Again: No Deleting

As I said in 2016: Today, I present to you an excerpt from my classes at Sheridan College and from my private classes. The subject: “Should I habitually delete my bad pictures?”

And the answer, my photographing friends, is a strong “no”. Deleting, whether “from the camera”, “afterward”, or “instead of formatting”, is always unwise!

So why is that? Let’s look at all three reasons in turn.

[A] Why not delete from your camera?


  • First of all, it is a waste of time. When you spend your time deleting images, that means that you are “chimping”, i.e. looking at the images instead of looking at the things you are photographing! You should use the time you have on location to be at that location.
  • Also, by all this looking you are wasting valuable battery power; power you may well need later on in the day.
  • And you are losing learning opportunities: why exactly were they bad? The EXIF data usually shows you why—and without the image you may never know.
  • It may be As Good As It Gets: The bad image of uncle Joe may be the last image you have of him.
  • You may be mistaken: Often, you cannot really tell how good or bad the image actually is.
  • And finally, when you make a habit of deleting, you will delete the wrong image soon enough. Guaranteed. Law of nature.

[B] OK. So why not delete afterward?

This too is simple once you think it over…

  • Statistics, is one reason. “How many pictures do you take with wide angle lenses? What proportion if your images is out of focus? How many photos has your camera taken? All these are questions you cannot answer if you have deleted bad images.
  • As before: maybe it’s the only picture you will ever get of this person, even if it is out of focus. I would love too have an out of focus or badly composed picture of Lee Harvey Oswald the day before he shot the president.
  • Processing techniques improve with every iteration of Lightroom/ACR. Maybe that terrible image will be usable 10 years from now.
  • They don’t matter. The drawback of “they get in the way and slow things down or make my photos hard to work with” no longer holds at all with modern image resource management tools like Adobe Lightroom.

So you use 1TB of your 8TB drive for bad stuff. Who cares! Storage is cheap today.

[C] OK then. But why not “delete the card when importing”, or “delete after use”?

  • Because formatting is much, much better than merely marking as deleted (that is all that happens when you “delete”) . It removes lost clusters, fragmentation, and all the other disk error that occur naturally over time on every disk, even virtual disks. Formatting fixes all these and is much safer. It actually deletes.
  • “Deleting when importing” is also unsafe because “what if the import fails”?

But remember, friends, do not format until you have made at least one backup of your images: one main copy, and one backup on other media. All hard drives fail—then question is when, not whether.

So my conclusion: there are lots of reasons to not delete your work. Leave all the bad images intact; format card after backup.

Trust me on this. You will be happy you listened, one day.

Next question.

Q: Should I format the memory card? And where?

A: Yes. After you copy the pictures to a computer and make a backup, and only then: put the card back into the camera and format it. Yes, in the camera, not in the computer. And every time. After your pictures are backed up.

‘Nuff said.



I spent Sunday night shooting pictures at a wedding—photo booth pictures, to be precise. And while some photographers think of this as a low-end endeavour, I love it, and I recommend it to all.

“Photo booth” means photos of people using props and funny poser, and printing images on site.

This needs a computer and special software:


And a tethered camera with a studio-type lighting setup:


And, ofcorse, props…:


And finally, technical knowledge as well as people skills.


The printouts people are handed look like this:


Look, by the way, at that last picture. How do you fit around 15 people in front of a backdrop meant for two? Here’s how!


And that’s why I love booths: all my varied photography knowledge comes together for this single purpose.

The result: as the bride told me: “They will remember this wedding because of the booth photos”. If that isn’t the best compliment ever, I don’t know what is.





Nothing changes?

Well, not in 8 years. Here’s a technical note in the form of a post from October 2009 that is still valid…:

A reminder to all flash photographers: you need your shutter speed to be below the camera’s flash synch speed.

What does this mean? Let me explain.

The flash fires for the briefest period, of course. Like 1/2000th of a second. That is why we call it a flash.

So when it fires, if the light is to reach the entire film or sensor, the shutter needs to be totally open at that point.

