Delete Ruthlessly

Delete Ruthlessly


If I were to only be allowed to share one bit of photography advice it would be: Shoot what you love and share it with others.

If allowed to share a second bit of advice, it would be: Then delete ruthlessly.

delete ruthlessly

Digital photography’s nearly limitless capacity for storing photos is both a boon and a curse. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are many unseen pitfalls to having massive amounts of storage at the ready for any person getting into the art. To help avoid the pitfalls, it is important to delete ruthlessly. I speak from the experience of having started shooting digital 10 years ago (not as long as some, I know, but eons in the age of digital photography).

I often get asked, “How many pictures do you have?” or, more to the point, “How much space do all your shots take up?” The correct answer to both is: too many. Many of us have this problem. When digital first came to the masses and out of the hallowed halls of photojournalists and sports photographers (whose employers could afford the highly expensive gear) its novelty was that you could shoot, oh, I don’t know, maybe 80 pictures on a single card!

Yes, that’s right! 80! Today that is nothing. Even our phones can shoot more pictures today, if they’re not busy giving us driving directions or helping us trade stocks in Japan. But back then 80 was huge. That’s nearly three rolls of 36 exposure film. Deletion was more common then and when I look through my archives I notice less total shots from 2001. I also remember being happy there was FINALLY a 128MB memory card available. Huge, I tell ya.

Reminiscing about the ‘glory days’ aside, my point is things didn’t start out this way. We used to delete because memory, both portable and in the computer, kept things in check. But as the prices dropped and the pixel (and megabyte) counts went up, we just kept shooting more and more.

Until we get to where we are today. Often I hear of friends, who aren’t particularly photo-happy, coming back from a vacation with 500 shots. There’s no way they would have carried 20 rolls of 24exp film back in the day. But now, it’s so easy and cheap.

Shooting a lot of photos is not, to me, a sin. I do try to instruct students to shoot slowly (unless you are at a sporting event) and compose well. You don’t need 40 shots of a sunset. Think about what you’re doing. And all that stuff. Still, quantity creep happens. No big deal.

The key is to delete ruthlessly. Here’s my suggestion for culling the gargantuan herd of images you might bring back from your next trip (be it around town or 1000km away).

In Camera

First, even before you arrive home, if you have downtime during your travels (think: sitting in the airport, waiting for your flight) delete photos while they are still in your camera. Here you are looking for the obvious rejects; bad blurs, really bad blurs and horrible blurs. Bad under or over exposed shots too. Your camera screen is not always the best at discerning minute details, so don’t spend time zooming and being super critical.

Typical result: 5% removed

During Download

Many programs offer a preview of images before they are downloaded. Use this time to further cull (yes, it is my favorite word this week, but I’m not sure why) the herd. The screen is a bit bigger and the sun probably isn’t shining directly on it. Again, don’t waste time zooming in. Just don’t download what you don’t want. This is an excellent time to only download one of a series where you were trying to catch action. Maybe you shot 12 images of a bull rider at a rodeo; only grab two or three that look like winners.

Typical result: Another 5% removed

First Pass

In the first pass on a computer, once I have my images in Adobe Lightroom, I will use the P and X buttons, setting my filters to only show images I have not either highlighted as a Pick (P) or Delete (X). This allows the program to show me the next picture once I have made my selection. There may be time when you can’t decide and that’s okay. Do the best with what you have and keep chugging.

Typical result: 20%-50% removed

Pass Number Two

Okay, it’s time to stop being a ninny. Looking at the photos you have selected as Picks and the ones you didn’t have the heart to mark for deletion in the First Pass. Be totally honest with yourself at this point. Be ruthless. Ask yourself, “What the heck am I going to do with each of these photos?” This is the question most fail to ask and it is at the crux of being sane and not ending up with 100,000 photos you never want to go through 10 years from now.

Without asking this question most of us defer to, “Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with that shot. I kinda like it. Sorta. And it’s not too blurry.” If you need me to play the mean guy, I’ll do it. Imagine me on your shoulder retorting, “Come on! You’re never going to use that picture and you know it!” Be honest.

If you don’t have a use for it, and it doesn’t simply sing out to you to be spared, then ax it. Are you going to print it? Include it in a web album to be shared? Include it in a photo book? Enter it in a contest? Sell it? Send it to a friend or family member? No? Then what the heck are you going to do with it!! You can’t hold on to everything in the past. Let it go. It’s just an average pictures.

Typical result: another 25% done for.

Last Pass

This is the last pass before editing. I admit to sometimes starting editing before this phase with images that jump out and demand to be ‘prettified’ in the computer. And that’s okay as well. But this last pass helps make things sane.

Here they are in front of you, all the images you know you will use in one form or another. Online, offline, upline, downline. Now give them a sharp look. Look for less than optimal shots that don’t meet snuff (if they are not simply going to friends) and, again, be honest. If it’s not a quality example of your work, nuke it. The only time I might keep a photo in this regard is if the exposure looks a little less than what can be handled with today’s technology, but the subject is solid, knowing that programs in two or three years may be able to work magic not now possible.

Typical result: maybe 10-30 shots left. More or less depending on your ruthlessness and skill level while shooting.

To be honest, I typed this post out as a reminder for myself. I don’t always follow this procedure and as a result, have way to many shots floating around, doing nothing, begging to be backed up onsite and off.

From this point on there are other paths your workflow can take the photos depending on their final destination and that is for another post. For now, cut down on the amount of total photos you are placing in front of yourself to edit and your life will be simplified.

Do you have any tricks for helping get past the “I don’t want to delete ANY of them!” syndrome? Please share them in the comments section below.

Read more from our Post Production category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Travel Wired January 12, 2013 02:12 am

    I learned the "delete ruthlessly" lesson the hard way -- I just moved from a PC to a MAC and trying to transfer all those photos I will probably never use took forever.

  • Itai September 3, 2011 11:32 am

    Nice to see this in writing :) I tell my students 'Delete is your friend' for largely the same reason. I never thought of measuring how much I delete at each step but by the end I usually have deleted 80-85% of what I shot. My goal now is to reduce the ratio by not taking the bad shots in the first place. It is working but slowly, two years ago I deleted 95% about, then about 90% last year.

  • Breezy August 3, 2011 11:18 am

    I read on a site somewhere to imagine you were on a stock photography site looking for photos to use for a mag layout. Look at your picture like that and ask yourself "Would I buy this picture?" If the answer is no, toss it!

  • Senhor Ron August 3, 2011 09:23 am

    What an amazing load of words about such a silly subject ;-)

    Why on earth should I want to drain my battery by going through my shots in-camera?
    To miss out on the next chance to shoot something that is never going to happen in front of my eyes again?

