Tip: Generally Only Share About 5 Photos From Any Set of Pictures


As photographers, one thing we’re always interested in is improving our photography. Today we’ll discuss something that is often overlooked and can make dramatic improvement in all of the photos we show, as well as increase our perceived skill in the art.

Top photographers know only their top 1% or less of photos taken will ever see the light of day. They know the first step to having interesting work is culling out that which is not. This isn’t something that should be limited to the professionals or those with professional editors… It’s something we can all use!

We all know the jokes about watching people’s vacation slides, and each of us has certainly experienced having a set of photos from a vacation or hike that we thought was pretty awesome, only to have our friends lose interest after half a dozen shots. So why even bother showing them more than a half a dozen shots?

Don't fall into the trap of sharing too many shots

Sharing too many photos can make viewers lose interest

Make your very best shots the only ones that people see, and they will stay interested. They will also think that every picture you take is amazing. They never need to know that it’s only the pictures you show that are amazing.

There’s another benefit to this as well, and it is that people will want to see more if they’re really interested. You can either meet this need immediately by showing additional photos you have sitting around, or you can use it in a more long-term way by knowing that they will want to see your next set once it is ready.

It all depends on what your goal is with your photography.

Personally, I like to limit what I show to about 5 shots per shoot. Quite often I’ll take 100-200 shots on a hike or whatever, which really allows me to pick out five really nice images.

When I get home, I just spend some time sorting them. First, I group it by subject/theme and pick out the best one or two of each theme. Then I put all of those together and sort out the very strongest images overall. If this is more than 5 shots, I start picking out the worst and taking them out of contention.

Settle on your best photos by picking out the bad ones, starting from the worst

Settle on your best photos by picking out the bad ones, starting from the worst

Eventually I get it down to a very small number, which I then consider showing off. Make those the ones you share with the general public. Save the rest for friends or anyone who wants to see more.

Even if you go on a vacation or something, tighten up the shots as few as possible. I took about 600 photos on a recent trip to New Orleans. When I got home, I sorted these photos into seven smaller groups, based on the seven basic things I did there. French Quarter, Garden District, Cemeteries, Business District, Swamps, Algeirs, and Other. Then I went through each group and used the star rating function to separate those I liked more or less than others.

This got each group down to about 20 shots, which is still too cumbersome. So I sorted again, using the stars, and worked to just select my favorite 5 shots from each group. This took some time, but when I was done I had about 40 really impressive photos, spanning all of the different things I did in NOLA.

Finally, I went through and picked out my favorite shot from each of those categories, leaving me with 7 top quality photos of my vacation. These seven are the images I shared on Facebook and Reddit, out of the 600 I took.

Sorting your images can seem like a daunting task, but it gets easier with time. I immediately discard any image that is out of focus, or has obvious distracting elements such as power lines, garbage cans, cluttering signs, etc. Then I eliminate any repetitive images. For example, if I have three really beautiful photos of the same waterfall, why would I show more than one of them? Unless that was the only thing I took pictures of, I’ll just choose my very favorite of that waterfall and move on to the next subject from the shoot.

The benefits of this process are many. As you learn what you don’t like in photos, it helps you watch out for those things when you’re taking the shot. Over the years, this process has helped me be aware of power lines, flat blank skies, parked cars, garbage cans, and similar distractions — especially along the margins of my photos.

Power lines are ugly

Power lines are ugly

You will find that your overall shots to begin with are better, because you’ve trained yourself to automatically see what is wrong with a shot before you even take it.

If you’re sharing your photos with people for some sort of recognition, whether it is professional or just for compliments and internet karma, you’ll find that you will get a much stronger per-photo response.

People will get lost in a series of 20 or 40 photos; if they don’t give up half way in they will usually just page through them as quickly as possible. If you want people to stop and look at your photos and appreciate your artistic intent, you can’t overwhelm them with too much to look at. Less is more.

People will also believe you are a better photographer if you only show them your very best work. If all of your work is sharp and clear, with obvious subjects, interesting lines and depth, and amazing color, people will think that all of your photos are like that. They won’t know of the 95% or more that is lacking in some way.

People don't need to see the piles of bad photos that are created along with the good ones

People don’t need to see the piles of bad photos that are created along with the good ones

I am constantly told that I am a very good photographer. Whether I am or not doesn’t matter, but I am told that because people only see my best work. They don’t see the tens of thousands of shots I sort out every year, and unless they’re close to me personally, they never will.

Becoming a better photographer is a project that never ends, and there are many ways we can work to improve. This common-sense rule helps in many ways, and is one of the first things I tell people when they ask me for advice. It’s a powerful tool and I’d encourage everyone to make it a part of every shoot.

About the author: Sean Gentry has been learning photography for seven years. His hobby has encouraged him to travel to new cities, hike new trails, and discover more of the Pacific Northwest. If it’s cloudy at dusk, look for him wandering Portland’s waterfront with a tripod. Visit his website here.

Image credits: Photo Wall by Incase., Wall of Photos by The Eggplant, Photo editing by Håkan Dahlström, Power Lines Are Ugly by NatalieMaynor, Photo Paper by Orin Zebest

  • Don’t spray & pray

    Maybe I’m old-school, but it seems to me that shooting hundreds if images in order to “assure” oneself of 5 awesome images is a recipe for mediocrity. Why not spend some quality time reading about and practicing composition, aperture & shutter speed, lighting and so forth, and thus vastly improve both the quality of your work AND the proportion of “awesome” images within your work?

