When I upgraded from a flip phone to an Android a few years ago (we'll just say a smidge later than the rest of the world), the sales associate was convinced I should be very concerned with storage space. How else would I capture every riveting moment of those two beautiful children at my heels? (Ok. I thought my two children were beautiful. He may have found their tiny, greasy fingers a liability as they grabbed for every cell phone within reach).
I did not choose a phone with a lot of storage that day. I had my beloved camera for that job. But I recognize that many moms do capture some really beautiful moments of their children’s lives on their phones. These moms and their phones—like me and my camera—also capture a lot of rubbish. So how do we sort through it all, find what’s valuable and let go of what isn’t worth keeping?
As someone who has taken A LOT of pictures, I humbly offer up the following criteria to help your sort through your images, find the very best, and put them to good use.
I would also suggest that you gently release the not-so-good images into the digital trash can, keeping your digital life as free from clutter as your actual life.
When I am culling images after a family photo session, I have a lot of images to sort through, and while I do sometimes delete images directly from my camera, it is typically much easier and smoother to load them onto my computer and make decisions there. The same may be true for images on your phone. You may find it easier to see and handle your images once they are on your computer. Regardless, I use the following criteria to decide which images are keepers and which need to be tossed:
1) Emotion and Connection-
One of the first things I look for in my images is emotion. An image might be technically correct in all respects, but if my subject is not engaged, the image is a dud. I want eyes that are alive, either directed towards the camera or towards the other subjects in the frame. I’m looking for bodies that say they’re “in,” they want to be there, they’re not tensed and uncomfortable.
However, the emotion does not always have to be happiness. Someone said parents should remember to take pictures, even when their children are crying. It only takes a second, and you can show your child compassion immediately after capturing the shot. Years later, those pictures of your little one’s hard days will be just as precious as the pictures of the happy moments.
Likewise, if a subject is communicating, “I’m mad at you for taking my picture,” it’s not automatically out. If he’s a cute kid with arms crossed and a pout-y lip—I’m pretty sure someone is going to want that picture in the future. It’s important to take context into consideration when deciding what’s in and what’s out.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a thousand pictures are worth almost nothing. It’s okay to delete the images that do not show your loved ones or yourself in the best light. Mid-day lighting can cause harsh shadows under they eyes and can make a proper exposure tricky. If you’re posing your kids for a quick group shot, seek out shade in order to get soft, even light on your subjects’ faces. If you’re chasing them around the playground with your phone, capturing the movement and joy of childhood, try to keep the sun behind your subjects, so at least their faces are evenly lit. The best lighting is in the evenings, especially just after the sun has gone down. It doesn’t last long, so you have to be intentional to make use of this great time of day called “blue hour.” It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Our family often goes for an after-dinner stroll, and I find it’s a great time to bring my camera along and capture all the wild energy that seems to come out in the evenings!
Taking in the entire scene in front of you and deciding what to keep in the frame and what to cut out can be tricky, especially when you just want to move quickly and capture a beautiful moment. And I say, “Capture away, my friend!”
Please don’t miss a great moment because you’re worrying about the details, but I have found—either because I’ve been a mother for a while, or because I’ve been a photographer for a while, or maybe it’s both—there are many beautiful moments. Sometimes stopping to look more carefully at what is in front of you can lead to a more beautiful capture of a beautiful moment.
As you’re getting ready to take a picture, look for a clean background and watch for brightly colored items in the foreground or background that might distract from your subject. If you can take a moment to move a distracting element, you might love your capture a little more.
So...if you’re scrolling through pictures and you have three or four of your daughter dancing wildly in her undies, keep the one that has a simple background, then take a second or two to delete the ones that include the laundry basket in the corner. You really only need that one striking image to tell the story of that beautiful event. Which leads me to my final tip...
4) Enough is Enough
How many pictures do you need to tell a story?
Christmas 2021, for example: I took about ninety images. I edited and saved about 30, and deleted the rest. Finally, only about 15 made it into the photo album, and that’s a lot for one event. Normally, a single event might merit one or two pictures in my photo album, which is partly because I think every day life can be an "event" and deserves as much documentation as the holidays.
Here’s my system: after an event such as going to the museum, going for a walk with my kids and my camera, or even just capturing a few pictures of my kids working on home school, I import the images from my camera to my computer. That way I’m only working with a small set of pictures from one event. I star and edit my favorites and save them in files labeled by month and year. Then I delete all the ones that didn’t make the cut. Every six months or so, I go through my family pictures and select my favorites to upload to an online printer like Mpix.com. I print 4x6 images and slide them into simple pocket style photo albums from Hobby Lobby. I started out scrapbooking, but it soon became clear that I loved pictures WAY more than I loved stickers and pretty paper backgrounds.
We all enjoy taking pictures, especially of our little ones as they grow and change so fast. Sometimes deleting them can be tough even though we have so many. I hope these few simple tips will help you decide which ones are best, simplify your process, and enjoy your very favorite images for years into the future.
Holly Freeman is a lifestyle family photographer with a serious addiction to pictures. If you have a similar condition and would like help capturing the beauty and mess that is your family, please reach out! She would love to schedule a family photo experience and help you find the best way to preserve these memories into the future. Check out her online product catalogue for a few of her favorite ideas.