    H3ll no ;-)

  • Matt August 2, 2011 11:14 pm

    I have about 60,000 digital images in my lightroom catalogs, plus another 10-20,000 slides and negatives but can't remember losing a single digital image due to a corrupted card. That said, I have never deleted an image in-camera and for that matter cannot think of a single good reason to ever delete an image that i don't like today. The only exception to that is a completely black or completely white frame with no detail. Of those, just a few handfuls of images make to the printer or publisher. But the idea of deleting the rest is absolutely insane in my mind.

  • Noah's dad August 2, 2011 07:37 am

    I do a daily video and picture blog about our son who was born with down syndrome. So I take a TON of pictures and video.....I feel like I need to be on hoarders sometimes. I always think..."Hmmm..surely I'll have a need for that some day!" Even though there are like 23 more pictures of our son eating the exact same carrot...

    I think to myself, "Why the heck do I need 24 pictures of our son eating a carrot with just a slightly different expression?!?!" I've gotta learn to hit delete!

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    (Noah's Dad)

  • Brian August 1, 2011 10:59 am

    Thanks Sime. It's nice to have someone inject a little bit of sanity... its amazing how quickly the Internet can turn into an echo chamber, and people pick up on a random idea and just repeat it without fully understanding what's going on.

  • Sime August 1, 2011 10:27 am

    Nicolette / Brian -- It wouldn't matter if you deleted one file through the camera or computer, you have the same end effect - patchwork quilt. (Ex Server Admin, me) File systems are much stronger than they used to be and this doesn't happen as often these days (Images / files being deleted resulting in corrupt file tables) it's more to do with camera data writing (or not writing as is more often the case whilst removing card prem, powering off) ...I don't even remember when I last defragmented a drive :D (taking the quilt and removing the missing bits) the last time I crashed a card was when I opened the CF door on my 5DMKII whilst it was writing to card, mid song, mid concert - fail!

    Great write up, Brian...

  • Brian August 1, 2011 10:12 am

    @Nicolette. I highly doubt it. After reading this article, I tried to do some research on that very topic. Wrote up my findings here, and I didn't find much evidence.

    At best, the claim is mis-representing what is really going on. A card becomes corrupted if the file system becomes corrupted. Initially, files will be saved in a nice, neat row along your memory card. As you delete old photos and take new ones, this starts to look more like a patchwork quilt. If those goes on for too long, there's a chance that the different bits of this patchwork get mixed up and this results in corruption.

    The likelihood of this happening because you delete one image in camera is extremely rare; but over time it becomes increasingly likely. While I don't see any reason not to delete images in camera, I would advise formatting your memory card every now and then so that you start with a clean, fresh filesystem where everything is in order.

  • Chip July 31, 2011 10:39 am

    I need help and hope that my question is closely-enough related to Peter’s instructive post that someone will be able to steer me to the best possible (affordable) solution.

    I am 66, with eyesight one expects of that age. I live in a retirement community that has an abundance of wildlife and I signed up as one of the community’s photographers. On my limited budget I use a Panasonic FZ-100, because it is at the top of my budget for a superzoom digital that will capture the images I want at a decent resolution.

    When something interesting goes on, such as a family of sand hill cranes chasing away a sizeable alligator that had hoped to feed from the pond out back, I’ll shoot 300-400 images, trying to capture the 6-12 that best express the combat. Obviously, and in line with Peter’s advice in this post, I need to delete most of my images.

    Here is the dilemma:

    My vision is poor enough that I cannot readily see, on a Samsung 2253BW desktop monitor at 1680x1050 and 32-bit color, the differences in sharpness between photos when I click through them at full-screen size. I use ACDSee 10 and considered upgrading to 12 or their Pro version. In addition to being able to convert to and adjust in B&W, I want to be able to make a fast cull of photos that are not as sharp as the others, usually the result of camera shake overcoming the camera’s stabilizer.

    Is there any software out there, that doesn’t cost what a professional would pony up, that would let me zoom in to a certain percentage (chosen by me or here’s-what-you-get) of each photo, shot-after-shot so that I don’t have to go through the process of moving to the next photo, clicking “zoom” or equivalent and wasting a lot of keystrokes in the process? What I’d most like to do is to click on, say, the center 10-20% of photo #1, judge it, frame-forward to photo #2 and see it at the same zoom level, and then compare-and-delete, frame by frame.

    Perhaps this is asking way too much, for a modest budget like mine, but hopefully some of you out there have the same interest and can steer me in the right direction.

    My other problem is in editing color photos so that they look great in B&W, which is what our community newsletter usually publishes. I’d be pleased to post an example of a decent color photo I submitted that was very unremarkable when published in B&W. Thanks for any assistance and thanks, again, Peter for your most helpful post.


  • Burton L. Rieck July 31, 2011 04:57 am

    Excellent "rock solid advice" except when I tried to get into my family pictures. The thought of deleteing a blurry "Uncle Joe" photo darn near caused a devorce. My advice would be "leave your family out of the deletion scheme". Fantastic article, and very true.
    Burton L. Rieck

  • Nicolette July 30, 2011 03:40 am

    I'm wondering...
    Is there solid research out there to back up the idea that deleting in camera produces a corrupted memory card? My memory card became corrupted, but I didn't know and had NO clue that it was the result of deleting pictures in-camera. So do you guys just know this from experience, or is there some article, reseach, or something else to show me that solidly YES a corrupted card results definately from deleting in-camera?

  • Lara Buford July 28, 2011 04:25 am

    I'm still in the camp of "don't want to delete anything," but I think it's because I'm still learning and don't want to delete anything with potential that I won't know how to bring out until later. But I'm learning the fine art of not post processing everything now that I have Lightroom 3. I do the Picks and Selects thing, and often don't post process even half of the shots that I Pick. That does save on time, however checking each photo to see if it's a Pick still takes a while!

    I have two 1T external drives and haven't filled them up yet. When I get to that stage (I expect one or both of the drives will fail before then) I may have to re-think my position on deletion. But Lightroom makes it so easy to find photos later that having a ton of photos isn't as much of a problem as it used to be.

  • Eric G. July 26, 2011 07:05 am

    Very good advice, deleting is the hard part for me as I kept every shot, even the blurry ones. However I began "deleting ruthlessly" this past weekend after reading this. I pared down the contents of one day trip to Sequoia NP by about 50%. I feel much better about the remaining shots.

  • Paul Bissett July 25, 2011 12:12 pm

    I find it very difficult to delete photos - even the blurry ones - because my sentimental philosophy says that even blurry photos have captured a moment in time that deserves its place. So my method is to to have a folder on my drive called 'shoebox' - a digital version of the shoeboxes I had at the back of my cupboard in the days of film full of the photos that weren't any good but I wasn't able to throw away. This folder is full of photos I will probably never look at again, but can go through later if I want to.

    In my opinion, the digital shoebox photos don't need to be backed up off-site or anything like that. If my house burns down, then they are lost, just like the real shoebox that still sit at the back of my cupboard.

