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Lightroom, Storage Space, and Big Catalogs

Happy Monday everyone. I hope you had a great weekend. A couple of things to kick off the day before we get into the real topic:

1) First, today is Cyber Monday. You know, that highly manufactured day that e-tailers have created to sell lots of stuff online. As a full time employee for Kelby Media Group, I can tell you that the deals we’re running today don’t happen any other time so make sure you stop by and check them out.

2) We’re hosting a live episode of DTown TV from B&H Photo in New York today at 2:30 EST. In fact, I’m on a train from New Jersey to New York as I write this. We’ll have some great prizes, tips and a tour of the humongous store so make sure you tune in. See you in a few hours!

The Issue
OK, now on to the topic of the day: Lightroom and storage space. I started thinking about this when I read an article the other day. It mentioned that you shouldn’t worry much about storage space. Basically, the underlying recommendation these days is shoot a lot – don’t delete – save it all – because storage space is cheap. Here’s the thing for me though. Cost isn’t the problem. I never think “Darn it! I’ve got to spend another $100 on a drive for my photos”. It doesn’t happen that often and when it does happen, it’s the cost of doing business.

My problem is convenience. Every drive I add is one more drive that I now need to keep track of for my photos. And it’s one more drive I need to back up. When it really becomes a pain is when I have photos on one drive that I’m working with, then I want to switch to another group of photos and they’re on another drive. Then it becomes a game of trying to keep your photos you “think” you may want to work on, on the same drive but I’ll inevitably come across a shoot that I don’t have on the connected drive. Best case scenario, all my drives are close by and I can switch easily. Still a pain in the neck, but not the end of the world. Worst case, I’m traveling and I don’t have that drive with me.

The Alternative
One alternative (and my question to you) is to really be vigilant about deleting photos. For example, I have 50,000 photos in my Lightroom catalog. Of those 50,000, a very small percentage will get used for my portfolio or sent to any clients that I’m shooting for. So what do you do with the rest? Delete them. Delete them from your main photo drive and any backups. It takes some discipline though. As you’re going through those 1000 photos from a weekend trip, you’ve really got to step back and ask “how many do I need from this trip?”. Sure those 168 photos of the waterfall are great, but do you really need 168 to remember it, or will 2 suffice 🙂

Delete Every-So-Often
I’ve realized that after the shoot I try to be good about deleting, but I’m too emotional at that point. So my plan lately has been to go back every so often and delete more. I travel enough that I’m on a plane at least every month. I use that time to go through my Lightroom catalog and press X (reject) for every photo I want to get rid of. Then when I’m done, I go to Photo > Delete Rejected Photos. Amazingly, I seem to free up gigabytes of space each time I fly. A little time separation seems to do wonders with my editing abilities 😉

And let’s not forget HDR. This throws an entirely different wrench into the system. I’ll go out and shoot lots of HDR photos. But like all of my other shots, only a VERY small percentage make it to show off. Now I’ve got 5 photos for every 1 photo in my catalog and it’s taking a huge toll on my storage space. As much as I want to delete, there’s that little voice saying “But you may need them one day”.

So what do you do? Do you save everything? Are you crazy-good about deleting photos and your 700 photo shoot turns into 30 and that’s it? Somewhere in between? I’m interested to hear some varying thoughts here. Plus, I’m sure the answers will be very different based on what you do. A wedding photographer probably has no problem using a different drive for each wedding and probably doesn’t delete many photos. If I shot a wedding and had 1000 photos, I probably wouldn’t delete the rest after the album was done and delivered. But an enthusiastic hobbyist probably doesn’t need 43 photos of the outside of the cruise ship they were on, when just 2 or 3 will do. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

PS: I know that some will probably wonder after reading this, just how many photos your Lightroom catalog will hold. The answer is a lot. I’ve heard numbers ranging everywhere from 35,000 to 125,000. I have 50K and my catalog is fine.



  1. Mike 2 April, 2019 at 08:21 Reply

    Hi everyone,

    I import all picures that I shooting, next:

    Discard bad pictures (unfocused, blurried, over expose, sub expose, etc) with X key, after delete.

    Review thes rest with compare mode between similary pictures and choose only one. Delete de discarted picture from the comparison


  2. Kate 24 July, 2012 at 10:55 Reply

    tough question, especially as you say for wedding photographers… you never know if customers will claim photos after 3 years because their cd-rom with the photos has been scratched. good news are that at least storage devices are getting cheaper and cheaper…

  3. David Brohede 13 July, 2011 at 18:21 Reply

    Thanks Matt, interesting as always. I was just looking for some suggestions about where to put the size limit for the catalog. I have 150 000 photos in my catalog and it seems to be time for some catalog splitting 🙂
    LR gets a bit slow and unresponsive, so I guess I’ll start by dividing the catalog based on calendar years. I really like the thought of having all my photos in one catalog, but it’ll just keep growing, so it’s time.

  4. Fred Haider 9 June, 2011 at 16:23 Reply

    I love working with LR to sort, and do basic editing (raw conversion stuff) then edit in photoshop for stuff it masters cloning, retouch etc. I then like to return to LR to export with presets etc. I don’t know what happened but I used to have the photoshop corrected image show up right next to the LR image but now can’t find it. Probably some preference setting or other simple fix but can’t figure what I am suppose to do. I would be a very happy camper if someone can cover this in simple term.

