Treasure in Trash?

by Steve Simon

Further to my post about editing last week, I have been thinking about it and have looked around and found some interesting posts about deciding which digital images to keep and which delete. From Derrick Story's website, The Digital Story, Carl Weese wrote about how as time goes by, we evolve and grow as a people and photographers, so the editing choices made today might be different in the future. That is so true. I've heard it many times, when photographers go back to re-edit work--they see things differently when they've had some time to think or not think about the work. The whole idea of the innocence of vision is something I strive for when I shoot, and it involves unlearning the formulary patterns I repeat while shooting on a regular basis. It's interesting to go back and look at some of your early work, which may not represent the technical competence you now have as a photographer--but to see what it was you were drawn to and your approach to photography when you were just getting started.

Another good point: when you edit your stuff, you are bound to make mistakes, you are human--all the more reason to be careful of throwing stuff out. I do believe that deleting in the field is a no-no. There's just no good reason for it with the abundance of cheap, big CF or SD cards--I don't even like to look at the screen while shooting, never mind deleting. I prefer to concentrate on the photographic scene in front of me.

My friend Andy Freeberg went back through his archive along with a person whose talent for editing he trusted and came up with an entirely new portfolio of work. It was there all along, but he didn't see it at the time.

That being said, things are different now. Editing with a tool like Aperture, is far different from the old system of looking at negs, slides or contact sheets through a glass or plastic loupe. It was far easier to miss stuff then, particularly with contact sheets and negatives, where you're looking at a very small area of real estate for each image. And if the contact sheet was not perfect with blown out highlights or too dark shadows--you can miss the subtleties that vault an ordinary image into the extraordinary category. I never believed that you could do a good job editing with just negs in the first place--particularly with people pictures, where a person's eyes say so much.

Today however, with the incredible tools we now have at our disposal for editing like Aperture, it's a lot harder to miss the good stuff. Not to say that it can't happen, but in Aperture, you can see the entire image, blow it up big, see small details really big; it's really quite incredible how accurate you can be with your edit. So in some ways, I don't feel that by keeping everything, it's going to mean saving the gems that you might have missed with the old, analog system. I still agree that as time goes by, images often gain new importance and we might see our work differently in the future. But if you're smart enough to determine a system of what stays and what goes, I don't think you will have too many regrets in your photographic future, and you can keep a bit of a handle on a soon to be gigantic, always growing archive.


I am lucky to have all my raw final selects from The Republican Convention shoot in 2004, but I lost hundreds of others. To this day, I'm not sure how I deleted them. I now do everything in my back-up power to prevent anything similar from happening again.

The one thing I do know for sure is the old adage: There are two types of digital photographers, those that have lost image files, and those that will someday lose image files. Fellow blogger Ben Long put me at ease as I struggled to find the best possible drives to store my precious and irreplaceable work. All mechanism's can fail he reminded me, even the best and most expensive--so it's less about brand names and more about redundant back up. I therefore feel it's better to have three duplicate archives on cheaper drives, than two on more expensive ones. A managed Aperture library with vaults alleviates much of the stress. What do you think?


2007-01-25 06:47:49
"There are two types of digital photographers, those that have lost image files, and those that will someday lose image files."

Not true, at all. With sub $100 external HDs, sub $1 DVD-Rs and other forms of cheap portable media like USB flash drives now widely available any digital photographer in a First World country has no excuse for having not one but several backups of their images. No excuse.

2007-01-25 07:03:02
I agree with you completely. There is of course, more than a handful of schools-of-thought pertaining to what to keep and what to trash. Personally I try not to throw out anything. I really can't justify it. You just never know if there is something you missed or if a picture will become important sometime later.

A couple years ago I shot a hearing on Capitol Hill having to do with the Indian Affairs Committee. They were hearing testimony from some guy named Jack Abramoff. I had never heard of him, and the newspaper I was shooting was more interested in the chairman of the committee, so I focused on him. Naturally though, I shot Abramoff swearing in, with his hand raised. After filling my pictures to the newspaper, I went back through my edit and picked out a few good frames of Abramoff, including the shot of him with hand raised. These I later sent to my agency, and they sat there in their archives for a long time. Well, the Abramoff scandal grew, and before I knew it that picture was all over the place. It has raised a great deal more revenue than I ever expected, and has been on covers of magazines, books, and TV spots. How many stars do you think it has now??!!

Anyway, I don't delete. I usually try and use a promotional method of editing, where I don't remove what I don't like, but instead add a star to what I do like, and then filter on the higher stars. I can always go back to the full set anytime.

Oh, and one more thing, looks like we were in a similar place last race....

2004 RNC

Mark Gale
2007-01-25 08:09:44
I have lost files ... I was trying to figure out my best workflow strategy between a managed library, unmanaged library -- Bridge, Lightroom and Aperture some where in the playing around I lost a project. I am grateful that it was not for a client... Anyhow once you do loose some files it becomes very obvious that backup is paramount. First off I agree that a managed library with vaults works best for me. (And the vaults work!)

There are many strategies and I have borrowed from a number of people to come up with my own. It fits me and I have tested it to make sure it works. Here are a few things I did slightly different then what most people have done. My main library is on a pair of 500gb dirves that are raid 0. Vault 1 is on a pair of 500gb drives that are raid 0. along with my normal backups. Vault 2 is on a 500gb (soon to be a pair with raid 0) drive in my basement. Vault 3 is pending a good online service which I have yet to find. Deep archives for are on archival DVD both off site and on. Since I own my own home and I already drilled a couple of holes for ethernet, I just found a very long firewire cable and plugged in a drive. All my drives are WD's My Book Premiums (for those wondering). I just watched the sales at Costco and bought on sale. If a dirve goes bad no problem because of Costco's return policy and the saftey of raid 0.

Allan White
2007-01-25 12:04:23
Steve, I don't think that RAID 0 provides any redundancy, by itself; if you value redundancy, and not performance, you would need to set the array to RAID 1 or (I think, with only 2) 0+1.

If you have 4+ drives in an array, you can get more exotic like RAID 3 or 5, which is more of a blend of speed and redundancy.

With RAID 0, if *either* disk fails, you may lose the entire set. I'm glad you have it backed up otherwise.

Mark Gale
2007-01-26 19:18:11
My Error .... It is the mirror raid built into the Mac (with auto-rebuild) and not raid 0.