I looked in the mirror and in front of my eyes appear the opening title from the TLC TV show “Hoarders – Buried Live”. I was turning into photography trailer trash and in the process losing some of my best photos beneath an ocean of digital files. On January 1st I took the plunge and bought a 20TB Raid drive to finally get my photos properly organised. One by one I loaded my images from an array of hard drives and backup drives and to be honest I it was totally overwhelming, a feeling I’m sure many of us can relate to with our photography catalog.
I sat in disbelief at the 160k pictures staring me in the face. ‘How did this happen?’ and more importantly ‘how am I going to ensure this never happens again?’. For some, 160,000 might seem like an impressive number but the reality is that due to the sheer size of the catalog, the vast majority of those photos will never see the light of day and of those buried, I fear some of my best may be among them. Before you shed a tear for me though, this story does have a happy ending because it has changed the way I shoot and the way I organise my images and below I want to share my 3 steps to reform.
Step 1: Slow down
With memory cards offering up to 512GB these days it isn’t hard to rack up several hundred images on a day out. Is that a good thing? Hell yes it is a good thing, it allows us to experiment and gain more experience in what works and what doesn’t. That said, it can leave us with mountains of images, burying the important shots beneath layers of practice shots. So how do we take more photos and be more fussy at the same time? Simple. When you find your subject slow down and use your eyes before you even lift your camera to your face. Use your feet to move around the subject, lining up the background, the foreground and the best angle. Only then is it time to shoot. Try to stop between shots and do a quick evaluation rather than the old ’spray-and-pray’ method. Carefully analyse each image and correct a single element between each version (check out my article on how to eat an elephant). That way your images are not just simply different but each version should be improving in chronological order. If you take a shot that is clearly a dud, delete it on the spot.
Step 2: Get fussy and learn to let go
Sometimes it can be tempting to keep all of your photos because ‘who knows when I might need it!’. I’ve heard that line on TV show ‘Hoarders’ before and the reality is many of the photos we take are just practice for the time we see something truly special. I often walk around Melbourne snapping street photos of cool bikes, people and street art but the vast majority of these shots are taken for the pleasure of taking photos, not for the end result. When you import your photos onto your computer, carefully think about the purpose of each picture and each version. ‘Is this something that I want to print one day?’, ‘does this photo have any significance to me?’, ’Do I have a better photo of the same subject in my portfolio already?’. The last question there is the kicker. I try to travel and get to new locations as often as possible but a lot of the time, I am back at my old haunts. This means there are hundreds of images of the same subject. Delete the clear ‘losers’ in the bunch and only keep the top 5 or 10. If you can do this as soon as you import your photos it’s an easy job to stay on top of.
Let’s say you are out for a morning of street photography. The reality is that even in a few hours you may only get to 20 or so scenes or subjects but the bulk of images come from are your 10-20 variations of each (20 subjects x 20 variations = 400 images). If you have slowed down and analysed your pictures as you go you can almost be guaranteed that the first three quarters of your variations can be instantly deleted because you were progressively improving the shots. With only a few keystrokes you can now comfortably and quickly delete three quarters the images from that day. 20 subjects x 5 variations = only 100 images.
Step 3: Print those piccies!
I mentioned at the start of this tutorial that thousands of my best images may never see the light of day because they are buried under a landslide of ‘just ok’ images. They are out-of-sight and therefore out-of-mind. Printing forces us to make a choice. Which is the best version of that picture I took? Suddenly the 5 variations we kept in step 2 have been culled down to a single image. Now I don’t suggest you delete all but one image of each subject but it will certainly help you to narrow down your top photos.
By considering the steps above you will be on track to keeping your photography library more manageable. It helps to keep you organised and helps to encourage you as your best work isn’t buried deep in an album. If you love your photography there is no doubt that you have talent but when your brilliant images are cluttered amongst your practice shots sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the wins we have had. So slow down, get fussy and show off the best you have!
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