Why You Should Never Delete Dodgy Digital Photos [Opinion]

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The digital age we’re now living in has changed our ideas of ownership and copyright. For better or worse. It’s also changed the way we do various things. In the field of photography moving to digital formats has made a huge difference. Most of it positive. However, there is one aspect of the switch that may not be so positive, and could in fact come back to haunt many of us in years to come.

As you may have guessed from the title I’m referencing the ease with which we delete photographs now that most of us are shooting images with digital cameras or smartphones. Whether we delete them at the time of shooting, immediately dismissing them because they didn’t quite end up as we imagined, or at the end of the process, while reviewing them on a bigger screen and noticing the blemishes, closed eyes, or idiot in the background, it’s in your best interest to consider keeping every single photo you ever take, no matter how tempted you are to click Delete.

From Prints To Digital

Those of us over a certain age will remember a time when taking a photograph required far more work than it does now. For starters there was no such thing as smartphones, obviously, which meant you needed to own a dedicated camera. Secondly, photos were shot on film, so you’d have to load one in to your camera before you even started.

That’s when the fun really began, because films would generally hold between 24 and 36 exposures. This meant you couldn’t click away madly, or you’d soon fill up a film and have to load a new one. Once a film was full of exposures you’d then have to get the photos developed. Then, and only then, would you know how each shot had turned out. Unless you were using a Polaroid.

There was a certain thrill in this whole process that has now been lost thanks to the storage capacity of memory cards and the speed and ease with which we can review the shots that were recently taken. But just because you can delete images without a moment’s hesitation doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Because you never know what hidden gems you may be removing from your personal timeline.

Proof From My Childhood

The following photographs were all taken during my childhood, so we’re talking at least two decades ago. These are just a few examples chosen to demonstrate the point being made, which is that you should never delete dodgy digital photos, however tempting it may be.

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My Beloved Cat

I’m not going to lie by trying to convince you that this is the only photo of my old cat in existence. Far from it. But the point here is that cats, and most other pets too, are with us for such short spaces of time that each and every photograph of them is valuable. And should therefore be treasured rather than trashed.

This photograph is truly terrible. It’s shot from a horrible angle, the cat cannot be seen clearly, and both my feet and the camera strap are in the shot. But I remember that day, when I followed the cat around the house taking pictures galore, annoying her in the process. And every single photo taken that day 25 years ago is precious to me.

A Family Day Out

There were several photographs taken on this family day out attended by me, my mum, and various aunts, uncles, and cousins. Some good, some bad. but the ones which I would dismiss as being dull were they being taken now are the ones which I cherish the most looking back.

This photograph is really rather poor. It’s blurry and out of focus, there’s a random person encroaching on the right-hand side of the shot, and I have my tongue sticking out of my mouth as a direct result of demonstrating my obvious athletic prowess. But of the moments from that day captured on film, this is one I remember well. Probably because it’s the last time I did anything remotely physical.

Just Me, Chilling

That’s just me, chilling in my parents’ front room. Because that’s how I roll. I have no point of reference for the timing of this photo, but it stands out because of what’s going on all around me. Seeing the pattern of the armchair brings back a wave of nostalgia, the book shoved down by my leg reminds me how early my love of words developed, and I’d almost entirely forgotten that I used to make up my own songs on the small keyboard you can see behind my bulbous head.

I don’t even know what that horrible streak is obscuring one whole corner of this photograph, but it’s enough to have ensured this shot would have been wiped from existence almost immediately had this been taken in 2005 rather than 1985.

You Call That A Computer?!

Ryan recently posted about why you never forget your first computer, and this photo shows me with what was my first computer. Technically the Atari 800XL pictured belonged to my father, but it was my brothers and I who could usually be found sat staring goggle-eyed at the screen for hours on end. Which is exactly what I still do now, two decades later. Just not with an Atari 800XL.

