What do you do with all the photographs you take?

I thought about that today. I shoot all the time and I'll assume you have a good idea what I do with the photographs I shoot for clients. I sort them, polish up the selected ones and send them over in whatever file format they need to be in, and then archive and mostly forget about them. Very occasionally a client calls looking for a picture of Chip or Judy that we took at the (whatever) conference back in 2002 but mostly the bulk of the images I shoot for clients end up (they never "land up" --- is that an English language glitch that got introduced in some other region? "Landed up"????? WTF?) populating various folders in the cloud(s), folders on my active hard drives, folders on in-active but routinely "exercised" hard drives, DVDs and, from back in primitive times, on CDs. But I'm not really thinking of the commercial stuff. Those photographs will take care of themselves.

I'm thinking about all the stuff I shoot for myself; from portraits to zany Austin buildings, interesting signs, street scenes and culture in general. I know from looking through my Google Photos folders that I've shared at least five thousand individual images on the blog over the last TEN YEARS, even taking into consideration that some photographs keep getting re-published and re-published....

Our shoot this early evening got pushed back from 6:30pm to an 8:00pm start so I have enough time to convert my thought process about image legacy into a blog post. Lucky us. Here is an answer (or series of answers) that many of you might find heretical: With the exception of family images (Ben, Belinda, Studio Dog, close friends) I am very lackadaisical about what happens to the images I take. Sure, I love to look at them but I don't sweat too much about whether they are pristinely preserved and well archived or just relegated to an old hard drive because I'm much more interested in going forward than in continually looking the rear view mirror. I don't want to become one of those photographers who presume that their best images or their "heyday" is all behind them and that their tasks, going forward (in time) is all about re-working and re-working the images they made years ago. There may be value in that if you have a venue for the old work but for me the value of doing photography is in the enjoyment of the process of actually making the photographs.

Yesterday presented yet another example of my interest in the process but my relative disdain for the back end drudgery of the craft. I walked through downtown Austin with a Fuji X-E3 and a 35mm f2.0 lens and I snapped images of bright blue skies and soaring buildings,  many fat, fat, fat people perched precariously on a now overwhelming infestation of electric scooters, and a few shots of disoriented tourists dodging said scooters. I'm sure you would mostly agree that there was little of real value on the SD card by the time I finished my work. 

While I could have been swayed by the persistent lore of our industry/hobby to believe that all shutter presses and their discharges are wonderful, creative and imaginative, and worthy of being saved on multiple hard drives, preserved from fires and floods in the different safety deposit boxes sprinkled about the state, I chose to believe the opposite. That some days you venture forth with a camera and come back with a bunch of ...... crap. As I waited for my car's air conditioner to un-preheat my car's interior I took a few minutes to buzz through the newly minted images on the rear screen of the camera. Seeing nothing new and striking I stumbled into the menu and reformatted the card. Better luck next time. Right?

Was I crestfallen, depressed, discouraged? Not at all. I enjoyed the walk. I probably enjoyed it more knowing that I was not required to come back with a whole bouquet of visual masterpieces. There is value in just looking and there is value in having the camera in your hand and being ever more comfortable and at home with the process. The path towards more success is to become more critical, and the path to being more critical is mostly littered with rejected images or their digital residue, such as it is. Almost as if what you throw away is more important than what you keep. Or something Zen-y like that.

I'll grab a camera tomorrow morning when I leave the house. It will be new day and mostly a change of attitude changes one's perception of the value of the images. I am excited about the images I hope to get tonight at the technical rehearsal I'll be shooting at Zach Theatre tonight. Always a challenge to create great stage shots on a constrained and strict schedule, having never seen the blocking, or stage sets before. Dear God, I hope they have the lighting set high enough this time. 
What do you do with the thousands and thousands of images you shoot every year? Do you have a venue in which to share them? An audience with which to share them? And how many photos do you throw away? What percentage are "keepers?"
On another subject my lightweight, carbon fiber tripod came today. Studio Dog rushed to the front door of the house to bark at the delivery person. She forgot to take the low coefficient of friction on the Saltillo tiles into consideration and slid right into the front door. She's got a bit of a limp right now. Left front paw. But she's pretty confident that's one Amazon delivery driver who will never be back. Solely because of her ferocious home protection skills (I didn't point out to her that the man was on the other side of the closed door....dogs need to maintain their dignity....).

