I was probably a “one roll, four seasons” snapshooter before I became seriously interested in photography about twenty years ago. When I got my first SLR I wasted a lot of film on the banal, and when I bought a Nikon D70 the zero cost of taking pictures set me on the path to my current collection of twenty-five thousand photos. Most of them are not even fit for documentary or fond memories.

What was this supposed to be about?

The first reason my hard drive is so full of pictures is a lack of skill. Especially in the early days, I made frame after frame of the same subject because I didn’t know how to compose or expose. I knew my photos weren’t good, but I didn’t know how to get a good one except by doing click after click and hoping that something would eventually work. Not being able to distinguish the decisive moment, I captured all moments. Monkeys and typewriters . . . .

Maybe a monkey made this while I was looking at something else.

The second reason I made so many useless photographs is that I was trying out a lot of things. Deliberate camera shake, different colour profiles, and so on. Experimentation is good, but I neglected to delete my failures. I couldn’t kill my darlings.

The last reason for the rat’s nest hiding under the Pictures folder is simply that I enjoyed making photos. I loved seeing images appear on the back of the camera or on prints back from the lab. Again, that’s a good thing, but I had no concept of editing. I didn’t know good from bad, so I kept everything. Just in case.

Hard to make a case for this.

Luckily, being a more skilled photographer now means that I am not pointing the camera at everything and hoping that I get lucky. I’m more selective about what I put in the frame. And I’m starting to realise that one photo of a friend from a lunch date is enough. No need to document everything she ate and drank. I’m also learning how to edit better once I have the day’s photos on my computer. Mistakes get marked for deletion right away. After a week or so I generally have a good sense of what photos might be worth showing others or keeping for my own enjoyment. Or deleting.

Not deleted. Yet.

That takes care of preventing a glut of pictures now and in the future, but there are still years and years of photographs from the past serving no purpose except to extend the time it takes to back up my hard drive. So I am using a combination of my sharpened editing skills and the objectivity of hindsight to cull photos from the present back twenty years and beyond. At the time of writing (2020) I’m only back as far as 2017, so I imagine it will take many more months to complete the project.

Although it’s a lot of work, editing my past photographs teaches me what mistakes to avoid in the future. It also gives me an idea of what sort of photography I do well and might concentrate on in the future. It also brings up memories of places and people past, for better and for worse. Sometimes I see people I had good times with and sometimes I see the faces of people I disappointed or parted on bad terms with. But I suppose there are lessons in those memories as well.

Things in life go one way or the other . . . .

6 thoughts on “Too Many Photos

  1. It is easier to do with film – you have a film in a sleeve – you’re not going to throw away the whole film so you save it. You have to be methodical and make contact prints and mark the film sleeve with the same date etc as the contact and then file by date – simple.
    Digital though is something else – multiple versions of the same picture . . I seriously believe that digital photography was encouraged by some corporation who wanted to sell you a back-up plan for perpetuity.

    Good luck with the organisation Marcus – it ain’t easy, but you have to be firm!


    1. Ha, I wouldn’t be surprised about the back up plans companies. I think being diligent is the key to not having more trouble with my photo collection. But being diligent is not my strong point. Ah well, when I’m dead it’s all going into a bin anyway . . . .


  2. Too many photos. A commentary on the 21st Century, perhaps. I’m fed up looking at photos on the Web. There’s just so many…poor ones. Mine included, of course.

    I’ve files upon files of negatives. But only a few that I’d want to print again – and I know where they live, or near enough to find them. That might change as the years roll on, of course.

    Having said that, occasionally I come across one that I like…and that initially I thought had no merit whatsoever. Sometimes it’s to do with the passage of time. I can look at your shots here Marcus and think, Yep, that street will look very different in 20 years…cars, road signage, clothes, hairstyles all will change. Perhaps those shots will be well thought of in time. The plants and trees I would bin, though…those shots can be recreated anytime 🙂

    I wonder if self-published photobooks might not be the best way forward.


    1. Too many, indeed. As I go through them, I find that I delete about half the pictures in every folder. I think that percentage will go up as I go back in time.
      There are a lot of bad photos on the Internet. At one time bad photos were trapped in people’s shoeboxes and albums, but now they are everywhere. I use Flickr as a backup and as a way to get bigger versions of my photos on this site, but there’s not much to look at on the site. Or I’m bad at sloughing through the thousands of new uploads every day to find the good ones. Most of my photos, especially personal ones, I mark as Private so no one else has to see them.
      I have been thinking about self-publishing a photo book. Well, a magazine, because books are too expensive. Jim Grey (http://blog.jimgrey.net/) does one sometimes, and Dan Milnor (http://shifter.media/) talks a lot about doing them. Once I finish my ‘photo cull’ I will put the photos into collections and maybe try printing a few magazines for myself, my parents, and maybe a few friends.
      Here is an essay you might like: https://6x6portraits.wordpress.com/2020/11/10/creating-the-purposeful-photograph-for-viewing/#more-3063


      1. KW is right – nothing compares to looking at a photograph on the wall in the right space. But a book or magazine isn’t a bad second for us mere mortals. I have quite a collection of Photography Books which I enjoy looking through from time to time – some, like Mr Salgado’s, contain shots that are way out of reach. Others, like Magnum Ireland, which I found in a Charity Shop recently, have photographs that seem more attainable. ‘Seem’ being the important word there of course 😉


  3. I have Salgado’s book Genesis, which is far too large for any normal bookshelf. Lots of good photographs in there, but not really my thing. I probably bought it because it’s by a famous photographer but available and reasonably priced. Try getting anything by Ralph Gibson . . . .
    I like KW’s idea of giving away photos to people, but most people I know don’t want prints. “Can you send it by phone?” is the usual request. People might like a magazine, though. They’re thin, not that large, and look professional. Maybe something worth keeping on the shelf. I need to get through a few more years of my archive before collecting photos for a magazine. Maybe back as far as 2012? Everything before that is more or less crap.


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