In selecting images for delivery to the client, we want to make sure we’re delivering enough images to tell the story of the wedding day while making sure that we’re not overwhelming the client with too many images. The purpose of this article is to provide a few objective guidelines to help with the very subjective image selection process of the wedding photography workflow. In general, we should be aiming for around 800-1200 per wedding, but there is no magic number and each wedding will have unique circumstances.
The overarching question you should be asking yourself as you go through the images is the following: “What is the purpose of this image?” Each image needs to have a purpose. It needs to portray and emotion or idea, whether it be passion, love, romance, beauty or happiness. The exception might be family formals or some detail or venue shots. Sometimes, we just need to capture a group shot of the family for the sake of having a picture with everyone in the family. Sometimes we need to capture the food served so that the bride and groom can remember aspects of the day that they’re too busy to notice. But (especially) when it comes to people shots and candid moments, each image needs to have purpose. A group of expressionless people, someone stuffing their face with food, backs of a group dancing all need to be rejected.
The second overarching question you need to ask is the following: “On its own, is this image a poor representation of our typical work?” It’s inevitable that not all images are going to be award-winning, spectacular, stunning shots. However, unintentional blur, missed focus, unintentional mixed lighting, or any other amateur mistakes should automatically trigger the “kick out” reflex. Of course there are exceptions, as we’ll go over below, but in general, if a client or guest were to only see that one picture (the picture that you’re deciding to keep), make sure it doesn’t reflect less-than-professional work.
Pease note that these rules are not absolutes, and each image will require some level of judgement.
Rule: Do Not Select Duplicate Shots
Description: Duplicate shots are identical or nearly identical shots. Unique crops, different angles, different lighting, or unique post production styles are NOT considered duplicate styles. If the subjects have COMPLETELY different expressions (with all else equal), then the shots are not duplicates and should be kept. In contrast, if the subjects have SIMILAR expressions (with all else equal), then they ARE considered duplicate shots. Even with different compositions, if the two images are telling the same story of the same moment, then they should be considered duplicates and only one should be chosen.
Here is an example of shots that we would consider duplicates; because even though they’re different compositions, they are telling the same story of the same moment.
Rule: Keep (More) Sequenced Shots
Description: Sequenced shots are shots that are very similar (in crop, lighting, event, etc) but show a sequence of events. Common moments during which we take sequenced shots are: wedding party playful scenes, wedding party walking setups, bride walking down the aisle, bride and groom walking back down the aisle, bride and groom’s grand entrance, cake cutting, and the bouquet and garter tosses. There will likely be dozens of shots taken from these moments, so you’ll still have to narrow it down to about three to seven images (usually around five or so) for each scene. However, don’t write all of them off as duplicate images and don’t mind the expressions (or focus) in each individual image as much as you normally would.
Exception: Don’t keep too many sequenced shots of unimportant events. For example, we only need a couple (of the best) shots of the bridesmaids walking down the aisle and each couple entering the reception during the entrance. We don’t need an entire sequence of each. In contrast, we want more of the sequence of the bride walking down the aisle or the groom stripping down during the garter toss.
Here’s an example of a set of sequenced shots. Notice that none have perfect expressions of everyone in the scene and not all of them have perfect focus. But placed together in a sequence (especially in a slideshow), this is a fun series of shots that is a lot more interesting than a single standalone image.
Rule: Do Not Select Unflattering Images of the Subject(s)
Description: Each of our images should have a primary subject or multiple primary subjects, isolated by either the focus, the lighting, or the composition. It should go without saying that this main subject needs look good, not blinking nor in the middle of an awkward expression. Avoid selecting images with unflattering angles or highlighting unflattering features.
Exception: If there are multiple subjects, use your judgement to select images in which at least one of the subjects is captured in a flattering way. If there are a sequence of shots (see sequenced shots above), not every shot needs to have perfect expressions.
Rule: Pick ONE image from each group of formals
Description: With the formal, posed shots, we ideally only want the best picture selected. The main reason for this is that when people are ordering images, they are ordering from proofs; and they often can’t zoom in like we can to see all of the expressions and focuses. Therefore, it’s up to us to select the best image. This seems simple, but gets complicated when there are multiple “good shots” or if there is something slightly wrong with multiple images (someone blinking, someone hidden, etc). As you’re selecting, make sure you’re using the compare function in Lightroom and zooming to see all of the details. If you’re having a hard time choosing, follow this order of prioritization:
1) Visibility – choose the image that shows everyone’s face
2) Focus/quality – choose the image with the most accurate focus and most amount of “crispness.”
3) Blinking – choose the image that is void of blinkers
4) Expressions – choose the image with the best expressions with priority on the bride and groom then immediate family then all others in the image.
