Taking PhotosI love photographs. I really enjoy taking photos, and I love looking through old photos that bring back so many memories. Now that probably isn’t very surprising since I mention my passion for photography a lot here on this blog.

Recently while looking at the mass of photos that need editing and the boxes of old photos and slides that I need to digitise I recently had pause for thought. Do I really need them all?

This got me thinking a bit more about what purpose these photos have. After a bit of thought I eventually arrived at the most important question. ‘Why do we keep photographs?’

This is a very interesting question and I have a feeling there may be more than one answer to it. Until I work out exactly what these photographs mean to me then things can get a bit confusing when it comes to editing. Which photos do I keep and which do I throw away? I end up being a bit indecisive and then spend time editing a lot of photos that are average at best. I feel this is a bit of a waste of time and I end up with a lot more photos than necessary and as an added insult the average quality of the photos is lower than it should be…

Reasons For Taking Photos

To start with lets look at the possible reasons for taking a photograph. When you first pick up a camera you are likely to be taking photos for one of these reasons:

  • Snaps of family and friends for posterity
  • Remember a special occasion
  • Capture a memorable moment
  • Holiday snaps to help remember a trip

A lot of my photos are taken on some kind of holiday, whether it be from a day out or a trip around the world. So do I consider them just holiday snaps and try and include snaps of everything we came across, whether it be swans at the local park or the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Then there are the snaps taken on the spur of the moment when you get together with family or friends. Maybe it is a memorable shot of family members at a special occasion or just one of the grandkids doing something cute.

Notice I have been using the word snap a fair bit. I feel that a snap is a quick photo taken without too much thought other than to preserve the moment or memory for whatever reason. This is not meant to be derogatory in any way as I feel snaps are just as important as well thought out photographs in many respects. The important thing to note is that there is a difference between the two.

When you start putting a bit more thought into your photography then the reasons for the photographs tend to change a bit. You are trying to capture the essence of a landscape, a certain facial expression or emotion, the patterns, details or colours within nature or maybe just capture a specific behaviour of someone or even something…

These photographs need to be differentiated from the snaps and handled differently. I think this maybe where I have been going wrong…

Editing Snaps

First thing to do is decide if you are editing snaps or thought out photographs. If you decide that the batch of photos are to be considered snaps then go through them as such. Snaps are designed to capture a moment in time, a memory, a family member or friend you may not see very often or even just some shots of the sights from your latest holiday. The photos do not even have to be perfectly in focus if they capture a special moment, obviously it is better if they are, but as long as the image holds some sort of memory prompt then it is probably worth keeping.

This can be taken too far as I have seen collections of photos where some of the pictures are completely blurred and unrecognisable followed by loads of photos of pretty much the same thing. There still needs to be some sort of quality control. Decisions should be made quickly and simply with little more than a glance at the photos as a whole. If there are multiple photos that capture pretty much the same thing then only include the best one.

The main thing to bear in mind here is that as they are only snaps then they only deserve a quick decision and minimal editing. The photo will still convey the same message and all the editing in the world is unlikely to make it into an award wining photo…

Editing Photographs

When going through your thought out photographs they need to be looked at with different criteria.

  • Does the image capture what you set out to?
  • Is the focus sharp in all the right places?
  • Is it visually pleasing?
  • Would you be happy to put your name to it?

These images need to be gone through with a bit more scrutiny and the quality control should be much stricter and a bit more effort can be put into editing, but only if required. The smaller the set of images left the higher the average quality will become.

I haven’t really explored making money from my photographs but the possibility does cross my mind. Maybe if I can organise my photos a bit I can determine if there are any that may be worth something. That may be adding to stock photography sites or simply selling the images directly myself.

Reasons For Keeping Photos

I am proud of some of my photos. Not always for my photographic prowess, which is sometimes severely lacking, but for what the images represent. Whether it be travelling to a far flung destination or getting up close and personal with wildlife. I cast a critical eye over each photo and decide if I am pleased enough with it to add to my personal collection. Then I question myself and ask if maybe it should go in the family album. Even then I ask myself if there is anything particular in the photo that may be of use in the future.

This is the real dilemma and I seem to spend far too long agonising over a few photos that are on the edge of being thrown away. In other words I seem to spend more time on the less important photos than I do on my better ones…

I would love to be able to show off the best of my collection to friends and family. The problem is that I such a massive collection of photos, in such disarray that I either show them far too many—the majority of which can be average at best—or try and find particular photos one at a time, which is painful now that my library has reached such a size.

