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Should You Delete Your Bad Photos in Lightroom?

When I was teaching my session on “How to Organize Your Wildlife Images in Lightroom” at our Wildlife Photography Conference, I had a number of questions about whether or not to even keep images that that didn’t ‘make the cut’ (meaning, they’re not really keepers or picks or 5-star images — why keep those ones you don’t like?) .

Get Ready To Go “Old School”

I’m going to answer this question with something that won’t make sense to a lot of folks, and I have a bit of trouble reconciling it myself, but it’s what I do and there’s an old school reason why, but I’m not sure my reason really makes sense beyond “Well, that’s what I’ve always done.” Luckily, at least it’s a simple rule I go by:

When I’m doing my initial “cull” (going through the just-imported images to find the keepers and mark them as “picks” in Lightroom), if I see a photo that’s crazy out of focus, or my flash didn’t fire, or it’s a shot of my foot when I was walking, I delete those.

I mark them as a reject by pressing “x” on my keyboard, and then I go under the Photo menu up top and choose “Delete Rejected Photos” (as shown above).

I keep everything else.

All of them. Even photos that aren’t good, aren’t picks, aren’t selects, and they will never be shared on social or seen anywhere else, ever. Why? Because I come from a traditional film background (yes, I’m that old), and back then you never, ever threw away the negatives no matter what, even if they weren’t keepers. You just didn’t do it. The negative were ‘sacred.’

Today’s Raw photos, to me, are the negs, so I don’t delete them either, even if they’re not keepers, and even if I know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep them. I know — that’s so “old school.” Luckily, I have a bajillion terabytes of open storage, and storage is so cheap these days, I can just hang out to shots with no worries.

However, there is hope for me, because me deleting those few out-of-focus shots of my foot and stuff like that is actually progress.

FYI: I still have all those negatives and slides from back in the day, stored in (you guessed it), shoe boxes. Well, they’re plastic shoebox sized containers sealed with tight lids, but essentially, they’re shoe boxes. Say what you want about our parents storing their photos in shoeboxes but…it worked. 🙂

Anyway, that’s my old school, but truthful answer about how I deal with shots that’s aren’t “keepers.” Apparently, even my bad shots, on some level, are still keepers. Ain’t no school like the old school!

Hope you have a great week, and make sure you check out Rob here on Wednesday for his column. 🙂

-Scott

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13 comments

  1. Paul 20 May, 2021 at 01:40 Reply

    Scott Kelby writes:
    “…back then you never, ever threw away the negatives no matter what, even if they weren’t keepers. You just didn’t do it. The negative were ‘sacred.’”

    The other thing was that when you developed your negs (or got them back from the lab), they usually came in strips of (X), so that made it more difficult to get rid of the photographs of the inside of your lens cap. And I don’t know of anyone who cut their negs into individual frames.

    Either way, I also keep most of my files.

  2. Sebastian Weindel 12 April, 2021 at 04:50 Reply

    Damn it took me 4 years to finally develop a good way to organize my files. My solution: I don’t delete but copy all the keepers to a new harddrive within a seperate LRKAT. But I guess theres no real royal road

  3. Mike 30 March, 2021 at 08:49 Reply

    I follow the same regimen as Scott’s current process – deleting only the obviously ‘bad’ shots. But as Jesper mentioned, my views on the ‘non-keepers’ may change over time. I’ve had several instances of looking back over photos that didn’t make the cut four or five years ago and thinking “I can use that.” In part, it’s because my skills with Lightroom editing and with Photoshop have improved over the years, so a photo that looked hopeless five years ago can be a candidate for ‘improvement’ now.

  4. ButchM 30 March, 2021 at 08:20 Reply

    I’m an “Old School” photographer that shot film for nearly twice as long as digital … been doing the latter for well over two decades now … Any photo that does not have any redeemable market or personal value gets deleted. Just like I trash used tissues. That said, the threshold for what is deemed as a “keeper” is a purely subjective and very personal topic that you must determine for yourself.

