The Ultimate Kill the Clutter Challenge…Tackling Image Backlog

Sam freaking out

What have I gotten myself into…? ©Darwin Wiggett

I admit it’s a bit radical.

Many of you are going to say I’ve tripped my shutter, overexposed my hand, am lost in the darkroom of life…but I HAVE to do it.

I’m going to commit to tackling the horrendous backlog of unprocessed raw files gathering digital dust on my computer hard drives. I’m going to work my can off for the next six weeks. And what I can’t get to by June 30, 2014 when we walk out the door to start our Artists in Residence program…well, I’m gonna DELETE those raw images. Permanently. As in forever. That’s right: bye bye baby!

I’m sure some readers are gagging up their breakfast cereal right now at the thought of throwing away their unprocessed files. Sure, it’s crazy. But it’s also going to be freeing. Why? Because I’m one of those control freaks who has to do the dishes sitting on the counter before I dirty a new set making dinner. I have to organize my desk before I can get down to work. And I CAN’T STAND the idea of going out to shoot with hundreds of images just waiting for me back home. Garrgh, the clutter! It drains my energies like a battery forgotten on a cold garage floor. It keeps me from being truly free and creative. So it’s time for a radical amputation.

I know some of you might be thinking, What is her problem? Just cherry pick the faves, and leave the rest for when you have a spare moment! But there is no free hour in the future. Running a photography business means a lot of time thinking not about photography but the business of photography. When I do have a spare moment, you won’t find me anywhere near a computer. For me, it’s killer clutter that keeps me from wanting to head out to make new images (that in turn will just sit on my computer for years. Yech!)

There’s also the little fact that I need my images processed in order to use them in our educational eBooks, talks and workshops…but I digress.

Sam at Wilcox Pass, Jasper

It’s hard to shoot with backlog hanging over my head. ©Darwin Wiggett

Darwin and I have written a few times on the blog about getting rid of clutter in our lives. With disposable income it can be so easy to collect extra things. We think we need that extra kitchen gadget or motorized toy, but despite retailer promises, our lives are not easier or happier. We just end up with more junk. For me, unprocessed images sitting on my ‘to do’ list for years feels like piles of paper on my desk that I have to get to before I can clock out for the day. Why not just set a firm deadline to achieve a goal and toss the remainders? Why not??

My goal may not seem so ‘out there’ to minimalists. These are people who strip away all the extras in their lives, freeing themselves from the tyranny of stuff which allows them to focus their energies into more productive channels. I first heard of minimalism through a CBC radio interview with Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus the authors of Minimalism: Living a Meaningful Life. Compared to how they’ve downsized their lives, what I’m planning to do is piddly!

There’s also been a resurgence in the concept of eudaimonia which is the pursuit or experience of self-actualization, excellence or meaning as opposed to what most of us do to be happy which is gleefully seek hedonia (the pursuit or experience of pleasure, comfort and enjoyment).  The little bit I’ve heard about these concepts so far, from a nod in the pop psyche book on learning music, Guitar Zero, to the abstract for Veronika Huta’s article on the subject (my definitions are from her summary — have to see if I can get my hand on the book itself) suggest I’m on the right path to put off pleasure-seeking photography right now in favour of a virtuously clean hard drive.

THIS is what I'm freakin' out about!

THIS is what I’m freakin’ out about!

So, I hope I’m up for the ultimate kill the clutter challenge. I have 89+ folders containing hundreds of unprocessed raw files and about six weeks to sort through them all. What I get to by June 30, I keep. What’s left is junked.

What do you think? Care to join me and set your own little ‘kill the clutter’ goal? Why not??

About the Author

Photographing the incredible beauty of natural things, filming quirky videos, trying new foods with unpronounceable names, curling up with a good book, sharing ideas on how to live lighter on the Earth...these are a few of my favourite things!

34 Comments

  1. Karrie Daly
    May 22, 2014

    Can relate totally… have set a goal by year end to do the same with my images collecting dust and at that time will do a big purge as well.:)

    Reply
  2. Stephen DesRoches
    May 22, 2014

    At first I was horrified and then I thought… no big deal, their not my unprocessed files. And I choose not to participate myself.

