Never Delete Potential

One of the most challenging things about being a photographer is editing down your photos and keeping them organized. My collection of photographs spans more than 20,000 images, and I’ve probably shot over a million frames to get them. After a shoot, I make it a point to delete all of the garbage as soon as possible. I then usually select my favorite images – the ones that obviously stand out as being something special. But in between the obvious junk and the obvious winners are a bunch of in-between photos, ones that are neither incredible nor terrible, and these can be the hardest to work with.

Of my 20,000+ image collection, roughly 250 photos are currently displayed on my website and not all of those are the clear winners that emerge immediately following a successful shoot. Many of those photos are ones that have been played with, set aside, and reworked over and over again. Sometimes, I’m not in the right headspace to edit them correctly when I first shoot them. Sometimes, they are technically challenging photos with extreme dynamic range, funky color balance, or any other number of issues that take a while to work through correctly. During a particularly successful shoot, I might have a lot of good but very similar images, and I generally only pick a handful of those to work up. Occasionally, I haven’t yet mastered the skill, the technology doesn’t yet exist, or I don’t possess the software I need to really bring out that photo’s full potential. There can be any number of reasons why a good photo doesn’t make my first cut or first edit.

If a photo isn’t good, it’s okay to delete it. Sometimes I keep bad photos for their sentimental value or uniqueness – for example, when we first got our dog I took a lot of photos of him playing outside and many of them were a little backfocused but I held onto them until I later got better ones – but in general, do away with anything that is misfocused, unintentionally blurry, or poorly composed, especially if to the point that it won’t even hold up for web display. Some photos are just bad. If you like a photo, but the exposure or color are just a bit off, it’s a little noisy, or some other fixable detail makes you take pause, then hold onto it. Some day you may possess the skill, patience, time, or technology to turn that photo into something special. I often spend shooting lulls going through old photos and working on ones that have potential to see what I can make of them. It helps me “do photography” when I’m not actively shooting and creating new images.

Here is one such photo. It’s kinda an extreme example, but you get the idea. I shot this years ago, but only recently processed to the point where I’m actually happy with it. As you can see, it needed quite a bit of tweaking from the RAW file to really bring out its potential.

clouds, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, rocky, beach, dusk
Last Light on the Clouds : Prints Available

The fading colors of the setting sun illuminate the clouds over the rocky beach at dusk.

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