  • Vaclav July 25, 2011 09:22 am

    I went through my holiday photos from Greece... I shot around 2600 pictures in 9 days and ended up with 390 photos, which means, I´ve deleted 85 percent and still doesnt seem I´ve deleted enough ;)... meanwhile I sold my beloved nikon d40 (financial crisis) and now I only have point n shoot fujifilm f70 a recently bought film camera canon 300v.... but as soon I save some money, I plan to buy canon 600d..cannot wait already ;).... all together i have about 13 thousand photos on the harddisc, still waiting to be deleted, when i find time for this...

  • Julian Monge-Najera July 23, 2011 06:46 am

    I photograph tropical nature and at the pace it is disappearing, I used to feel that everything I photographed was worth keeping. Result: 14 000 photos in a few years. One day I was very sick and thought: "if I die, my collection will end up erased". So I decided to work on the concept of "ideas" instead of thinking about "images". For example, a nice spot where the rain forest meets the beach. That was the idea I wanted to convey, but had 40 or 50 images of it. I chose only one top quality image that conveyed the idea, and erased the rest. I am still doing it, but already my collection is down to 400 photographs. This nice article by Mr. Carey motivates me to go on. After I have a reduced final collection this year, I will publish most of it in my website and move on.

  • Ann B July 23, 2011 01:46 am

    Great advice and I follow most of it, though other photographers express concern that I would be so ruthless.
    I have one last phase to suggest: LET SOME TIME PASS (say 1 month), then delete photos that you are now able to view objectively as 'not useful' or 'not up to par'. Every now and then I do a cull of one or two folders on my hard drive, leaving only the very best.

  • Laura Brewer July 22, 2011 11:56 pm

    After 3 years of shooting semi-professional, I am finally in this stage! It is actually a relief to get rid of photos that I will NEVER use. My biggest amusement from deleting all these unnecessary photos is that I can look back at shots taken a few years back and see how I have improved over time. Now I don't need to take so many shots to get the perfect one. I take my time, focus and (normally) take a great photo from the beginning! This is great advice!!! Thanks for the article.

  • Mindy July 22, 2011 11:55 pm

    Great advice! I think a lot of the "shoot and burn" photographers make a serious error when they make 300 images at a shoot and, seemingly, post most of them to their websites or blogs. If I were the client, I'd be paging through all those images thinking, "There's got to be at least ONE good one in all those shots!" In my experience (25 years worth), clients are more pleased to be presented with a small number of excellent images rather than heaps of so-so or downright poor ones.

  • Andy Mills July 22, 2011 11:35 pm

    @Aaron Maxfield

    Not quite...

    Files are not moved to another partition when they are deleted, but are simply "marked" as deleted (I am talking deleted and not simply placed on the Recycle bin). The file still exists as before, but being marked as deleted they now do not show up to the operating system (so you can't access them in the normal ways), and the small blocks of space that the file is stored in is now no longer reserved exclusively for that file - these blocks can now be written to again, overwriting the file in part(s) or its entirety.

    This is why you should not do anything that is likely to write to the disc, memory card or partition before you attempt to recover files.

  • Pashminu Mansukhani July 22, 2011 01:30 pm

    Deleting ruthlessly is applicable only to people to shoot senselessly. With attention to composition, light and other technical aspects, a good photographer never goes berserk with the shutter button.

  • Erik Hansen July 22, 2011 12:45 pm

    Interesting article, I must admit that I do not delete in camera and never will do so, for all the reasons mentioned above, even with more than 20,000 film negatives still in my catalogs plus the digital images getting close to the same,

    I am very pedantic about logging and registering all my images, all original images gets stored on CD/DVD plus three external hard disks. I also do historical photography for churches etc. and you never know when you might need an image of a person who is no longer with us, even though the picture might not have been of exhibition quality.

    Anyway I enjoy the variety of opinions expressed on this forum..

  • Aaron Maxfield July 22, 2011 10:32 am

    Suggestions for this great article. Try not to store pictures on a disc (in your computer) that is programmed to become obsolete. As above comments have alluded to storing pictures on DVDs and external discs, enough of that. Omitted however, is an important fact about the disc in computers. When one deletes files from the computer disc, it is not actually deleted, nor does it free up as much space as it took up. The deleted file is moved to a different partition on the disc; if it were actually removed, it could not be retrieved with special software. Eventually, the disc on the computer is filled up, and the computer slows, and slows, and forces us to purchase a "faster" computer. I have used a simple solution to this problem with the large files in my shoots. Flash drives are now cheap. I carry three CF cards to record photos on, and download all the pictures to flash drives. I never download pictures from cards to my computer, and therefore do not have to delete them. I work on them from my flash drive (as fast as my hard disc for processing) and when fininshed, download them from the flash drive to an external disc. I have been doing this for years, have a seven year old computer with 140GB hard drive that is 20% full, and still have a speedy computer. None of the pictures I have taken ever get to my computer. When clients need full-sized files, they receive them on DVDs. I did have an external gadget to download photos from my cards to an 80GB small disc, but it took forever, so now I use my laptop to download files from card to flash drives in the field.
    Would look forward to comments from others on this subject---thanks

  • Ernest July 22, 2011 07:28 am

    NEVER delete on site, or even in camera. It costs nothing to see all photos on the computer, where you can make a better judgment.

  • Lawrie Pople July 22, 2011 07:20 am

    Guilty guilty guilty. An indulgence I know. And an occasional annoyance to my wife and others. But my mantra is 'Don't delete ... KEEP'
    I began using digital SLR cameras seriously in 2005. Now on my second with two extra non SLR quality digitals as backup.
    Have done various overseas trips from Australia yearly since and my jaunts of around 6 to 9 weeks result in around 20,000 photos each time (after 'on the fly' and post culling). After 7 years a lot of hard and external drive space has suffered.
    Not that I take repetitive shots of the same subject .. I just take what I see as I go. As a visual reminder of the wonder and beauty around me. A diary. And yes .. I do experience each trip through my eyes and not just the camera lens.
    Only a comparative few ever get printed and even then I generally process them through a proprietary digital album which is quality printed and sent to me.
    I do eventually offload the bulk of the photos to special archive storage DVDs but in the main I let them run on my flat screen computer as a continuing screen saver rotating the various year locations from time to time for variety.
    And that is the whole point (apart from the satisfaction and fun I have taking them). It is wonderful to keep seeing my adventures before me. Never tire of them and they are there out and about continuing to live..

  • crockny July 22, 2011 07:16 am

    It's a real dilemma for me, as I shoot birds and butterflies with continuous AI servo mode so have to cull through hundreds of photos each time looking for the sharpest eye, best background, etc. This has become incredibly time consuming. Even after deleting obviously flawed photos I may have a hundred shots of a Coopers hawk that I spent a half hour with and have tons of different poses, all sharp and slightly different. Deleting is very difficult because who knows when I will get that opportunity again? On the other hand, I feel weighed down by the sheer number of photos on my computer and Bridge has bogged down. I'm increasing the RAM, but still ...