At any rate the tripod is just.....darling. It's sooooo tiny. It weighs 2.2 pounds, including the petite bullhead on top. I certainly wouldn't say this is built for heavy duty use and I might be hesitant to put my 100-400mm lens on top, but it's just what I had in mind to hold the camera in one spot while I move with a hand held strobe to another spot and trigger the whole assemblage remotely. If the camera holds up for a few long corporate events before expiring I'll be happy and will just start thinking of featherweight tripods as billable disposables. It's a Benro Slim like this one:

Finally, a personal note. I was able, for the first time in a months and months, to make it to both a Saturday and a Sunday swim practice on the same weekend! I got to swim in a lane with my friend, Leslie, and while we weren't the fastest people in the pool today (not by a long shot) we were absolutely diligent and made it through the whole hour and a half, working hard. Nice to be exhausted two days in a row. It's a good cure for just about everything.

Odd thought. I think I'll wear a suit and tie to the rehearsal tonight. Just for fun. Just because it's so .... uncalled for. Maybe even a bow tie.....


sixblockseast said...

I quite diligently put my "keepers" in (private) Flickr albums. Those I share with my family and friends. I edit in camera (X-T3) so my hard drive doesn't have any non-keepers gunking it up. Every year and major trip, I create a photobook of my favorites (a subset of the Flickr keepers). Some of my photos end up on Instagram for public sharing @sixblockseast.

MikeR said...

I'll give you the same answer I give family and friends: It's like the Roach Motel. "Roaches check in, but they don't check out!"

Jon Porter said...

I seldom do more with my files than make 8.5x11 prints and post on Flickr. Even though digital printing is astronomically more expensive than photo printing, I've been print-oriented for 50 years and don't plan on changing. I've considered switching from Itoya albums to a tablet, but I love the look, feel and smell of a good print!

Frank Grygier said...

End Up....Front Up

Anonymous said...

"What do you do with all the photographs you take?"

Depends. I try to keep the pictures that I find meaningful (whether family, friends and pets, wildlife, travel memories, etc.) and delete the rest. I go through the pictures when I first import them into my desktop and delete those I don't like. I'll eventually go through the rest a couple of more times and typically weed out more pictures.

I keep the remaining stuff on a couple of backup drives, and a more meaningful subset of those also lives on the desktop. Used to be, I kept only the final .tif versions of the meaningful stuff I kept. Nowadays, if I like the picture enough to keep it, I try to also keep the raw file in addition to a tif. I share the ones I like best with a few people close to me, either by email or posting them on a smugmug gallery. That's it. Life is too short to "save" everything or worry about what's gone.


Gato said...

There is an interview with Duke Ellington where the interviewer asks Ellington what is the best tune he has written. Ellington replies, "The one I'm going to write tomorrow."

That is pretty much how I feel about my photos. Most of the things I save have some sort of sentimental value -- friends, family, pets and such. I rarely go back. I am much more interested in what comes next.

However, as I moved into my 70s I realized there might come a time when I am no longer able to get out to make photos, but might still be able to sit at a computer. So I have been slowly gathering a few things I might want to rework, sorting them and putting them on their own hard drive so I'll have them ready if that day comes and that is how I want to spend my time.

David S said...

The perennial problem of what to do with all those photos.......
I've never been under the illusion that when I leave this world, those hard drives will not go anywhere but the landfill. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.
It's the prints that are the issue. There are drawers of them. Big prints. Lots of them. I only photograph so I can print. No printer, no camera.
My hope is that all those prints will not go to the landfill but have a practical use. Fire starting. Lining for drawers. Cut up for shopping lists.
That's probably wishful thinking.
Like my garden, my hard drives get weeded randomly. But thoroughly.
Except the images of places I'll probably never visit again. I look through them and recall "that's how it was". The soul piercing Antarctic, the sad and polluted pyramids, the stones of Callanish that whispered half forgotten dreams in the twilight.
Eventually the memory fades. I sigh, and starting with the "I'll never print this" list, they too go.

Anonymous said...

Skipping through all the irrelevant photography talk, I gotta say...

Not the bow tie. Anything but that. Well, not an ascot, but anything else.

John Camp

scott kirkpatrick said...

"Land up" is popular with people whose first language is Chinese. Ming Thein uses it often. So yes, it has its roots in some other language.

Nicolas said...

