So I have been thinking a lot about deleting lately – deleting, being deleted, not being deleted- the standard stuff. Don’t know what has come over me but it seems to be on my mind recently.
It might be because in my last couple of workshops I have heard some amazing stories by non-deleters. Yes, that is right, non-deleters and you know who you are! Non-deleters are those who never delete anything as well as those who do a very cursory editing job and delete all the really obviously awful images but then stop never to return. Either way the result is a mishmash of images that span the spectrum from hurray to horrible and are far more unusable than they are useable.
One very good photographer I had a workshop had gone on a long international trip a couple of years ago and had not yet really begun to edit his images. Two years and not yet any deleting! What is he waiting for? I also have a great friend who still hasn’t finished editing her pictures from the Galapagos trip she took four years ago or the Alaska trip she took two years ago!
And this is not to mention all those students who tell me that they haven’t quite gotten around to working on (deleting!) their images from the last shoot they did. Hundreds and thousands of images just sitting around forgotten, some of which are great but most of which aren’t. Am I the only one not running a half way house for bad, unwanted images?
Here are some of rules for you non-deleters on editing images:
1. Just because you took a bad shot doesn’t make you a bad person.
2. It doesn’t get any easier the longer you wait.
3. If they were bad then, they are bad now and they will still be bad later.
4. Unlike wine, focus, composition and exposure don’t improve with age.
5. Proximity to new better shots doesn’t improve old bad shots.
6. If you can’t decide no one will care which one you pick.
7. If you don’t want to look at an image, we really don’t either.
8. If you think it might be bad, so do we and we are sure.
9. If you like only a small part of your picture the large part is dreadful.
10. Nirvana can only be reached through dispossession (deleting!).
So what is the hold up? Glad you asked. I think most people would rather be out taking pictures rather than in working on them. This is a good thing but this desire must be tempered. If you don’t spend some time editing your images your collection of shots will be useless; you won’t be able to find the shots you want, the shots you do find will not be your best and you will forever be frustrated.
Here is my rule for deleting: Every image I keep I am happy and proud to show people. I identify my best images of a scene, a shoot, a subject or a circumstance and I get rid of all the rest. I am only going to show or use my best ones, why would I keep the others?
I think this is what happens most of the time. You go out and spend some time taking wonderful pictures, at least what you think are wonderful pictures. Then when you come home you look at what you shot on your computer and you are disappointed- they aren’t as good as you thought they would be. So you go through and skim the very best, process them and then stash them away for later use. But you never go back to the great vulgar hoard of images you took because you are disappointed in them and you would rather not be reminded, thank you very much!
You do this for a few of months and all of a sudden it’s a year and before you know it you are 4000 images behind! Yikes! 4000 might as well be 4 million or even 4 billion, you’ll never get through them so you give up and shoot some more vowing never to look back at the mountain of images threatening to bury you and your computer. Here’s another rule: if you have already filled several terabytes of storage with your images you haven’t quite mastered the subtle butchery of deleting.
How am I doing so far?
Let me try to readjust your thinking on all this. First, when you initially look at your images on your computer you are looking at them unprocessed. This means that their potential is unrealized. Taking a picture is the process of collecting data, that is all. Just as in the old film days, these pictures must be processed. This is where Lightroom or Aperature or whatever program you use comes in. If you don’t process your images they will always be less than what you thought and you will forever be disappointed in the pictures you take.
Second, when you first look at your images go through and get rid of all the obviously bad ones. This should be a very quick and efficient process. If it is not you need to take a class with Scott Rouse of LightroomLab.com to learn how to do this. Then go through and pick your favorites, the ones you really like. Then go through and do it again. Don’t do any processing yet, just pick the images that speak to you or sing to you or chorus to you. Any images that remain, and there should be plenty, throw into the trash and say ‘bye-bye’, ‘good riddance’, ‘hasta lumbego’, ‘ta-ta.’
Now you can go through and process the keepers, keyword them and do whatever you do to keep your images organized. But do this only for the ones you know you are going to keep. Don’t bother with the trashers, they are about to be history.
This technique also works for closets, basements and girlfriends just in case you are wondering.
And the best part is that you can do this while you are watching some mindless TV show about dancing or cooking or singing or shellacking. By the time the show has come to its miserable conclusion you will have finished your deleting and you can join the ranks of those of us who are pure of soul and clean of underwear.
Now really, who wouldn’t want to be part of that group?