What To Do With the Thousands of Images You've Shot So Far?

What To Do With the Thousands of Images You've Shot So Far?

Your external disk is filling up with all the digital files, but before you buy additional memory storage to hold more of your photographs, consider doing something with the ones you've already created so far.

Planning shoots and hunting for images is and can be exciting, and sometimes, we don't necessarily remember to edit all of our sessions, let alone figure out what to do with them. I am not referring to any of your work you might have produced in a professional capacity, because that type of photography always has a very clear end goal, which will depend on what your client has ordered. This time, I am talking about the images you have shot as part of your personal photography, whether it is hundreds of files from your hiking and traveling trips, numerous model shoots, or simply snapshots of things that have caught your eye over the course of years.

A cat on a table with a man using a laptop.

How many files have you created so far? How would you feel if suddenly they were all gone?

We have already written about using images laying on your device for stock purposes to generate passive income, for example, utilizing things and scenes around you to capture them for stock imagery or even going as far as learning to specialize in a particular stock photography niche. However, the moment you remove money from the equation, the question remains: what should you do with the images, and what is the overall point of the images you have created so far?

Personal photography is an odd direction because there are absolutely no rules nor anyone to motivate you apart from yourself. It can be extremely rewarding, but it can also become overwhelming if you only focus on the creation of new photographs without ever stopping for a moment to look at what you have done so far and what you can create out of that.

Presentation Online

There are many tools online to help you visually present and compartmentalize your work, whether you choose to share that with anyone or not. For example, Adobe Spark, which offers a few different pricing plans depending on whether you already have an Adobe subscription or not, gives you a platform where you can create something that I would describe as a mix of a slideshow presentation and a one-page website. You can add both images and videos, as well as text, which helps if you want to describe your project, add an introduction, as well as any details about yourself as the author. For example, I used Adobe Spark to put together a project myself and several other photographers did as we shot daily themes for 28 days in a row. This way, I did not need to create a separate website to display all of the images the participants created, and I could still share a link with them and anyone else who wanted to look at it. The downside to Adobe Spark, in particular, is that I found it was laggy and slow at times, which can quickly frustrate anyone dealing with organizing and designing numerous images.

People walking by on a street in Venice.

Have you got lots of photos from your travels? Why not create a simple book for each of your favourite locations?

My favorite presentation tool so far has been Canva. It has an incredible amount of inspirational templates that you can use to not only create beautiful presentations that you can download or view online but also for PDFs in the shape of magazines, books, and more. It's a free tool, although you can get a subscription if you want additional features, and you will definitely find something in there that will help you create a way to present your project or collection of images in a very sleek way. For example, using the same project I showed on Adobe Spark, I also created a book on Canva, which you can view here. The only limitation was the number of pages: the project required me to create the book in two halves to fit within the limit of pages Canva allowed. A website like this will feed you with inspirational designs that will get your creative ideas going on how to present your work.

There are certainly other similar tools and websites online, both paid and free ones.

Print, Print, and More Print

A friend of mine always says that a photograph isn't a photograph until it's in a print form. It is easy to fall into a routine of creating digital files, filling up all your memory space, but at the end of the day, if your devices crash or get stolen, or destroyed, what kind of legacy have you left, if not for others, then for yourself and for your journey in photography? I won't even go into the argument over methods of backing up your files and why you should do it because that still doesn't help you organize your photography nor does it give you a tangible product of your work. 

A man measuring a photo mount.

You don't even need to print the images yourself; you can simply order them online or at a local framing and print shop.

Similar to the presentation online, you can do exactly the same but in a print format. Nowadays, there are so many drag-and-drop style options for creating and ordering books, magazines, zines, or of course, actual portfolio or wall prints. There are many photographers, who spend thousands on their equipment, both for shooting and for processing their images, as well as on hiring models, yet they will not set time aside to create a tangible product of their shoots, projects, or overall portfolio. Again, it's easy to fall into this routine of constantly going forward without stopping to reflect, so I can see how that can happen. 

There are plenty of budget-friendly print labs all over the world where you can order products to suit your style of photography and how much you are willing to invest in printing your work. All of them will offer different types of papers, book sizes, and formats. For example, for my own personal photography, I have used Blurb, Bob Books, Saal Digital, or Whitewall, just to name a few, which don't require you to register as a professional user. You simply create an account and start designing your products. But, I've also used print labs that only permit professional photographers to register because these are primarily aimed at selling products to commercial, portrait, and wedding clients. These print labs generally will offer higher quality products, but of course, the price will increase with that, too.

Treat Yourself to Feeling Proud

After years of shooting, you deserve to treat yourself to a product that showcases your best or favorite work, something that you can hold and look through, and pass down the generations if you so wish. But, all in all, the primary goal of printing is to feel a sense of accomplishment, to give yourself something that will forever remind you of the places you traveled to shoot, or the people you photographed, or the projects you completed. Spending time to design and choose what you want to print and how will also help you put your photography in some sort of logical order that is unique to you. It's almost like doing a spring clean to come out feeling fresher and having a clearer perspective.