  • Joakim Bidebo

    Even if you don’t spray and pray you will end up with lots of photos that ain’t that good.

  • Caca Milis

    Well it isn’t the most professional approach it will allow you to improve over time, it’s a sort of trial and error approach and along the way you will take less photos as you learn about all the important elements, composition etc… plus I would prefer to be out shooting and enjoying myself rather than spending a lot of time on theory.

  • cezar

    you really can’t avoid to take bad shots even how good you are…

  • Caca Milis

    Ye even Beyonce knows that lol

  • Sarah Bugeja Kissaun

    I think what he means is this.

    Throughout a holiday, he will capture many photos of things he finds worth taking photos of – I doubt on a holiday you will only take 10 photos? I know even in an hour I can take up to 60 photos. But you don’t take them with the idea in mind that you will ultimately have 5 good ones and just snap away like crazy – you take each and every one with the skill you have to capture every scene in the best way possible. The 5 to show to the world comes when you have 600 good photos, but really and truly there are always those shots which are just supreme to others, and can only be pointed out after the whole set of photos have been taken.

    The more you take, the more you learn – I don’t believe reading teaches you as much as actually using your camera for real. Anyone can say a wider aperture blurs the background more, but there’s nothing like playing around with depth of field yourself.

  • Thomas Hawk

    Your first 100,000 photos are your worst.

  • Kristian Colasacco

    Beyonce is good?

  • Burnin Biomass

    Depends what you call a professional approach. Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer says on this website…

    “On an average assignment, I’ll shoot anywhere from 20,000 – 40,000 images. Only a small number (anywhere from ten to twenty depending on the story) will be published.”

  • Burnin Biomass

    The ability for photographers to throw away images that dont hit the mark is a dying art.

  • jake

    or simpler: a photographer is always rated by his worst picture

  • dannybuoy

    This is borderline shooting video and taking stills. I know it’s not exactly but 40,000 images. Feck me. That’s too much. He obviously pays someone peanuts to go through them all. Or charges a fortune for his processing time.

  • ennuipoet

    I generally cut 60-80% of a shoot in editing, then cut again down to 5 or so as “featured” images. I will generally put the bulk of images from a big event(like a parade) on Flickr for participants to find pictures of themselves.

  • harumph

    National Geographic does all the processing and editing. They ask for RAW files and/or negatives from all their photographers.

  • Keenamateurwithaspirations

    I agree with you-DSP-get it right in the field! I’m usually in the 36 to 60 frames range-manual mode and one shot. I try to pre-visualize the image, working the light, experimenting. It’s from those ol’ 35mm days of my youth. Still manage to get my fair share of duds. If each one were a masterpiece-what would be the point of this photography lark? Flip-side-burst rate 5fps (or more) and cherry pick”the one” shot-what’s the point? Yeah-I know-action sports justifies burst rate, right?
    Good on Mr. Sartore-he landed a Nat Geo postion based on quality-not quantity. He can do anything he wants.

  • Mark Moore

    I think that you a missing the point here. The intention is not to take hundreds of random snaps and then choose the best five.

    What a good photographer often does is to take hundreds of the best photos that they can, then select the absolute best of those.

    Also, as the article points out, the process of selecting those best photographs is a fundamental part of the learning process. Without critically evaluating your images – in the sense of trying to understand what works and what does not for your absolute best images – you are unlikely to progress as a photographer.

  • Duke Shin

    It’s a half-hour of 24fps video.

  • Duke Shin

    (sets camera to burst mode)

  • Jake

    Even in the film days, Nat Geo photographers would take a couple thousand shots for every 2 or 3 that they published.

  • Mitch Labuda

    Great advice, the firehose approach to sharing is over the top and leads to boredom at least for me, I want to see new, something presented in a way that is different and not snaps of snaps.

  • Mauricio Andres Ramirez Lozada


  • Michael D

    One of my pet peeves: browsing Flickr groups and seeing five pictures that are virtually identical put up by someone who apparently had no idea that none of them was any good.

  • Aaron Tsuru

    Power lines are not “ugly”. They are real. Don’t hate them, don’t clone them, be aware of them and use them!

  • Sean Gentry

    I agree with what you’re saying. What I meant by this was, no matter how good your photos are, if you only show your very best of what you have, your perceived ability will be better than your actual ability.

    Meanwhile the ability to know what makes an image better than another will help you take better photos up front.

    I didn’t want to go into the minutae of how to take a good shot to begin with. I agree with you completely on learning how to manually set your shutter speed, ISO, etc… I do full manual on mine, no cropping, etc. But that wasn’t the point of the article, it was more a way to get people to stop posting 40 photos of some event or whatever, and just post the top few and then allow us to possibly see more if truly interested.

  • ProtoWhalePig

    What you’re effectively saying is “why don’t people learn to take keepers every time they shoot?”

    Yeah…good luck with that.

  • Sebastian Oliva

    National Geographic magazine assignments can take two or more years, span entire continents and involve 40,000 or more images.

    Is it too much for 2 years worth of journalism?

  • dannybuoy

    Ok ok. I was wrong. 40,000 over 2 years sounds right. I thought this was for most projects.

  • Roger M Olson

    The number of shots shown depends on the subject matter. I shoot a lot of sports and each shot is a memory for someone so I post 20 to 100 per game sometimes and separate sets of 200 or so from a multi-game event. For nature and general photography I limit to 5 to 15 unless I spent days at something but I break postings up into smaller bites.