    Also can you comment on rumors that LR and PS will be combined and called something else. If that is the case I hope they beta test it with several photogs that use both. I also hope that they use LR import, export, sorting and rating mechanism and X P and group delete protocals. I know there are many who love bridge but LR has a limited purpose but does what it is supposed to so well that I think the general masses would be happy if bridge was replaced with LR. Now that should open up many opinions. What is yours on the subject.

    Any readers want to email the solution to my first paragraph send it to

  5. Sergio 18 March, 2011 at 04:55 Reply

    I usually import all the shooting, and then:
    – 1st pass: I use “x” to discard and 1* to mark my favourites.
    Delete all “x”
    – 2nd pass: review all uncategorized and use “x” and 1* again.
    Delete all “x”
    This way I keep about 30% of the photos shooted (uncategorized) and 5% marked as “favourites” with 1*

  6. tcknight 11 January, 2011 at 13:00 Reply

    I delete, delete, delete. Sometimes I regret it, but most times I am MUCH happier with the “selects”. Typically, I get an average of 1 photo I want to keep from every 35 or 40 I take (guessing at that but that was typical for me during slide-film days when I would average 1 photo PER ROLL of film…ouch…that was expensive. ) One recent shoot I shot over 500 frames, kept about 25, and 5 ended up on my website.

  7. Nona Mills 22 December, 2010 at 13:31 Reply

    I find it requires a lot of discipline to cull the crap after a shoot. Initially when I began shooting digital I found I saved everything. After literally hundreds of thousands of images it was obvious that some images would never be used. I’ve evolved my process as follows: 1) Ingest images to a date named folder using PhotoMechanic. Delete the obvious garbage while ingesting. 2) After a couple of days take another pass through PhotoMechanic and sort the balance of the NEF files to “working” folders uniquely named based on subject matter. 3) Import the “working” images into the Lightroom 3 catalogue applying global keywords. Take another pass flagging ‘X’ for delete, ‘P’ for picks and for those that I am on the fence with no flag. Delete those images flagged ‘X’. 4) When I’m ready to process the images, usually some days later I will take one more pass through the non flagged images. If I cant give them a ‘P’ they get an ‘X’. The ‘P’s” will then be processed. It takes discipline and I am diligently going through every uniquely named folder in my archives using this time refined process. Everything in the “keeper” working disk is backed up twice, one to an on site backup drive and a second that is stored off site. I also use multiple catalogues rather than one catalogue.

  8. ileneh 9 December, 2010 at 02:18 Reply

    I admit, I didn’t read all the replies, but I wonder… Am I the only one who offloads my photos into folders by date and saves those originals separately (JPG, RAW, & Scans)? I go through and delete the horribly blurry, and useless shots. (I do moving wildlife and soccer kids; so horribly blurry are easy to identify.) I then rename files in Bridge (which does NOT change any modification dates). Next, I move the best photos into Lightroom Catalog, which is on a different drive. I know this isn’t an efficient workflow, but I have ALL my photos on one drive, (and back those up to a 2nd drive), and my working Lightroom catalog on a different drive (and will back those up to yet another drive, when I buy one). Admittedly, I just started using Lightroom, but I really don’t want thousands of photos in my Lightroom Catalog. (BTW, just lost my 3rd photo archive backup that was on a Hammer drive that died after 2 years-UGH!)

  9. Dave Lindey 8 December, 2010 at 16:20 Reply

    I find it requires a lot of discipline to cull the crap after a shoot. Initially when I began shooting digital I found I saved everything. After literally hundreds of thousands of images it was obvious that some images would never be used. I’ve evolved my process as follows:
    1) Ingest images to a date named folder using PhotoMechanic. Delete the obvious garbage while ingesting.
    2) After a couple of days take another pass through PhotoMechanic and sort the balance of the NEF files to “working” folders uniquely named based on subject matter.
    3) Import the “working” images into the Lightroom 3 catalogue applying global keywords. Take another pass flagging ‘X’ for delete, ‘P’ for picks and for those that I am on the fence with no flag. Delete those images flagged ‘X’.
    4) When I’m ready to process the images, usually some days later I will take one more pass through the non flagged images. If I cant give them a ‘P’ they get an ‘X’. The ‘P’s” will then be processed.

    It takes discipline and I am diligently going through every uniquely named folder in my archives using this time refined process. Everything in the “keeper” working disk is backed up twice, one to an on site backup drive and a second that is stored off site.

    I also use multiple catalogues rather than one catalogue.

  10. Jaap Meijer 7 December, 2010 at 13:58 Reply

    Exactly the problem you describe. I’ve over 40.000 photos in Lightroom. My procedure is the following:
    – after import go through the serie and press X for bad pictures
    – in a second check I press X for double ones after having selected the best one
    – delete all X
    – then I go through the serie and press P (pick) for the good ones that I edit and use in albums / dvd for myself or a wedding
    – after about half a year go to the series. If bride & groom didn’t ask for “that picture you made with …” For own pictures also the difficulty to delete is much lower after half a year. I select all not-P and delete them.
    Kind regards,
    Jaap Meijer

  11. John St Germain 2 December, 2010 at 10:44 Reply

    Each shoot has the same work-flow. The first round, in post, is 1 star rating for “good” photos. From that point on each successive pass finds the better ones until the best have 5 stars. Those that did not get rated are deleted. In general this method shaves off about 60% of the photos.

    Each year I start a new catalog and I have a portfolio catalog for the best of the best.

    I average around 40K photos a year and this method seems to work for me.

