects for FREE!)

2. Select a sub-folder within your general folders.


3. Do a quick sweep within the sub-folder.
  • Delete blurry/overexposed/underexposed images
  • Delete duplicates
  • Delete the ones that you HATE
  • Delete the ones that make you say, “What is that a picture of????”





4. Go back thoroughly through each image in the sub-folder.

This is the time to make the serious decisions. What I recommend is to open the Full Screen Preview to view each image and then quickly ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have multiples of this picture? Is this one better or worse? How many shots of this do I need? (You only need 3 at most)
  • Why do I want to keep it? Is it a once in a lifetime shot or do I have a million more where this came from?
  • Does it help to tell a story?
  • What if everyone sees it? Will it matter?

If you decide after answering those questions that you want to keep the picture, give it a 1 star rating (in Bridge the shortcut is Ctrl+1).

If you decide to delete it (remember all these files are backed up somewhere, right?), then do not give it any star rating and move on.

If you really LOVE the image, give it 3 stars.

Continue this process for each image until you get through the whole sub-folder.




5. Delete the images with no stars.

There will most likely be a filter on your software that allows you to view all the unrated images. Choose that filter, select all the images you rejected, and then hit delete. That’s right. Just do it.





6. Rename the images in the folder.

Select all the images in the folder that remain (the ones with 1 or 3 stars) and do a Batch Rename. This can be a tricky one, but don’t overthink it. You’ll want to make sure every picture on your computer has a unique name so a good rule of thumb is to use the date captured. Some examples:  2007_12_25_001  or  2007_Christmas_001  or    20071225_001   You’ll never really have to USE these, but remember they might go online. Try not to use anyone’s name, especially children. Also, don’t use names like Petting the dog.jpg. To put it simply, it will not be in a logical order and will get lost. Keep your naming convention the same for every picture, EVER, it will help you in the long run. For more naming convention fun (sarcasm abounding), you can check out this informative post by eXadox.






7. Add keywords and metadata

Since all the photos in your subfolders are related in some way, this is a great time to add information (aka metadata) in a batch. Some metadata that you might want to add would be the creator’s name (that’s you!), the city and state the photo was taken, or maybe even a description.

Keywords are searchable, descriptive terms. Some examples would be Christmas, Santa Fe, holiday, etc. Those are very general so that they could or should relate to all the pictures in your folder. In the future, when you want to find a Christmas picture in Santa Fe, you can use those keywords to search! Another reason to add keywords is to document who is in the photo. Some programs have tags to do this, but you can also use keywords. Then, in the future when you see the picture and can’t remember that random person standing next to you, the keyword will show their name. This is also helpful if you ever want to sell the image and need a model release from said random person.

To add metadata in a batch, select all the pictures (Ctrl+A with Windows). Go to the metadata folder and add the information you would like to be associated with all those photos.

If this is all too confusing, here’s a short video from ON1 that might help.






8. Look at your 3 star rated files. 

Would you like to print these? Post them online? Include them in an album to print?

Whatever you would like to do, this is the time. If you want to print, copy them to a folder named “To Be Printed”. If you want to post them, do that now. With your software, you’ll have an option to create an album or collection within the program. Go crazy with it. Create albums of just the favorites of your grand kids, or of the pictures you’d like to get printed, or maybe the pictures you need to retouch before printing, the options are endless. But do it now.




9. Label the sub-folder.

You did it! You’ve organized your first sub-folder. Let’s stick a label on it so you don’t forget that you’ve gone through it already!


10. Repeat steps 2-9 until you have completed every folder.

Try to do this really quickly. When I’m retouching, I set the stopwatch on my phone to make the time feel more urgent. With every image, I try to beat my previous time. You can do that for each folder. The point is, I don’t want you to get lost in the memories of your photos (like I just did trying to take screen shots of examples). This is the culling process. You can get lost all you want after you’ve gone through them.