  • Sarah July 22, 2011 05:34 am

    What I do is go out and take as many pictures as I like (alot!) and then download them all onto my computer and open them in Windows Live Photo Gallery and click through them deleting as I go. I then put them all in my Photography folder on my desktop and go through them once more a bit more carefully, its worked out great for me, over the last two years I have only accumulated 300 pictures! Still alot, I know, but better than what I originally had (780)! Oh and pleeeeease visit my website:)

  • CrowNology July 22, 2011 05:09 am

    Excellent advice. I'm a little in over my head with the "old" shots but will start this method with what's on the camera right now.
    I think this overload and decision making/culling {hard for me} is why I've been toting the film camera with me more and more...

  • Christopher Marsham July 22, 2011 02:27 am

    SE7zen asks if there is a programme that sorts out imahes without keywords - Ligthroom does and presumably Adobe Bridge and Photoshop organisers such as in later editionbs of Elements.

    I agree re not deleting in camera - this is generally accepted as good advice.

  • Brian July 22, 2011 12:47 am

    Wow. There's a lot of hate against deleting in camera. I've used a Canon t1i for two years with my students to shoot photos for our school yearbook. Countless events later and 20k images (after deleting stuff), and I have _never_ had a problem with my card being corrupted.

    That said, I had a student who put a card formatted by a Nikon camera into a Canon camera, and her card ended up corrupted. If there's a potential for losing data, I'd assume it has much more to do with not formatting a card properly/often and _not_ simply with deleting images in camera.

  • cheryl July 21, 2011 11:31 pm

    katie.. I like that idea... choose the good / great ones (ones you would like to print, frame, give away... etc) and delete the rest.. it is hard but I think I will try it.. thanks

  • armis July 21, 2011 04:29 am

    I'm surprised at the number of people who suggest that instead of taking a lot of pictures and deleting them, we should just take better pictures and/or think about them more before snapping. Well yeah, I would if I could, but to be honest I'm not a good enough photographer yet, and sometimes it's just not possible.

    Mostly I do travel or street photography. The clouds aren't going to wait for me before drifting across the sun. That little girl riding her water buffalo isn't going to stop by until I've framed my shot perfectly. This amusing shadow isn't likely to be here for long. I don't *have* a few seconds, I have this moment, and I'd rather burst-shoot, hope for the best and delete the bad ones than just sit by fiddling with my camera thinking about all the stuff I've read, and miss the shot entirely. Yeah, one day maybe I'll be able to do that in an instant - in the meantime I'll take the shots I can.

    Also: poor conditions. E.g. slow shutter speed picture without a tripod. Yes yes, what was I doing without a tripod, agreed; still. I took about 6 or 7 1-second shots, holding my breath and hoping the stabilizer would do its job. Lo and behold, 1 good shot and 6 deletions. Totally worth it!

  • Javier July 20, 2011 02:44 pm

    Bad advise

    NEVER delete photos in your camera.
    You can easily corrupt your card and loose all your photos.

    You should always format your card after downloading your shots to the computer and backing them.

    Also, the LCD is not a good way to judge a photo.

  • Arthur July 20, 2011 01:27 pm

    excellent housekeeping i suppose is the key word. instead of deleting ruthless, won't it be nice to do a good thinking and composition?

  • Andy Mills July 20, 2011 09:09 am

    Just to follow up on my last comment.

    I have a portrait of my dog where I used my "nifty fifty" lens wide open. It defies what is the accepted norm in that her nose is in focus and not her eyes. This is a photo that I may have deleted by judging and deleting it via the LCD in camera.

    I would have missed the texture of the skin on her nose, and I would have missed the character in what is now one of my favourite photos.

  • Viana July 20, 2011 06:04 am

    Nice article, however, since storage space is cheap why be so ruthless?

    Deleting in camera is a bad idea as virtually everyone has mentioned. I have lost a whole day of shooting on a card that way. Many a “loser” looks like a keeper on a larger screen.

    Blurry photos: These days, when perusing magazines, whether it be National Geographic, a food and wine mag, fashion, news, photo, gardening, etc. I notice that many photos are extremely out of focus and still used by a first-class mag in a story or ad. Had the photographer deleted those photos, then what? I often visit the sites of renowned photographers and speculate how many others might have deleted the now iconic photo.

    I cull with ever more vigor; however, deleting ruthlessly is not in my game plan. So many photos tend to be memory-snaps. While not worthy of publication, they are worthy of putting into an album for personal use. Bad composition, bad lighting, things that cannot be fixed might be a good reason to delete. Still, I prefer to err on the side of caution.

    I try to make each photo count, just like in the days of film. However, since it costs little to nothing to store the merely OK digital photos, why not? While not trying to become a photo-hoarder, it seems much more practical to keep many photos, “just in case” instead of ruthlessly dumping them. With good meta data, labeling and key words, etc. they should be easy enough to find when and if they are ever needed, as technology advances, as you become more creative, when someone wants something of your archives long after you are gone.

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure or hidden gem that has been unearthed in another time.

  • sillyxone July 20, 2011 03:43 am

    Deleting in camera also drains down the battery. I can monitor the free storage accurately and adjust the shooting accordingly, but not so much for battery. Beside, an extra flash card is easier to carry than an extra battery.

  • George L Smyth July 20, 2011 03:42 am

    Sorry, but I cannot disagree more with the article.

    If one is returning from a shoot (with a few exceptions) with too many images then they are obviously shooting without thinking. The unfortunate mindset that accompanies digital photography is to take too many pictures in the hopes that a few will actually be good. What a waste of time! Think about why you might shoot a particular scene, what it means to you, how it corresponds to your ideas of image making. Decide the depth of field needed and how much time should be captured - that's right, shoot manually, after all, you want to make the image, not allow the camera to do whatever the software has already decided without understanding the scene, and what it means to you personally.

    This advice comes from one who is primarily a large format photographer. Every time I release the shutter, I release half a dollar from my pocket. This means that even if I could use my camera like a machine gun, I would choose not to, not only because of the money involved, but also because each negative needs to be developed and printed. I find that my "keep" ration is better than one every two negatives (the author averages about one in three, and that is before starting to work with the images, so the "keep" ratio must be considerably smaller than that). It also means that forcing myself to do the thinking before mindlessly shooting has made me a considerably better photographer.

    But there are considerably more reasons for not deleting. I have kept every negative (and digital file) I have shot since I started seriously shooting a couple of decades ago. After teaching myself the Bromoil process a few years ago, I looked through my old negatives to see what would work and I came one I had never printed. I had never printed it because there was a lamp in the scene that completely washed the area out. Using the Bromoil process, I was able to deal with this in a way that straight darkroom work did not allow. You can see it at If I had deleted this long ago because I was not able to successfully print it, I would have lost this wonderful result.