  12. Burt 30 November, 2010 at 21:48 Reply

    First, use bigger drives… Seriously, I use a Drobo for my images. When I run out of space, I simply pop out a drive and put in a bigger one. Appears as one volume to your computer, so the drive just “magically grows.”

    When I got my Drobo, 1TB was the biggest drive available, so I put in 5 of them. As I started to get low on space, I recently upgraded 3 of those to 2TB, and suddenly I had a lot more space. They can take up to 4TB per slot, so it will be LONG time till I run out of space on a single volume.

    Drobo gives you an immediate local backup. I use CrashPlan to have a completely free (other than cost of disk) backup at my brother’s house 50 miles away. I put another Drobo there, and my system backs up daily to his house.

    Cheap, efficient, trivially easy once it is set up (which is also a no-brainer that took a few minutes).

    Problems solved. 🙂

    • Matt Kloskowski 1 December, 2010 at 13:58 Reply

      Not really. I travel with my laptop (I don’t even own a desktop). Drobos don’t travel so I still need smaller drives and personally, don’t even see the use of a drobo as it would just complicate things even further for me personally.

  13. Ben 30 November, 2010 at 16:07 Reply

    STEP 1: REPOSITORY SPACE: Original files (RAW, JPG, TIFF, whatever) are ingested into an external drive in a regular folder structure and metadata and keyworded using Photo Mechanic these days. I’ve used other products for this. Therefore, I have ALL my originals outside of LR, and backed up off site.

    STEP 2: WORK SPACE: Photos I want to work on are imported from the Repository Space using Lightroom’s Copy command with RAW files converted to DNG into lrcat. This is on a DELL Precision using a RAID 1 array (which is also backed up off site).

    STEP 3: PUBLISH SPACE: After editing, output files are exported to an external ‘PUBLISH’ Drive for web, press, e-mail and other distribution.

  14. DE 30 November, 2010 at 14:16 Reply

    After culling shots of feet and thumbs etc. I usually step back and let the shoot settle. Then after a day or so go back and rate, cull and make collections. The collections will be the best at the moment. The rest of my routines are similar to others with this exception. When downloading cards I automatically make a second copy that is the total backup that remains untouched.
    I was given a piece of wisdom a while back I have grown to believe in as a valid reason not deleting everything. First software improves every year and some images may be redeemed (content aware fill- anyone) and as in the referenced ML image, someone may want an image of a rino butt.
    Now I understand that what works for wildlife and nature photography is somewhat stupid for weddings and other events but that is why we have choices.

  15. Andreas Exner 30 November, 2010 at 13:42 Reply

    As other readers of your blog I do the multi pass deleting. After import into LR I go through my images and mark all the bad ones that will never make it because of quality issues with 1*. All other images get 2*. After deleting the 1* goners I keyword every picture. I delete more pictures during the selection process for my web galleries or blog. This can be in a later session. And yes, I also do this quite often while traveling. I agree with you Matt, my editing abilities get better with more time separation as well.
    Every image selected for being published (web or blog) gets 3*. The pictures that I consider for being printed in a larger format will get a 4* treatment. A few personal favorites have 5 stars.
    Sometimes if I work on a project, for example just updating my wildlife gallery on the web, I filter the catalog for a particular keyword (i.e. Trumpeter swan) and delete even more images. Because I may have better pictures in the meantime, I know I will never use older ones of less quality.
    I shoot mainly nature and landscape and this method works very well for me. A different kind of photography needs probably a different approach. It helps me to keep the cost for storage space moderate and most importantly, it is very simple to find the right image for a particular purpose because all the not so great pictures are gone.

  16. Ihor Vorotnov 30 November, 2010 at 13:36 Reply

    First of all, I developed a habit to delete a hundred percent bad shots instantly in-camera. Later, after importing to LR and doing the very first review I delete another pack of bad photos (which have problems with focus, motion, eyes, hands, poses etc). The next stage is doing a selection of photos to work with. 5 stars will go to client, 4 stars may go as well. Starred with 3 will stay just for any case. Then I delete all photos starred less than 3 – because I will never use or need them. And I use Pick flag for photos I will add to my portfolio (and that’s often used for photos NOT selected by client).

  17. amz 30 November, 2010 at 12:40 Reply

    Since I always shoot on ‘Continuous High,’ even for static objects, I get at least 3 of 4 frames to choose from upon ingesting into Lightroom. Typically all but the best version are X’ed right at the beginning, and not just from the catalog, but from the disk…

    Note that, if you do use the ‘save copy’ feature of Lighroom when ingesting, you will still have the originals on/in the ‘copy’ drive/folder.

    In the catalog, I only keep the ‘selects,’ every thing else is (ultimately) deleted from the catalog (although I keep it on the drive, so I can still get to it easily with Bridge). Typically go through the cleanup of all but the “Selects” once a year; that has enabled me to keep my catalog small – although looks like I will stay over 15,000 pictures after the 2010 cleanup; optimizing the database every quarter seems to keep it running (perceptibly) as fast as ever…

    Also use a secondary catalog for all my iStockphoto stock; don’t want to intermingle those with my ‘rights-restricted’ stuff.

