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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.

Image: This shot was instantly deemed a keeper in my eyes, and edited immediately. I loved the effec...

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.


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Rick Berk
Rick Berk

is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

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