Guilty as Charged — Why Keep Too Many Photographs No One Is Looking At?

Photography is so cheap these days (apart from gear…). A terabyte of storage space costs next to nothing and stores 209,715 (!) 5MB photo files, that’s a generous size for quality Web publishing. So why worry? Prints, however, are a whole different story. Be it TIFFs or bloated up JPEGs converted from RAW, one would think that serious photography will eat up storage space even faster. In the end though serious photography saves a lot of space. Because serious photographers don’t stick to shots no one wants to look at. Sounds simple, doesn’t it. Only keep what needs no reams of explanation and cries for being printed and hanged on a wall. What’s not worth it is not worth it. Get rid of it, and in no time any photography will improve. Well it’s not that easy…:

We tend to store thousands and thousands of photos, ignoring that a famous photographer once said along the lines of, “A few good photographs a year is a good yield.” Oh great pain of letting go.

Taking too many photographs not only subverts the importance of seeing with one’s own eyes. It also leads to a megapixel overload and distraction that serve no one. But even if I cut down on pressing the shutter button too often and delete most of my shots, I still end up with way too many. Or do I?

After some time, looking through the files, even unimportant, meaningless and artistically dubious work sometimes reminds me of instances and events I would long have forgotten without looking at these substandard “reminders.” Just browsed through the iPhones Photos folder, storing years of snaps. What a time travel, what a delight!

Traveling through time by means of occasional photographs doesn’t justify to keep each and every one of them, but it also says something about how we look at photographs: over time, photos change and carry a different meaning.

A photograph made a few years ago might be a different photograph today. Maybe the relationship with the persons shown changed, maybe the photographer moved on to live in a different place or, as mentioned, simply forgot that the photographed event ever took place.

Still, while my lofty aim is to only keep what I’ll print and hang on the wall (without having to expand the house with a lot more wall space) because I enjoy nice photographs with substance and depth, in the end the joy of making each and every of the insignificant photograph is not less rewarding.

So what’s more important: the experience of photography or the final photograph.

An impossible question. I’ll do like this: shoot as I please and enjoy doing it while ruthlessly culling the unworthy stuff without wasting much post-processing time behind the screen. Move on if the photograph doesn’t “work” at first sight.

A handful of good photographs a year? Nice yield. Just about right for the size of my wall space.




  • RussellInCincinnati

    At least get rid of the LARGE versions of most of your photos. What’s the need of more than about a 2 megabyte JPEG, to remind you of people or places.

  • dierk

    no one is looking at?
    I am looking at my images very often, especially, when I search a certain motive.
    I have now about 70.000 images on my disks (and thousands of slides and negatives, that I can not find very easy in all my folders) and thanks to Lightroom I find most of them by searching for key words and/or time, camera, lens… I delete some of them but the good ones are marked and very often I work on some again and end up with new “good ones”.
    Dan, you say “wasting much post-processing time behind the screen”. For me it is the main part of the creative process. The RAW files are really pure raw material with so many different possibilities of interpretations (trivial example: color or B&W). When I shoot, I have the images in mind, that I can or want to create from this RAW material.

    “Prints, however, are a whole different story.”
    I live in a big house now with hundreds of meters of long white walls and have about 70 images hanging there now, many of them 1 to 2 square meters large.
    I (we) invested so much money into the gear and at the end I hesitate to invest 50 to 100€ for one of the best images for a print?
    I love big prints and I have the space :-)

    “2 megabyte JPEG” ?
    I dont store JPEG, in Lightroom you dont need JPEGs, you can produce a JPEG or TIFF in any size any time out of the RAW files in the best quality.

    dierk

  • Dan, you say “wasting much post-processing time behind the screen”. For me it is the main part of the creative process. The RAW files are really pure raw material with so many different possibilities of interpretations (trivial example: color or B&W). When I shoot, I have the images in mind, that I can or want to create from this RAW material.

    Lately, I try to avoid post-processing altogether to keep and get a camera’s and sensor’s character. Maybe the occasional Auto Tone, nothing more. The photos with the least effort please me. Instead of working the curves and plugins I prefer spending time shooting — but each to his own. It goes without saying that photo editing softwares are nothing but our darkroom. Maybe I’m just lazy, but once I start processing there’s no end to it…

  • Noyb

    Last year I woke up and went through 50,000 images I had in Aperture. The 50,000 went down to 25,000. It was far easier than I thought and I have lost nothing. Although I am willing to use disk space and keep the RAW’s instead of the jpeg’s.

    I also subscribe to Dan’s comment about getting it right in camera. Sitting in front of a computer putzing with a mouse is hardly the life I want. There was a process to getting there. Decide if I’m a photographer or a chronologer. One shot, perhaps 2 for composition. Take some extra time (less additional time than importing one image into the post app). Become merciless about culling shots before starting post.