My Ratings Workflow

by Bakari Chavanu

Next to attaching keywords to digital photos, rating them in any digital management program is a necessary hassle. And it doesn't make the process any easier when you have hundreds or thousands of images to rate on a regular basis.

So for this post, I thought I'd share my current ratings process. I'm always looking for better, faster methods, but this approach seems to work best right now.

Though most digital management rating systems typically offer some range of 1-5 stars, I found that it takes too long figuring out if an image is a 2 or a 4 star photo. Three and five stars are easy, but ratings in between are just an agonizing waste of time. So for my purposes, I rate photos either as Reject (the number 9 on the keyboard), 3, or 5. No Command key needed. Click and rate. That simple. However, even though the clicking is easy, it's still a challenge to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So here's how I make the process a little faster.

Delete, Delete, and Delete Before Import

First off, I try to reject as many photos as I can before the importing into Aperture. As I'm shooting, I'm constantly looking back when there's a lull in the shooting process and deleting photos that will absolutely not make it. We all know what those photos look like. They're underexposed like burnt crisp toast. They're overexposed like a white sheet of paper. They're the ones with drooping and closed eyes; the back of someone's head dead center; a fuzzy out-of-focused shot that has no redeeming creative value; or deep shadows that undermine the photo so badly there's not a single feature in Aperture that will save it.

So I delete, delete, delete as often as I can. And sometimes when I start the import process in Aperture, I take a quick look at the selections that I may have missed and deselect them so they won't get imported.

Reject, 3, or 5 Stars

Next, I wish Aperture had a way of rating photos as they are imported. But not yet. So after I import my photos into a project, I select all of them. I check to make sure the Primary Only feature is de-selected (the S key or Edit>Primary Only), and then I just hit the number 3 key to give all my photos for a project their first rating. If I need to quickly find if there are any unrated photos in a project, I just click Control-7 or select Unrated in the Search field at the top-right corner of the browser.

Most nearly all my photos for wedding projects are and will be 3 stars. That means they are on average okay shots and are acceptable for nice 4x6 prints. Many of the reception dance shots and candid group shots fall into that category, whereas portrait shots or powerful candid captures often get rated higher.

For my particular purposes as a wedding photographer, 5 star photos are ones that I think will stand out for my clients. They're ones that I think might work well in an album or in a frame. They're ones that I might include in a slide show or blow up for larger viewing. These favorite photos are rated from the perspective of my clients. Most of them don't make the cut for my portfolio collection, but they stand out amongst the hundreds of other photos I took.

Because I only rate photos as Rejects, 3, or 5 stars, there's no need to run a slideshow to rate individual photos. I've tried the slideshow rating system in the past and I simply found it a laborious method, even if I listened to my favorite music while doing so. Also, because I set up a Smart Albums to capture only 3 and 5 star photos, all the rejected ones disappear and show up in the Rejects Smart Album.

After rating all my photos with 3 stars, I either start selecting and adjusting photos that I think qualify as 5 star favorites, or I might (and should) keyword them all first, set up Smart Albums based on the keywords, and then work from there to Reject or increase the rating as I make adjustments.

The only other way I can think of to rate photos a little faster is to use a program like SteerMouse where I can configure my mouse to select and assign say a 5 star rating with a click of one of the mouse buttons. It's something that I haven't tried yet, but I'm always on the lookout for tricks that will reduce the time. Perhaps a programer will figure out a way to make a rating feature in which end users rate images based on what corner of the image they click. Not sure if that's possible, but I'm sure there will be faster methods in future versions of Aperture.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear your approach to rating images. This is an area of my workflow that I'm always looking to improve, and I bet I can learn lots from you.


Ellen Anon
2007-06-01 13:17:01
Bakari, I think there are about as many approaches to rating images as there are photographers! You certainly present some good ideas. But I have to mention that for some types of photography in-camera editing is not a good idea except for the most completely obvious missed shots. For example, I was looking through some shots of birds on my camera and it looked like I had missed capturing the bird's head. It looked like it was completely hidden by the wings and I almost deleted it. However when I saw it on screen it was a great shot with just the eyes peering out from the wing. I'd suggest conservative in camera editing depending on your subject matter. Also, sometimes shots look very different when compressed into a tiny LCD. Too much in-camera editing will leave you wondering what happened to certain shots that you KNOW you took, but can't find.
Greg Reinacker
2007-06-01 15:55:47
My workflow is quite a bit different, although I'm not shooting weddings - I'm usually shooting fashion or the like, and I need to get down from hundreds of images down to a few (typically one for each outfit/setting) a recent shoot, I think I had 900 or so images, and had to get down to about 6 or 7 for the final spread.

Using Lightroom, I go through and first assign 1 star to any photo that has some redeeming qualities, and at the same time I'll delete anything that's not salvageable (blinks, etc). Then I'll go through the 1-star ones, and upgrade some to 2 stars - these are only images that have a chance of being in the final set. From there, I go through the 2's and pick some for 3-stars - now I'm usually down to maybe 5 or so images per look/outfit. Then I pick one of these, upgrade to 4 stars, and do retouching on the 4-star images.

If a client is involved in the selection, I'll usually show them all of the 2- or 3-star ones for final selection, depending on how many I think they want to see.

Takes a while - but I'm not looking for 200 good images from the shoot...I need 5-10.

2007-06-01 17:10:01
In the DAM book that sort of partners with iView Media Pro, they recommend no use of the 5 star (yet) and lots of 1's, 2's. Think of a pyramid - and too many at the top defeats the purpose. Problem is, with Aperture u need 5 star to make a pick so I've had to abandon that philosophy, but something tells me it was still a good technique.
John Thawley
2007-06-01 20:27:25
I agree on not using too many ratings...

I use 3 stars and reject ... then with a smart folder set up for my 5 star final picks, I go through the 3 star images finding what I really like, making final adjustments and giving the 5 star rating to the adjusted version. As a sports shooter, I find with this process I can work through the weekend sorting and processing after each session. Once the event is over, I have a 5 star smart folder full of processed finals ready to transmit.

I also find that deleting the rejects is best done once I'm done with everything else. I'm not sure what slows down the delete function in Aperture, but it's way too slow to do on the fly. So, by filtering the rejects once I have nothing else to do, I can select all and delete while ignoring the lag in the program.

Jeff Hargrove
2007-06-02 20:19:58
I work mostly with advertising and editorial clients. My rating system reflects my interaction with the client and the client's feedback about which photos are chosen.
* images I want to show the client
** my pick among the one stars
*** client's final pick
I then reserve 4 and 5 stars for my portfolio, 5 stars being my best images which go into my portfolio. 4 stars are second best images which I show in case clients want to see more of my work.
2007-06-04 00:51:49
Hi Bakari,

I have similar approach to yours, though I import all the images on my memory card first. I eliminate all unworthy images in a quick first round of checking. They get the reject symbol attached. In that first round, I also earmark outstanding images with 5 stars. Then I go through the images one by one and grant them either a 3 or 5 star rating or a reject.

I tend to keep the number of images that I show to my clients down to the 5 star ratings only.

2007-06-07 05:03:59
"I check to make sure the Primary Only feature is de-selected (the S key or Edit>Primary Only), and then I just hit the number 3 key to give all my photos for a project their first rating."

Thanks, this one line answers a nagging question for me!