Digital decluttering: photographs

Key West, 2012. Shot with Sony RX1.

As part of an ongoing effort to minimize my belongings, a while back I went through all my film photos and scanned my old prints & negatives to get everything digitized into one organized pile on my computer.  It was time consuming and tedious but well worth the effort.

More recently I decided to go through all my digital photos and pare those down as well.  I love digital photography, but compared to film it’s so easy to amass thousands of shots over the course of a single vacation, most of which are repeats or junk.

I’m an Apple guy and have all my photos organized in the Photos program that comes included with every MacBook sold within the last half decade.  It’s not a great program for editing, but for organizing my pictures it works well enough, and it made going through each picture one by one a breeze when it came time to decide what to keep and what to discard.

Since digital photos don’t take up any actual physical space, decluttering these was much simpler than going through the same process with my analog ones.  Being mindful of the adage perfect is the enemy of good, I intentionally did this quickly with a minimal amount of time and pain involved.

Here are some of the photos that got deleted:

  • Sunsets.  Not all of them of course, but I live in a region where we have some beautiful sunsets throughout the year, so I had a butt load of sunset pictures.  I saved my favorite ones and junked the remainder.  Honestly, even the ones I kept I bet I’ll rarely ever look at.
  • Beach photos.  Same thing as the sunsets above.  Unless there were friends, family, or me in the picture standing on said beach, I tossed out several random not-so-good pictures I had taken of various oceans all over the world.  I still have many beach pics, but just my favorites or ones that evoke specific memories.
  • Random people.  I was probably drunk when I took a lot of these pictures of various randos on the street or at music festivals.  Off they went to the trash bin.
  • Cat photos.  Like many pet owners, I had a ridiculous amount of cat pictures.  Paring these down had a significant effect on my picture collection size.
  • Random nature shots.  Including but not limited to:  birds, squirrels, deer, chipmunks, mushrooms, spiderwebs, trees, & flowers.  A lot of these I don’t even remember taking.  I just see a deer and my instinct says “I must take a picture of that deer!”  Now when I see a wild animal, I simply try to be in the moment and enjoy its presence.  Unless it’s a hippopotamus or something cool like that; I’m for sure taking a picture of such a magnificent rotund beast if it waddles my way.
  • Concert videos.  These are the absolute worst.  The music sounds terrible, the stage is so far away you can’t see anything, and there’s a bunch of drunk mofos including myself singing along to bungled lyrics that are off key.  Getting rid of these was easy.
  • Multiple successive shots of the same scene.  I’m guilty of this.  I see something cool and take 20 pictures of it to make sure I got a good one.  I went through my multiples and saved my favorite one or two only.  No need for two dozen replicas of the same tourist site.

One other huge space saver is to get rid of any unnecessary RAW files if you have a fancy camera that shoots RAW.  If you save RAW files for every single photo you take, these could easily add up to over a terabyte of data in the span of a few long vacations.  My approach to RAW is to save only my most exceptional photos which may be worthy of a poster sized print, which is not many.  All the rest get converted to JPEGs and the original files are deleted.

One might ask why I go through the trouble of paring down my digital photos when storage media is so cheap and plentiful these days.  My photos are my most prized physical possession, and I like to have them streamlined and efficient so I can access them easily when I want to.  If I can avoid it with a little effort, there’s no point in sifting through thousands of useless photos to find the few I actually like.

In recent years, I’ve taken fewer photos overall or delete directly from the camera any losers soon after I’ve taken them so that hopefully I won’t have to repeat this decluttering project too frequently.


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