    Another example involved the pictures I took of the Riverwalk in San Antonio many years ago. It was dark, so I was not able to get any detail in the shadow areas without completely blowing out the areas that were lit. I didn't know what to do at the time, so I took a number of pictures of the same scene using different exposures. The negatives stayed locked away, not seeing the light of day, until a couple of years ago, when I learned of something called HDR, which allowed me to scan the negatives and create meaningful images.

    We have no idea what is coming down the line, and making a decision whether or not to keep an image based on what one sees on a 2" screen sounds ludicrous to me.

    Think about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how best to do it. Think of each scene as a learning opportunity, as opposed to a means for impressing others by telling them how many frames you shot. If you actually think, then not only will you become a better photographer, but will shoot less and create better images.

  • Nomadic Samuel July 20, 2011 02:51 am

    I couldn't agree more with what you're saying in the article. I find that if you're not deleting close to 70% of your photos it's likely you're not having a discerning enough eye. I think one can learn a lot from the deleting process. The shots you delete you can think of what doesn't make the worthy of keeping and try to learn from the experience.

  • CatWalker July 20, 2011 01:47 am

    I do mainly portrait sessions and some weddings. This article is spot on! Thank you for posting. I was not aware that it is unsafe to delete in camera - I do that all.the.time. Luckily, it has never been an issue but I will stop doing so because honestly, it's maybe 5% of the images that get cut. Not worth the risk.

    I recently realized that I was keeping WAY too many shots from my sessions and weddings. I felt that because I took it, I should keep it and the client should see it. Well, that's just overwhelming! And as a result I was handing over some not-so-great work. It hit me when one of my clients posted a picture on Facebook that was out of focus and not composed very well (even after my editing attempts to "save" it). It was an adorable photo of her daughter running and could just see the joy! But looking at it, it was pretty grainy (in an unattractive way), some of the highlights were blown out, and you couldn't pick a focus point if you were being paid to (embarrassing to admit, yes)! I kept the image because of the emotion that I captured, but I should have been more focused on the technical aspects of it. I decided that I would no longer give those images out! Only the sharp photos with good composition and open eyes will make the cut!

    I realized that if I give my clients even 50 images from a portrait session - or even 500 from a wedding - they need only choose ONE that they fall in love with, post on the internet, and blow up into a huge canvas on display in their home. It just takes that ONE image to touch their hearts. I want that to be a good representation of me and my work - so it has to be fantastic. I now edit thinking that, "This may be the one," and if I would be embarrassed to see it anywhere, I delete. It has DEFINITELY helped me to get rid of the bad and really only keep the best! Why would we want to show anyone something less than our best?!

  • B July 20, 2011 01:34 am

    As others have said, there's not really a reason to delete from the camera. If you shoot RAW, you're only seeing the jpg, not the full data, and how can you get an idea of what a 10x15" or 16x20" (or larger) finished print will look from a 3" screen.

    You aren't filling up your memory cards are you? Not staring at progress bars while you transfer files, I hope. No reason to delete in-camera.

    I'd also say that if you delete this much, maybe you're shooting too much. Everyone has their own method though. And yes, I remember getting one or two keepers from a 24-exposure roll, but that was for assignments, not general happy snapping.

    But most importantly I would caution against deleting too many images that you may just not "like". Our own aesthetics change, and time has a way of imbuing images with more meaning and importance, so when you're going back five or fifty years from now, the ones you thought were rejects may shine a bit more. I know that going back even one or two years I wish I had kept more; I rediscover photos I didn't like then but like much more now and wonder what I trashed that I might have loved. Give things time, you don't have to decide what stays and goes the moment you get back from a three-week trip or a two hour walk.

    Once they're gone, they're gone.

    Instead of delete ruthlessly, I would say edit ruthlessly. Don't work on all 30 photos you took of the same subject, choose only your best work. You don't have to post all 400 of your favorite photos from your vacation, share less. And you don't have to process and post every image right away, you don't need the approval of the crowd; resist the urge for instant gratification. If you're putting your work out there for others to see, make sure you're putting stuff out there that they want to see. If it's just for you, keep it to yourself.

  • Niki Jones July 19, 2011 11:57 pm

    This is pretty much how I operate. I differ slightly on the last part if I'm shooting a wedding, instead of doing a last delete sweep I instead pick the photos I love and edit those then see how many I need to make up the numbers. Hopefully there won't be too many.

  • Neil Magee July 19, 2011 06:45 pm

    Excellent Advice. I especially like the idea of doing 'passes'. I often find myself going back and finally deleting images I wasn't quote strong enought to delete the first time past. Out of every 100 photos you take you may be skilled enough to get 10 decent shots, and 1 impressive shot. So get rid of the other 90!

  • Joseph Requerme July 19, 2011 03:41 pm

    For me, limit your shots. I don't like blasting my shots. In this way, you can save up space.

  • TracieClaiborne July 19, 2011 02:46 pm

    Brilliant advice!!!!!! I absolutely delete ruthlessly (love that term). I just took 200 pictures at our first night of Girl Scout Camp and culled it down to 61 that I love. I probably took more like 300 at the event but as the night wore on, I deleted every one that I could tell was less than stellar. I follow most of your advice but it needs to be said for those of us who have thousands of pics living in limbo online or in our computer. Keep the best - trash the rest!! I love taking pictures and want to take them more, not less but we all need to learn how to purge so we don't feel overwhelmed. Thanks so much for this article!!!!!!!!

  • PedroStephano July 19, 2011 08:16 am

    With my high capacity card now (because my DSLR does HDvid as well) I can take soooooo many photos. I've learnt that you have to take about six (of kids, family etc) to get one good, but have always culled after download. I'm gonna incorporate your advice and add an extra culling step right there.
    Great post - your advice takes away the guilt of the hesitant or uncertain delete!

  • Marcos July 19, 2011 06:43 am

    I agree with others about refraining from doing too much deletions in-camera for fear of getting corruption. Happened to me. Suspect it can be a function of old, 2nd tier cards and older cameras, but, it's not worth the risk. I also don't want to screw up on my deletes by working in-camera.

    Since storage is so cheap and time is expensive, I fully back-up everything on the cards. When importing into LightRoom, I follow similar advice to that given here, and I copy only the RAW files that survive the cut into a separate LR_Raw directory. I still got all of those bad shots in huge unsorted raw directory structure organized by date/time and camera body, but, I don't expect to waste time looking in there that much.

    Since a lot of my shots are family related, I don't want to risk deleting a blurred shot that turns out to be the only shot of a person at that event and said person may not be with us next time. The shot may not be that good by my normal standards, but, it might be good enough for small prints or web.

