Using Star Ratings

It’s important to think about how you use star Ratings (in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom). Not everyone uses them the same way. However you decide to use them, you should use them consistently. Otherwise, when you browse multiple folders, you’ll have to interpret the same symbols differently in different contexts. That gets confusing fast!
I like the 5 star rating system. It helps make useful distinctions with only a touch more granularity than 3 levels of distinction – typically high, medium and low. It doesn’t get as granular at 10 levels of distinction, so you can cut to the chase fast. It’s used in other venues like restaurants and hotels so it’s familiar. Still, I don’t find using 1 and 2 star ratings useful for ranking the quality of images; I have no use for images that are below average. The images use are either good – 3, better – 4, or excellent – 5. So, I use 1 and 2 stars for something else. I use 1 star to identify a good idea in a substandard exposure or composition; I’ll try and use the idea later with better material. I use 2 stars to identify images that are good for composites; the exposures are fine but the composition is unfinished.
How do you use star ratings?
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  • Dave Polaschek

    12.06.2009 at 10:36 Reply

    My ratings:
    Reject flag = reject (safe to delete)
    0 = still unrated
    1 = flawed but perhaps useful or an idea that didn’t work, but worth keeping around for future consideration – a good sky with a crummy foreground is an example of this – I’ll probably come back to it when I’ve got a photo with a bad sky
    2 = part of a composite – HDR, pano, etc.
    3-5 something I’ll eventually publish
    I also use a red label to flag photos I’ve published to my flickr account, so if I’m looking for things to upload to flickr, I do a search for rating > 3, and no label.
    flag = sold – someone paid me money for it in some form

  • Charles Brackett

    13.06.2009 at 14:08 Reply

    I find the process of rating very useful but flawed. Rating with one purpose in mind would be different than another purpose. None the less, I find myself using the rating system proposed by the DAM book, Peter Krogh, as follows:
    First, I do it interatively: First pass everything of interest gets one star. Second pass, standouts get two stars. Third pass, standouts get 3 stars. Only a very few images get past 3 stars.
    I also use the following LABELS:
    RED = Unrated or UnEvaluated
    Yellow = OutTakes, those that will probably be unused for some technical reason, such as exposure, focus, etc.
    Green = TrashMe, immediately of no use
    Purple = TEMP
    Turquoise = TEMP Special Purpose
    I tend to keep all images no matter the rating. 4 stars would be best of collection.
    Normally half of the images or more end up with no rating and three stars is enough.


    20.06.2009 at 06:03 Reply

    I like to quickly scan through a collection of images and use 1 and 2 stars as an initial way to separate the images with promise from the ones that have none (they remain a 0).
    I then go through the 1s and 2s again (often on another day) and filter further:
    3 – I like it but I am not seeing a great image right now.
    4 – I think I can see a great final image in these files.
    5 – Exceptional. Stop work on all 4 stars and concentrate on this (or these)
    The images that didn’t get promoted to a 3-5 are left as 1s and 2s for two reasons:
    1. like Dave and JP I know there is something in the image I like and I often compile Collections in Lightroom with some of these images entitled something like “Dark Mood Ideas” etc. Obviously images can go into more than one collection and this enables me to develop and evolve my understanding of how I see.
    2. Sometimes I will see a great image in a 1 or 2 that I just couldn’t see before. This is not generally true of 1s and 2s but it does happen. Undoubtedly this happens because the way we see evolves over time.
    Hope that is helpful.

  • natcoalson

    20.06.2009 at 13:59 Reply

    I totally agree that the most important thing about using the “heuristic” (ranking) tools is to do it consistently.
    I have a different take on the star rating system, though. I think that if you’re using a particular system (in this case, stars) they need to retain their rating significance, rather than using them to mean different things.
    In my system, 1 star only indicates that photo has made it through the first round of editing. Photos that are not candidates for any further work do not get a star at all.
    I continue through multiple, successive rounds of editing (usually in a Folder source), each time adding a star for photos that make it through that round.
    Some folders of images may undergo one or two rounds; in which case the final selects are one or two stars. Other folders require more rounds of editing… up to 5 maximum.
    For each folder, whatever the highest-number editing round I’ve done is shown by the active Filter. In other words, at the end, I see only the photos that have gained the highest level.
    These all go into one or more collections; I only go back to the folder if I find a mistake or have a question about a particular select.
    Photos often end up in more than one collection. I use these to collect portfolios, web galleries, print projects etc.
    Some collections are only temporary.
    If, within one collection, I need to designate a file (or virtual copy) for a particuklar purpose, I use a Label. Color labels when possible; other times, I use a word or phrase as the label.
    This allows the use of Smart Collections to retrieve those later.
    In the end, I want each type of attribute (stars, labels, flags) to represent a unique type of categorization.

  • natcoalson

    20.06.2009 at 14:01 Reply

    One other thing… I’ve heard people describe organizational systems that involve the use of special keywords; I don’t recommend this, because if you’re going to share/publish those files later, you might not want your internal notation included in exported keywords.

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