Exception: If there is a flaw in every one of the images of a certain group based on the criteria above, you can deliver two images so that the client has two options. For example, if grandma is blinking and the aunt is visible in one picture but the aunt is hidden in the picture that grandma is not blinking, deliver both. Do not deliver more than two shots of the same group unless they’re doing something different. For example, if the photographer is having them do something silly or he’s changed up the posing, these are now different pictures and you can deliver both.
Rule: Be More Selective with Candids of Guests
Description: In our studio, candids are defined as non-posed shots focused on expressions during non-critical moments. We need to be especially selective with these. As a whole, these shots are important for capturing the vibe and joy of the wedding. However, individually, a candid shot would not likely be missed if it wasn’t delivered; and if you leave too many in, you run the risk of diluting the overall product by drawing attention away from the rest of the great images. This is why we can afford to be a bit more selective with these shots, making sure only the best ones are delivered.
Here’s an example of an image that we might have kept if it were of a family member or an important moment. However, without a big smile or expression, the picture of the guest doesn’t add much to the overall portrayal of the day.
Rule: Be More Lenient with Major Moments
Description: During major moments, be a bit more lenient with your image selections. Important moments include most aspects of the wedding ceremony, the first look, the couples session, the grand entrance, major dances, toasts, and the garter and bouquet tosses. For example, we need more than a few first dance shots, and ideally we’d have at least a couple shots for the first kiss, even if they aren’t necessarily the best images of the day.
Here are a couple of examples of images we would keep because they’re of the first dance, an important moment. However, if this same image were of a random pair of guests dancing, all else equal, we probably would kick it. Although there are much better images of the same moments, these two still portray great emotion during a key event of the wedding, and therefore they’re worth keeping.
In this first image, there aren’t great expressions on the bride and groom. However, they aren’t BAD expressions, and everything else about the image (composition, lighting, etc) are fine, so we’ll keep it because it’s part of a key event of the wedding.
In this image, the composition is a bit off, with the groom’s head being cut off. In addition, we can’t really see much of their faces However, it’s not a bad shot and it has redeeming characteristics. We have good lighting and they have nice, candid expressions. Most importantly, it’s a first dance shot, so we’ll keep it.
Rule: Be More Lenient with VIPs
Description: VIPs are family members and the wedding party. You’re going to be more lenient with images of these people in comparison to the images of random guests. Be especially lenient with grandparents and older people at the wedding. With the camera naturally drawn to the loudest people at the wedding, the older crown can sometimes fly under the radar. Moreover, they often leave the earliest, giving us less time to capture nice images of them. If there’s a good exposure of grandma or grandpa, almost always keep it.
Rule: Don’t Eliminate shots based on “Fixable” Characteristics
Description: By shooting on the newest Professional Cameras and using great software like Lightroom, a lot of image flaws can be corrected pretty easily. This is why it’s important to choose images based on the factors that cannot be corrected and not worry too much about slight under/over exposures, incorrect color temperatures, and other fixable factors. As you get more and more comfortable with the capabilities of Lightroom, this should come natural.
Rule: Be Highly Selective with Details/Venue Shots
Description: For our purposes, details are all of the inanimate aspects of the wedding day such as the bouquet, venue, favors, rings, etc. Ideally, we would have just one or two shots of less important details (wedding favors, earrings, wine bottles, etc); and around 3 shots of the important details (rings, bouquets, venue, etc). These venue shots are set up and controlled so there should be no excuses for poor lighting, awkward crops, or inconsistent aspects to the photographs. These really should be near perfect and only keep the ones that are.
Here’s an image that we would typically kick because of the waitress in the right corner. If this were our only cake or venue shot, we’d keep it or somehow apply some post production to have her blend in as much as possible, but since we had plenty of other great cake and venue shots, we could afford to go without one that doesn’t show a lack of attention-to-detail.
Written by Christopher Lin
Lin and Jirsa Photography is an Orange County, CA based wedding photography studio specializing in creative lighting, photojournalism, and unique post production. The team consists of 3 brothers (two Lins and a Jirsa), who have combined their backgrounds in photography and graphic design with their passion for documenting love stories to create a unique product and service. In addition to shooting, the team provides insights, tutorials, and tips on their photography education site SLR Lounge.
NOTE from the author: This article is part of the LJP Training Series, in which we’re documenting the processes specific to our studio in order to train our employees and external contractors. Instead of writing internal documents, we decided to post it on SLR Lounge, as we thought it might spark some interesting discussion or, at the very least, provide some information of value to our readers. As this is specific to our studio, there are ideas that might not apply to your situation.