Let's all just admit it right now: we have too many photographs. The ubiquity of photographs has exploded since the advent of cell phone cameras. If you look back in our history, when photographs were first made available to the general public, photos were only available, firstly, to the very rich (thank gosh that's not the case anymore), and then the number of photographs a person had was probably a handful in their life time, if that. The introduction of consumer grade cameras like the Kodak Brownie put photography into everyone's hands. If you could buy a roll of film, you were set. And still, because of the cost per roll and getting prints made (the only way you could view what you shot), photographs were capped at the hundreds. Already there was a problem for the consumer in getting all those prints into albums. Most pictures would wallow in the envelope they came in from the lab.
Fast forward to today with our cell phone cameras. We're not talking hundreds of images, we're talking thousands a year, millions over several years. Just one year of you documenting your kids, your pets, a sunset, an event, your smoosh face selfies and of course those dinner plate shots creates an incredible cache of digital files. The sheer quantity would be inconceivable to, say, your great grandmother or even grandmother (though she may very well be taking those gazillion photos as well on her nifty new smart phone!).
But what happens with all of these images?
I seriously get stressed-out thinking about the sheer mass of digital image data I have stored. There is no way I can keep track of all the images I have.
And what happens when we leave this earth (die, to be more blunt)? What are these files to do now? I think about how my mom is all ready to hand me all the negatives from the photos she's taken and collected all these years. I don't want her to get rid of them, after all, it is our visual history. But at the same time, there is just too much to go through. It is incredibly daunting and I, quite frankly, don't have hundreds of hours to go through them...and we're talking negatives here.
I find myself wishing that over the years my mom or dad had learned how to cull all the images down to just the very best.
I realize that the next generation, the one after me, would probably appreciate a synopsis, a concise version of the literal millions of images I will have taken in my life time. Will they care that I had a cappuccino with a froth heart in it?
So I'm here to distribute a little tough love here and maybe, maybe help you learn how to curate your photos like a pro.
I will admit that my personal photographs of my own kids is my weak spot. As a professional photographer, I can cull clients' images, no problem. I want only the best left on the table. I am doing my clients a service. With my kids, there's more emotion invested in those shots. Yeah, some might be less than perfect composition etc. but it still captures their essence.
But let's get real. We need the essence of the essence here. No one is going to be able to look at all these images and appreciate them, not even if you are the detail type who remembers everything you shot and like to scroll through what's on your phone, you too could bear to be more concise with your collection. No one else wants to look at all of them, guaranteed. My eyes burn just thinking about it.
So I'm telling you now, you need to become an expert editor of your own images. Right away. I mean, as soon as you take the photos, cull, cull, cull. I've accidentally held down my camera button and shot 50 frames in one second. That is CRAZINESS! Choose the best, right now and delete the rest.
Why right away? Because you, like me, probably have some cloud back-up that is going to go ahead and back all those junk shots up at it's next available opportunity. Don't let that happen! In fact, turn off your WiFi and data before you take shots and don't turn it back on until you've deleted all but the best shots you've just taken. The consequence to not doing this is that you will have those junk shots unnecessarily backed up before you know it and it is unlikely that you will take that extra time to eliminate what's already in the cloud (smart phones are too smart sometimes!).
How do you choose the best shots? Here are a few tips to edit like a curator of your own personally gallery:
Look at the pictures you've just shot.
1. Run through them quickly (this is of the essence) to choose the best of the best. Which one has the wow factor? Which one made you laugh out loud, sigh, makes you look GOOD, etc. that is the one you are going to keep.
2. Now...and I know this is hard...delete the rest. Look for the blinking eyes, the weird half formed smile, the blurry shot, the badly aligned/composed image, the too dark picture, the repeat shot (yes, don't keep the repeat shot,"just in case", don't do it.) and delete them. I promise, I promise, promise, you are not going to regret it. You DO NOT NEED twenty shots of the same situation. You just don't. The one or two you just chose will tell the story and capture that memory.
3. Sometimes a series of images tell a story. In this case, choose the best image for each moment that is a key element of the whole story. For example: You are documenting a birthday. You have 5 shots of your kid standing in the doorway, waiting for her birthday cake. Choose the one, best shot of her doing that. Delete the rest ( I know it's hard! Take a deep breath and do it). Now, from the 10 shots of someone bringing the cake and your kid getting ready to blow, and then blowing it out, choose just two or three: someone holding the cake with your kid's eyes all wide with excitement, a shot of them with their mouth pursed and ready, and a shot just after the candles are all out. That is all you need. TRUST ME!
If you find that you have captured an incredible series that you can't bear to pare down, you can keep them but in a more concise and sparing way: I recommend using a program such as Google Photos on your phone to make a collage. Save that collage. Then delete the original files. Done. That is all you need. That one collage now represents that entire series and it's conveniently in one file! Yay you!
4. If you took a photo for temporary documentation, or to post on a sharing site and already did, erase the image once it is no longer needed. I'll give you an example: sometimes I take a picture of an item I need from a store, that has a particular part number. Once I've purchase said item, I no longer need that image. Remember to delete it! If you take a picture of a meal you ate at lunch to make some witty comment on via Instagram, once it's posted, eliminate the image. In a few years are you going to want a picture of your meal? Will future generations? If it doesn't ad to your visual history, delete it.
But you are feeling queezy about culling your images. How do you know what is important?
I want to suggest that you have already curated your images. If you use facebook or Instagram (or both) regularly, chances are you have already selected the best of the best to share. I know many people who use facebook as their online album: you have the images and you have the descriptions, built in date and time. BAM!
With such conveniented services like Social Books etc.. that create books directly from your timeline, life and curating those pictures of it, has become very easy peasy.
Think, if all your images you've backed up on the cloud, saved on a hard drive, on your phone were to suddenly disappear and all that remained was on your social networking sites....would you be happy with what was there? Could you rebuild an abreviated, concise visual history?
I've thought about that a lot, and the answer is yes for me. I am terrified about losing all my photos, but you know, a small part of me feels relief when I run that scenario through my head. To not have the burden of all those files hanging over me, to just have those few that document and tell the story of my life is comforting.
Because, what are photographs? They are a documentation of us, our lives. When we take images it's because we are trying to capture something that is fleeting. We use photographs as our memory banks.
Quality over quantity, my friends. We cannot hold every memory equally in our own minds, same with photographs. Choose the ones that matter, and try, try, try to let the others go.
I think you will feel lighter for it.