Percent Time Devoted to Image Culling / Processing vs. Shooting

I recently read an article at DPReview about a survey of wedding photographers, and how they spent their time. In a nutshell the results were as follows

4 % Shooting
55 % Editing / Processing
11 % Culling a shoot
30% Admin / Marketing

If you put the administrative time aside, and look at just pure photography related activity this translates to :

6 % Shooting
79% Editing / Processing
15 % Culling a shoot

Obviously wedding photography is different than nature photography. But I would be curious to hear what percent of time you devote to each of these photography related activities.

As a hobbyist primarily doing landscapes and macro, I would guess that I’m maybe at :

10 % Shooting
60 % Editing / Processing
30 % Culling a shoot, including adding keywords

I would be interested to hear about what time you spend on these activities.

Interesting, Ed. Where does travel time come into this picture?

Since I shoot mostly birds and do a lot at home, I’d guess when I shoot in my own yard with no travel time, it runs:

20% shooting
20% culling
60% processing

On a recent trip to California:

30% travel
30% shooting
10% culling
30% processing

Interesting @Dennis_Plank I hadn’t thought about how to handle travel time. But lets say for the purposes of this discussion we should ignore travel time, because some people shoot local and some folks travel more. Excluding travel gives a more apples/apples comparison, I think.

I’m not surprised an avian photographer spends more time shooting than a landscape person. I used to do birds myself and always spent a lot of time waiting for behavior to happen. With landscapes, sunrise or sunset shoots usually have a more finite time frame attached, the light either happens or not and you are done. On overcast days with intimate landscapes its a different story. You must be a faster culler than me though, not sure if that is explained by avian vs. landscape. Thanks for your input on this topic.

I want to comment this in 2 parts. The first is just an answer to your question. I would break it down thusly:

30% shooting
10% culling
60% processing

I am disappointed to see what a large percentage of time is spent on processing but more on this later. I no longer just walk around on good light days with a camera until I see something. I usually see a composition that I like and keep going back until conditions are just right and take the shot. There are compositions I have gone back to many times and yet still haven’t made because the clouds aren’t right or the fog hasn’t settled properly. I consider that all part of shooting. I also often go out with an iPhone and take snapshot ideas to be considered later, a process which often does not result into an image. Most compositions are discarded before even downloading to the computer. So even 30% is really a low ball figure of what goes into field work.

The Dpreview article is a bit difficult to compare to landscape because a wedding takes a specific amount of time and the shooting is full bore within that time frame. You’re paid by the hour. Landscape photography is more like a campaign than a shoot. With analysis, adjustments, revisions, corrections. Well, not everyone shoots landscapes the same way though.

Nevertheless the ratio of shooting to processing is an interesting subject that is worth discussing at length.

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I think this topic is an eye-opener for a lot of folks who aren’t familiar with what we do. Percentage-wise, I’m not sure about my exact breakdown, but I must say the majority of the time working at home is pretty darn boring.

I’m not fond of processing or marketing at all, and it takes up way too much time. With processing alone, I’m pretty sure I end up going through my images five separate times between the initial culling stage to the final captioning for web. On the other hand, I love sharing a view of the outside world with an audience who may not be lucky enough to experience it themselves, or on a more intimate basis, helping clients experience some of my favorite spots. It’s a huge motivating factor that helps me get through the processing and marketing slog

A few years ago I wrote an article detailing all of the work-related tasks performed throughout a typical week. I didn’t take a single photo, and during that week I didn’t do any major editing either. Someone looking at it may get a sense that the job is a bit dull, but thankfully, all of the outdoor adventures (totaling may two months out of a year) make the whole thing worthwhile. There are drawbacks, but I’m pretty darn happy with what I do. :wink:


Ed, I think the percentage changes whether you shoot local or are on a photography trip. If one is travelling for the sole purpose of photography many of the awake hours will be shooting or scouting.

But I think that there is nothing wrong with a high percentage of processing time. I think many photographers work on prototypes in post and only publish a small percentage of these images. I think this is key to the process.

