I entered the digital age of cameras in 2006, which is rather late by some standards. My 12 year digital library probably has close to 20,000 images. Most days if you were to ask me how many are worth keeping, I'll answer "Maybe 10%, but I don't know."
In our imaginary conversation, this then begs the question "WHY do you have so many images then?"
My confidence in editing images (that is, deleting them forever from my library) has ebbed and flowed over the years. Sometimes I'm ruthless, sometimes I can't quite bring myself to hit the delete button because something quite nebulous is nagging at me when I look at the picture. The result? Pictures pile up in folders, gathering digital dust on my hard drive.
Then comes the fateful day when I decide to take another look at an old folder of images and what I couldn't see 10 years ago, I can suddenly see.
"Contemplation" (above) was made one sunny day on Tauras Hill in the middle of Vilnius, Lithuania in 2009. The original image, bright and glaringly green, basically looked, well...blah. For whatever reason, I didn't send it to the trash folder, and it silently sat on my hard drive for nearly a decade.
Last week when I looked at it again, the elements that drew me to make the image on that sunny day were still there. Two women sit in contemplation next to a path; further along the path the statue of the Virgin Mary looks back into the scene. At a diagonal line to these three figures are three wooden crosses on a hill, creating a balance that pleases me.
In the ten years since I made this image my knowledge of optimizing a photo digitally has increased tremendously. This time when I looked at the image I knew what to do. I eliminated the glaring green by creating a black and white image, I underexposed highlights, I brought in detail on the elements that were important, I added a vignette, and I smiled at the result.
So the answer as to why I have 10 times more pictures than I think are worth keeping is...
- If a picture speaks to me, no matter how blah it looks, I leave it. There's something there, and sometimes I just need a space of time to understand why. I've learned to trust my gut.
- Maybe I have 10 shots of the same thing and I can't decide which is "best." Once again, time is my friend. When I return at a later date and look at the images, I can start to discern the subtle differences between images and the cream rises to the top.
Photos capture time, but it is the passage of time that lets me know the moments worth keeping.