The closet law of life

by Paul Schmitt

What, you may ask, does a closet have to do with photography. The above said law is:

The stuff you have in your life will expand to the amount of closet space you have.

I see this on my street where half of the garages have no space for a car. I recently saw this when I realized that my 1,150 Gb of photos had reached the limit of my data backup capacity. My digital image closet was full. Just like the garage across the street, most of what was in the digital closet would never be used again. Beyond any laxness, what caused this? Here are some of the culprits:

  • Shot six images, picked the best and held on to the other five. Unsure of my choice?
  • The Great Blue Heron shot made in 2014 was okay, but no longer my best.
  • The trillium images in 2011 were documentations, not artistic interpretations I get today.
  • The five images for HDR made a good final image, but the five aren’t needed anymore.
  • Bigger sensors have increased raw files from 10 Mb in 2010to 60 Mb currently.

Unlike slides, it is a lot easier to hold on to digital files. They are invisible on a hard drive. And the size of those images has escalated in a manner not seen shooting 35 mm film. Does this apply to you?

So, what to do? Let’s be realistic. If you picked one of the six images four years ago, and never had reason to go back and edit the other five, well, will you ever use one of them?

Here are the five criteria I used to houseclean:

  1. Delete the remaining images in a set if more than a month has passed without processing the others. If I am confident in my choice to process, then erase with confidence.
  2. If images shot at 10 Mb some five years ago are not up to my current artistry, delete.
  3. If photos of a given subject have been supplanted with better one, delete the raw file.
  4. When I am happy with a final HDR output, the five bracketed images used are excess baggage.
  5. If I made multiple sets of HDR brackets and some were not successful, dump them all.

As I worked, I realized that the increasing sensor size and the stacks of images used to make a single HDR were the biggest culprits.

I followed my five criteria for files from 2012 up to this year. My files are now 778 Gb. I cleared out 32% of my digital closet. The individual image sizes for 2011 and earlier are much smaller, but I know my current images are often of higher quality. This winter, I will set aside a few hours each week to continue my closet cleaning. And, I will try to regularly made my backup process include a clean out of recent files using my five points.