Cathartic Cleansing Sparks Joy

I have been clearing out the hard drive over the last week.

Self editing is tough. I waver between keeping most and binning most. Some days I just cannot decide so I walk away. On rare occasions it seems too easy, so I make myself walk away.

The process has become;

  • select all (from a subject or day file).

  • deselect those that need to stay.

  • reject (“X” in Lightroom) the ones that are still selected, then trash them.

  • dump them permanently at the end of the session or the next day, providing a small cooling off period.

This has allowed me to clean out hundreds of unused files, that to be honest I know would never have been revisited. On the other hand there have been a few surprise files that have emerged from the dross.

A deliberate OOF abstract on the Geelong pier. The lone survivor of about 50 hand held, low light shots that were all technically sufficient, but boring as bat s#*t.

A deliberate OOF abstract on the Geelong pier. The lone survivor of about 50 hand held, low light shots that were all technically sufficient, but boring as bat s#*t.

Many complete files have gone. For example a 176 image day in Melbourne that netted me nothing outstanding. Coming across these files has really been depressing. The same old “not quite” (or not even close) images, that for no good reason seem to be left for years.

Some are leaner and meaner and very occasionally they are left almost intact.

Observed habits and lessons learned;

Too many repeat shots as back-ups, that are either unnecessary or replace the original that should have been dumped. This is a habit going back to my film years and is redundant in digital. The “6 of the same” thing is really frustrating to edit. Lots of uncertainty and all too close scrutiny for what usually ends up being 6 keepers (pick one) or 6 duds (pick none).

Lots of files are stronger cropped to either square or wide. Very few are ideal at 4:3/3:2, although many have been shot too tight to fix. This format indecision has plagued me from the start. The square is not perfect for everything, but there has to be point of conformity so the images I capture are more consistent.

Overloaded hard drives, full of images you know will never see the light of day, are really not good for the soul or mind. The groaning hard drive, difficulty in finding single images, resentment at the numbers, knowing they do not represent the actual value of your work are all counter productive. Use them or lose them.

I am getting more succinct in my shooting, but on the other hand seem to have a poor memory for what I have done already, sometimes repeatedly. Lots of the Japan and Melbourne abstracts are blending together as crap (lots of bare trees against buildings, with very few of any real value).

I need to be more conscious of my filing habits.


The reality is, unless you are working for a client base or trying to record a lot of images for a book or similar, your real cache of images, the ones you will print or treat as your portfolio work is (and should be) very small*. If your interests are varied, you travel a lot or have several styles that you are trying to perfect, then each needs to be addressed, but outside of that (and the need to record data), the bulk should go.

The danger is of course, is needing a file that had no significance before and has since been dumped, so a realistic “safe” level must be established. This is personal and tough, but I advise going slow. Cull the obvious, then revisit and keep whittling down until you feel uncertain. Go past this point only when you are sure. It gets easier once you get started, but it is also easy to get carried away.

*Most of the greats of photography are known by most of us for a small portfolio of their very best work. They would usually have a larger one that is more subject specific and a back catalogue of support images, but this is often representative of less than 1% of their actual captures over their career.