"Land up" seems odd to those who travel by air, but to those who travel by sea it makes more sense. And sea travellers far outnumbered air travellers for most of history.


Noons said...

Hmmm.... Excellent question!
Most of the ones I like to look at twice or more end up in the 64GB memory card in my Samsung Galaxy 8" tablet as 1920 widest side jpgs - to match the rez of the screen.
Separated into quite a few folders with subject names, such as "Family", "Fun", "Nature", "Flowers", "Street","Birds", "Weather" and so on.
The rest is stashed into two 2TB usb drives. One is the backup, the other is the main storage.
And the film scans follow the same rules.
(really hope 100TB memory and usb drives will be available soon! :) )

Marvin G. Van Drunen said...

What to do with all those photos?
Precious (to me) pix of my children and grand kids get printed on a regular basis, very often 5x7 and stored in archival boxes. My children and grand children may value the photos someday.
I'm planning to print another series of photos, these of friends that have been dear to me throughout my life. I want to look at these occasionally for as long as I can see them. My rationale here is illustrated by this story... a dear friend lost to pancreatic cancer at age 58.
All others, pictures of flowers and mountains and birds and oceans etc end up on smugmug and in truth, I rarely look at them.

David said...

At the end of each year, I make two collections. The first is a tight edit of all the family/friend/vacation snapshots from the year. It’s purpose is to help me remember and relive the year. It usually ends up containing 80 or so captioned photos. I make 2520-pixel wide JPEGs (big enough to print 5x7 and look great on an iPad) and put them in the cloud where my wife can see them, too. I call these the “shoebox” in memory of my parents who tossed their snapshots into a box.

The second is the art collection: the 25 or so photos that represent the “art” I was trying to make during the year. I make a printed portfolio of these. They also end up in a folder in the cloud.

Also, significant events and vacations get their own folder of captioned JPEGs in the cloud, as needed.

If I’m fortunate enough to have time before my end comes, I’ll copy all of these many folders to maybe 1000 thumb drives. I’ll hand them out to nieces, nephews, siblings, friends, strangers on the street, and so on. After that, it’s not my problem.

Dogman said...

Printed. Boxed. Stacked.

Files backed up on 5 drives.

No commercial work, just personal. I like doing it even if no one else cares.

Anonymous said...

Your previous posts on this topic have inspired me to be a lot more dispassionate about deleting images that don't truly excite me, and to do so before I upload them to my hard drive. Whenever I have an hour or two of free time, I also scan through prior year's folders to delete more ho-hum images. The unexpected benefit is that the remaining photos are of a much higher standard overall and a lot more satisfying to look at.

As for family photos, until recently I printed a yearly retrospective Blurb photo album. Now that my kids are young adults, they take their own photos of themselves and are only mildly interested in my own. That's fine too. The last thing we writer/photographers need, Kirk, is more time sitting at the computer.

crsantin said...

Storage is cheap and compact. I dump everything into properly labelled files: Date, event, camera and lens. Straight to external 1 or 2 terabyte hard drives. The family photos I need to share with family get uploaded to a blog I created that everyone has access to. I do photobooks of my own work when I feel I have enough interesting material. I have no idea what my keeper rate or success rate is. Sometimes it's 0. Sometimes I have a bunch of photos I'm happy with. From time to time I'll go back into the old files to look for something I remember shooting or to find a specific photo someone requests. The odd time I'll try and re-work a photo with my current Photoshop tastes and abilities, just for fun. I don't worry about it too much. If all my work disappears it's no great loss to the art community. One of the things I do like about photography is it helps me remember the experience more vividly. Being there and shooting it burns the experience into my brain. The photos are merely a byproduct.

Jacques said...

I like David's idea of getting those pictures on thumbdrives and giving them to family and strangers alike !!!
My paid work goes to the people who paid for them (I do keep some hard disk archives).

For family photos, I make coffee table books via Blurb or others, as even though they also take thousands of phone pictures, they find the book "great" (as in "we can stuff it in our book shelves and forget about it"!). Still I have hopes that those books survive in time. Most of those are about trips abroad (with the whole family and grand kids), so it's more about refreshing the grand kids memories while they grow up...
I believe the hard cover and the flatness of the books (among others) will keep it in relative good condition in time. After getting through two world wars, my family pictures did survive in albums (old fashioned ones), with penciled or inked dates and people names ! Can be handy when all of them are dead and most locations have changed so much !!!