Rating 5000 photos in one weekend

I recently breathed new life into my photography hobby, treating myself to a Nikon Z6 full-frame mirrorless camera, with two new lenses. I also took out an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, which comes with Photoshop and Bridge. While no photo management software is ideal, Bridge allows you to rate your images with a one-to-five star system. Somehow I had never got round to giving my 5.500 digital photos of 17 years the jury treatment, finding the task too daunting and not very useful.

However, rating your own work can be a worthwhile exercise. It’s satisfying to go back now and again and note your progress. Then the obvious question for a proper geek becomes: what criteria do I use to assign a rating? Here’s what I decided on:

  • Roughly 80% of my photos gets three stars. They are of average quality. Going through a screenful of unrated previews, I will batch-apply three stars with a single click.
  • Five star photos are the ones I like to have professionally printed and framed (given enough money and wall space). They also include images of particular personal or emotional value that needn’t even be good in a technical or artistic sense. Simply the stuff I would be sad to lose.
  • Four star pics are better than average, but don’t quite make it to the top league.
    When in doubt, be generous at first. When you come back later you can always downvote the fives to four and the fours to three.
  • Two stars is what I typically assign in batch to a series which has little emotional value or technical/artistic merit but that I nevertheless want to keep around: backstage photos of a theater rehearsal or the fifty snaps I took when moving house.
  • I don’t give out one star. Anything that deserves less than two stars goes into the trash. Not worth keeping.

I found this system very quick and comfortable to work with. The five stars I usually already recognize when I press the shutter. It’s only the four star pictures I have to ponder for more than a few seconds.

Looking at my efforts of the last seventeen years, I’m happy to observe progress. There are far fewer four and five stars among those earlier years, but that is only because I rated them as my slightly more experienced self. As I gain experience I also expect to become more critical. It will be fun to go through earlier years and see what gets downvoted and ultimately binned.

The Brecon Canal near Crickhowell (Wales), 2013. Lighting could have been better, but composition is pretty good, given my skills at the time.