  • Phil Shaw July 19, 2011 06:01 am

    At the pass number two stage, I make sure the images have at least been group key worded, and then I save them all to a DVD. Sometimes you later need part of an otherwise bad image to clone into an image you are editing. DVD disks are relatively cheap. True, they aren't good for archival storage, but a couple of years is fine.

  • Matt Dutile July 19, 2011 05:40 am

    All sound advice. My only thought would be don't delete that 5% in camera. It's quick enough to junk when it's on the screen and I've actually had some "blurry" or off focus photos come back with a very interesting point of view that I probably would have deleted on screen. In fact, some are my favorite shots because they're so raw and untrained.

  • Robin July 19, 2011 04:49 am

    I disagree with this post completely. While I completely agree that only 5% (if that) should see the light of day, if you delete any, other than the obviously out of focus, you could be throwing out a gem you might discover later.

  • Andy Mills July 19, 2011 04:03 am

    I also do not agree with deleting off of the camera.

    As a couple of other people have said, it means extra read/write operations, shortening the life of the card. It can also lead to file fragmentation, meaning read/write times (although, this is not so bad if you format yur card instead of deleting images off of it).

    While there will be some obviously duff images, you cannot really appraise an image properly on the camera's LCD. If you shoot RAW, an otherwise good image that looks over/under exposed on the LCD may be "rescueable" in an image editor, for example.

  • Nik July 19, 2011 03:54 am

    Although I believe in deleted unnecessary images, I don't do it until my client has reviewed the entire set or I wait a few months and do a 'wipe out' sessions. You never know when you might need an image even a bad one.

  • Ed July 19, 2011 03:48 am

    Once a month or so I will go back and rate my photos. I then have "smart" folders/albums of just the 4-5 star pics. 98% of the time I only use the smart albums. I haven't mustered the courage to select all 1-3 stars and delete.

  • Sweet Ronit July 19, 2011 03:22 am

    Excellent article, and yes, the comments are helpful too! I do have to agree with the others not to delete in camera, that it corrupts the card. I've always been super ruthless with editing, whether shooting film or digital. I use a similar editing workflow as Katie Kolenberg and dana above - quick and easy in LR. I like getting rid of the clunkers early on and focusing only on the shots that are compelling or complete a story.

  • Richard Keeling July 19, 2011 02:39 am

    I always do passes one and two, but rarely the last pass. Part of this is because I don't snap as many pictures off as I used to, so my proportion of keepers from the camera is higher, but, more importantly, I find that my criteria for judging a picture shift with time and what I might reject one month, I might value another.

    So I keep a lot of photographs but I do not regret doing so. As others have pointed out, storage is cheap and because all my digital photographs are easily accessible, it's no chore and much more often a discovery of some overlooked treasure when I review them.

  • Amy Hibbert July 19, 2011 02:21 am

    I use high capacity CF cards and never delete in camera because it's a waste of time. After downloading them I view them "slide show"style and select only the best one or few shots of each subject by marking it with a label. When that's done I move everything else (the unmarked photos) into a folder called "Extras" which I save for about a year or whenever my 1000 gig drive gets 80% full. After about a year I move photos to long term archive storage on another hard drive, and at that point I delete all the "Extras" folders. This is a quick way of sorting because I'm not worried about deleting anything possibly useful (I could theoretically go back and look for something particular if I need it, though that is extremely rare). If I finished the project without them, I obviously didn't need them and have no remorse deleting them.

  • ArianaMurphy July 19, 2011 01:08 am

    What a great post, and very helpful follow-up comments, too. I have learned to be ruthless with deletions (although not a ruthless as I should be), but it took me a while to develop a really viable workflow. I import into Microsoft Office Picture Manager - a very efficient program and excellent for organizing and saving, and great for that all-important first pass. I don't know why more photography enthusiasts don't use it. The ones that are worthwhile go to Photoshop for further evaluation and pp. Save those, and the original RAW files, and delete the rest. Then back up. Twice.

  • Lena July 18, 2011 11:33 pm

    I have had this recent fight with myself as well. I have been shooting mostly portrait type sessions. The amount of images the client receives varies on the pakage that they pick. After the initial viewing where I toss stuff that just doesn't cut it - I have started to cull out the images that stand out to me for the shoot. Sometimes I get more sometimes less. I pull those out and leave the rest on the side. I will edit those images, pull out any others that may not stand out to me as much by the time I am done editing, and make the disc of the final product. After all is done, I then burn my back up client disc including the images I couldnt decide on. I do not edit the maybes. That is what happens on those days that I cannot decide. Eventually, I will completely get rid of the maybes. Since I keep changing the way I edit and cull, (newbie here) I get nervous when I tempt myself to just trash the ok ones. Especially because many of my clients are currently friends and all... :) For now, I go back to some of them to study and see what works, and how can I remember to do - or not do something again.

  • Sami Paju July 18, 2011 11:27 pm

    This article is spot on. I like to get rid of all my bad and uninspiring shots already before copying those from the camera. When I switched from Olympus e520 to Nikon D90 one of biggest unexpected advantages was the high-resolution display that made browsing photos a breeze.

    I found myself sitting in coffee shops, going through the daily booty of photos and rather ruthlessly getting rid of all the junk. Unexpectedly doing this actually felt good and it has made post processing and browsing photos a much more pleasant experience than what it used to be.

    So do not underestimate the importance of having a good display on the camera :-)


  • Richard Guy Briggs July 18, 2011 10:55 pm

    I certainly agree with the need to be ruthless.

    One minor change to the process above is some shots that are too dark or not cropped as I would like, I do some processing to get them to a stage where I can actually evaluate them. Since I shoot in raw, I can rescue some that might be otherwise unusable. There are times when I intentionally underexpose to keep the shutter speed down to stop action, then compensate in digital developping.

  • Fuzzypiggy July 18, 2011 10:23 pm

    I shoot shots, pick out maybe 5%, keep the rest on a 10TB NAS for about a 3 months, then I bin them. I don't look at them, I simply look at the dates, knowing I took out what mattered and the rest is just filler.

    In 5 years of shooting I have around 600 shots I consider worth keeping, I have the JPGs for display and I have the PSDs stored and backed up safely. I have a dump directory with about 300 shots I never knew what to do with, which come in useful when I pick up a new PS technique but everything else just gets binned.

    If you don't get ruthless, you get bogged down!

  • Opher July 18, 2011 10:17 pm

    Great post. As others said - I would skip delete in camera. The LCD is not good enough for anything like that, and the 5% isn't worth it. I download everything into LR, then go through and rate stars. When I am done - I filter all the unrated and delete immediately. This helps me pick the first ones to edit, not just "delete/save". Then I do an editing pass on the 3* and up. When I am done I check if there are any 1* and 2* that I missed that may be good and aren't already represented by a better photo (similar shots of the same subject). I upload only the high ratings to my site. I don't always go back and delete the low * ones - but by this point I have only about 10-20% of the original amount anyway.


