James Popsys on Reviewing Your Photos at Year-End

I’m sure quite a few people will have seen this video already but I quite like this idea of reviewing your best photos at the end of the year to see what you can learn from your output. I’m probably just a bit slow in not having thought about doing this before.

Anyway, Merry Christmas/Season’s Greetings to all!


I watched this video last night and it is indeed good advice.

If you have time, look at some lesser rated photos as well and ask yourself what sets your 3 star apart from your 5 star? Are there commonalities between 3 stars that could make them 4 or 5s?


I’ve never had an image I ranked above 3 stars… LOL

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Ha. I was just about to post the same. Separate my 2 stars from my 2.5 stars.


Well, also I use star ratings in a relative, not absolute, sense. My workflow is usually something like:

  1. Shoot

  2. Copy all raws from the SD card to a staging folder.

  3. Cull any really mangy dogs (OOF, etc.) and rank any potentially process-worthy as three stars. If one stands out better than the rest, make it four stars (rare). If one is still potentially usable for some unique reason but is worse than the others, rank it two stars. I’ve never had a five star image.

    I’ll also color-tag images if they’re on / under / over-exposed brackets, part of a pano / focus or other series, a “flag” image of some kind (e.g., before & after a pano / series)

  4. Copy the 2 - 4 star images to a unique dated folder (e.g., 20231222_location)

  5. Process in that folder

  6. After a backup has run (which goes to a NAS and then later to another external drive as well) delete all files from the staging folder and all unused raws (as well as throwaway exports) from the dated folder. This is done to reduce wasted space on my local drive.

So ratings have meaning only in the culling stage.


Honestly, before I watched the video, I was expecting a “look at your crap so you can see why it’s crap” talk[1]. But what he did talk about (review the shots you like and find the commonalities) is a great idea.

This is the secret advantage to not having time to get out shooting often :smiley: . I can go through all the images from my year of shooting pretty quickly, from the duds to the ones I like.

[1] I do the crap review after every session. I do a little post mortem, identify what I did wrong, and capture the recurring observations in a cheat sheet. I hate having to learn the same lessons over and over.


I watched an hour-long YT interview with two south African photographers last night (Martin Osner and Hougaard ____). During an answer about workflow and evaluation Osner said he waits six months minimum after shooting before even looking at shots for the first time. His purpose is to remove the emotion associated with the shooting process.

If I did that I’d delete every shot I take…

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Copy to Darktable
2 Stars for not complete trash
3 Stars/Colour tab for any panos/HDR/other
4 Stars for probable processing

Yeah, if I was being completely objective, I’d kill 99.999%. The worst thing about going through a year-end review is thinking, wow, none of these stand up on their own


Having very little time to spend on computer, unfortunately, I do heavy culling on my camera straight ahead and after importing in shotwell, I skip the rating and just “flag” the few ones I want to process first. I spend a little time on tagging though (location, event, thematics) as it enables me to efficiently quick search with shotwell in my 25k+ library. So the way to process is :

Heavy culling on camera (delete at the end of the day)
Import in shotwell
Tag all files and flag what would be the very few I will have the time to process

2022-2023 In numbers :
1784 Shutter count
1237 raw copied in Shotwell
363 files flagged for processing
133 files processed in Darktable (143 opened)

I used to have a lot more time (before kids and having 2 jobs…) and kind of had a different approach and kept a lot more things and spending a LOT of time on processing (very slowly running DT on a thinkpad X60s at that time …)


To be fair, I recently read someone (here?) saying Robert Frank took 28,000 photos to choose the 83 that went into The Americans. It appears to have some basis in truth:

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Yes, it was here, like days ago. Not even drunk

I do review my photo technique occasionally, usually after I switch lenses (these days I am in the habit of putting on a lens and leaving it on for 1000–2000 shots. I shoot what I can, being aware that I won’t be able to capture everything. The objective is to force myself to change my POV. Sorry if this sounds weird or nonsensical, it works for me.).