There are multiple things wrong with this photo: the strange splodge covering the tape deck, the graininess which suggests the camera wasn’t much cop, and the fact that the back half of my head has been sliced off. Taken in the present day this would have ended up in the trash bin, but I’m glad it didn’t. Mainly because it’s further proof of my geek credentials.

Conclusions

There is an obvious upside of digital photography that risks belittling my overarching point. Which is that we can now take hundreds or even thousands of photos of any animal, person, special occasion, family outing, or moment we please. In that context the odd deleted photo doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) hold so much significance.

However, it’s not likely to be the perfect photograph — with the right lighting, subject matter, and split-second timing — that will set you off on a nostalgic trawl through memories of yesteryear when you look back in a decade or two. Instead it’ll be the shots that didn’t quite work out the way you had planned, through blurring or a misplaced thumb. Believe me. Or at least believe the 10-year-old me grinning back at you from the 1980s.

As always the floor is now yours to do with as you please. Whether you agree or disagree with the sentiments expressed above let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. It is just an opinion after all.

Image Credits: Rangga Rr, Jase The Bass

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Comments (68)
  • OblongCircles

    I agree with preserving imperfect photos but I must admit, I was really hoping to see a suggestion for repairing or improving imperfect photos. I have a box full of old photos (one of a kinds since no negatives or anything) to scan in for my mother. A slow, tedious task filled made even more so by the ruminating that occurs on my part when I hark back to the occasion the picture was taken…

    If you have any suggestions for photo repair/retouch/improvements, i am forever in your debt and thank you in advance !

  • Elizabeth Sebastian

    Awesome article! It saddens me that the trend has gone almost full-swing towards discarding even the notion of a hard-copy photo now that Kodak and Polaroid are basically defunct. (Paul Simon must be devastated too that Instagram took his Kodachrome away.) What should instead be done is to backup hard-copy photos for safekeeping in digital format so that they can be reprinted in case something happens to them.

    One of the most heart-wrenching losses (besides the actual people, of course, and the landscape, the homes — ALL of it in fact), that I saw on TV from the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy, is when people were talking about how they’d lost family photos in the storm. Those can NEVER be replaced, and you’re right, shouldn’t be disposed of just because something newer has come along. (Itt gets even more heartbreaking when people have lost the family members in the photos along with their pictures.)

    But if the photos get ruined, there’s still a chance you can reprint them at some point, though at that point you might be afraid that they’d get lost again. At least you’d have the digital files though, in case you ever wanted to. It’s too bad we don’t have a people Xerox of some sort to “reprint” your loved ones if they get lost in a storm. :-(

  • Shannon Acedo

    Another reason not to toss those dodgy pics: in my peripatetic youth I moved quite a bit, and after settling down I realized I had lost one photo album– of course it was the one with my oldest childhood and teen photos. It has never resurfaced, and yet sometime later I did find a treasure trove of all the ‘outtakes’ from those days, the blurry, under-and over-exposed shots with heads half cut off, and I was SO HAPPY to have those reminders of the Shots that Got Away.Through the magic of memory, I can even almost see the original ‘good’ shots while peering at the ones formerly regarded as ‘too dodgy to make it into the album’. Thanks for a great post!

  • Rachel R.

    I agree – and yet I disagree. If a blurry picture is the only picture of a particular event/scenario, it may be worth keeping. If a photo is not the greatest, but it includes environmental clues or other “information” that isn’t present in other pictures, it’s probably worth keeping. But if you have 16 photos of the same thing (no new information, background, etc. – just slightly different backgrounds, different exposures, etc.) and 3 of them are awesome while the rest are terrible, there is no harm done in deleting the terrible ones.

    So…I disagree with the statement that one should NEVER delete bad digital pics. But I definitely agree that we should be sparing with the delete button.

  • Jim Spencer

    Nice little article, Dave, as I am prone to delete quite a number of the photos I take with my phone. I tend to be very critical of the results, but you have given me pause to think!

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.