Delete Images?? NEVER!! - Digital Photography School

Delete Images?? NEVER!!

Recently, Russel Masters wrote that deleting images was good for you.  While I agree there is a reason to delete some images- those clearly out of focus, poorly exposed, or with fatal composition flaws, I’m not a fan of wholesale deletion of images from a set.  This rule applies to portraits, landscapes, and anything else I shoot.

Sand Harbor

This image of Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, languished on a hard drive for 3 years before I got around to editing it. It wasn't even in the folder I designated for the "keepers" I shot that day. The technical details: ISO 100, 1/25, f/16. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 14mm f/2.8L II.

Here’s the deal.  I go through all of my images and immediately begin processing the ones that immediately strike me as being worthy.  Eventually I get through those, and then tend to walk away.  At this point, it seems Mr. Masters is content to keep the ones he’s deemed as “keepers” and deleting everything else in the name of hard disk space.

I emphatically disagree with this philosophy.  First off, disk space in this day and age is relatively cheap. A 1TB external hard drive can be had for less than $100USD. I try to maintain redundancy with regards to hard drives, keeping two identical drives to store the files.  One is my working copy, while the other is simply a backup of RAW files, moved offsite to my office for safe keeping.

Second, and more importantly, sometimes the emotion from the shoot gets in the way.   Several times, I’ve come home from a trip or a shoot and immediately worked on the images that struck me as keepers as soon as I shot them.  And those images still strike me as keepers, even years later. But I’ve had several times where I went back through images years after the originals were shot, and found gems that for whatever reason I didn’t even mark as a potential keeper.

The above shot of Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe is one example.  I shot this image, along with others that day, in 2009. I had several nice sunset shots and dusk shots that really popped for me. This shot was taken as I waited for the light to get more dramatic, and then was apparently forgotten in the heat of the moment as other images jumped ahead of it in my mind.  Fast forward to 2012.  I was going through old images on this hard drive, just basically looking for images I hadn’t yet processed and might want to.  I was bored and was looking for something to do.  I went through the images shot that evening and saw this one and wondered what I had been thinking in not processing the file.  Truth be told, it was a lot easier to process than some of the images I immediately worked on.  I simply tweaked the saturation and contrast and was done. Posted it to my website minutes after I completed the processing.  Within two hours, I sold a 20×30 print on acrylic for $225USD. Well worth the time and effort to edit.

Boston Skyline

This is another image, taken the same month as the Lake Tahoe shot. This was an exceptional shooting day for me. I went into Boston in search of this spot, found parking, and was thrilled to see all the sailboats on the Charles River, making for an excellent foreground. I used every lens in my bag this day, getting salable shots with each- everything from a 14mm f/2.8 to the 70-200 f2.8L IS. This shot was taken with the EF 24-105 f/4L IS, at 47mm. But due to the number of good shots captured that day, I just ignored it as being too blah. Since I finally edited it, it has sold 5 times!.

Another such image is this one, of the Boston skyline. I’d shot this image in August 2009 as well. I’d had several shots I absolutely loved from this set.  For some reason, I find some of my best selling images are from in and around Boston.  I had decided to see what else I hadn’t posted to my website to see if I had anything worth posting that I thought might sell.  This image was one.   It’s less dramatic than some of the keepers I immediately edited that day.  In fact, it’s a fairly standard shot. But I had a great sky and good light that evening.  I felt it was worth working this image and posting it.  I’m glad I did.  In the 3 months since it was posted, the image has sold 5 times! Between the two images, I’ve made enough to purchase five 1TB hard drives- making Mr. Master’s argument about saving disk space moot.

This shot was instantly deemed a keeper in my eyes, and edited immediately. I loved the effect the 14mm lens had on the clouds, and the interest added by the sailboats in the foreground. I had deemed the other shot, Boston Skyline, a bit too blah at the time of the initial edit. Three years later, I edited it, and within a few months has become one my best selling images.

The bottom line is, I would be VERY careful of what I delete in terms of images.  Yes, get rid of those clearly flawed images. But the rest, even the ones that don’t strike you as worth processing?  Give them some time to age.  You may find they are a fine wine just waiting to be uncorked.

 

Read more from our Post Production category.

Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • Cheezman

    A good friend of mine is a ceramicist. I once assisted him in keeping the heat up on a wood-fired kiln and I asked him how he thought his pieces, firing in the kiln, were going to turn out. “People always ask me that,” he said. “And I always tell them I don’t know. I have to live with it for awhile, get to know it before I can answer the question.” As I got into photography and post processing, I began to see what he meant. When I return from travels and dump my cards onto the computer I usually come away deflated with how few of the images meet my expectations. Only with the passage of time can do I begin to see the good and positive in many of the images. So, I agree that one should not always make quick judgments to delete. On the other hand, a deleted image is so out of mind and reach that you’ll forever be ignorant of what the alternative could have been, so no real pain.

