How Do I Pick the Best Photo?

One of the biggest challenges we all face as digital photographers is how to sort through the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of pictures we take for each shoot or subject.
Best Image Selected from Lightroom Contact Sheet below

When we used black & white film, our first step (after developing the film) was to print a contact sheet. This produced thumbnail images the size of the film frame from one roll of film on a single piece of photographic paper. Then using a magnifier (called a loupe) we would carefully examine all 36 frames for the sharpest, best exposed photo that also had the best expression and gesture, if a person or sports subject, or lighting and composition, if a landscape or still life subject. When we decided on the one we liked the best, we circled it with a red grease pencil. 

Contact Sheet from Black & White Film

If we were working with color slides, we put the slides in a slide page holding 20 frames and examined those with a loupe on a lightbox. (Some photographers loaded their slides into a tray and projected them instead.) Then we put a mark on the slide mount (edge) to designate our favorite frame.

Slide page with loupe

(If we shot color negative film, we just used the small 4x6 prints we got back from the lab to base our selections on. Not many photo labs were able to produce a true contact sheet of color negatives.)

Nowadays we use photo organizing programs like Picasa, iPhoto, Lightroom, or Aperture to display electronic versions of a contact sheet on screen. Or we can even just view thumbnails shown by the operating system (Windows Explorer or Mac Finder). But we're still left with the challenge of selecting the best of several similar shots. 

Lightroom Library as Electronic Contact Sheet

Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine has made available a free video in which he narrates how he selects the best image from about 40 total frames he took of a Chinese woman (in 98 seconds!). It's very interesting to hear and watch his process.

The Contact Sheet – Old Woman of Hainan by Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine