Monday, August 29, 2011

Editing and Organizing Photographs

I think that editing your own photography collection is one of the most difficult, and important, activities for a photographer to undertake. We can have so much emotional connection to our photographs, so well aware of all the situational details that went into each and every image. I can look at one of my photos from a decade ago, and so clearly recall the crispness in the fall air and the elation I felt when composition, light, and subject matter coincided just the way I had hoped they would. The temptation is to save everything, and ever-larger hard drives make this technologically feasible. Some day, to some one, each and every one of those photos might prove interesting or valuable.

A long-term, practical view might suggest otherwise, especially if you want your photography collection to outlive you. I started dabbling in digital photography in 2002, and I have photographed almost exclusively with digital cameras since mid-2004, a period of over seven years. In that time, I have amassed nearly a terabyte of digital images in tens of thousands of files. To make matters worse, I have not been diligent in assigning metadata to my photos. My "organizational system" consists of dumping all the photos from each outing into a file folder named for the general location and date. If something happens to me before I go back and change that, the reality is that very, very few (if any) of my photos will ever be used again, by anyone.

In 2008, at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art's annual conference (which I help organize), photographer and writer Jeff Brouws made a presentation on organizing your archive. The most salient point of his presentation, to me, was this (and I'm paraphrasing here, but it's close): as amateur or semi-professional photographers, the vast majority of us are only going to create a very limited number of photographs (perhaps 10, or maybe 50) that have real lasting value. With that point in my mind, I want to go back through my own archive, whittle away at its size, and begin to identify my very best images and describe them as carefully and as accurately as possible.

My plan for tackling this project is to get up early on most mornings and go through one file folder each day, and blog about it here.


LouT1501 said...

Welcome back, Scott.

As far as organization, long ago I created a paper form to record info about all my photos. Once a computer came into my life, I reorganized the hundreds of pages of info I had into database files. And I've continued that habit to this day.

Chris Crook said...

But remember, once it is gone, it is gone. So I would think hard about deleting stuff before you delete it.

Storage space is cheap.