  18. gene lowinger 30 November, 2010 at 10:38 Reply

    Just ran into this issue myself. My HD is full of photos all of which I want to keep. I hate splitting them up over several drives. So I decided to TRY this out. I got a Drobo unit with 3 2t drives. That comes to close to 4T of usable drive space. I have to try to see if Firewire 800 is going to be a fast enough I/O rate. Next comp I get will be a Mac Pro so I can install an eSata card, maybe it’ll have USB 3. I dunno. But the Drobo solves my backup problem, frees up all that space on my internal hard drive, and my Time Machine backups are much smaller and faster since I don’t have to back up my photos into Time Machine. I also will back up my photos incrementally to a removable HD which I store somewhere else.

  19. Dennis Zito 30 November, 2010 at 08:27 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Well, I used to be a photo addict, and finally kicked the habit once I started getting serious about post processing. My procedure is to take three photos of the same scene (one of the three will be good). Then I review for composition and sharpness, and then two out of three are history. If all three don’t pass, then all three are history. That way instead of working with 180 photos, I only have to work on 30 or less. I’ve also made a better effort of getting it right in camera when I take the shot. If I don’t like it in the field then it’s history. I think we all get hung up with the fact that we can shoot, shoot, shoot because it’s digital and doesn’t cost money for film and development. If there is one thing I’ve learned from NAPP and it’s instructors is to get it Right in the camera as much as possible. Bad photos stand out when you do that. My wife and I took a vacation to New England in September and between the two of us we captured around 2000 photos. By the time we left New England I had reduced it to 250. By the time I started post processing, I reduced it to 150. As you can see, 1850 photos at 12.5MB (I shoot in RAW) would have taken up 2.3GB of disk space.

    Thanks for generating the conversation! Good ideas!


    Ps I first posted this in the wrong day … Sorry about that!

  20. Nigel Wallace-Iles 30 November, 2010 at 07:16 Reply

    Hi all, Delete as you go on the shoot if it is an obvious poor shot. Also at the end of the shoot I run through the images in-camera, and delete any other poor ones. Always shoot RAW+jpeg. Upload into LR3 catalog and then use the star system and if several of the same shot I use Survey first. Desktop PC, so external drives are easy, though as Tobias and Paul mention above, the Drobo is the way forward.
    Can’t be doing with saving all my images. It’s ridiculous considering how many 1000’s we all have. It’s just a waste of time and space. If you’ve got 30 images of the same thing, get rid of the worst 25, so you’ll always have at least a few.
    Love this site BTW, and soooo glad I found it!!
    Kind Regards from very snowy London!!!

  21. DJ 30 November, 2010 at 05:27 Reply

    I also delete a lot (and I really mean a lot) of photos. My theory is that the quality of my photo collection gets better in 2 ways:
    1) by taking as many great photos as possible.
    2) by deleting as many bad and average photos as possible.

    I can basically divide my deleting ‘workflow’ in four steps:

    1) Delete the really bad shots straight after import. Out of focus, bad framing, terrible light, etc. I estimate I delete between 5-20% of the photos in this step.

    2) Delete ‘double’ shots, when I took them in large bursts. About 20-40% of the photos are deleted at this stage.

    3) Compare current photos to previous photos and delete photos of subjects I already captured better. This third step is a continuous process, happening several times a year as I browse through my images.

    4) Delete old photos that I think are not good enough anymore. Like the previous step, this is a continuous process. As years go by, more photos are deleted. If the quality of a photo is not good enough to print or publish, I simply delete it. On the long run, I think I delete about 80-90% of my images. But it may take 1-2 years to reach this percentage.

    I guess this is different for every type of photography. I don’t really shoot ’emotional’ or ‘newsworthy’ images. I compare it more to product photography, although action (photography) is a major part of it. If I take a great shot of this ‘product’ one day, and a year later I take an average shot of the exact same ‘product’, I delete the average shot because it doesn’t make my photo collection better!

  22. Sam Fifer 30 November, 2010 at 05:05 Reply

    I have been making a habit of deleting all but the ‘usable’ photos for some time. Sometimes it is a difficult decision, but it saves a lot of space in the long run.

  23. Jonas Berggren 30 November, 2010 at 03:41 Reply

    First of all- love this blog!

    As many others I am not a pro (but occasionally I feels like one), but I am an IT-pro (at least it says so in my C.V.). I am in a constant learning phase and got some good advise here. But that is just for now. Here are my thoughts, in random order:

    – Wouldn’t it be nice with a LR-service like Flickr, i.e. backup-storage in LR to the cloud?
    – Should I make a disc where I sort my “crappy” pics?
    – Should I creates more cataloges (.lrcat), example one per year or one per customer (I have one…)
    – How do I become a great photographer?

  24. Will Howard 30 November, 2010 at 00:36 Reply

    I’m a hoarder by nature, so I tend to hang on to things well past their usefulness {sometimes!}. I’m can be lazy about my photos in that way as well. In fact, the USB drive I copy all my pics to is full, and now I’m looking to get another drive, because I don’t want to go through and delete unused photos. This also leads to issues with backups. I had a 2nd drive that I was backup up to and taking off site with me, but now I’m out of room!

    I like RON’s suggestion above about burning to DVD for archival purposes. I may try that.

    I’m a Canon shooter. My 5D MKII shoots @ 21mp. That makes for some large raw files. I have to get used to the idea that I simply need to let go of the ‘no go’ shots and delete them. I try to keep my selection process simple – based on Scott Kelby’s suggestions of NOT using the stars to rate them, just using SELECT & REJECT. NOW, I need to delete the rejects!!!

  25. peter 29 November, 2010 at 19:22 Reply

    collecting has to do with psychology.

    you don´t need 6 shots a second of a soccer game.
    you don´t need all your bad composing and out of focus images.