  • http://www.floriansphotos.com Florian

    Hello,

    I first wanted to disagree – because of the “never” – but finally I think I do agree with your approach and opinion. However, in many cases I have multiple, very similar versions of a photograph or of a subject that I like. I am sure this applies to most photographers. How do you go about this “problem”? Do you only keep one or very few or all the versions (except those that are obviously “defective”)?

    Florian.

  • http://500px.com/jax999 Conny

    Agree with the article :)

    I delete only the really bad ones ,which primarly is when focus is way off or blurred photo., Those i delete in the camera.

    Otherwise i always try to keep the photos one of the reaseon being that whats looks bad one day can be a fantastic shot with some editing the next day..

  • http://2hphotography.ca Hagen

    I’m in both camps: if it is an image from a client shoot: it never gets deleted. If not, I’ll do my standard cull after the shoot (at least 4 hours after for the heat of the moment to die down).

    About 6 months later I’ll go back through looking for other images that I might not have seen like Sand Harbour above. I’ll play around a bit, crop very aggressively etc. Why? Because my vision may have changed and there may now be an image there that I hadn’t seen before.

    About a year later I’ll go back through and cull aggressively. Why? Diminishing returns. 10000 images a year? What is the likelihood of finding an image to work with? As above, probably pretty good for $225. The need to go through 10000 from each subsequent year? Not likely. So I throw away anything that is remotely ‘duplicate’, cropable from another image’, just doesn’t inspire etc.

    So I guess I’m in between both camps. But if it is a client image? Never. Well, I do guarantee a replacement print within 1 year and replacement images in 5 years.

  • Simon

    It’s not about the cost of storing photos – as you say, disk is cheap. The cost is an organisational one, a matter of having a huge collection of images that, while not flawed, are never going to be looked at again.

  • http://plowingthroughlife.blogspot.com Martha

    I agree totally! I only delete images that are beyond help. Disk space is very affordable these days, so it’s not necessary to get rid of images that may prove to be quite good if you look at them another day.

    Beautiful photos! I love the one of Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe.

  • Gary K

    I follow more of the aggressive culling process. Some good points about saving for some future time to review. A lot of sage advise in this post…. “I have to live with it for awhile”.

    Your Sand Harbor shot is magnificent.

  • Steve McIlree

    YES!

  • Joseph

    It’s very true. The one image (test shot) that I took this summer during a portrait shoot that I really did not at all like, I kept for some reason. I don’t know. I liked parts of it, but I just didn’t think it was that great. The bottom right corner is all blurry and I wasn’t really trying to get a shot. It’s 100% accident. The only reason it wasn’t deleted is because I had four people waiting for me to take their photographs.

    Somebody saw it in my gallery and It has sold four times and is going to be featured in a renovated home on television. I still don’t love it. But who am I to judge if someone wants to give me money for it?

    http://www.champastreetproductions.com/#!untitled/zoom/ck0q/image8vs

  • Calvin

    The author clearly forgets that most hobbyists might never be able to monetize their photos in the same way he did. Maybe they could via stock photo sites.. But how much can you earn from that?

    Not everyone has the chance to be selling images, however good they are, at $225 a pop.

  • ccting

    I just accidentally deleted images that i have processed 1 week ago… ;(

  • Bill

    We had dinner with one of Canada’s best stock photographers recently and he said he won’t look at this travel images for 2 years. That gives him a chance for the emotion attached to an image to disappear and then he can look objectively at the images when picking out the keepers.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    @ Calvin- In this day and age, I find your statement- “Not everyone has the chance to be selling images” to be blatantly untrue. There are many ways people can try and sell their photos. Obviously, those photos must resonate with the purchaser, but anyone can try. There are a variety of websites, art shows, fairs, and other avenues available to almost anyone who is so motivated.

  • http://dewandemmer.com Dewan Demmer

    When I first opened this page I was ready to disagree, but then after a few lines I smiled to myself as I realised I do not delete my RAW’s, I archive and backup. I do admit to deleting those beyond recovery, the images to blurred, test shots etc.

    I had a recent shoot and after I had done the first few images I left it for a week or 2 and then went through the images again, with a different perspective.
    http://www.dewandemmer.com/london-wedding-photography-industrial-style-photoshoot/

  • Mary

    Just remember – “if you are not your own severest critic, you are your own worst enemy.”

    I trust my instincts to delete. If it doesn’t thrill me from the start, it won’t thrill me in a year. If I’m wavering, I leave it till a later date.

  • http://RPGransonPhotography.com Richard Granson

    May have missed a minor detail in article or other posts but I have also found that as newer techniques and options become available for post-processing that some pictures that I have placed into a “questionable” folder are now able to be corrected and have turned out quite nicely….food for thought!