  5. marc labro 29 March, 2021 at 22:56 Reply

    hello,
    i do the same and my wife, not LR user, becomes crazy searching a picture of our children in thousands of pictures, even the oil bottles i used to test flashes… :-).
    I often come back to 2015… jpg or raw pictures which were not very nice but had some potential and retouch them now with lightroom presets or LUTs and Luminar AI + templates. Results are awesome. I have also improved my skills removing unwanted elements or making better selections so they have a new life 🙂
    cmoud storage is “cheap” but i pay in belgium 59 euros to VOO (catv coax) (no fiber in my country) to have 100Mbps downstream and 6Mbps upstream (79 euros if i switch to 400/20Mbps) so backuping on dropbox… is quite tedious so all “mobile-cloud” are not for me. I am investigating Synology NAS 2x4TB instead (700 euros).
    marc

  6. Craig 29 March, 2021 at 14:06 Reply

    I took a photo a few years ago and it was a very important photo to the subject. However, it was very bright outside and i could not see the focus point. Unfortunately, the lens was in MF and it focused on the fence 150 yards behind them. Completed pout of focus. Every time I would pass but it in my LR filmstrip, the bothered me, so I eventually deleted them. A month ago, I saw that there is new AI that can focus an out-of-focus shot. UGH!!!!

  7. Rick Grant 29 March, 2021 at 11:43 Reply

    Thanks for this post.

    I have suffered much angst since my switch to digital many years ago now. I just cannot drop the feeling of deep sacrilege if I delete anything that is not a vivid and obvious error.

    I thought I was alone with this; a feeling that deep culling was shameful and disrespectful. So, I am much relieved that I am not alone.

    Having said that. It occurred to me while reading the post and thinking about my situation that there might be a way out. I am going to play with the concept of exporting or transferring unrated, non-flagged, etc images to a “back of the closet” library. I wouldn’t and couldn’t do it all at once, but over a period of weeks in odd moments when I have time to mess around in LR with no specific purpose, I could start marking stuff for the shoebox at the back of the closet.

  8. Lisa Ireton 29 March, 2021 at 09:30 Reply

    As I get older, and am dealing with decluttering areas of the house, I am more interested in decluttering my photo folders. Some day, I would like my kids to have printed copies and digital files of my good photos. I would prefer that they not have to either wade through terabytes of similar photos or just press “Delete”, as it will be one chore too many after I am gone. It is easier to look at older photos and delete the ones with obvious composition problems that can’t be saved by cropping. That said, I am not a professional so have no need to save photos for clients.

  9. JJ Jumoc-Casas 29 March, 2021 at 08:23 Reply

    I’m in the “5-Star” only camp — either the shot(s) are absolute keepers worth showing/submitting to client/adding to portfolio or they aren’t. I do portraits so maybe that’s why it’s “easier” for me but my process is deleting the absolute goners (out of focus, flash misfires etc) and then pre-selecting my favorites/recommended selects to client. From there, client will make his/her selects which about 90% of the time they’ll agree with my preselects.

    For me, this process main advantage is not necessarily to save space but to make selections for clients a smoother and quicker process.

  10. MattS 29 March, 2021 at 06:24 Reply

    I would expect most photographers are in the same boat of not identifying non-keepers for deletion. Let’s face it, it’s a non-enjoyable task that’s made easy to avoid due to availability of affordable hard drive space. There is (for me at least) one deleting process I do go through once each year. I donate my time to the local high school to cover the boys & girls soccer matches and maintain a website for them, their friends and relatives to see their efforts on the field. At the end of every school season I purge all photos from 4 years back, which includes both keepers and non-keepers, thus leaving the last 3 years for those still in school and room for the upcoming year. Rather simple to do since all are stored in folders structured via yyyy/mm/dd. Just delete a single year’s folder.

  11. Jesper 29 March, 2021 at 03:32 Reply

    I do the same, i.e., keep everything. The main reason being that identifying keepers is not the same as identifying non-keepers. If I do a selection today of the best photos from a wildlife shoot, that does not mean that the non-selected are non-keepers. Frequently, when I return to an old shoot, my idea of which are the best photos are different from the first time. Obviously there are non-keepers among the photos, but only time will tell which they are and I don’t see it as productive use of my time to identify non-keepers just for the sake of deleting them. Besides, identifying keepers is much more fun!

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