What 44,673 Photos Taught Me

rey spadonirey spadoni

My previous mantra went something like this: Never delete a photo because someday in the future, you might be glad you saved it.  Future post-processing software and acquired capabilities could help save inferior images.  And hey, hard drive space is cheap.

Well, I’ve been hitting the edges of the 1 terabyte limit of my internal hard drive (13″ Macbook Pro Retina) and so I’ve been rethinking the previous mantra.  Sure, I could tote around an external thunderbolt hard drive but that kind of defeats the whole lighter-than-air portability quest I’ve been on and really, who needs 44,673 photos?

So, into my Lightroom library I delved, with the noble goal of paring it down big time.  And pare down I did.  My library now stands at 27,812 and it (and I) are breathing a lot easier these days.

The laborious process of going through  all 44k+ photos taught me several things, but first about the images above: that’s Shadow, our 13 year old Lhasa Apso, and the image on the very top is the second photo in my library.  Presumably it’s the second digital image I ever captured, probably days after rediscovering photography in the form of a Canon Powershot S30 point and shoot camera acquired in January of 2002.  The notion of a cross country trip with my family later that year was budding and so I wanted to become familiar with this newfangled digital photography thang.  The second photo above was taken many, many years later.  Not only does Shadow look older but I hope I’ve learned a few things along the way resulting in more compelling images.  I hope.

Read on for 5 lessons learned from the process…

Lesson 1: Crap is Crap

If I thought it wasn’t very good right after capture, then generally speaking, it didn’t get better later.  The idea that my future self might re-look at a poorly composed capture of some rocks in a fresh manner and see art just hasn’t panned out.  If I thought to delete it then, I should have deleted it then.

Lesson 2: Thank Goodness I’m Past the HDR Phase

HDR capture and processing done right is cool beans.  But there was a long stretch there when every single shot I took included three or five bracketed shots.  Talk about swelling up a photo library.  And in light of Lesson 1 above, five marginal shots don’t magically turn into five wonderful shots down the line.  Additionally, I’ve learned that through careful post-processing, a great deal of the dynamic range latitude you gain from HDR can be pulled out of a single RAW file.  You live, you learn.

Lesson 3: Parse Realtime

This is a never-put-off-until-tomorrow-what-you-can-do-today lesson.  I’m looking through countless photo shoots when I didn’t properly delete the subpar images right after the shoot.  Like the clutter that builds up in your house, it gets harder to deal with later (when there’s clutter sitting on top of the clutter).  Clean as you go!

Lesson 4: Enough with the Trees

Probably 30 percent of my images are from the photowalks I often taken in the various local and state parks nearby my house.  There are some personal gems in there, but generally speaking, it’s hard to make works of art from the same ole same ole pictures of trees.  I think I’m done with trees.

Lesson 5: Import Wisely

All decent image editing/cataloging programs allow for the use of key-wording and tagging of photos.  The time to do that is upon import whereby you can automatically add key-words to metadata such as “Grand Canyon Trip” or “More Pictures of Trees” or whatever.  It makes finding and dealing with a growing library so much easier later.  I wish I knew then what I know now.

This could have been the 6th lesson — shoot more deliberately.  For indeed, that has been the biggest lesson of all.  But that, friends, requires its own blog post.  I’ll be writing about that soon.

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12 Responses to What 44,673 Photos Taught Me

  1. Steven Tryon says:

    One reason I stayed with film when I went back to it is the way shooting with a fully manual camera slows me down and makes me think about what I’m doing. (I still back everything up to a pair of one TB Seagate USB drives. One lives at home, one at work. I swap out every couple weeks.)

    • Rey says:

      Steven – you may have read my mind. I wrote about shooting in this manner for Wednesday’s post. It’s all about slowing down…



  2. Janet says:

    Love this Rey! I can totally relate to each and every point…. my winter project is exactly that! I’ve been dreading it but I think you’ve just made it a tiny bit easier. I’ll keep all your points in mind while I’m doing the ‘hacking and deleting’.

  3. Prentis says:

    Rey, you really hit the nail on the head. I am pretty good at cataloging shots as they go onto the drive for easy retrieval later. I don’t put key words on every photo but put a pretty specific title on the file for that day’s shooting. But there is still a lot of “crap” (as you so aptly call it) in there. I had a similar appreciation of dealing with a bloated collection of thousands photographs when I tackled the boxes and boxes of photos taken by my late father-in-law over a span of 60 years. He was an avid amateur photographer. (Keep in mind he was in the film days. I can’t imagine if he had lived to the digital camera era.)

    The first round of discarding photos was to toss the sunsets, trees (as you mentioned) and landscapes in general. I did look at each one for some potential artistic or historic attribute but for the most part very few survived. The second round was looking for historic value…old cars, buildings and there were a few in there. Mostly what survived the culling process was photos of people, mostly family. When you consider the many stories of families confronted with an approaching forest fire or flood, the most valuable thing to take away invariably are the family photos. So those 7 cardboard boxes became a shoebox of important stuff.

    For those of us trying to take photographs with artistic value…we have to become our own worst critics. It’s hard.

    • Rey says:

      Prentis – well said and something I should have mentioned in my post. Very few photos of people were discarded in my culling process. Only the occasional very out of focus shot or wildly under/overexposed image was tossed.

      Figuring out what lives and what dies through a housecleaning such as this really does help illuminate the shooting process…



  4. I learnt to delete early on and the reason is because I already have a full drive full of family photos. Now I delete anything that’s not fit to process/blog. I love your last bit of advice “shoot more deliberately”…I try to do this, it’s not easy but I try 🙂

  5. nutsfortreasure says:

    I have also spent days looking at what I shot with new format and have begun to whittle them from hard drive sadly though I collect SD cards like Photo Albums lol so now I have begun to delete from those beauties too. I also have been rethinking what I shoot time to BRANCH out but not always on a BRANCH 🙂 time to shoot something that catches my eye not yet looked at from through the lens and see what I can see I do not want to be a bore 🙂 All those flowers and landscapes

    • Rey says:

      I find it (increasingly) helpful to pick one small task, one particular area of focus… and then go out to shoot only that. Exampl: interesting lighting in doorways – or – ironic juxtapositions – or – the harsher side of nature – or — you get the picture. The concepts of narrowing and limiting have proven helpful in this early-stage journey.


      • nutsfortreasure says:

        Thanks I will take all the help I can get added new photos to my blog my portfolio and went in two different direction and now I want to go way off course 🙂

  6. Prentis says:

    With respect to lesson 2 (graduating from your HDR phase) your comment has been rattling around my head ever since. It dawned on me that this should be a good lesson if, and only if, you nail the exposure on the first try. To test my theory I went back into my photo files from my Paris trip. There are three shots that I ballyhoo are only possible with HDR processing. (See my Paris with an X100 thread.) So I took each frame of the +/- 1 stop bracketed set from those shots and manipulated them individually with Lightroom to see if I could reproduce my HDR merged image. Some adjustments with shadows, highlights, and exposure and…voi la! You are right.
    As long as the image isn’t overly dark or has blown out pixels you can get there from here. I would only say that if it is a very important shot, bracketing exposures might not be a bad idea. We did that with film all the time. But I’m with you. I’ll just pick a good one and adjust it rather than going through the HDR rain-dance in the future. You have just saved me a lot of time.

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