So lets try and focus on the reasons for keeping a photograph:

  • Reminder of an event or occasion like a wedding, party, holiday or adventure of any kind
  • Family photo album with images of family and friends over the years
  • Personal photo album which may bring back more personal memories but would not be of use to anyone else
  • Collections of photos to show to family or friends
  • Portfolio of photos to show off your best work including the potential to make money

When going through the photos the important thing to think is how you are likely to use them. If the image is only likely to end up in your personal collection as a simple prompt of a special memory then there really isn’t any point in spending ages editing the image. The memory is likely to be brought back even if the image is out of focus with severe red eye… If you plan on showing the photos to close friends then spend a short amount of time sorting and editing which photos tell the story you want. If you come across some images that you are extremely proud of then you can afford to lavish that little bit of extra time to edit them properly.

Now I need to just put this into practise… I’ll let you know how I get on.

Please let me know how you handle your collection of photos no matter what size it is.

Image: Shirley O’Shea



As always very thoughtful.

Michael Ludgate

My take is that as habitual creatures a photo collection, as any collection, can get severely out of control or just lose focus.

I think a useful parallel can be drawn between your photos and my approach to stamp collection. The majority of my ‘collection’ is actually organisation from a mass of stamps. The point of the collection being, discovery, presentation and (a little OCD…) order.

Starting with s mass (collection implies order) of stamps, I select an appropriate theme, then go through a process of sorting and filtering, before further iterations based on criteria such as quality, post-mark, perforations, etc.

I found the quickest approach was to stick to a predetermined goal, perform the simplest degree of action possible on the set, before moving on in an iterative fashion. This does make the process quite mechanical, but this is therapeutic if you can walk away once you’ve had enough.

I’d never throw away unprocessed stamps, or those left after a filter. They can either be used differently or given/sold to someone else.

Personally I feel the differentiation between snaps and deliberate photography is unhelpful. The better the photographer, the better the par photo, ‘snaps’ will improve as less active thought is required to get the picture. By weighing up if a photo is a ‘snap’ or a ‘pro photo’, you’re assuming the skill level is consistent between photos over time. With this approach, you’ll not only be trying to find time to organise/add to, the pro photos, but also weed out the photos that no longer stand up to your improved ability.

While I advocate spending the lion share of time on the best photos that match your collections goal, I’d also keep the runts. Having digitised 35mm for my Grandparents, I believe the investigative excitement is as rich for your descendants as the pro photos are for forming your personal view of an event.

Wish I’d considered this when digitizing the photos, for whatever reason persisting with scanning at some crazy high resolution.

As a curve-ball, maybe Nietzsche would suggest you collect photos because it allows you to present a controlled personal view of the world and your experiences to others – as in ‘will to power’.

    Pete O'Shea


    The attempt to differentiate between snaps and deliberate photography was not meant to be about quality but more about what is actually being captured. The way I see it snaps are photos of a more personal moment, such as a family party, that are only likely to be seen by close family and friends whereas some photographs are taken as a piece of art to be shown to a wide range of other people.

    How did you get on digitising 35mm. Did you scan the negatives or prints? This is on my list of to do items and have tried both methods but not decided on which is best yet…


Michael Ludgate

I bought a pretty cheap negative scanner sub-£100 around 10 years ago. It’s quite noisy, not amazingly fast, and an amazing dust magnet. However the images are really good, with the caveat that a poorly stored negative will show up damage. I guess this is true of all the units – you need to know what film was used, the scanning software has filters for the different types. Generally it’s obvious if wrong, but a poor taken photo can be a little tricky, esp. when film isn’t branded and no markings on the negative.

If you have a serious number, the manual slide/align/lock system becomes a pain in the arse. I’d seriously consider looking at a more expensive unit with some sort of auto feed ability (or maybe outsource to india…).

Also it eats an amazing amount of time up. If I do any more, I’d get/make a light-box for viewing and selecting the negatives I really want.

    Pete O'Shea

    Hi Michael,

    I also got a cheap negative scanner quite a few years ago but I wasn’t happy with the quality and so hardly ever used it. I have bought a more recent model a year or so back but haven’t really had a chance to use it much yet. Like you say it takes up a fair amount of time…

    And yes I do have a serious number to do, I think that’s why I never got started the task seemed so big. The lightbox sounds like a great idea though as I wouldn’t have to scan them all then.


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