  • simon July 18, 2011 06:49 pm

    part of me agrees with this post .. part of me wishes I could be this ruthless.... on the other hand I have returned to shots a year later and found some hidden "gem" ... on the minus side I have almost a terrabyte of rubbish .....

    devil and the deep blue sea....

    anyways an intetresting read and it may well inspire me to be a touch more ruthless ... maybe :-)


  • Viktor July 18, 2011 06:34 pm

    Deleting pictures in camera is really, really bad advice. My camera display is hardly larger than a postage stamp -- sometimes a picture that looks like nothing on the display is beautiful when viewed on the big screen. Not to mention that viewing conditions are hardly ideal on the road. The same applies for deleting pictures during download. It's also a complete waste of time, unless you sit there and watch the progress bar going. (I.e. you spent more time going through the thumbnails and deleting 5% of them, than you gain by not having to download these 5% and then culling them on the big screen.)

    Finally, many of us shoot to remember. Therefore, I only delete after I've finished editing a shoot and I'm sure that I have a picture of everything that I care to remember. I deal with bad shots by marking them as rejects and hiding them from view. While editing a view, I progressively reject more and more pictures, until I'm satisfied with the resulting set. Then I quickly go through the rejects as a sanity check and then I delete with one keystroke.

  • Jd Abraham July 18, 2011 06:30 pm

    I currently trying to delete all the junks to save space.....i :)

  • armis July 18, 2011 06:29 pm

    You know, this advice doesn't apply only to digital cameras either. I saw the Elliott Erwitt exhibition at the New York ICP and they were showing some of his film rolls, complete with notes overlayed. On those they showed (that is, presumably the good ones), he'd keep one, maybe two pictures per 24-photo roll. Even back in the 1960s he deleted ruthlessly.

    Anyway, I follow a similar methodology. Delete on the fly every day or two during the trip (for obvious failures - tends to be more than 5% for me!), then a first triage on the computer (that's about 80 to 90% thrown away). I usually end up starting to edit pictures and skipping those that still end up too blurry or impossible to edit (due to poor photography, yes) or too bland. I just came back from a 3-week trip to Asia. 1800+ pictures after on-the-fly deletions, 250 keepers after the first pass on the computer. I'm down to 175 left to process and only have 42 completed pictures to show for it, so I expect to have, what, 150 at the end? And probably only about 50 will be really good, the rest will just be nice but not frame-worthy.

    And then if I'm brave enough, I'll do a second pass on the 1500+ I've put aside to see if I missed any good ones the first time...

  • se7en July 18, 2011 06:25 pm

    Oh this post should come attached to every digital camera... It took me so long to comment because I told myself I had to delete 500 photographs before I could comment... I had a couple of thousand photographs on my laptop after years with a little point and shoot... and then I started blogging and really taking photographs... and I progressed to NikonD5000 and was taking hundreds and hundreds of photographs on some days - with the same old philosophy take a heap and you should catch a good one. When I got to 60000 photographs my laptop got really slow, 70 000 and it choked... 80 000 and I couldn't breathe. I am devoting my life to deleting 500 photographs a day... everyday!!! For weeks now and I am back down to 60 000 and I am trying to reduce it by half by the end of the year... endless pictures of the same thing, endless rubbish pictures... It is a major problem and I have slowed my snapping as a result: take your time, get the shot you want and plan the shots you really want from an outing or event... and don't load the pictures you don't love from your camera...

    The problem I have is, I use iphoto: I give my photographs a keyword... so I can search through my photographs for something I am looking for quite quickly and those are mostly photographs I want to keep... I wish there was a way to take all the photographs that don't have a keyword... and sift through them. Does anyone know a way to search for photographs with a "blank" keyword?

  • Karl July 18, 2011 04:36 pm

    My best tip: don't let your partner see you culling the pics. Mine always wants to keep everything and always gets upset if she sees me deleting good photos, even if they're duplicates.

  • Neelima July 18, 2011 03:03 pm

    Agreed! Very true what you said. For someone who travels as much as I do, my HDD is filled with photos I would never ever see again in my lifetime. Just today I was deleting ruthlessly and to tell you the truth it feels good. At the end of a trip or a shoot if I am left with 30-40 good shots I be damned!

    I try to delete the bad shots as and when as I shoot on field, but many times it is not possible to screen them at once. Also I try not to shoot bad photos at all avoid the deleting phase but we all know how well that works out. :)

  • Augustine July 18, 2011 11:14 am

    Rob - in answer to your question, the step you missed is that the images that Andy wanted to keep were protected (on Nikon you can protect an image so that it will not be deleted - not sure about Canon etc). When Andy deletes he is not removing the images that are protected, only those that are not so that the end result is that there are only the selected and protected images left on the card. There is a big difference between deleting and formatting (suggest a little research).
    For me - I never delete off camera and I use LR to pick and reject then go through using the stars until in the end I only have the best on screen. The rejects don't get deleted, they are just no longer visible. That way I am working on viable images but if there is a random something that I may want for the future it is still there. Storage should not be the issue. Organisation is a bigger question.

  • GradyPhilpott July 18, 2011 10:44 am

    I'd rather delete judiciously.

  • Luke July 18, 2011 09:58 am

    Wow, you're much more ruthless than I am, I typically only delete the images that are obviously out of focus or very poorly focused. I have found that after many years of digital pictures I do get tired of wading through all of the photos I don't care about to get to the keepers. I may start following your advice and culling more images.

  • Jean-Pierre July 18, 2011 09:58 am

    If you're planning on deleting photos then you give yourself reason to take bad photos in advance. Might be easier to just look through the viewfinder and make a mental click instead of taking a photo you're unsure about.

  • danfoy July 18, 2011 08:35 am

    I agree with Alma. If your issue is that you're simply taking way too many photos, a more obvious solution would be to just take less photos.

    I started learning about photography on digital, and during the course of my degree have moved to perhaps 50/50 between digital and film. Shooting 6x6 MF is excellent training for taking the time to consider factors that will affect the resulting image - and at 12 shots per roll, at £5 each and a further £5 colour processing, the cost alone is enough to train you to take less photos.

    The skills you pick up transfer to digital, and you find yourself with a significantly higher 'keeper' rate. As Alma points out, with storage so cheap there is pretty much no reason to delete a photo. Rather than these multiple passes deleting photos and then never being able to go back and reprocess them as technology progresses or if something you thought was insignificant suddenly turns out to be more meaningful, why not spend the time doing quick ratings? Instead of 'pick' or 'reject', just rate your keepers 1*, then the best of those as 2*, then a handful of the best as 3*? Software such as Lightroom then makes it effortless to filter to only your picks or bests from each shoot, without ever needing to delete anything that you might want to look back at in the future.