Several photography books on a table.

Receiving your photographs in any of the print formats is a natural conclusion to the shoot or the project. It's something that signifies that you put time, effort, and skill into something, and now, it's proudly displayed on your coffee table, your wall or it's something you can share with people online, especially if your friends or family don't live close. Trust me, drives will fail, images will get lost or deleted, but a beautiful hardcover book of your most precious work will get looked after. You don't need to print all of the thousands of images you have shot so far; just picking some is enough. Even if you give up photography one day, this will be a reminder of what you achieved.

What are your preferred ways of dealing with your personal photography work? 

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Robert Lype's picture

Over the past few months with the COVID issue found my self with a lot of free time to go back trough some of my external drives to delete or work on some of those files we all have that needed some work.
After 40 years of maintaining quite a large collection of various types of film sizes and digital files at times it becomes overwhelming storing them all inhouse as any photographer knows this is time well spent when trying to find a certain file. Not being a big fan of online storage along with digital storage becoming less expensive for safety and security reasons my safe is the best place for these images.
Stock photography is good portion of my income but to be successful at it one has to be diverse to make name for them selves develop a style stick with it.
Stock photography is a very competitive field at first the prices seem low but as your inventory increases and sales increase it a worth while. For photographers starting out this good place to create a portfolio of published work regardless of the price
Beware there are a lot of new venues cropping up do your homework first, one indication your headed down the wrong path your not required to have your portfolio reviewed first. It is also not for the faint hearted your work is reviewed by photo editors whom are pretty detail oriented. One has to be patient along with well aware of what the trends are, your not going to get rich overnight it takes time but worth it if you stick with it

Lee Christiansen's picture

I've been shooting a personal project for the last 13 years of London street photography with maybe another 15 or so before I self publish - no doubt selling hardly anything and having hundreds of books filling up the garage... ha.

But half way through this project a book manufacturer kindly offered to make me an interim book with 100 pages which meant I could have 125 images or so on high quality paper in a nice thick photo book, (thick pages). I got them to make me 3 sizeable books - all for free.

It took an age to collate, choose, check the times / dates / metadata, (turns out my early years I wasn't so good at recording this), and then of course the design process including a from and back cover.

I've given the project a name: "London Life" and I'm guessing the final book will be akin to the type of book with Obama images by P. Souza - but with my pics.

I'll be nearly 70 when it's all done, but nice to know that I'll leave something behind and not just hard drives.

I must admit, although my house has an egotistic rule that only my pictures can hang on the walls, this first book feels special - and much more so than any of my commercial works or albums for clients. I actually feel that I've produced something of worth with my personal work.

I've got these, and more images on a dedicated section of my pro website, and that's nice - but in print it is more satisfying. In a book, even more so.

I wonder if I might print out every single one of my street images on A2 art paper to create some sort of archive collection. The world has millions of iPhone images every day, but in this sea of easily lost pictures I think it is important to have something recorded for future generations and I'd love someone to sift through mine in a library 100 years from now and wonder at how we lived our lives.

So yes, it is important to do something tangible with our images, and seeing them in print or in a collection (electronically or on paper), is very satisfying. Gives more reason to actually go out and do it all...

Frame it, print it, website it, publish it or even get a one-off bespoke album made of your collection... It's worth the effort.

Dan Jefferies's picture

They say that if we ever find a extinct advanced civilization we'll never be able to understand them since their computers' 1s and 0s would have demagnetized and faded away long ago....

Anete Lusina's picture

That sounds wonderful! I think when it comes to printing personal work, our own satisfaction often is a lot more important than the prospect of anyone buying it because then you also have to put on your marketing hat and deal with your work as a sellable product, how to package it, how and where to sell it, how to advertise it etc., whereas a book for yourself (and your family for generations to come) can feel like a big accomplishment - we are the harshest critics of our own work after all, so it's never easy to please ourselves and get to that final product in our hands. :)

Chris Dillon's picture

I upload my favorite images to Box.com and use them as screen savers and wallpaper for my home media server and laptop. Seeing my work regularly inspires me to shoot more, triggers happy memories and gives me ideas for improvement.

William Mbiena's picture

I recently discovered te story of this London based photographer Josh Jackson. It is very inspiring how he processed to reach at the printing of he's work.
Link: https://www.setantabooks.com/book_author/joshua-k-jackson/

Juan Ortega's picture

If you want your photos to last hundreds of years there is no other solution than good old Black and White film, everything else will fade away into the depths of time, all the efforts and talents of all the photographers taking photos in color will fade with their photos, but not the good old black and white film and prints, they will be the only photos to survive 200 years into the future, and what about digital photos stored in hard drives, well we all know what happens to those, they get tossed into the garbage by your widow when you die.

