I save everything I shoot. I never realized the issue with this until one day, I looked up, and my 8 TB hard drive only had 3 GB left, at which point I realized: I have a problem.
But I’m not sure if the problem is me. While it’s true you can go back to the first time I shot a DSLR and find every raw photo from that time more than a decade ago on my current hard drives, is that so wrong? Maybe someone should come up with a smaller file size? Maybe more manufacturers should offer more small raw options on these new megapixel monsters?
I don’t know the answer here. On one hand, I haven’t touched some of the files in years. On the other hand, there’s a good case to be made for saving every photo you’ve ever taken. For one, software is always improving, but so is your skill as a photographer (from checking out Fstoppers tutorials, of course). What you were able to do with Photoshop CS3 more than a decade ago is very different from what’s possible with Creative Cloud and modern plugins. Noise reduction and sharpening technologies have gotten better and easier to use. Re-editing old photos could prove to be a worthwhile experience.
Then there’s the historic value. When news of Bill Clinton’s affair with White House Intern Monica Lewinsky broke in the 1990s, photographer Dirck Halstead found a photo of the two of them hugging on the campaign trail in old negatives. If he had discarded his negatives, he would never have been able to produce this now-important photo.
As an educator and Fstoppers writer, I will occasionally need that shot where the flash didn't fire or where the color was off just to prove a point. Sometimes, my out-of-focus images make for interesting bokeh overlays or backgrounds (like the one at the top of this post) and I find myself saving those as well.
But still, shelling out lots of money for hard drives gets tiresome. I’m running an ioSafe 218 NAS Unit with 12 TB of space to store both my images and videos, but even that’s bursting at the seams with the added video files I save on there.
What Do Others Do?
For me, saving everything has its advantages. For instance, in this photo of this lovely sunset, I’d never be able to recover the shadows if I only had a JPG file. You can see the best I can process out the JPG versus the detail I can pull from the RAW in this comparison slider:
Not having the raw file causes a lot of color information to be lost in the shadows.
So, what do other photographers do? I polled photography colleagues to see what their thoughts were on the subject.
By and large, most seemed to subscribe to the school of “save everything,” but there were variations on the theme. Many said that they save everything, but go through a shoot before saving to weed out out-of-focus shots or photos of feet. Still, others purge photos after a couple of years, whether that’s deleting entirely or moving to deep storage. One person commented that they save the RAW files for all of their selects, but dump the rest — akin to trimming a project for deep storage in Adobe Premiere Pro.
So, the consensus seems to be: there is no consensus.
What do you do? Do you save everything? Nothing? Somewhere in-between? Share your strategy in the comments below.