Is Aftershoot a good tool for wedding photographers?

Artificial intelligence is everywhere now in photography tools and I’ve tested, or am using, a bunch of them in my wedding photography workflow. As well as Aftershoot using AI to cull your shoots, Adobe is using it in Lightroom Classic’s masking tools, Topaz Labs uses it to power their image quality apps, and ImagenAI uses it to learn your editing style.

I’ve used all these – Lightroom’s sky and subject masks are like magic; Topaz apps are great for saving noisy or soft images; and ImagenAI gets me closer to the finished image than a Lightroom preset, so I can focus on creative edits.

Unfortunately I really didn’t click with Aftershoot. I found it more frustrating and time consuming than just culling myself. But ultimately I’ll never be able to trust an AI to make an emotional, narrative-driven selection. To get value from Aftershoot I think you’d have to value your time over the final gallery quality. I value the latter, so Aftershoot (or indeed any AI culling tool) isn’t for me.

Disclaimer: all of this is just my opinion, and lots of photographers claim to love it. So you should probably give it a go just to see how you feel about it.

So can Aftershoot really cull a wedding for you?

Well… yes and no. I think if I showed you Aftershoot’s first cull at default settings you’d be impressed how usable it seems. There’s a good range of settings to customise; for example, how many you want to cull, and your threshold for out-of-focus images. Plus the promise of being able to correct it and teach it are exciting. I didn’t think it would be able to take over culling completely, but I hoped it could make some impact.

When I started going through what it rejected, that promise started to lose its shine. I felt I was swapping one manual workflow for another which is arguably less intuitive and more complex than the first, resulting in a final selection I didn’t really ‘believe’ in.

The idea is that you’ll finesse the slider settings and when you make your own final selection it’ll start learning, eventually making ‘better’ choices more often. And I’m sure it will get closer. But the idea that you could just run a wedding through this and barely cast your eye over the results seems like a fanciful pipe dream to me. And also feels really lazy and careless.

That said, I’ve seen Youtube testimonials and walkthroughs where wedding photographers rave about how they can just bin off everything Aftershoot rejected without even looking at it and “oh my god I’ve just saved so much time, with one click! Amazing!”. Well, sure, that really speeds things up! But based on my experiences with Aftershoot I’m always going to have to check everything, which defeats the purpose.

The biggest problem I have with AI culling isn’t something that’s easily fixable: an AI will never be able to apply any emotional or practical context to the photos it reviews. It doesn’t know the people or the relationships they have with each other, it doesn’t know what’s happening in each ‘scene’, its choices aren’t story-driven, and worst of all they will never be about how a photo makes it feel – because it can’t feel.

In fact its choices aren’t even really choices – they’re just the soulless results of a set of filters.

I love the dream they’re selling, and I wanted it to work out. But after putting several weddings through Aftershoot I knew I wouldn’t ever trust its choices and ultimately I felt better about culling manually than I did about fiddling around with software I’d have to check anyway.

How Aftershoot filters images

The good thing about Aftershoot for wedding photographers is it gives you ample room to tweak its settings and to review everything it’s graded and culled for you. The problem for me was that doing so adds frustration and time to a process that’s supposed to be reducing both.

With ‘sequences’, Aftershoot looks for sets of almost identical images shot close together, bundles them into a group, and picks what it thinks is the best.

My first issue is that it often creates several different ‘sequences’ when I shot through one moment on the day. Or, it might create one sequence with a single ‘best’ shot, when I may have picked several to tell a story.

So for me that’s added complexity and time to unpick the decisions it’s made and review them myself in the proper context of a manual cull where I whizz through everything in a linear fashion, instead of jumping between sets of ‘sequences’ and trying to compare multiple what the AI thinks is the best from each sequence with all the ‘rejected’ images in another bin.

But the key issue is still the lack of a human element. When I’m selecting the best from a sequence I’m driven by story and emotion – does this image capture the moment better than that one, and does it make me feel something? I found Aftershoot consistently didn’t pick what I’d have picked, and those ‘wrong’ choices weren’t the kind I’d be happy to compromise on. I’m not okay with ‘close enough’.

Image blur & closed eyes

The other filters, for blurriness and closed eyes, have great potential to strip out duff shots straight away. But even after I adjusted the settings it wasn’t getting me significantly closer.

The ‘blurriness’ filter flagged tons of photos that simply had very narrow depth of field because I shoot wide open on fast primes for most of the day, and it also found closed eyes where eyes weren’t closed, but rather looking down or away from the camera.

And where eyes were actually closed, it was often people in the background that it was easy to either ignore or crop out, or the eyes were closed for good reason. For example, the bride or groom may close their eyes in portraits together, or during a slow first dance, and Aftershoot flags these images.

Going deeper, it seems to favour people looking at the camera over looking at each other. A lot of people look to the camera when they see it pointed their way, because we’ve spent most of our lives being told to look at the camera and say cheese!

But, I’ll usually prefer shots where they’re looking at each other or their guests, because for me that’s a more emotive image with more human connection, and more in line with my candid approach to wedding photography.

I also don’t want an AI to dump images it deems technically imperfect when there may well be magical moments in there that are worth keeping despite being slightly mis-focussed or motion-blurred. I choose photos like that rarely, but with Aftershoot I’d have to accept most of those photos getting rejected unless I found them myself – which defeats the purpose of the software.

Overall, I found the new workflow (reviewing multiple categories of selections and rejections, then comparing to see if I’d have picked the same) more complex and frustrating than a manual cull making ‘yes’ selections chronologically.

I know the idea is you need to check less thoroughly as it learns what you like to select. And I think for shoots where emotion isn’t as important it’ll really speed up workflow.

But for weddings emotion is important, so I’ll always need to check everything Aftershoot selects closely. So on balance I prefer the simpler, cheaper, and more ‘honest’ method of culling manually.

Am I being too hard on Aftershoot for wedding photographers?

Maybe? Aftershoot knows it won’t get it right every time. That’s why they’ve worked hard on tools to finesse its choices. Even so, if I need to keep tabs on it why not just cull it myself?

Of course there’s bound to be photographers for whom the limitations I ran into don’t present the same problems. Perhaps studio portrait photographers shooting in controlled environments will love it; their culling likely prioritises sharpness and eye position, and less so the emotion of the image.

A ‘big name’ photographer told me they’re “happy enough” with what it selects, that it’s “close enough” for them. I guess ‘close enough’ isn’t good enough for me when it comes to a wedding. I prefer to buckle down and cull the wedding myself. It’s the only way to be sure the gallery has the best images. And it’s the only way to respect my clients trust in me to care about their wedding photographs.