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Edit A Wedding In Three Hours Or Less

October 13th, 2010  |  Published in Featured, Shoot  |  8 Comments


October is crunch time for my wedding photography so this week’s ShootStyle post is going to be short and sweet. In fact, brevity is really the underlying theme of what I’m going to discuss – editing a wedding.

So what is an edit? In my workflow, editing a wedding is the process of getting from the thousands of images I captured on the wedding day down to the few hundred images that I’m going to process and present to the client. In some respects this is can be the most overwhelming part of the post production process because I’m trigger happy and have it’s not unusual for me to shoot 7000-8000 images at a wedding. Add in images from a second photographer and I could be looking at 10,000+ images to review. (Thank goodness I don’t shoot film as that would be 278 rolls!)

Over the years, I’ve used a number of tools to edit my weddings including Adobe Bridge, Phase One Expression Media (formerly iView Multimedia) and Adobe Lightroom. Each of these tools had plusses and minuses, and every time I switched tools it was because I found the newer tool was faster. Before talking about what I currently use, here are the reasons the tools I’ve mentioned have fallen by the wayside.

Adobe Bridge shows you the contents of a folder of images in a thumbnail form. It’s totally possible to edit a wedding using Bridge and the fact that it comes free with Photoshop is a bonus. Unfortunately, when you open a folder using bridge, it scans the images and caches their thumbnails to use in it’s display. This happens pretty quick when you dealing with few dozen images, but once you get up to a few thousand images, the process of building all the thumbnails takes forever. Well, not forever, but more time than I want to spend sitting watching my computer churn.

Both Expression Media and Adobe Lightroom operate by creating a catalogs of the images you want to work with. The process of building these catalogs and creating the preview images they use can take a long time. On the other hand, once a catalog is built, moving from image to image can be quite speedy. So really, all of your suffering is done up front. But do I really want to take the time to build previews for thousands of images I know I’m going to be throwing out eventually? No ma’am, I do not.

I’d still be using Lightroom to edit my images today if some of my friends hadn’t turned me on to the Mack Daddy of all photo editing software, Photo Mechanic. This amazing little piece of software has a number of really useful capabilities targeted at professional photographers. Some of it best features are the ability to:

  • ingest your flash cards while simultaneously renaming the files and backing the images up into two locations
  • embed copyright and other metadata into your photos
  • adjust capture dates and times for when you forget to time sync your cameras before a shoot
  • tag each photo a 0-5 star rating and/or a color class
  • sort your images according to capture time
  • flexibly rename your images

But more than anything else, Photo Mechanic’s main feature is speed. It’s can open and display a folder full of images faster than anything else on the market. Way faster. And then it lets you view a large preview of each image and going back and forth between these previews is also super fast.

Here’s how I approach my edit using Photo Mechanic. I’m kind of old school and I don’t trust any intermediary software to transfer my images from my card to my computer, so I don’t use Photo Mechanic’s slick automatic card ingesting feature. For each wedding I create a folder called “Raw Downloads” and within that another folder for each card I shot. I then drag the files from the card to it’s corresponding folder using the Macintosh finder. This gives me the security of knowing that if something goes wrong during the transfer, I’ll quickly be able to determine which card gave me the error.

On the left side of the Photo Mechanic window, there is a navigation area that lists of all your hard drives and common folders on your computer.


If a drive or folder has a triangle next to it, that means it is not empty and it’s contents can be displayed by clicking on the triangle. In this way I drill down to that Raw Downloads folder for my wedding. I tell Photo Mechanic to show me all of the images in each of the card folders by right-clicking on the Raw Downloads folder and choosing to open all the subfolders.


Blammo! In mere seconds every image I shot that day opens up into a slide-sorter style interface.


Before I get down to the business of editing, I like to have all of my photos in a single folder in chronological order. I shoot with multiple cameras, so before the wedding I sync the time on my cameras. At the top of the Photo Mechanic window I simply change the sorting from Filename to Capture Time. This operation does take a little time, but it’s well worth it for me.


I like to “bake in” the capture time sorting by renaming the files. This way they retain their chronological order even outside of Photo Mechanic. I select all the images and choose Rename Files form the File menu to open the renaming dialog.


I set the name to a sequence number followed by the couples names and the word “unedited”. Setting the sequence {seqn} variable lets me choose the starting number (usually 1) and indicate how many zeros I want Photo Mechanic to add.

I’m going to take a short time out to mention a couple of preference settings that help me work efficiently with Photo Mechanic. the Accessibility Tab in the programs preferences allows you to choose how to set the single key short cut for tagging images. I have it set to use the number keys for star ratings:

This IPTC/XMP Preference screen shows how I have set up Photo Mechanic so that it’s tags are read correctly by lightroom. I won’t go into what all the obscure details, but if you set your preference like this, Lightroom should automatically read your Photo Mechanic tags when it imports your photos.

OK, Back to the edit.

Now that all the images are renamed in time order, I move them to a folder called “Unedited Originals” where I perform the actual edit. I open that folder in Photo Mechanic and double click on either the very first or very last image. (Sometimes it’s nice to work backwards as often I shoot a series of images of the same thing and my best shot is likely the last one I took before moving on to the next scene.) Double clicking on that first or last image opens it large in the preview window. I usually resize the window to fill the entire screen.


This is were things get really fast. In this preview window, the left and right arrow keys instantly display the previous or next photo and the numbers 1 through 5 assign star ratings to the images. I can pretty much edit the whole wedding using just three keys on my keyboard: Left arrow, right arrow and the number 1. I use the number 1 that’s on my key pad as it sits right next the arrow keys allowing me to do all of the editing with one hand.

If I open the preview to last image of the wedding, my process will be:

(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…

Every time I hit the 1 key, that photo gets tagged with one star which is displayed under both the large preview image and the thumbnail.

1starb 1stara

I’m essentially going through and finding all the “keepers”. This approach is known as “editing in”. To some people it’s a little counter intuitive as they instinctively want to get rid of the bad photos, so they go through their images deleting or labeling the bad images in some way. I used to do that too. But with my style of shooting, I’ll could take 5000 images and only 500 are keepers. If I were to use the edit out approach, I’d have to hit a key to tag or delete an image 4500 times, vs just 500 times for the editing in approach. Say NO to carpel tunnel and edit in! Interestingly, a side benefit to editing in is that I get tighter edits. I guess in my mind it’s harder to explicitly decide to ditch a photo than it is to simple not tag it as being good.

By the way, I don’t promise a specific number of images to my clients so I’m not editing down to a target amount. I just deliver every good shot which could be 400 or 900.

(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…

If I change my mind and find a better image, no problem, I just tag it with 1 star and hit the left arrow to go back to my original choice and hit the 0 key. If I see that I’m approaching a series of similar images I’ll sometimes just arrow key through them all before going back and tagging one with a star.

As I’m going through my images I’ll inevitably come across ones that I consider blog worthy. Instead of trying to remember which ones they were when I do my blog post, I’ll tag them with 2 stars instead of one. If I see an images that I think is totally awesome I might even tag it with 3 stars. Later on when I’m processing the images in Lightroom, I can easily filter out images with less then two stars giving me quick access to my absolute favorite shots from the wedding.

(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(blog worthy photo) press 2 then right arrow…
(crap photo) press right arrow…
(sweet photo) press 1 then right arrow…

Once I’ve finished my edit, I go to the bottom of the main Photo Mechanic window and click on the “0″ in the rating filter.


This hides every image that still has less than one star, leaving only my keepers. I select all the keepers and drag them into a folder named “Edited Originals” and I rename them one more time using just a three digit sequence number and the couples names.

Ironically, writing this blog post describing my process actually took longer than doing the actual edit will. Using this workflow, I can usually edit an entire wedding in 2-3 hours, depending on my caffeine level. I still have to do the raw processing and color correction, which I’ll tackle in Lightroom, but at least not I don’t have to import thousands of images into Lightroom that I’ll never use.

I can’t claim to have any special insight on the editing process, what I know I’ve learned from other talented photographers and through the experience of editing my work. I’m sure there are other refinements that can make this part of the job even more efficient. I’d love to hear about your editing techniques in the comments section.

Thanks for reading. Now I’m off to actually edit this wedding for real!

About Earl Christie

Earl Christie has written 40 post in this blog.

Earl is a Boston wedding photographer who finds love and magic and wonder in everything he shoots.



  1. Raise Your Hand if You Want to Save Time :: ShootStyle says:

    November 17th, 2010 at 6:48 am (#)

    [...] if you’re still using Bridge to cull and edit, then I don’t even know you, mister. Photo Mechanic saves me years of culling time and Lightroom saves me years of RAW editing. I use Photo Mechanic to [...]

  2. Kris Gay says:

    December 12th, 2010 at 10:02 pm (#)

    At 8,000 images per wedding and 2-3k from an assistant you are overshooting in the worst way.

    I can edit 1200-1500 down to 400 proofs and edit them fully in under three hours but I’m dead on accurate on exposure and I do custom white balance on site. I’ve been a pro photographer for ten years, I’ve shot over 300 weddings, and I’ve been teaching Lightroom since it came out. I truly don’t believe these claims. The numbers are just too inflated.

    I find your claims of editing 8000 images down to several hundred proofs AND fully editing them to be highly suspect.

  3. Earl Christie says:

    December 13th, 2010 at 8:43 am (#)

    Hi Kris, Thanks for reading! I’ll admit that my technique has me shooting a boat load of images. Is it over shooting though? In my opinion if it takes 20 photos to get the best shot of a certain moment, then I’d rather take those 20 photos and throw out 19 of them. Also, as I say in the article, the 2-3 hours I’m talking about is only for the process of culling of the thousands of images down to hundreds. The color correction step in Lightroom is another matter entirely. ~earl

  4. Andree says:

    December 13th, 2010 at 10:03 am (#)

    This is something that trips me up all of the time.

    When I worked for the newspapers, we called “finding the best photo” the “edit”.

    As I became a wedding photographer, it seems that a bunch of people call toning and white balancing “editing”.

    Earl’s using the first definition.

    I am guilty of “overshooting” too, but I learned it from shooting photojournalism. I used to shoot ten rolls (literally) of film on a high school basket ball game to find a single image. Then I was throwing away 359 images for every one I kept. Now I only throw away nine for every one I keep. :)

    Thanks for the comment, Kris!

  5. Emily Pogo says:

    August 12th, 2011 at 5:37 pm (#)

    ha– I was googling around about Photo Mechanic and read through most of this post before realizing that you wrote it, Earl! Nice to meet you in Mystic last January, thanks for the informative info. :-)

  6. Earl Christie says:

    August 12th, 2011 at 5:58 pm (#)

    Glad I could help, Emily!

  7. Seth Partridge says:

    August 19th, 2012 at 6:52 pm (#)

    Great article!

    I’ve been doing this rating process in Lightroom, but rating every image for editing or deleting. The last wedding I did took me about 6 hours to rate 2200 images.

    I am super excited to try rating just the image for editing! I think skipping the photos I don’t want to edit could half my time?

    I am also excited to try out photo mechanic.

  8. Simon P Taylor (BNE) says:

    January 10th, 2013 at 12:15 am (#)

    My own workflow is very frustrating and this has just helped me a LOT!! Thanks for the great article.

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