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Deleting is Good for You!

This is where your bad images belong!

The Most Powerful Keyboard Shortcut You Never Knew

So you’ve got some skills, can take a decent photo and know a bit about how to post process.  The best thing you can do now is keep on shooting and make as many pictures as you possibly can?  Probably, however just as beneficial as taking lots of images is the habit of deleting some as well.  It might sound counter intuitive but pressing the delete key after a shoot is a great way to give your photography an all round boost.

Deleting is Good

One of the best things about digital photography is the ability to take lots of shots and experiment.   Having the ability to take all these images is great however how what is even more useful is the ability to look back and critique your own work.

Soon after starting to shoot seriously I became very aware of my growing image collection, however it took me a long time to realize that most of this was just dead hard disk space.  It’s a tough fact to accept but getting comfortable with getting rid of the dead wood can be beneficial in a number of ways.  Here is how I go about reviewing and deleting my images and a few reasons why I do.

What I Do

Reviewing your own image library needn’t be a big deal, I keep it to three simple steps:

  1. Right after I import my images from the camera, I do a quick review and straight away delete any of the obvious rejects (blurry, wonky etc).
  2. Second step is to do all my post processing, again rejecting any obvious duds.  This is a great stage to save time by discarding any images which need more processing than reasonable.
  3. Lastly (and most difficult), I review my completed images.  This is where I make the difficult choices.  I’m a big fan of scoring and I use the 5 star rating system in Lightroom (my preferred post processing software) as a means of making sure I only keep the very best images.  Anything, which scores less than 3 out of 5, is a gonner!

Ultimately you will have to decide how best to go about this but as a rule of thumb I try my best to keep only those shots which feel like they work visually and delete any which could be considered to duplicates or similar to other images from the shoot.

Benefits:

Deleting your old images can be beneficial in a number of ways:

  • It frees up hard disk space – Any image which once its taken is never viewed again, printed or posted is a waste of resources.  Think of how many good images you could put in their place.
  • It saves you time – Ever spent time trying to ‘rescue’ dud pictures in post?  Save this time for the good images or failing that getting better at taking them in the first place.
  • It tells you how good you are – Knowing how many you’ve deleted lets you know what your strike rate is and more importantly knowing why you’re deleting them tells you what you need to do to get better.
  • It makes sure others know how good you are – If you can’t see your weaker shots then neither can anyone else, get rid of them and make your portfolio the best it can be.

Summary

It might be a tough thing at first, but using your delete key can be a great way to become a better, more efficient photographer.   In the long run it will save you time, hard disk space and make your portfolio stronger.  Treat deleting your images like the photographic version of natural selection, cull your weakest images and make sure only your strongest survive!

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Russell Masters 'is a photographer, blogger and international man of meetings. Check out his work at eightfiftytwophotography.com and drop him a message via twitter @russmasters.

  • Filip

    I went thrpugh this process and use the exact same “workflow”, if that word can be used.

    All in all it amde me more critical of my photos and the benfit is that I am now less trigger happy behind the viewfinder and critique the shots I make before actually making them, which means less garbage on the flash card, and a higher success rate overall :)

  • http://www.tyleringram.com TylerIngram

    I marked things that are obviously bad (miss focus etc) with the ‘x’ key shortcut in Lightroom. Then once in a while I go Photos -> Delete Rejected to purge all those marked rejected. Helps clean up my catalogues from time to time. I don’t care much about hard drive space, as space is cheap.

    Though I do something similar too, I rate things in a few passes. First pass is something like a 3 if its decent. Then I pass over it again and if is good and will be displayed it gets a 1. I’m sure everyone had their own way of dealing with their photos.

    I know people who keep ALL of their images, even the bad ones that are underexposed, missed focus etc. Oh well, each to their own eh?

  • http://www.portraitinspiration.com Jai Catalano

    To a degree I think it’s the best thing. However I have kept things (with or without thinking) and went back and came out with some amazing things. Yes it’s great to delete (for me) because most of the time it’s a waste of space but I can see the benefit too.

  • http://csafotography.wordpress.com Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri

    To some extent I think it’s ok, but I dont normally delete my images unless and until I dont like it a 100%. I keep them to understand the improvements in the way I compose a shot and shoot it. Lot of times it helps me understand the mistakes I have done or the improvements I have made. Having old images with me actually helps me compare and learn. :)

  • Simon

    Can’t disagree with that… I’ve taken some 15,000 photos while on holiday these past couple of months, and deleted all but 2000 of them (so far), cutting it down to that core set of really good shots.

  • Steve McIlree

    I guess my habits go back to film when deleting an individual frame left you with remnants that were hard to put in the enlarger. I still have books of those glassine negative folders and I still keep 98% of my shots. External hard drive storage price drops every year so space isn’t really an issue. And image management software like Lightroom eliminate the argument that it is hard to find what you want in the future. I mark what I like on input, but I can’t see myself doing much deleting any time soon.

