When I Delete a Photo

Jim Correia asked a great question in a comment to my last post that I thought deserved a wider airing:

What are the criteria, and when do you delete masters? Only rejects? Immediately?

My answer is that I very rarely delete images these days. Just yesterday, a colleague at school emailed me asking if I had a photo of a particular child in our recent Christmas play. I only had one image of that child, and I had marked it as a reject. It wasn't a great shot at all - in fact, it was pretty terrible - but it was better than no shot at all. No shot at all was exactly what I would have had if I were in the business of deleting rejects straight away.

Hard drives are insanely large and cheap these days. I recently bought a 1TB SATA drive for about £180. All my master files put together total 170GB so, even at current capacities, I have some room to grow. I recently read that 4TB drives are on the horizon for around 2012, so I'm not worried that I'm out-shooting the rate of growth of storage.

I've developed a few rules for deleting or not deleting masters:

  1. If it's a one-off event, I'll keep every single shot. This includes things like Christmases, Birthdays, events, holidays and special trips.

  2. If it's something that's easy to repeat, such as a shoot of a local landmark that's (a) unlikely to change quickly and (b) likely somewhere I'll go frequently, I'll probably delete my rejects if they make up a high proportion of the project.

  3. If it's something like a trip to the park with the kids, I might delete the rejects but I'm not really keen to do that since even bad photos of your kids are good memories.

So my rule is basically "don't delete" unless I'd be keeping around a ton of rejects alongside two or three good shots in a project. Recall that my criteria for marking a photo as a reject is that there's something photographically wrong with it, so I'm not usually marking a huge number of shots as reject. What I usually end up with is a lot of poorly-composed One Star shots. I keep all of those because they're good to learn from - particularly if I'm making a repeat visit somewhere.

As to the question of when I would delete images, the answer is "not for a long time". Maybe six months or so.

2007 was my heaviest year of shooting ever. I haven't looked at the number of images I've kept, or the amount of data that it's eating. That would be an interesting post for later.