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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.