  • http://www.dalzellphoto.com Zach Dalzell

    Took near 60,000 images this past year, kept less than 3,000. Only display 35 on my portfolio. Deleting is essential, at least knowing what to show is essential. You dont see the masters crappy work because they delete it/they dont show it. Dont show something that isnt quality.

  • Bob Harris

    Liked the article, but the title hit me quite hard. I read it on the same day that I discovered that I had somehow deleted all my holiday RAW files, as well as the backups (don’t ask …). Fortunately I managed to recover most of them using EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.

  • http://jeffsinonphotography.wordpress.com/ Jeff Sinon

    I’m a brutal deleter. I take a ton of photos because I’m a big experimenter when it comes to composition, shooting angle, etc. Then after import the obvious garbage ends up in the trash, followed by the “what the hell was I thinking” experiments. I always hear the “storage is cheap” argument for keeping everything, but I’m not a fix it in photoshop image rescuer, and if I know for a fact the image has absolutely no chance of ever seeing the light of day, be it on my blog, my fan page, or website, it gets deleted.

  • http://www.eightfiftyphotography.com Russell

    Sorry its been a while between posting this and replying with some comments. Glad to see that this subject has struck a chord. Deleting or saving is always a personal thing and I hope that this at least prompts some of you to work out which is right for you. As one commenter says storage is cheap so at the very least, play it safe and backup EVERYTHING! Thanks again for all your comments.

Some older comments

  • Russell

    December 2, 2012 10:26 pm

    Sorry its been a while between posting this and replying with some comments. Glad to see that this subject has struck a chord. Deleting or saving is always a personal thing and I hope that this at least prompts some of you to work out which is right for you. As one commenter says storage is cheap so at the very least, play it safe and backup EVERYTHING! Thanks again for all your comments.

  • Jeff Sinon

    November 24, 2012 12:31 pm

    I'm a brutal deleter. I take a ton of photos because I'm a big experimenter when it comes to composition, shooting angle, etc. Then after import the obvious garbage ends up in the trash, followed by the "what the hell was I thinking" experiments. I always hear the "storage is cheap" argument for keeping everything, but I'm not a fix it in photoshop image rescuer, and if I know for a fact the image has absolutely no chance of ever seeing the light of day, be it on my blog, my fan page, or website, it gets deleted.

  • Bob Harris

    November 16, 2012 10:42 pm

    Liked the article, but the title hit me quite hard. I read it on the same day that I discovered that I had somehow deleted all my holiday RAW files, as well as the backups (don't ask ...). Fortunately I managed to recover most of them using EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.

  • Zach Dalzell

    November 14, 2012 02:21 pm

    Took near 60,000 images this past year, kept less than 3,000. Only display 35 on my portfolio. Deleting is essential, at least knowing what to show is essential. You dont see the masters crappy work because they delete it/they dont show it. Dont show something that isnt quality.

  • Steve McIlree

    November 13, 2012 01:50 am

    I guess my habits go back to film when deleting an individual frame left you with remnants that were hard to put in the enlarger. I still have books of those glassine negative folders and I still keep 98% of my shots. External hard drive storage price drops every year so space isn't really an issue. And image management software like Lightroom eliminate the argument that it is hard to find what you want in the future. I mark what I like on input, but I can't see myself doing much deleting any time soon.

  • Simon

    November 12, 2012 02:33 pm

    Can't disagree with that... I've taken some 15,000 photos while on holiday these past couple of months, and deleted all but 2000 of them (so far), cutting it down to that core set of really good shots.

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri

    November 12, 2012 10:13 am

    To some extent I think it's ok, but I dont normally delete my images unless and until I dont like it a 100%. I keep them to understand the improvements in the way I compose a shot and shoot it. Lot of times it helps me understand the mistakes I have done or the improvements I have made. Having old images with me actually helps me compare and learn. :)

  • Jai Catalano

    November 12, 2012 09:19 am

    To a degree I think it's the best thing. However I have kept things (with or without thinking) and went back and came out with some amazing things. Yes it's great to delete (for me) because most of the time it's a waste of space but I can see the benefit too.

  • TylerIngram

    November 12, 2012 06:58 am

    I marked things that are obviously bad (miss focus etc) with the 'x' key shortcut in Lightroom. Then once in a while I go Photos -> Delete Rejected to purge all those marked rejected. Helps clean up my catalogues from time to time. I don't care much about hard drive space, as space is cheap.

    Though I do something similar too, I rate things in a few passes. First pass is something like a 3 if its decent. Then I pass over it again and if is good and will be displayed it gets a 1. I'm sure everyone had their own way of dealing with their photos.

    I know people who keep ALL of their images, even the bad ones that are underexposed, missed focus etc. Oh well, each to their own eh?

  • Filip

    November 12, 2012 06:54 am

    I went thrpugh this process and use the exact same "workflow", if that word can be used.

    All in all it amde me more critical of my photos and the benfit is that I am now less trigger happy behind the viewfinder and critique the shots I make before actually making them, which means less garbage on the flash card, and a higher success rate overall :)

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