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@Nathan_Klein brought up a very good point. The time that I used to actually “take a picture” is not a lot but a lot goes behind the “scene”. The trip is quite a significant part of the process (car, backpacking, etc). And then, there is that part of finding the image that I want to photograph.

Right now, for example, I spend most of my weekends owling at the local forest preserve. I have found my subjects but I still haven’t found a good way to photograph them yet. This takes time. At the end of the season I may get one good evening when I can shoot them. But most of the time, the camera stays in the backpack.

Even in the landscape genre, I spend most of my time looking for the image that I want to create. Perhaps it’s the kind of image that I like to make or perhaps it’s me, but most of the time the image seldom comes on my first try.

So if I were to estimate a statistic: 40% shooting, 50% Editing/Processing, 10% culling?

@Igor_Doncov @Adhika_Lie @Dennis_Plank @Max_Waugh @Nathan_Klein

Thank you all for taking the time to participate in this interesting discussion. The time spent after shooting is a fact of life in digital photography, but one that doesn’t get discussed that often.

I agree that time spent scouting, hiking, waiting, going out but not shooting due to conditions, etc. should be included as shooting time. I don’t consider that travel time. I guess if I was to look at it that way, then I would revise my estimate to 20% shooting, 60% processing, 20% culling.

I’m not surprised that Denis and Max as avian/wildlife shooters spend less time processing than folks who do more landscapes. But as a landscape shooter, I actually enjoy the time I spend post-processing, and don’t mind that it takes up 60% of my photographic time. To me landscape processing is almost an extension of shooting, and is an activity where I can still make many additional creative decisions beyond those made in the field that effect how the final image turns out.

One of the reasons that I posted this topic for discussion is that I feel like I spend too much time culling relative to the other activities. I use Lightroom and flags and all that, but I just feel like I take too long to do it. I would be interested to hear how you approach culling, and the methods you use to be more efficient, and brutal.

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Agree weddings and nature are totally apples and oranges. I only mentioned the article as a means to introduce this topic as it relates to nature photography.

I enjoy both kinds of photography but one of the thing that I sometime lament in wildlife photography is that I become mostly a journalist of what’s going on, especially with action stuffs (birds in flight, etc). On the contrary, when I make landscape images, everything feels more deliberate. Yes, I am still at the mercy of nature but pretty much every thing in the frame is there intentionally. Maybe I am looking at this the wrong way.

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Ed, my cull is pretty straight-forward on the surface, but I get held up in two regards.

First is deciding between very similar poses from a subject. I’m sure many of my fellow wildlife/avian photographers have sat there like I have, toggling back and forth between multiple images in a sequence in which the only difference is literally a few inches of limb position or something along those lines. Pretty soon you’re watching a flipbook animation trying to determine which pose is best.

Second, I often end up saving a lot of images that will likely never see the light of day, because I’ve always got this idea in the back of my mind that some editor or other client will need a particular layout or subject placement. As a result, I don’t dismiss/cull as many shots immediately, but sometimes just those couple of seconds it takes to decide on what stays begin to pile up when sorting thousands of images from a given trip.



I would say 65% marketing and admin, 30% edit/process and 5% photography. I have two very young kids however so I really don’t have much time for getting out these days.

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@Adhika_Lie I used to do a lot of wildlife photography until I decided to concentrate on landscapes about 6 years ago. Wildlife photography requires patience, knowledge of the subject, and the ability to anticipate behavior. But the success of the image is often determined by what happens in the field, you either captured the action/behavior or you did not. Post processing plays a role, but it’s not as important as what happens while shooting.

Landscape photography is different, the field work is slower and more deliberate. I strive to fine tune composition and technical stuff (exposure, shutter speed) in the field and I put a lot of effort into “getting it right in the field”. I spend a lot of time trying to see compositions, and experiment with different ones.