    Best of luck saving as many as possible before the deadline. Or you could just declare file bankruptcy now and press delete today. What you don’t know is there, you’ll never miss.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 22, 2014

      It’s not for everyone! Do you have a huge backlog, and does it bother you psychologically? Parenthetically, some people seem to thrive in clutter.

    • Stephen DesRoches
      May 23, 2014

      I obsessively organize to a fault.

      The excessive clutter adds challenges but not enough to delete them just yet. If I never get to them in the near future while I’m healthy, those files will still be waiting when I’m less physically able.

      I fall into your cherry picking definition.

  3. Al Wood
    May 22, 2014

    I have been in this dilemma for a few years: (a) Do I go all in and shoot RAW, and then fight to find the time to process the photos (which to me is not fun); or (b) just live with the limited processing capability of shooting JPEG, but at least my photos are immediately available after shooting.
    A friend of mine enjoys world travel and shoots his photos RAW. However when we are invited over to see his photos, he has only had time to process a limited number of photos, since when he comes back from his holiday, he is busy at work and has had no time to process the many photos. I feel like I missed out on most of the enjoyment and holiday photos.
    Personally I have gotten to the point where my JPEG photos are technically not bad, so in most cases my photos do not need a lot of processing. I know they are not magazine quality processed photos, and yes it would be nice to be able to do that. On the other hand do i want to come back after a day of shooting a kayaking competition with 600 photos to process. My answer is NO, that takes all the fun out of photography for me.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 22, 2014

      If you know yourself, honour yourself! Good for you for being aware of your interests and following a plan in accordance with them. The capabilities of cameras have also come a LONG way and they are capturing excellent quality JPEGs.

  4. Ellen Kinsel
    May 22, 2014

    I totally understand your need to purge. I did the same thing last year with “stuff” (not photos), and it is amazing how refreshing it feels. What made it easier at the start was having a totally unbiased person with no connection to my things hold an item up and say “what about this?” It really released my attachment. Of course, I still have way, way too much, but I am learning to put things in the give away box as I encounter them and realize how extraneous they are.

    Assess your level of attachment to those unprocessed files. If you haven’t looked at them in a year (2 years, 3 years, whatever your benchmark is), then you probably won’t miss them when they are gone. Isn’t that what they tell us is the key to cleaning out your closet?

    I wish you good luck…but don’t spend too much time indoors sitting in front of the computer screen at this lovely time of year.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 22, 2014

      Sometimes I ask Darwin’s advice about an image, but he often tells me to keep them! So he’s no help 🙂

  5. Jeff Sinon
    May 22, 2014

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. I regularly go back through old folders and send numerous images to RAW file heaven. I’m of the mindset that if it’s been on the hard drive for a couple of years and I haven’t done anything with it by now, I’m probably not ever going to do anything with it. And if I’m not going to do anything with it, why bother keeping it?

    Reply
  6. Anil Sud
    May 22, 2014

    I’ve got a backlog of several years of unprocessed RAW files and find myself going deeper and deeper into ‘processing debt’ with each subsequent holiday shoot.

    Unlike most photographers I know, I actually enjoy the creative challenges of processing, probably more so than photographing. Despite my best intentions of focusing my efforts to keep on top of things, it feels like being caught in a mire of quicksand.

    The day I break my leg (or suffer some other incapacitating mishap) will be embraced as a mixed blessing; once and for all, I’ll finally be able to conquer the hill!

    Reply
  7. Lawrence
    May 23, 2014

    Samantha:
    I think I need to jump on this with you. I have untold thousands of RAW files sitting around, mostly the same stuff of grizzlies and eagles from my four years working on the west coast, to, well, our dogs and small travels and home. Not to mention my nephew’s wedding last year, the coinciding holiday and stuff from around work of late.
    Oh yeah, and my wife and I are going to Greece in September, so lord knows how many I will have to deal with coming back from that trip.
    Look forward to hearing how it goes and will see if I can take up the challenge (though my supreme skill of procrastination will come in to play)

    Cheers, Lawrence

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 26, 2014

      Even just scheduling time to clear the ones you know you’re not going to use, especially the ‘similars’ in wildlife shots can make a big difference. Some have shared here their workflow ideas to tackle these from the start…good suggestions, too. Good luck, Lawrence, and keep us posted!