Jordan Powers's picture

I have actually been going back through my archives and looking for images to relicense to companies. I am an interiors and architecture photographer by trade so I have a lot of inventory of home products that companies will relicense back to me, but even for those not in the same niche as I am, you may also be sitting on images that companies will relicense.

If you have a lot of photos of your hometown, for example - put them all into a sample folder and contact local businesses and tourism boards, etc. to see if there would be any use for these on their website, advertising, etc. You can get really creative with this, but companies always need professional photos... just have to get into the right mindset. There is a good free training on this topic by Adam Taylor at www.licenseyourphotos.com .

Jonathan BETH's picture

My work flow starts and end with delete and rate delete and delete . the more you delete the best will float to the top.

Bryan Linden's picture

Yes, get images off of your phones and print. This article didn't go into printing yourself and today it's easy and provides some advantages. Use your home printer to produce marketing materials, saleable photos, gifts, thank you cards, announcements, invitations and more. My company pacificinkjet.com makes products that are very highly rated, affordable, easily available. Get them shipped free direct from pacificinkjet.com or via our Amazon store, easily reachable at www.buyinkjetpaper.com.

I want great results for all, so please get in touch if you need anything, have questions, or want help getting fantastic results. Your success matters to us and happy customers come back! Happy Printing!!!!!

aurèle brémond's picture

Think of your mum fridge ! She will always be happy to have some photo on it.

And it's true of any fridge ;) It's always great to offer print to people, friends, mums, for their fridges. They will all be so happy.

It's a tradition loosing it's grip because we almost never print for our dear loved ones.

Daniel L Miller's picture

A few years back I created an exhibition exactly to address this issue. I called it "Three Hundred Words"

The premise was that if a great photo is worth 1,000 words then what do I do with all those good, but not great images in my library? The "solution" was two templates for prints; one was a Trio of three related images where the synergy created something new. And then I made huge prints from a montage of 4-8 separate images from the same subject. Each image was treated in a way to make them seem like a collection.

Without exaggeration it was my most financially successful show. And while that seems like a good outcome it created a little confusion in my mind. It was less about my content and more about marketing and packaging.

Jenny Rich's picture

Take them all and make a smartshow 3d slideshow about your own progress or just a compilation of your works done during the particular year! Okay, just kidding. One local photographer shared a story about re-editing her old works and it sounded like a good idea to me. Our photo editing skills had developed since the times wetool our first "serious" photos, so why not look through them again and apply some of our new skills to them? Even some automatic photo editors (like the one Fstoppers itself wrote about- https://fstoppers.com/originals/automatic-photo-editor-photoworks-refres... ) can do more than we could back then.

Rose Florida's picture

Dad passed away, avid photographer. What to do with the images? Had them all digitized. Time goes on. Memories fade - who are these people in this shot? Were they friends, family or random fellow tourists on a bus? Should we delete these? It is hard to deal with possessions that you have inherited. It is even harder to deal with possessions the the deceased loved ones have created themselves. Think of that when organizing your hobby work, if you are not ruthless about deleting or making sure the relevant information is available, all you are doing is passing off those jobs to others, many of whom are in the process of creating their own work and will approach yours with a heavy heart.

RT Simon's picture

Make limited edition books. Or have we forgotten how to look at printed matter with an authentic fondness for the materiality of a potentially beautiful object versus the virtual, by which our senses may have been permanently ‘fixed’?

Mike Dochterman's picture

Aww - the eternal question (or was it 'infernal')...what will happen to your pix once you croak.

I guess the real answer is 'get over it - your pix are just not that great'

enjoy them now..for they are doomed for the dumpster before your body gets cold

Lee Christiansen's picture

Unless of course, they are great. Or if they have interest for future generations or maybe historical value.

If my mummer dad were talented photographers, (alas not), and had left me a carefully collated collection of amazing images, then I'd be honoured to be the caretaker of such a library.

We constantly admire images taken by photographers from many years ago. They offer insights, creative ideas and history - whether or not we know the people in them. We should look towards continuing that tradition by ensuring our works are cherished and not "for the dumpster."

Iain Lea's picture

I spent the first covid lockdown here in Germany updating my backend workflow and updating a set of image generation tools that anyone can try here: www.lightaffaire.com/tools

Chaz Foote's picture

Spend two days looking for some specific photos I took 15 years ago (before I used Lightroom).

Anete Lusina's picture

Question is - did you manage to find them?

Chaz Foote's picture

It took me two days (about five hours).

Fritz Gessler's picture

delete them all. it's the best service kitsch-photographers could do to humanity.

RT Simon's picture

Regardless what type of work you may do, try to establish that at least one collection or series becomes worthy of representing something in the world. It can be somewhat obscure. That is the most us mortals can hope for.