Even though I try to “get it right in the field”, I also am continually surprised by how much post processing can enhance the quality of some landscape images. A lot of creative choices can be made during processing, which gives you a lot of options. Processing effort goes into subjective things like color and saturation. And I am frequently surprised by how small, subtle changes in things like localized dodging and burning can have a large impact on image quality. I guess that’s why I enjoy the time processing, and see it as an extension of the shoot, rather than as a chore like image culling.

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Great topic. I really don’t have any idea what my breakdown is, but I do know I spent far less time culling than I used to because I’ve refined what is worth keeping. Perhaps it is a matter of the culling technique.

For instance, I use flags to mark images as I cull. Images to keep get a flag. Should I bother to give images I don’t want with an X or just delete all unflagged images as a group afterward? The time adds up when flagging every image.

Regarding processing, it has increased significantly in the last year as I’ve become more comfortable with it and better at it, which breeds more of it. I don’t have any rules about how much time and effort I put into it as every image demands it’s individualized treatment.

I think a better measurement of how time in photography is spent is on a per-image basis. For every image kept, how much time goes into shooting, culling, and processing? Tracking time to measure this way would just be burdensome, though.

Thanks Matt. I am not fully happy with the time that I spend culling. I take a different Lightroom approach than you that has more steps, and that takes more time. I go through usually 2 passes where I put black flags (X) on deletes. The first pass gets rid of technical mistakes (focus, exposure), failed experiments, etc… The second eliminates near duplicates where I bracketed exposure or bracketed slightly different compositions. I then delete all the flagged images, and from the smaller remaining group assign either 1 star rating to those that I will spend time processing.

I can spend anywhere from 3 to 4 minutes to as much as an hour on an individual image. The hour long images usually involve blending exposure bracketed images for dynamic range with Luminosity Masks. I also spend time doing local dodging and burning of images to tweak tonal balance, sculpt light etc. on images that I really care about.

Personally I have a good grasp on this question, as I tend to do most of my photography during long backpacking trips or even longer travels, so I can easily gauge my time in terms of days or weeks at a time. I’ve found that my ratio is roughly about 4:1 shooting:processing. In other words, if I travel for 4 weeks of heavy photography, it will take me 1 solid week once I’m back to edit, process, and post my new photos.

I realize this is probably much quicker than most photographers. After a trip I feel that I have something like “photographic constipation” where I just need to get those new photos out asap before I can continue on further photographic endeavors. I know that many photographers sit on a backlog of photos for many months; this would drive me totally insane.

Also, I’m pretty fast with my editing/culling in Lightroom (usually I already have a good sense of what photos were the “keepers”), and my processing tends to be fairly simple.

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For the past couple years I have been stuck in a cycle of 70% shooting, 20% culling, and 10% processing which has led to an overwhelming backlog that just wasn’t working. This winter I took a different approach of culling and processing images right away and I am much happier with this.

After a shoot I download my images and cull them right away, I’ve come up with a system I’m pretty happy with (in Lightroom):

  1. Turn on caps lock key so when I flag or star a photo it automatically goes to the next image.
  2. Start culling - I reject the terrible out of focus photos and I give the rest a rating between 3-5. 3 stars means it’s mediocre but I just want to keep it for potential future dumpster diving, 4 stars is something that is pretty good that I may process someday, 5 stars is something I absolutely want to process now.
  3. Filter by 5 star images
  4. If there are images with nearly the same composition it easy to get bogged down on picking the perfect one, I’ve found the Survey view in Lightroom to be invaluable for this. Select a few, and survey gives you a nice clean view where you can easily remove the ones that don’t make the cut or change them to 4 stars.
  5. Enhance details (because I shoot fuji, it’s necessary)
  6. Move resulting dngs into another folder
  7. Process the dngs
  8. Finish in Photoshop, save new tif in a different folder and delete enhanced dngs

I feel like I’m closer to 40% shooting, 35% processing, and 25% culling now. Traveling on the road full time makes it really hard to keep up, there is always something new to draw you out to photograph and less time to process.

Thanks for the caps lock tip, David. I use much the same culling process except for the addition of color codes for those I want to give priority or to identify groups for focus stacking (macro).