  26. alex 29 November, 2010 at 19:15 Reply

    someone who stores all is shots has some screw loose.

    you end up with 80% of images you will never use because there are better ones in your catalog.

    trust me im working in this business since 1963…

    i know exactly when i look at my pictures if i can use them commercialy or not. the ones i can not use are deleted or thrown in the trash (pre digital days).

  27. Nicole Olds 29 November, 2010 at 18:28 Reply

    Totally agree on the need to delete but not right away. I’m usually somewhat over critical/slightly disappointed with my photos right after the event, trip, or whatever. Then I go back a few days later and they seem a lot better – so it’s just not a good idea for me to delete anything but the absolute worst pics right away.

    After that I’m pretty brutal and force myself to choose the best in each sequence and x the rest (I also use command-delete to then delete all the x’s at once.) Working quickly is best – I try to think impact/no impact and if there’s no real impact – it’s gone.

    Finally – and I think this is a good one for parents – it’s not a sin to delete photos of your kids! You can do it! It doesn’t mean you don’t adore your children! It just means that you probably already have one photo of every expression they have ever made at every age (until they become teenagers, in which case you probably have, like – two per year) – so you will lessen the impact of your good photos if they are lumped in with a million bad ones.

    They won’t thank you for the bad ones either – although you could just add that to the list of all the other things they don’t thank you for – or maybe that’s just my teenage son! (Who I have to pay to model for me thank you very much.)

    Thanks for the blog Matt – read it every week… very informative (especially the Solo mode – still can’t get over the joy of that particular discovery!)

  28. Andris 29 November, 2010 at 17:49 Reply

    Great post! Thanks. I completely agree on the virtue of deleting less than great photos and I think I am pretty good at it. Still if you shoot RAW and do so on a daily basis, you will run out of space sooner than you might wish. My strategy is to shoot RAW+JPEG, keep my RAW files on at least two drives AND back up all my JPEGs on Flickr (in private mode) as soon I am done with deleting the bad shots. Having JPEGs come straight out of the camera saves me time exporting for backup purposes.
    I start a new Lightroom catalog each year + do a separate catalog for each wedding. Flickr is very often my go-to place for locating pictures from several years back as I can search all my photos in one place (over 70K by now).

  29. Ed Beck 29 November, 2010 at 17:34 Reply

    For backup, I use Mozy. It’s a service that copies to an off-site server. Cost is around $5 per month for unlimited storage, but the upload is throttled so it takes a while for that initial upload. There are more expensive plans that have faster upload speeds, but I’m very happy with Mozy Home.

    After I copy my photos to my drive (and delete most of them) I’m done. Anything that ends up in a few particular folders will be backed up.

    I backup my NEFs, EXIFs, JPGs and PSDs this way. One down-side is that the Home Edition (the one that costs $5 per month) will only backup local drives. It won’t backup a networked drive.

  30. Mark Hammon 29 November, 2010 at 17:21 Reply

    I am a pack rat and keep almost everything, although recently I started to delete bad images. I think this boils down to three issues and how you manage that.
    1) Efficiency – The more images you have the more work it is to manage them and find images you need or are looking for. This can be mediated by good key wording and rating. But when you start looking for some unprocessed (unrated) image you took a few year back of a tree – well it all goes out the window and all those bad images get in your way
    2) Storage – I think technology comes to the rescue here. NAS is really the way to go (at least for me). I use a Drobo FS – a five drive bay Network Attach Storage Unit. It allows you to have redundancy and lets you upgrade at will – just through bigger drives in when you need it. My array is a 5Tb and is about 2/3 full. 3Tb drives are on their way – just in time.
    3) Backup – This is probably the biggest issue and the most important. It is one thing to have 5Tb on line, but it is another to figure out how to back that up. And do not think the drive redundancy will save you. If your computer gets a virus, glitches, gets stolen or ?????? Your data is gone. If you value your images you will have a good back that you keep off site. I use another Drobo (but any large drive/s will work) and I backup regularly and I keep the backup at another location.

    So must problems can be dealt with but the question is a good one and I think it is up to the photographer. Do you get more value from keep everything compared to the challenges of keeping them? I also have about 50,000 images in my catalog – and yes I like a single catalog.

  31. Ed Beck 29 November, 2010 at 17:16 Reply

    I shoot mostly sports and photo triage is part of the process for me.

    1. Import all photos to LR3, this will be somewhere between 500 and 1,000 photos.
    2. First triage pass – delete unusable (out of focus, nothing happening, finger up nose, “uniform adjustments” etc.
    3. Tag photos by player number (my goal is to get good photos of all the athletes).
    4. Filter on metadata to pick the best few shots of each athlete.

    I’ll end up with 25 to 50 from the day’s shooting.

    I agree with Georg, it’s not about storage, it’s about not having thousands of shots that are worthless, and 5 nearly identical, except that the kid caught the ball on image #4, and in #5 his back is to you.

    If I shot weddings I’m sure I’d keep a lot more.

  32. alex 29 November, 2010 at 16:36 Reply

    I posted a comment on your last post asking what happens when you run out of room where backup by mirroring a drive isn’t possible anymore (where the original drive gets too full).

    Since then I’ve gone back and deleted all of my “unpicked” RAW photos in LR to free up a decent amount of space on my HD. I think it buys me time, but I’ll eventually get to the point where I need to make a decision long term…

    Any suggestions?