  • Deborah

    I get a little frustrated by the “space is cheap” argument. $100 bills do not grow on trees. Photography is an expensive hobby, and within photography alone there is a lot of competition for my $100. That’s if I don’t need it to support my family. Sure there’s the possibility of selling photos, but setting up to do that takes time, and time is money for some. Plus not everyone takes photos with selling in mind or takes photos that are sellable.

    In addition, what you say here might be applicable for landscape and city-scape photographs, because you probably spend more time setting up for the perfect shot, but for those of us who do lifestyle, street, portrait photography, etc., there is a a lot more trying to catch that decisive moment, which entails catching a lot of not-so-decisive in-between moments as well.

  • http://richardkeeling.zenfolio.com/ Richard Keeling

    Absolutely agree with this. I also have found hidden gems on revisiting older sets of images and storage is cheap. Aggressive deleting may make for a more compact set of good images, but at the cost of losing something that can never be recovered. In addition, older images looked at with older imaging software can become surprisingly revitalized when examined using more modern software.

  • http://boernephotos.com Alan Granger

    I only delete out of focus/blurred. There is another reason to not delete under/over exposed. Raw converters have improved considerably. You can often times salvage and make great photos out of those that 4 or 5 years ago you thought were too far gone. For organization I use LR4. I aggressively/ obsessively keyword. Works well for me.

  • http://www.jimwoolseyphotography.com Jim Woolsey

    I agree with this. I try to eliminate any blurred/out-of-focus photos on the camera before I even upload them. Also, I try to analyze the “bad” photos and take note of my camera settings in image info.

  • rabthecab

    Talk about timing, I’ve just been going through folders deleting the obviously defective shots, and came across a few good images I forgot I’d captured!

    @Florian as for your point I often keep similar versions of images (if I feel they’re up to scratch) because I like to play around in post-production & of course the same shot can be made to look very different depending on the processing.

    @Rick love the images!

Some older comments

  • rabthecab

    January 1, 2013 01:25 pm

    Talk about timing, I've just been going through folders deleting the obviously defective shots, and came across a few good images I forgot I'd captured!

    @Florian as for your point I often keep similar versions of images (if I feel they're up to scratch) because I like to play around in post-production & of course the same shot can be made to look very different depending on the processing.

    @Rick love the images!

  • Jim Woolsey

    December 27, 2012 08:49 am

    I agree with this. I try to eliminate any blurred/out-of-focus photos on the camera before I even upload them. Also, I try to analyze the "bad" photos and take note of my camera settings in image info.

  • Alan Granger

    December 21, 2012 11:17 pm

    I only delete out of focus/blurred. There is another reason to not delete under/over exposed. Raw converters have improved considerably. You can often times salvage and make great photos out of those that 4 or 5 years ago you thought were too far gone. For organization I use LR4. I aggressively/ obsessively keyword. Works well for me.

  • Richard Keeling

    December 21, 2012 03:05 am

    Absolutely agree with this. I also have found hidden gems on revisiting older sets of images and storage is cheap. Aggressive deleting may make for a more compact set of good images, but at the cost of losing something that can never be recovered. In addition, older images looked at with older imaging software can become surprisingly revitalized when examined using more modern software.

  • Deborah

    December 17, 2012 10:04 am

    I get a little frustrated by the "space is cheap" argument. $100 bills do not grow on trees. Photography is an expensive hobby, and within photography alone there is a lot of competition for my $100. That's if I don't need it to support my family. Sure there's the possibility of selling photos, but setting up to do that takes time, and time is money for some. Plus not everyone takes photos with selling in mind or takes photos that are sellable.

    In addition, what you say here might be applicable for landscape and city-scape photographs, because you probably spend more time setting up for the perfect shot, but for those of us who do lifestyle, street, portrait photography, etc., there is a a lot more trying to catch that decisive moment, which entails catching a lot of not-so-decisive in-between moments as well.

  • Richard Granson

    December 17, 2012 01:18 am

    May have missed a minor detail in article or other posts but I have also found that as newer techniques and options become available for post-processing that some pictures that I have placed into a "questionable" folder are now able to be corrected and have turned out quite nicely....food for thought!

  • Mary

    December 15, 2012 09:42 am

    Just remember - "if you are not your own severest critic, you are your own worst enemy."

    I trust my instincts to delete. If it doesn't thrill me from the start, it won't thrill me in a year. If I'm wavering, I leave it till a later date.

  • Dewan Demmer

    December 15, 2012 08:37 am

    When I first opened this page I was ready to disagree, but then after a few lines I smiled to myself as I realised I do not delete my RAW's, I archive and backup. I do admit to deleting those beyond recovery, the images to blurred, test shots etc.