  • Matt July 18, 2011 08:31 am

    I can't think of a single good reason to ever delete a photo. I have had many shots that I thought were bad at time of first review that 10 years later became winners. Storage is so cheap and has been for a good amount of time.

  • Dana July 18, 2011 08:25 am

    Just switched to LR and the P X keys are heaven.

    I go through the first pass and Pick (love it) or X (delete) or skip (on the fence)

    Delete all X photos.

    Process the Picks (and ditch any that are not worthy of processing or doubles as I go through them)

    Then hit the skipped pictures again. Are any worthy of sticking around? Comparing them to the processed images makes it easier to delete them!

  • Katie Kolenberg July 18, 2011 08:05 am

    This is great advice, and something that probably 99% of the world's enthusiasts need to read. However, the method you describe here, while valuable and sensible, is always very time consuming. I hope I may offer an alternative perspective. As a professional, the potential for storage issues is a big one, and I learnt something early on which has not only saved me on storage, but it's saved me MASSIVELY on time. I use this same method for my client photos as I do for my own personal ones. Don't edit out, edit in. This is key. Don't spend time looking for and deleting bad shots. Scan through your images quickly, once you've downloaded them, using a program that allows you to rate or star your images (there are many). Only rate or star the images which you want to keep. Then turn on a filter which only lets you see those starred photos. Process them, export them, and DELETE THE REST. It takes about at tenth of the time. And it puts your gut instinct into action, which is the best time saving thing you could do.

  • Alma July 18, 2011 08:01 am

    Storage is way to cheap these days to be concerned about storage. Use keywords and ratings to limit your scrolling. In my opinion, the majority of sorting and selecting should be done before the shutter.

  • mike grunow July 18, 2011 07:48 am

    -Rob. Andy's camera like mine (Canon 500D) has a feature that allows you to mark pictures as protected. In that case 'clear all' will clear all the photos that are not protected but keep the others. Format will delete everything from the card. Their can be some problems with this method from what I understand because the card can end up 'fragmented' but still it sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
    Anyhow great piece of advice my 1.5 terabyte hard drive (and back-up hard drive) makes it to easy to want to store everything.
    When will bridge come up with a decent download screen that lets you see more than a thumbnail? I typically open the images up in Bridge delete the bad ones (in full screen mode to avoid the three big questions which are all "are you sure") and then have to go to 'get photos' and use the Bridge down loader to automatically convert them to dng's. The conversion takes way to much time when downloading 300 images most of which I'll never use.

  • Andy July 18, 2011 07:38 am


    Clear all clears only the non saved shots (no key sign). Format clears the whole memory card. That I do after having transfered the selected

  • Luke P. Thelen July 18, 2011 07:38 am


    I wanted to throw a bit of caution out there for a portion of this write-up...specifically the "In Camera" deletion part.

    While I agree very much with "deleting ruthlessly", the in-camera delete function can sometimes lead to disaster. You run the risk of corrupting sectors on your memory card before getttng the chance to download/ingest the images you wish to keep. I have personally experienced this and have seen others endure the same problem.

    I have spoken with reps from both Nikon and Canon regarding this issue and both have confirmed that it's always better to completely download/ingest your imagery to your computer before deleting anything. Once this is done, place your memory card back in the camera use your "format" option to clear the card. This ensures that your card will be formated the way it's supposed to be and the way your camera likes it.

    The fact that you'll only delete maybe 5% of your photos by using the "in camera" option just isn't enough to make it worth running the risk of losing everything. Something to think about.

  • mike July 18, 2011 07:36 am

    I never, ever delete in-camera unless the photo is clearly unusable, and even then rarely. A camera LCD is hardly large enough to truly get a sense of the photo, and my cards are big enough that I very rarely want for space. I always wait until I get to check out the photo on a laptop or my iPad before deciding whether or not to delete it.

  • Chamitha de Alwis July 18, 2011 07:28 am

    In my case, I delete 60% in camera and 20% in the computer. So I need like 5 shots for one good shot. It used to be like 10 for one but I think now I'm a bit improved. :-)

  • Stephanie Calcavecchio July 18, 2011 07:25 am

    After I delete the really bad and the really blurry I load them onto my computer and then start the editing. I don't like to delete anything as you can learn from your mistakes I also at least when shooting a concert try to create sort of notes or review of the show. Lighting and sound mainly that way I'll know what to expect for the next show in that venue with that particular artist. I also usually wait until the next day before even touching the photos I took. That way I can look at them not only with fresh eyes but with a fresh perspective. I've had photos that looked questionable on the camera screen turn out to be keepers after waiting a day or two.

  • Allan July 18, 2011 06:57 am

    I disagree with deleting individual pictures in camera. We've done that before and caused corruption on the card causing us to lose 250+ photos. I asked the guys at the camera shop and they said we should NEVER delete individual shots on camera because this is a common problem. Research I've done online has confirmed this.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck July 18, 2011 06:36 am


    I am an old school film guy and I believe in the theory of "One Shot, One Kill" from sniper training. I have been thinking about shooting this for over a year. Finally, everything came together and I got the shot I wanted of this Iconic Biker Bar in Ramona, California. I didnt want to spend a lot of time and attract unwanted attention from the Harley Crowd.

    I know that digital affords me lots of snap happy possibilities, but I will use the technology but keep my old school process of "Imagine, Compose, Execute"...and as the author mentioned...Slow Down!

    Cheers, Erik

    The Turkey Inn

  • scottc July 18, 2011 05:59 am

    I agree with each step listed, but add one other: another pass after editing. Some photos just don't turn out, even after editing.

  • Rob July 18, 2011 05:59 am

    Andy - i might be missing a step here but how does clear all differ from format card? youre still clearing(deleting) them off the card, correct? Are you then going back and using a file retrieval program to rescuse those that you cleared? If so, that wouldnt sound like a good solution since those files "could" be overwritten by the new files.

  • THE aSTIG @ July 18, 2011 05:59 am

    Haha! You're right. Especially for the type of photography I do.

    I do car photography for my website

    A lot of times, I shoot strobist style. With only one strobe, I shoot with multiple exposures, and then combine them together on photoshop. I usually end up with more photos than I actually use. So yes, I must be deleting ruthlessly as well haha!

  • Andy Haag July 18, 2011 05:42 am

    I found a great solution for myself: on any photo trip when travelling I protect only the shots which attract me. From time to time I press "CLEAR ALL" (important: NOT "format card"). So I get rid of all not so good shots without the pain of having to trash them. Like that I’m coming home from trips where I shot thousands of flying bird or butterfly pictures or candid shots with only 400 raw shots. It takes long enough to develope them in Lightroom.
    Try out – it’s so nice to concentrate on good shots! It’s that much easier to forget the not so good ones