  33. Hans M 29 November, 2010 at 15:16 Reply

    Hi Matt,
    I’m not a pro and shoot only for pleasure. I do delete raw files without backing them up on the long run. During Lightroom import I get the files copied to a 2nd folder on a different hard drive. Then I start using Shift-X (PC) to tag all those pictures that don’t touch me or which are obsolete (duplicates, don’t add to the story). This is an interative process which sometimes takes 3 – 5 rounds depending on the number of shots. Then I delete the rejected pictures and start developing the rest – which sometimes causes some additional pictures to move to the trash bin.
    If I did delete something by mistake, I could still take the file out of the 2nd-copy folder. This folder I clean up from time to time; maybe every quarter of a year.

    I have to say that I never missed any picture later on.

    Regards, Hans

  34. Elmar 29 November, 2010 at 14:20 Reply

    I’m a hobby photographer and I’m deleting “bad designed” images as soon as possible:

    1. After shooting and watching on the camera’s LCD 2. After importing into LR

    I’m designing every image carefully, so that the count of taken pictures is less (I’m avoiding “uninteresting” subjects and every image consumes some time), but regardless of that, I’m deleting in LR up to 50 % after an import.

    If I had to get my income from saling images, instead of deleting permanently “not very bad” images, the following procedure could be a trade-off:

    1. Writing a script that copies the images and it’s sidecar files to a “deleted images” drive (maintaining the folder structure)
    2. Defining an export action calling that script
    3. After selecting images to delete – e.g. with the reject flat – exporting them to the “deleted images” drive
    4. Deleting the images

    Usually that drive will never be needed. But if, LR can built a catalog of the “deleted drive” using the XMP sidecar files (or it can built it on scheduled times).

  35. Dharmesh 29 November, 2010 at 13:36 Reply

    Digital mode and LR make us lazier or less organized. I guess there are tons of articles on how to organize your photos in LR 😀 but I find very few of them saying “DELETE” 😀

    I recently realized that my LR Catalog was growing. I am getting more active in deleting photos than before. Now, before deleting in LR, I sort and select good ones in Adobe Bridge using the star system and then only import the ones that are good. Others get deleted.

  36. Jim Poor 29 November, 2010 at 12:55 Reply

    On the number of files, my 2010 dog sports catalog has been paired down to 143,071 but will grow a bit more before year’s end.

    My 2010 portraits catalog has significantly fewer images and runs faster too.

    My “all photos” catalog which is basically a last ditch “I can’t find the photo I need” effort contains about the same 150K amount per year dating back to 2004 and includes 2010. It runs fine, though can get a bit slow.

  37. Eric Laberge 29 November, 2010 at 12:48 Reply

    Unless the image is a complete miscue, I do not delete many of them. However, not all of them make it into Lightroom. I transfer the original NEF files to the hard drive and import as a DNG into Lightroom. I will then choose the DNG files worth keeping and work on those. I do this only to save the original image data that may be useful later (who knows), and my Lightroom catalog is lighter since I only keep images worth working on.

  38. ceb33 29 November, 2010 at 12:18 Reply

    i use stars to rate my photo
    i work in 4 passes (some long, some very quick)

    1st pass is when i edit the photo, if I’m immediately happy with my result, i star my photo from 5 (excellent photo) to 3 (i like something in it but not completely convinced).
    otherwise keep the rating to 0 star

    2nd pass happen at least one month later
    i review my album and try to be more critic about my work, with a new eye.
    i then adjust the rating based on the progress (well i like to thing of it that way) I’ve made in the meantime 🙂

    3rd pass – do a quick review of all the photo in vignetting mode
    i realized some years ago that a good photo should still attract the eye even when reduced to a very small size, as composition pops out immediately there (no attention to detail)
    i use flag there to keep those which i find interesting even when small

    4th pass
    finally i delete all photo with no star, no flag
    sometime i’m also very strict on my work and give myself the goal of keeping only 10% of the photos i do, so only the very best are kept

    idea is always to know why i keep a photo

  39. Richard 29 November, 2010 at 11:59 Reply

    When I import pictures, I put them in a special folder “to be processed” in LR (or in a subfolder under here). I work in this folder on the pictures and remove the bad one immediately. The good ones that I worked on get transfered to their ownfinal folder in Lightroom.

    The “to be processed” folder helps me to keep track of the pictures that I still need to delete or work on.

    I also shoot a lot of family events. For the really special ones I keep the raw files but for most of them, I export them as JPEGs to their own folder and delete the original one in the “to be processed” folder.

  40. Mike S 29 November, 2010 at 11:24 Reply

    this is what I do:
    – I always shoot raw and jpgs
    – After importing all my photos to LR3, I run Time Machine (I only run it, normallly, once a week)
    – After TM, I pick my best raws, and I try to keep only raws of less than 1/3 of what I shoot. I then delete the bad raw files but keep the jpgs, and also I delete the jpgs of the raw files keeped.
    – So, sometimes I find that I have lost one photo I actually like. I mark it to a collection I call “from jpg to raw”. And, sometimes, I remember to recover those files so I go to Time Machine, search for them and restore them.
    Note: Time Machine is a bit tricky, so sometimes the software says the file is not there, but if you search manually in the drive, on the folder, you can find them (if it is not too old and TM has not started yet to delete files)

  41. Paul 29 November, 2010 at 11:21 Reply

    I personally use a Drobo at the moment, which has solved most of my storage problems for the time being (~50k raw photos as well). I know at some point I’ll outgrow the Drobo and will be forced to figure out how to manage it all, but I’m also someone who never deletes a picture, because even though I may have 30 pictures of that waterfall, each one is a bit different. When I look back through them there’s times I like a particular image better that I may have deleted previously or ‘bad’ picture (blurry, dark etc.) that gets sentimental value attached to it in the future that wouldn’t survive a culling pass for space.

