The Rating Game

by Derrick Story

I've changed my philosophy about rating images over the last year. When I first started using Aperture, I would try to precisely evaluate each image and try to give it an appropriate star rating. But I've discovered that this approach is both time consuming and isn't even that accurate. I often find myslef "raising the bar" as I work through the shoot, so my earlier ratings aren't consistent with those later on.

Father and daughter waiting for Cable Car in San Francisco. Photo by Derrick Story.

I now limit my first pass ratings to 4 stars, 3 stars or none. The bulk of my images receive no rating at all. If they are out and out dogs, I get rid of them. Everything else stays in the library because you never know when you'll need one of those shots. My favorites get 4 stars, and my "almost favorites" get 3.

After I work a shot in the HUD or Photoshop, and decide that I really like it, I might elevate it to 5 stars, but never on the first pass.

I've been a much happier man since I switched to this system. I now breeze through my shoots faster and enjoy the rating process more. If you're not having fun rating your pictures, it might be time to take a second look at your approach.


Michael Ball
2007-06-18 09:43:17
yeah -I find myself doing the same thing: "raising the bar"
then I tend not to rte photos-well in theory i don't have to do anything, being I'm not a pro

How do you evaluate you 3/4 star shots? just by looking in the viewer?

Josh Lane
2007-06-18 09:57:29
As someone who uses the same approach, I would like to add a chorus that it works very well. At least, it does with my work flow. It was an evolution for me, as well.
2007-06-18 10:16:04
I do my initial rating in the viewer, but when I go back through the surviving images, I use full screen mode (f) and zoom in quite a bit (z). If I can't decide between two images, I will use compare mode...
Micah W.
2007-06-18 10:16:52
I like your idea and I'll probably give it a go. Coming from Photo Mechanic I am reall yused to tagging and un-tagging! It's a very poor way to do things, but it did work when I used it. Now with the star rating system I can sort of tag and then lower the bar making a nice pile of seconds instead of trash. Using the reject or X rating is also a nice way to hide all the images you dont want to look at without throwing them out.
Matthew Brown
2007-06-18 14:00:10
I tend to only use a few ratings, too. So far I've generally just used 1-3 stars and that's it; I occasionally raise a single image to five, but only after the shoot has sat for a while. For me, five stars means it's one of the few dozen photos I'd show someone if I wanted to impress with my photography, and I try to be picky about that.

I try to at least do a pass where I sort everything into 'worth keeping' (1 star) and 'reject' (unsalvageable). I don't tend to use stacks much, though if I have several shots of a certain thing and only one of them is really good I stack them with the good one on top. It's also useful for when I bracketed.

After that, two stars is the 'worth showing to people' stage and three stars is the 'truly good' stage.

Michael Ball
2007-06-18 14:29:32
thanks, derrick!
Peter McKenna
2007-06-18 20:12:26
My system is like the one above, except I initially give out only 1 and 2 stars. Stars 3-5 are reserved for pieces that have been developed further.
2007-06-19 04:30:32
Derrick, using a 'first pass' system is definitely more efficient. How much time do you generally spend evaluating an image -- and is the criteria always the same no matter how you'll ultimately use the images or do you do it with a specific intent depending on the end-task, like for a subject or client?
John Thawley
2007-06-19 05:42:06
Interesting... article and comments.

I have three levels of rating... and I do most of my viewing in Full Screen mode employing a parked loupe. Ratings are X - 3 or no rating at all (I might throw in a 4 if something looks special and I want to job my memory later) - but basically, X and 3 keep it pretty quick.

I will have typically set up a smart folder for 5 star images in advance. And, since I shoot for more than one client at an event, I'll set up additional smart folders for 5 star & Client keyword.

After the initial sort, I view the 3 star images closer. If I want to adjust, I'll do so at that time... if I like it after the adjustment, it gets 5 stars and the appropriate key word.

Once I'm done, my smart folders contain final images all post processed and organized for transmitting.

Last step? Filter up the Xs... select all... Apple key + Delete. :)

Benjamin D. Bloom
2007-06-19 10:00:31
I'm with Peter McKenna. I used to use stars like restaurant ratings and mark my decent shots as 3, good as 4, and great as 5. I've changed.

In my initial pass, photos get a 1 or a 2. A 1 is something I think I want to revisit. A 2 is something that I really like for one reason or another.

As I finish processing shots, I reevaluate and the better shots get 3 or 4 stars. I rarely use 5 stars - mostly it is when reviewing shots with a client. The ones they like the best get 5 stars.

When I'm cleaning up after editing all of the photos from a shoot, I'll go through the unrated photos and delete the dogs.

My feeling is that there's no sense in having up to 5 stars if my bar starts at 3. Then it's just like having 3 stars.

2007-06-19 14:26:58
In reply to "Visitor," I don't spend long evaluating a photo on first pass. My thinking is that the world doesn't provide much viewing time for my photos. After all, I'm not hanging work in a museum. So for a shot to make the cut, it has to have some emotional appeal that is readily apparent. There are always exceptions of course. But generally speaking, I like shots that grab me right away. And I can usually identify that within seconds during photo editing.
2007-06-19 21:36:56
I use a slightly different aproach.
I start with 3 stars and work outwards, i.e. 3 stars = normal standard, 2 stars = below standard, 1 star = possible dog. Likewise 4 stars = above standard, 5 stars = great shot.

So my initial first pass is to rate shots a 3 maybe 2. Dogs get marked for deletion, probable dogs get a 1. Later I might promote a 3 star to a 4 star. Occasionally after some thought and retouching, to a 5 star.

2007-11-27 05:21:01
is that guy a kiddy findler?