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Why You Shouldn’t Delete Your Images Too Quickly


There are many reasons why you might want to delete images: They show the same subject, again and again, they are technically inferior, or you simply do not like them. However, don’t hit the delete button right away!

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t delete your images too quickly

Isn’t it hard to stay organized? Since the age of digital photography, it is quite easy to get “just one more shot” of your subject. These few shots quickly add up to hundreds, even thousands. Considering the huge file sizes of modern cameras, that’s a lot of memory. Not only is your hard-drive full of bytes, but you also have to keep an overview – a few stars here, a few flags there and a red label for your beloved ones. It’s often hard to avoid the data mess.


At first, I rated this image with one star. Recently, I rediscovered it and was happy that I did not delete it

Sometimes, I feel like deleting all the images I assume I will not use anymore. Why should I keep images that I don’t sell, show to my friends and family or use in any other way? It’s the same subject, just from another perspective.

I have five images from a nicer angle, in a better light and with fewer people in it.

Here is my hint:

Wait a little while, and stay organized. Don’t delete everything in the first place. There are some reasons why you might want to keep your images.


A picture I rejected because it was a byproduct of a hike to shoot the Milkyway over a river bend.

Your client wants a specific picture

If you are documenting something, or you do travel photography, you should be careful what you delete. Never get rid of any image before completing the job. You may think the light in the image of person XY was not too nice or the photograph is not perfect, but maybe it tells a story.

Your client or editor might ask you, “Is there an image of this person XY, while he looks a bit sad?” or “Is there an image of a person wearing this weird hat, which is so typical for people working in this area?”

You may remember that person XY wore that hat. Then you look it up and realize that you deleted the image because you did not find the light appropriate. My friend, you missed a chance to satisfy an editor.

Even after delivering a project, it is smart to keep all of your images. You may want to sell some of them to someone else. People could approach you to ask if you have an image of this one shop because they make a follow-up story on yours. We never know what the future brings. Don’t delete what others might ask for. Demands of editors can be unpredictable.


I shot this image as a byproduct of covering a desert safari in India. It was useless for this topic, but it might be useful for another project about the desert region.

Blindness for the beauty

Sometimes, while you are working on a project, you get used to the beauty that you create. You are completely sucked into a breathtaking work environment, and every shot amazes you.

Later, you look at your images and search for the best ones (which you should do) but ignore the second-best ones. Make sure you do not delete them.

When I was in the Indian Himalayas on a motorbike tour, every mountain peak was worth shooting. The light was appealing, and the blue sky was full of little cottonwool clouds. I shot away hundreds of images during the daytime and edited the best in the evening. I recently looked at the old folders and found some amazing images that I rated with two stars just because the others outshined them.


This picture almost ended up in the bin. Luckily, I checked the folder after a few years.

Maybe you want something specific at one point in time, and you simply cannot see other forms of beauty then. The image may be surrounded by too many other nice ones that distract you at that moment.

When you open your old folders a few years later, you may be happy that you kept them all. Don’t delete what you might value later.

Did you think about stock?

If you worked on commission, you might have a deal that your client takes a bunch of images out of your primary selection. You probably shot far more pictures than needed (you should!). What can you do with the rest? Did you ever think about uploading them on a stock photography platform? You may be able to get a little money from all those images that your client rejected or that you didn’t even send to them because there were better ones of the same subject.


I chose an image of me sitting under the stars for an article about the desert. This “dismissed” one of me standing on the dune might work well in stock.

Always give your clients the best quality and the best compositions. If your contract does not stop you from using the other images, why would you want to waste them? When you make three images of subject A, but just one is good enough for your client, maybe the other two might be good enough for stock. Don’t delete what you might use afterward.

An image contains memories

Maybe the best reason to keep your images is the simplest – for yourself.

When I look back at any image, it triggers my memory.

These rivers are meeting in the Himalayas. It’s not the best image because it’s too dark, with bad light. Yet, they make me remember the feeling I had when I stopped to take the image. They remind me of the taste of the air, the feeling of empty solitude and the discovery of my dire sunburn where my scarf did not cover my neck.


Technically, a bad image, yet, the broken bridge reminded me of the struggle to get up this mountain and shoot better images. I laughed out loud when I rediscovered it.

Little details in images make you remember big stories. They evoke feelings. You can smell the flowers again, which you see in the frame of that horribly composed landscape-image. You remember the way that tea vendor smiled, even though the image is a little soft or blurry because you had to shoot with one hand while balancing your teacup in the other. Don’t delete what your older self might love to see.


It is very hard to compose with one hand while reaching for tea with the other.


You never know what will happen and how you will look at your images at a later point in time. If you have completely identical pictures, well, hit that Del-Button.

If they differ, mark them differently.

You can check your old files after a few years and decide what you want to delete for good.

Maybe you will find something useful even if it is just for a blog post about why you should not delete images. All the images in this article were once ready for deletion.

I resisted, and today, I am happy about it.


Be careful what you delete. One day, you might regret it.

What about you?

Did you ever have any regret after deleting images? Do you find pleasure in it? Is there a method, which helps you to avoid deleting the wrong pictures? And when did you last review your old images? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below.



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Nils Heininger
Nils Heininger

Nils Heininger is a freelance photojournalist, travel photographer and camel-lover. During his studies, he earned some money by photographing people, weddings and families. Today, fascinated by humans and culture, he is almost constantly on the road to capture new stories and images. Some of his adventures can be followed on the blog and podcast Stranger on the Road. More information about his professional work is available on his private website

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