    I had a recent shoot and after I had done the first few images I left it for a week or 2 and then went through the images again, with a different perspective.
    http://www.dewandemmer.com/london-wedding-photography-industrial-style-photoshoot/

  • Rick Berk

    December 13, 2012 01:27 pm

    @ Calvin- In this day and age, I find your statement- "Not everyone has the chance to be selling images" to be blatantly untrue. There are many ways people can try and sell their photos. Obviously, those photos must resonate with the purchaser, but anyone can try. There are a variety of websites, art shows, fairs, and other avenues available to almost anyone who is so motivated.

  • Bill

    December 13, 2012 11:47 am

    We had dinner with one of Canada's best stock photographers recently and he said he won't look at this travel images for 2 years. That gives him a chance for the emotion attached to an image to disappear and then he can look objectively at the images when picking out the keepers.

  • ccting

    December 12, 2012 10:28 am

    I just accidentally deleted images that i have processed 1 week ago... ;(

  • Calvin

    December 12, 2012 04:20 am

    The author clearly forgets that most hobbyists might never be able to monetize their photos in the same way he did. Maybe they could via stock photo sites.. But how much can you earn from that?

    Not everyone has the chance to be selling images, however good they are, at $225 a pop.

  • Joseph

    December 12, 2012 02:21 am

    It's very true. The one image (test shot) that I took this summer during a portrait shoot that I really did not at all like, I kept for some reason. I don't know. I liked parts of it, but I just didn't think it was that great. The bottom right corner is all blurry and I wasn't really trying to get a shot. It's 100% accident. The only reason it wasn't deleted is because I had four people waiting for me to take their photographs.

    Somebody saw it in my gallery and It has sold four times and is going to be featured in a renovated home on television. I still don't love it. But who am I to judge if someone wants to give me money for it?

    http://www.champastreetproductions.com/#!untitled/zoom/ck0q/image8vs

  • Steve McIlree

    December 12, 2012 01:52 am

    YES!

  • Gary K

    December 11, 2012 11:31 am

    I follow more of the aggressive culling process. Some good points about saving for some future time to review. A lot of sage advise in this post.... "I have to live with it for awhile".

    Your Sand Harbor shot is magnificent.

  • Martha

    December 11, 2012 10:21 am

    I agree totally! I only delete images that are beyond help. Disk space is very affordable these days, so it's not necessary to get rid of images that may prove to be quite good if you look at them another day.

    Beautiful photos! I love the one of Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe.

  • Simon

    December 11, 2012 09:01 am

    It's not about the cost of storing photos - as you say, disk is cheap. The cost is an organisational one, a matter of having a huge collection of images that, while not flawed, are never going to be looked at again.

  • Hagen

    December 11, 2012 08:37 am

    I'm in both camps: if it is an image from a client shoot: it never gets deleted. If not, I'll do my standard cull after the shoot (at least 4 hours after for the heat of the moment to die down).

    About 6 months later I'll go back through looking for other images that I might not have seen like Sand Harbour above. I'll play around a bit, crop very aggressively etc. Why? Because my vision may have changed and there may now be an image there that I hadn't seen before.

    About a year later I'll go back through and cull aggressively. Why? Diminishing returns. 10000 images a year? What is the likelihood of finding an image to work with? As above, probably pretty good for $225. The need to go through 10000 from each subsequent year? Not likely. So I throw away anything that is remotely 'duplicate', cropable from another image', just doesn't inspire etc.

    So I guess I'm in between both camps. But if it is a client image? Never. Well, I do guarantee a replacement print within 1 year and replacement images in 5 years.

  • Conny

    December 11, 2012 07:26 am

    Agree with the article :)

    I delete only the really bad ones ,which primarly is when focus is way off or blurred photo., Those i delete in the camera.

    Otherwise i always try to keep the photos one of the reaseon being that whats looks bad one day can be a fantastic shot with some editing the next day..

  • Florian

    December 11, 2012 06:47 am

    Hello,

    I first wanted to disagree - because of the "never" - but finally I think I do agree with your approach and opinion. However, in many cases I have multiple, very similar versions of a photograph or of a subject that I like. I am sure this applies to most photographers. How do you go about this "problem"? Do you only keep one or very few or all the versions (except those that are obviously "defective")?

    Florian.

  • Cheezman

    December 11, 2012 05:36 am

    A good friend of mine is a ceramicist. I once assisted him in keeping the heat up on a wood-fired kiln and I asked him how he thought his pieces, firing in the kiln, were going to turn out. “People always ask me that,” he said. “And I always tell them I don’t know. I have to live with it for awhile, get to know it before I can answer the question.” As I got into photography and post processing, I began to see what he meant. When I return from travels and dump my cards onto the computer I usually come away deflated with how few of the images meet my expectations. Only with the passage of time can do I begin to see the good and positive in many of the images. So, I agree that one should not always make quick judgments to delete. On the other hand, a deleted image is so out of mind and reach that you’ll forever be ignorant of what the alternative could have been, so no real pain.

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