Eg what I learned from spending November and December with the 35–100mm Panasonic f/4-5.6:

  1. you can make portraits with any lens, and occasionally the most important factor is whether you can shoot without making the subject self-conscious, especially children
  2. telephoto is great for landscapes (compression is key)
  3. not everything needs a background blur and beautiful bokeh.
  4. don’t be afraid of high ISO on micro 4/3, with Darktable profiled denoise even ISO 6400 is decent for screen viewing (corollary: don’t pixel peep)
  5. always carry at least a mini tripod.
  6. (bonus) if I pack my adjustable ND filter instead of my circular polarizer and I am not paying attention, I will keep rotating it like an idiot for 10 minutes before I figure out what is going on

Coming up next: the Olympus 45mm f/1.8.

What I learned this year about digital photography in general:

  1. no commercial camera on earth has the same spectral response as the human eye, so all pictures have the potential for metameric failure, as no matrix can correct for this, the information is lost when the sensor captures the image.

    Corollary 1: I get to color everything the way I like.
    Corollary 2: I have to color grade everything anyway.
    Corollary 3: I should get better at the channel mixer in Darktable. (This leads to New Year’s resolutions :wink:)

  2. I should let stuff get lost if the image works that way. Sky burned out? Burn it out to white (like, incidentally, shown in the video above). Dark shadows? Make them darker instead of stressing about it and working with the tone equalizer. Colors so off that I would need a lot of work to correct them? (conflicting LED lights do this) Make it B&W. Photo against the sun? Make it a silhouette. Less is more.

  3. Take breaks when culling and editing photos. I can cull about 100 in one session or maybe develop 2-3, after that I lose objectivity, keep too many bad photos and/or waste a lot of work on trying to rescue a bad photo in post-processing.

  4. If I am honest with myself, most of my photos that I consider good benefited precious little from post-processing. The camera JPEG would have been fine in 90% of the cases, I shoot raw for the rest so I can correct colors & WB. Light and composition are most important.

  5. It is OK to take no photos when there is nothing interesting and no moment that I want to capture. Even if that means that I lugged my camera on a day hike for no good reason.

  6. Reading reviews of new camera bodies is a waste of time. Yes, each and every new MILC body out there has better specs than my current camera. That would not mean that I would take better photos with it. Realistically, I would be just as good with a camera that is a generation older than my current one.

  7. Reading the “top X lenses for body Y that you must have” lists is a waste of time. I settled on a few lenses I like after trial and error, and none of these are in most top X lists. I should decide what I want first and then find the closest lens that does this.


Absolutely, this has been a big shift in my approach over the last year. I cringe when I think how much I used to obsess about not blowing out highlights, preventing crushed blacks and trying to get maximum dynamic range all the time. Incidentally James Popsys in the title of this post is a big proponent of simplifying a scene and advocates for over/underexposing to make the scene more simple. It’s great advice.

When I think back to some of the Darktable posts on Pixls a few years ago when the scene-referred workflow was being introduced, there was so much debate and handwringing on how to retrieve details using the various tools like tone equalizer, filmic, etc. Of course, it’s very important for some genres of photography, but for me, I could have saved myself a lot of time and worry by just letting highlights blow and blacks get crushed to achieve a less cluttered scene.

It’s very important to remember that the software’s tools are rarely the problem. It’s usually our skills and approaches as photographers that need to improve.


If you’re shooting raw I think its still bad advice. You should expose to capture maximum dynamic range while not clipping highlights.

If you choose to blow out the sky in post as an artistic decision, or the same with letting things slip into pure black, them great. But clipping the highlights or shadows on purpose seems silly. Your tastes and artistic decision making will change overtime, and having the maximum data available for a given scene will give you maximum artistic freedom in the future.

I do agree with Popsys about simplifying the scene, but disagree with the method.


I’m not sure he advocates for over/underexposing at the time of capture, and that’s not what I meant either. I should have clarified that it’s during post that you can blow out highlights or crush blacks. Not sure if you have seen his videos but I recall seeing one where he specifically talks about the approach and you can clearly see his RAW file is properly exposed.

Still, if you have the skills and want to artistically over/underexpose at the time of capture, there’s nothing wrong with that either. But you need to know what you’re doing.

I have, and maybe its the video/YouTube/my TV settings but his skies look clipped a bit to me.