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Can you toss out photos?

Can you toss out photos?

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Whether they be film or bits and bytes, are you a hoarder or a heaver?

By Jack Howard

October 1, 2009

A few years back I pitched a massive amount of old film that I'd been hauling around for years. Mind you, I've still got heaps of film lying around in various states of indexing and organization schemes, as well as a chaotic file box that is waiting for a rainy month to sift through. But it raises a question, are you a hoarder or a heaver when it comes to your outtakes?

I had to ask myself honestly, why was I still hauling around decade-old negatives from my days shooting the real estate classified beat for a weekly newspaper group? And seriously, do I need five rolls of lighting test shots for a macro tabletop setup now that I can eyeball and chimp my settings for this type of shoot practically blindfolded? And all those shots from 1997 of out of focus birds when I was practicing tracking moving subjects for sports shots?

Mind you, I kept many of the selects during this massive clear-out, but it was cathartic to see the overall size of the film pile shrink significantly. I pitched a couple's entire wedding take; it had been over six years without them ever following up via email or returning multiple phone calls after delivery of the proof book. I'll admit it, there was something very satisfying in tossing that bunch of negs!

And culling the shoeboxes of 4x6 prints down significantly kept me from needed to build more storage space–it was "great" for that spell in mid nineties when MotoPhoto had automatic "free" double prints, but years later, man, I needed to reclaim some of that closet space!

I've done the same thing on my hard drives from time to time, and I am very overdue for another clean-out of digital files in the near future. I have to ask myself: do I really need over a hundred slight variations on an environmental portrait for a newspaper assignment from five years ago?

Of course, one could say I'd be better off saving just the selects straight out of the gate, but I'll admit it: I'm a hoarder that has slowly learned the benefits of the heaver way of thinking. Certain shoots I'll always keep the full take for as long as the disks keep spinning, but there's something really satisfying and purifying about seeing more hard drive space available after tossing several dozen gigabytes of out-out-outtakes.

Where do you fall on the hoarder/heaver continuum. Can you/do you regularly toss photos, or do you keep every single one, even the pure black frames or desperately out of focus shots?

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