  8. Dave W
    May 23, 2014

    Hi Sam

    Storage is quite cheap now. Rather than delete permanently you could copy the leftovers to an external drive. They will be off your system out of sight out of mind but still available just in case.

    Good luck with the purging,
    Dave

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 26, 2014

      Oh, Dave, a good suggestion, but it’s not my visual sight I’m worried about but my mental sight. Hiding stuff in the metaphorical closet doesn’t work for me, unfortunately.

  9. Gudrun Schulze Ebbinghoff
    May 23, 2014

    I’m with you on being unable to work with clutter (whether dishes or piles on my desk), but I try to be consistent in doing a solid purge of a shoot when I transfer it to my computer — that way there are only half as many files on my brain!

    Reply
  10. Les Howard
    May 25, 2014

    You probably have a lot of pictures. If my computer screen looked like yours, Samantha, I would go completely bonkers.

    I use Adobe Lightroom to manage and process my photos. With it, I can take any one of those 89 folders and whittle it down to the ones I actually do want to process and keep in just a few minutes. I can then process each one in just a few minutes more right in Lightroom – although sometimes I might also need to switch over to Photoshop for some minor tweeks Lightroom can’t do. Right now my picture library is over 20,000 files and ‘overwhelming’ is not a word I would use to describe it. One of my friends has over 500,000 files.

    Why not find someone who is using Lightroom and ask them for a demo? If you decide to try it, check out Matt Kloskowski’s courses on kelbyone(dot)com and subscribe to his Lightroom Killer Tips blog. You may even be able to meet your deadline without throwing anything away.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 26, 2014

      Thanks for the advice, Les. I have Lightroom and am familiar with it. My workflow is to download cards and do a quick sort/edit using Adobe Bridge. So those 89 folders are already whittled down somewhat.

      I usually do quite little processing since it’s not my area of creative interest, but unfortunately some of my landscapes are multi-exposure panoramic stitches…Lightroom still doesn’t do this for me (yet). 🙂

  11. Erik thorsen
    May 25, 2014

    Unless we become far more efficient we will be consumed by our RAW digital debris. I am determined to trust my instincts and compositional judgement and go through the images when first imported or reviewed – making selections while the experience is fresh and treating the remainders like rough concept sketches, trash them. This is empowering, you trust your gut, this is the instinct which makes you a better photographer in the first place. If you like me, started shooting film, processing and printing yourself, there was a limit due to cost and the time it took. Digital allows us freedom and creativity at the point of capture but can quickly bury us and suffocate our future creativity due to being weighed down exactly as you describe! You will have looked at all those images at least once, that could have been it, you could have flagged or selected what you liked and filed them for reference or use or sale or… But you would have the time frame you are allocating as a deadline to do more creative projects.
    Jarred platt (I recall with creative live), has done some very good workshops refining the selection process and subsequent post processing which really impressed me and changed the way I approach my work and my growing library. Good luck with your approach.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 26, 2014

      Hi Erik. Good point about using one’s judgment to edit. I think people are afraid to throw files away (either because they are not confident in their ability to judge the potential of an image or they are betting on future technological advantages to assist in processing some files). Truly, not every shot we take is a winner. In fact, plenty are stinkers. I agree it’s useful to learn to trust your instinct and get rid of the stinkers.

  12. Ian Parr
    May 26, 2014

    Hi Sam,

    I’m probably the world’s least organised person and I don’t produce all that many files myself but I’ve found Lightroom 5 invaluable for keeping up with output. It took a bit of learning but I find it even better than Aperture for keeping files under control and also ease of image editing.

    Even if you clear everything now, the fact that you ended up with a massive backlog suggests that unless you change your workflow you will end up in the same situation again in the future so maybe more needs to change than just having a spring clean.