  42. Tobias Roybal 29 November, 2010 at 11:05 Reply

    I like to save a lot, but I also delete a lot, the challenge here is that I take way to many photos. I seem to save more photos of my family then of others. So I am diligent that way. I just recently purchased a Drobo with 10TB of HD space sitting at Dual redundancy so in case 2 HDs fail at one time. Backups are done automatically now so I don’t have to worry about copying from one HD to another for a backup like I have been doing for years. It was a cost well worth spent!

  43. Georg 29 November, 2010 at 10:38 Reply

    I delete a lot. It’s not about space and costs, it’s about managing and maintaining harddrives, backups, …

    When I come from a trip I try to delete more than the half of the photos which are technically okay, but somehow duplicates or do not add any additional perspective or an additional aspect.

    I always remember old photo albums: Sometimes you got only a few photos from an event, but you focus on them and remember them. Some time ago a family member showed over 1000 images from a trip to Asia. Man, was this boring. If he deleted 900 of them, nobody had missed anything.

  44. david 29 November, 2010 at 10:26 Reply

    I totally understand the emotional difficulty of deleting files soon after a shoot. I also believe that deleting photos too soon is the wrong way to go. I find that after the excitement of seeing the new shots (or disappointment as the case may be) one needs time to re-think and re-visit. The shots that didn’t work still have a place in the catalog though. One needs to study them and learn from them. Working from a desktop PC, storage capacity is not an issue for me. There are so many SATA and e-SATA headers on the system that it is not an issue. Also, David Zieser has an excellent little trick that allows network-based catalogs to run on Lightroom.

  45. Martin Tomes 29 November, 2010 at 10:15 Reply

    Save HDR files in an HDR format like .exr, that way you keep all of the original data but in one file. If you change your taste in tonemapping you can go back and do that again. The originals can be deleted.

  46. Benjamin King 29 November, 2010 at 10:10 Reply

    Hey Matt,

    I am a wedding photographer, we have been shooting digital since 2004, and our LR catalog holds 370,191 images right now, but we have had as many as 450,000 images in a catalog ( we just removed a lot of our older events from our catalog) We are using Lightroom 3 on a pc.

  47. Michael 29 November, 2010 at 09:58 Reply

    I usually use rule upon any trip and those 5k photos after that I have to keep only around 100 – 150 photos about particular place or topic. Usually this is enough for a topic. Delete more.

  48. Richard Foreman 29 November, 2010 at 09:48 Reply

    I recently decided to just delete and keep nothing but the best and get rid of the rest. It’s been hard to do but gets less painful the more I do it. As I get better the old duplicate stuff does not seem as important anymore.

    I think it’s actually making me a better photographer in the long run. Now I try harder to take a better picture in less shots and make each one count more. Now my catalog is getting more organized and I worry less about how and where to store it all.

  49. Daniel 29 November, 2010 at 09:42 Reply

    I’m at around 70k right now, everything stored on a single 2.5″ 500GB portable drive and mirrored to two other drives for backup. My catalog contains both work and personal photos, so there are a mix of JPG and RAW files in there. Only issue I battle is occasional slowness, but for the most part it works incredibly well.

    • TOM 30 November, 2010 at 09:39 Reply

      Get a portable drive with an eSATA-Connection… I get 90MB/s instead of 30MB/s over USB2…

      I spend 14€ (<19$) on a USB2/eSATA dive case so I get SPEED and COMPATIBILITY.
      That's realy worth a 300% speed up 😉


    • Avery 9 December, 2010 at 19:48 Reply

      Note that is you are truly ‘mirroring’ these disks, then any corruption or deletions will also be mirrored. Be aware that RAID 1/mirrors are great for protecting against hardware failures, but not a substitute for a backup!

  50. RON 29 November, 2010 at 09:35 Reply

    HI MATT,


    IF you gotta keep all your photos, I suggest this method.

    Burn a dvd of all your RAWS and PROCESSED JPEGS ( I burn 2 copies, a back up DVD and 1 I’ll use should I need to retrieve something )
    Then I will delete all RAW and PROCESSED JPEGS that don’t make the “show off list”.
    Then Lightroom will only Manage those photos left and should I find myself needing to go back to any removed/deleted photos from hard drive, I just go to the dvd ( NAMED THE SAME AS THE FOLDER IT CAME FROM IN LIGHTROOM )
    add those I need to the folder and then syncronize the folder.
    Here’s the trick though..
    When I burn the RAWS I also INCLUDE THE XMP FILE. That file is also added to the folder, this way ANY ADJUSTMENTS I HAD MADE will also be INCLUDED.

    Here is a break down of DVD

    DVD ( Folder name Written on it )

    Burned on it are

    Folder DCIM ( Raws and XMP File )
    Folder JPEGS ( All Processed JPEGS )
    Folder EDITED ( “show off pictures” )

    If it is going to take more than 1 DVD to fit all of that on, I will Burn Raws and XMP files to their own DVD or DVD’s and the JPEGS and EDITED to their own DVD or DVD’s.
    with beginning file number and ending written on each DVD as well.

    It pays to be organized!