That much is obvious. But what is not obvious is that there is an engineering limitation in your shutter. Beyond a certain shutter speed, the camera’s synch speed, the shutter never totally opens. Instead, a small (increasingly narrow) slit travels across the shutter to give each pixel a brief exposure time.That’s cool – the shutter does not have to be super-fast and expensive and you get a fast shutter speed.

But this gets in the way when you are using flash. When you fire during those short exposure times (on most modern cameras, faster than about 1/200th second), the light does not reach the entire sensor. Look at this example I shot to illustrate this, at speeds from 1/200th to 1/1000th sec:


You can see that as I exceed the sync speed, the light only reaches part of the shutter.

You should also note that especially when using external flashes with Pocketwizards or similar, flash takes time to set up. My 1Ds MKIII has a synch speed f 1/25oth second but as you see, at that speed it is already beginning to cut off. Best stay a bit below your synch speed (I typically set my shutter, when I am using studio flash, to 1/125th second).

(There is a way to overcome that: fast flash, which some high end flash units offer. This continuously, all the time that the shutter travels, pulses the flash at a very rapid rate, so that the slit, as it travels across the sensor, has light coming in throughout its travel time. It works great – do use it when taking flash images outside – but it uses a lot of energy, and hence decreases the range of your flash.)

(Advanced tip: I know of at least one photographer who uses this effect to introduce an electronic version of a neutral density filter or a barn door: he sets his camera to 1/320th second while using flash, and turns the camera upside down. That makes the top part of the image dark, at least as far as the flash part of the light is concerned!)

Why RAW or JPG?

Shoot RAW? Or JPG? Or both?

I would generally say: “Shoot only RAW”. Why not? It’s just another format.

But why could you do RAW+JPG, or just JPG? What would be valid reasons?

Here are a few.

  1. You want to be sure that you have the shot – a pic could be corrupt, but if you have two you may be OK.
  2. You may need to print a copy, like on a printer, straight from the card
  3. You have to upload loads of pictures quickly, like for a newspaper shoot of a sports match
  4. You want backups as in the first example, but you have two memory cards and can write to both at the same time. Every time I shoot, I save RAW to card 1, and JPG to card 2 – that way card 2 can be a 32GB while card 1 is a 64 GB.
  5. You want to compare the camera’s treatment of the raw data with your computer’s.

So a you see, there’s quite a few valid reasons. When you see super simple solutions on the Internet, like “Authority Figure X says ‘shoot RAW only” – well, the world may not in fact be that simple. Be wary of simplicity, while you chase it at the same time, because “less is more”.

Don’t Give Up.

A student recently sent me this picture, saying that unfortunately, she could not use it as homework because of the low quality:


It was a small (700 pixels height) picture. Blurred, low contrast, and inaccurate colour. So she has a point: not great, though an excellent moment.

But wait. If I put that picture into Lightroom (just drag it onto a grid view), I can use the “Develop” module to fix exposure, white balance, sharpness, highlights, blacks, contrast, and not to forget clarity (presence). Would that help?

It certainly would:


Much better, and now suddenly it is a useable picture.

I suppose the take-away is this. First, of course, that Lightroom is easy to use and powerful. Second, that even “bad” pictures can often be fixed later, especially when small sized, like for use on the web. We often inspect too closely: usually, even a bad picture today can easily beat any picture made from a negative in 1980.

From all this, a few things follow. Namely:

  • Do not delete bad pictures: you may find a use with them anyway, if not now, then maybe tomorrow, with new digital processing techniques.
  • If a picture is bad, try making it smaller. Imperfections are less noticeable in smaller size photos.
  • Try alternates. Black and white, for instance. Or shift colours. And so on: often, these things can bring out the quality in a photo.
  • Use parts. Crop off the bad part, or selectively sharpen the important parts.
  • Learn to use Lightroom (see yesterday’s post).
  • Above all: do not give up on a picture too soon.

The improvements I made to the above picture were from a small picture. Imagine what I could have done with the original sized picture: I am sure it would have been even better.

A bad picture of a great moment may still be worth it. But often, you can make that bad picture into at least an acceptable picture.

A fun exercise is this: go  through your old photos, those of five years ago, and see what the processing techniques since then can do with them. You will often be surprised.

Do consider coming to my Lightroom seminars in a few weeks. See the post immediately below this one.