    Happy clear out.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 26, 2014

      Hi Ian. Thanks for the comment.

      I think it’s not so much my workflow (which is as mentioned above, to download and delete many of the images right away) but priorities. I find that, ironically, being in the business of teaching creative photography leaves me much less time for my own creative, personal output. It’s the balance of work/life that is always the struggle…

  13. Tom
    May 26, 2014

    I’m with you Sam! In fact I had a folder of some 1300 unprocessed images in a Lightroom collection named… wait for it… “Reserved for Future Editing”. Now I say had, because I deleted every one of those files last Friday. I also erased 1000+ images I had planned on erasing but never got around to. You know, just in case I wanted to go back through them to see if I “missed” anything.

    Your post is timely because I’m in the middle of reading a book right now by Louise Hay called “Heal your Life”. In it she talks about clearing out the old in order to make room for the new (whether it’s physical things or new thoughts and ideas).

    When I read your post last Friday, it immediately dawned on me that I could also clear out my image library of old images. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’ve been hesitating to shoot new images because I knew there was a big file of images waiting to processed back home.

    I feel so liberated now! 🙂

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      May 26, 2014

      Wow Tom your are inspiring, so inspiring I may now be brave enough to tackle my crazy backlog of files as well!

    • Tom
      May 27, 2014

      Go for it Darwin! It only hurts a little.

  14. Dave
    May 27, 2014

    Sam – Tom’s comment about clearing out the old to make way for the new is spot on! You can’t fill your cup with something good if it is still full of sour milk, and it makes no sense to keep buying new cups because the old ones are full of sour milk!

    You have to not only drain the cup, but be prepared for the cup to be empty for a time. In the past, this was my trouble – the fear of the empty cup. Embrace it! Without it you will not be able to fill it with the good stuff.

    Reply
  15. Chris Bone
    May 27, 2014

    Hi Sam – What a great conversation, you have really started something here. The idea of spring cleaning our homes, and our hard drives is appealing; plus, the results can be liberating. My problem comes down to procrastination so I seldom feel that sense of liberation, but when I do… In fact, I am going to start with our garden shed right now then later on I will tackle my photo library (but not too much later). Thanks for the inspiration, and good luck with your challenge. Hope you do not end up dumping too many wonderful images.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      May 27, 2014

      Hi Chris. Thanks for the comment, and glad to inspire. I think a lot of people are seeking to simplify their lives.

      And don’t worry; even if some keepers get trashed, I’ll be super pumped to take the time to make (and process) new photographs. It’s about looking forward not being stuck in the past.

      ‘Sides. All good artists go on a rampage and wreck their stuff at some point, don’t they?

  16. Wayne Simpson
    May 28, 2014

    Although the bulk of my processing is people-relatated images such as weddings or portraits I can totally appreciate how freeing this would be! Good for you guys for staying on top of what makes YOU happy. As you mentioned, even if a few great shots get missed, you will be so much more amped to get out there shooting that it will pay off in the long run.

    Reply
  17. Kill The Clutter? | Tom Dills Photography Blog
    June 8, 2014

    […] Samantha Chrysanthou and Darwin Wiggett recently posted on their blog that they had decided and agreed (it was Samantha’s idea and Darwin decided to go along) to a June 30 deadline to either process their unprocessed files or delete them.  Delete as in gone.  Forever.  Their reasoning is that having so many unprocessed images was limiting their creativity by creating “clutter” and that Samantha “CAN’T STAND the idea of going out to shoot with hundreds of images just waiting for me back home.”  Samantha had 89+ folders and Darwin nearly 200 folders dating back to 2005.  Rather than me copy and paste their comments, you need to read the several (so far) posts on the subject to get the whole idea. […]

    Reply
  18. Episode 84 »» Photography Backlog - Shutter Time With Sid & Mac
    June 8, 2014

    […] Darwin Wiggett, left us scratching our big ol’ noggins. We discuss his decision to join his partner’s kill-the-clutter challenge with regards to their massive backlog of unprocessed images. I’d guess most […]

    Reply

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