I love a good clear out. There’s something very cathartic and empowering about letting go of the old and, in doing so, making way for the new. As well as being reflected in my home, this approach is reflected in my photography, in particular, my approach to image storage.
I spend a few days every year culling my image library. You might ask why I do this when digital storage is so cheaply and readily available? Whilst my annual culls are partly about freeing up space on my hard drive and good housekeeping (why buy more storage when I can delete images I’ll never publish), they’re as much about revisiting my portfolio with a fresh perspective.
As part of my cull, I review all the images I’ve taken since I took up photography in 2013. This means I’ve reviewed my 2013 images 4 times, my 2014 images 3 times, my 2015 images 2 times etc, in addition to the original round of processing, which usually involves 2 or 3 rounds of review. It’s far easier to be objective and less attached sentimentally to an image that you took 3 years ago than one you took last week. Each year, I cull more images from my early efforts. My rationale is that if I’ve reviewed an image 5 or 6 times and it’s still not giving me joy, then it has no right to remain.
This notion of things ‘bringing joy’ has been developed by the Japanese queen of the clear out, Marie Kondo. With a little paraphrasing, many of the principles of her KonMari Method for de-cluttering can be applied to image storage and your portfolio:
Focus not on what to delete, but on what to keep: When we have a clear out, most of us tend to focus on what we’re going to throw away. Instead, concentrate on what you’re going to keep. By culling images, you’re making it easier to focus on the good and giving your keepers room to shine.
Ask yourself, ‘does it spark joy’? This notion is at the heart of Marie Kondo’s philosophy, a litmus test to whether to keep something or not. In terms of RAW files, given that many of us will have several almost identical images, other questions to ask ourselves might be, ‘Does this particular image bring anything extra to my portfolio?’ and ‘Would I regret it if I’d never taken this image?’. And if you’re struggling to choose between two almost identical images, the answer is probably that it doesn’t matter which ONE you keep. When it comes to my portfolio, as well as asking whether an image gives me joy, my other litmus test and a question that sometimes brings me back to earth is ‘Would I print this image and let someone else put it on their wall as an example of my work?’.
Make sure you’re properly committed to having a clear out: Like any undertaking, unless you’re committed and know what you want to achieve, you’ll most likely become discouraged or distracted before finishing the job. You’re more likely to stick with it if you view de-cluttering as a positive process rather than a chore.
De-clutting – a positive experience rather than a chore: Reviewing and de-cluttering your image library need not be a chore. I see it as the chance to relive memories, to bring fresh perspective to old images, to understand the journey I’ve been on, and to appreciate my development as a photographer. It’s also a great opportunity to look forward and make space for the new. Approaching my de-cluttering with this frame of mind has delivered unexpected, positive results: this year, I’ve added 3 new images to my portfolio from 2014, 2015 and 2016, partly because, this year, I’ve been producing images at 2:1 format rather than just 1:1. One of these images is below:
With the availability of cheap storage, it’s very easy to hold onto tens of thousands of RAW files. Whilst there’s merit in keeping a certain amount of files, I suspect that, on the whole, most of us hang to far too many. So my advice, before you buy more storage space, would be to invest some time clearing out what you’ve got.
Number of RAW files on my system: 53 (2013), 311 (2014), 662 (2015), 752 (2016), 2,831 and counting… (2017).