Do You Dump Your Best Photos?

An opportunist snap - a personal memory.

2002 - An opportunist snap - a personal memory. Not aesthetically pleasing. I would not dump it for the world! One day the memory will be important.

How good is your photographic judgement? Are you actually throwing away just the worst shots? Fine if you are. Otherwise, if you keep only the best shots and dump the rest you are probably throwing away some really good stuff!

How do I know you are dumping good shots? We all develop. We all take a new perspective as our skill and knowledge increases. My experience has taught me that when I was starting out I made some bad decisions. I threw out some great shots – because I did not recognise they were great. My artistic vision and appreciation of good composition has improved a great deal over the years. Today, when I look back at old shots, I find many of them were better than I realised at the time. This was unexpected. I realise that I have thrown away a lot of great shots. What I kept from back then are more use than I realised. Today I frequently use many of my old shots. I sell them or use them for various purposes. I wish I had kept all but the real no-hopers (the exposure tests, lens cap-on shots, total blurs…).

People are always telling me they throw away a lot of the shots they take. So I did an exercise with a group one day. We spent three hours taking shots in an urban setting. Then we all picked our best shot. Once that was done I told everyone to pick the shots they would normally dump. What fun we had next! We spent an hour arguing about the merits of the dumpers. The group frequently disagreed with the image-maker about the ones they would delete. What each author found was that they were throwing away pictures that others liked. Not all of them – but a surprising number. One of the group members actually chose to throw away a great shot. Later the group voted it second best shot of the day. Out of the work from nine photographers the loss of that photograph would have been a great shame. Others were certainly worth keeping too.

Since I went digital I have stored hundreds of thousands of shots. At what cost? Very little. Mostly investment in external hard drives. As a result I have a reservoir of perfectly good photos that provide me with a great library for all sorts of things. Work, family, memories, for sale… whatever I want. Some things are pretty precious. My family shots – blurred and all – might one day provide me or my ancestors with wonderful memories of my life and the lives of my family. If I lost someone close – I would want to remember all about them. Blurred smiles? Memories transcend blur.

For a tiny investment in electronic space you are building a wonderful repository for the future. Don’t listen to those who would have you throw your heritage away.

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