    • Ed Beck 29 November, 2010 at 17:23 Reply

      Ron – be careful about using DVDs as your backup or long-term storage solution. Optical media will fail if not stored properly. The dye in the disk breaks down and once it starts the whole disk is gone.

    • TOM 30 November, 2010 at 09:33 Reply

      I often work on RAWs which are several years old, crating new things with old images and new learned skills so I don’t want the old RAWs on a DVD on the shelf.

      Beside burned DVDs don’t last forever! In perfect environment (temperature, humidity, no sunlight…) they are readable for 10 years if you got good ones.
      Some may be gone in less then a year lying on your desktop!

      And I read a product test, which stated that endurance is not only a matter of how much you paid for your DVD-Rs.
      e.g. Verbatim did not get very good marks… in fact a very cheap product won in this test.


  51. Borna Cavrag 29 November, 2010 at 09:24 Reply

    Oh, and how much yo delete has to be connected with the field you work in. I’m primarily a news photog, and if I take a picture of my own ear, it’s not going anywhere. Just a way of thinking and working.

    You know that story about five guys who had a picture of some sidekick white house secretary monica lewinsky and bill clinton from a couple years prior to the scandal, and the only guy who didn’t delete it. His kids are in college now thanks to that (at the time) useless picture

    • Richard Schwarz 30 November, 2010 at 21:56 Reply

      On Sunday, I went to a William Eggleston presentation at LACMA (Los Angeles). Part of the collection was Los Alamos, 1965–66 and 1972–74. One of the wall write-ups explained that he used very few of the photos when he took them. After several years, a group of students went through the unused boxes of prints and a book was published.

      I am an amateur, a hobbyist. I have different needs from the professionals. I take fewer pictures and I have different have expectations. I bought a hard drive that would hold at 3 years of my pictures for less than $100 last month. The software and my skills improve; a not so good picture of a great item becomes usable. Why trash everything?

    • Mike 8 January, 2011 at 17:48 Reply

      My largest catalog is slowing down. I have 30k photos in my LR. Don’t know if it’s the size, the 100 or so videos I’ve started to add now that i have a D7000 that does video too and it’s RAW files are a little larger then the D90 I was using. OR perhaps it’s LR 3.3? The new import of 3.3 is slower but i can live with that. the scrolling thru the catalog and waiting for previews in grid or loupe view or too frustratingly long. I’d like to keep everything in this catalog (my extended family over last 75 years) but am open to suggestions. Thanks, Mike

  52. Kayla 29 November, 2010 at 09:05 Reply

    Great post – I completely agree with deleting photos. Everytime I download photos, I immediately process them using the shortcut keys of G (Library Mode), D (Develop) and X to delete what I don’t want. When I finish, I press CMD/CTRL+ Delete to delete everything.

    A couple of years ago I moronically deleted a sitting I had done in California. (Wasn’t using Time Machine back then but I learned quickly.) My amazing husband recovered the photos from my drive using software – but the problem was it recovered EVERY photo I had deleted – even temporary copies – which meant 8+ copies of each image. I finally got brave enough to process through all those images this past weekend (totaling 85K+) and the Auto Advance feature with the X key was a lifesaver (Photo > Auto Advance).

    I think there is a lot of support out there to keep everything – nice to see you advocating deleting a lot of what we don’t need – I completely agree with you!

  53. Matt Sanderson 29 November, 2010 at 09:01 Reply


    Personally, I rate all my photos after import either 1* or 2* and when selecting:

    1* is out-of-focus, missed opportunities and photos that are rubbish.
    2* is any that are acceptable.

    I then select all 2* photos and continue to increase their rating depending on how good they are. Eventually, you’ll get quick at this (I can sift out 2,000 wedding photos in 1/2 an hour – 1 hour).

    Then, when I do a yearly “export out and archive” of old photos (for example, in 2010, I exported all photos from 2008. In 2011, I will archive 2009, etc…), I select all photos with 1* and 2* and delete them. By the time the deletion comes around, it’s been over a year since I looked at them, and if I haven’t looked at them in a year, I’m not going to miss them.

    Hope that (makes sense!) helps anyone wondering…


    • Martin 29 November, 2010 at 14:07 Reply

      My method is very similar to Matt Sanderson, except that the total rubbish gets the X key (delete – which doesn’t actually delete anything, it juts tags it as delete), then 1* or more for the others depending on the image. All those marked as delete get deleted immediately, then the 1*s get deleted later when I have the courage. Its emotionally hard to delete anything just after a shoot, but relatively easy to delete those 166 waterfall pictures after you realise they are no use whatsoever. The star rating system means you don’t need to look at the images later to decide. Remember to keep the caps lock on as you rate which will auto-forward to the next image – it makes the whole process twice as fast.

      • TOM 30 November, 2010 at 09:25 Reply

        Yes, exactly the same thing I do.
        to have X for rubbish and 1* for acceptable leaves 0* for “not looked at”

        I have a smart collection for 1* and 2* that are older than 1 year. They get an X whenever I stumble upon them.


  54. David Naylor 29 November, 2010 at 08:57 Reply

    Well, with my 50D I am able to accurately determine focus in-camera. (The preview JPEG is full-rez.) So I tend to delete already at this stage.

    Then I delete a bunch when I do my developing in Lightroom. Since I started shooting digital in 2006 i keep on average 2 images out of every 5 clicks.

    Really agree with you about the HDR pain. Fun when you nail them, but not so fun to have n*x number of useless raw files.

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