Rescued from the Trash Can

‘To Trash or not to Trash’: that is the question? You will know the problem. Your hard disk is filling up fast; you go out on a shoot, or maybe on holiday, and you come back with a heap of images. My two week recent holiday in Switzerland  produced 1,271 files taking up 28Gb of space.

You’ve got to be disciplined and weed out all those useless images that you will never need or use and which are taking up valuable space – duplicates, failures for one reason or another, images that are superceded by far superior ones taken a little later, and ones you can’t see yourself ever wanting to use because they have no artistic merit or potential. And so, ruthlessly and determinedly, you identify all the rubbish and move it to Trash.  And then, later that day or the following day, you have a wobble and think: ‘was I a bit impulsive, were those decisions a bit knee-jerk? I’d better review that batch I moved to the Trash.’ And you end up restoring half of what you had previously thought was rubbish!

It’s the same with throwing out old clothes and books isn’t it? Just as you’re ready to take them to the recycling bins you begin to wonder whether you really meant to throw all those things away, and rescue a few. Arrgghh – decisions, decisions!

Today’s image is one that went through that cycle of ‘useless image sent to Trash and then subsequently reprieved’.


The original image – unedited

Frankly, as it is, it’s a rubbish image. Over-exposed (although that can be sorted), not sharp and ultimately rather boring. So, why grant it a reprieve? Good question – the answer is that I thought I would have a play with it and see how (and whether) I could breathe a bit of new life into it. And that brings me to Topaz Clean.

Time for a little moan. Why are virtually all plug-ins over-laden with Presets that I will never, ever use? Take Topaz Clean for example. There’s a preset called Curly Smooth in that plug-in. I will never, ever want to use that Preset – it turns half the image into curly wurly lines. Why would I ever want to do that to an image?

In truth, until now I certainly hadn’t identified any image that might benefit from that seemingly bizarre approach. But when I looked at today’s original image I realized I might have found an image that could benefit from Curly Smooth. Maybe I’ll never find another one like it, but my condemnation of Curly Smooth may just be a tad premature.

Do, please, click on the next two images to see a higher quality, sharper image. It really will show what Topaz Clean has achieved.


Final image (slight crop and simple adjustments to levels and contrast in CS5), then Topaz Clean/Curly Smooth, Topaz Detail and a final touch of Poster Edge in CS5

Because, it’s really rather surprising how a rubbish image whose main subject is poorly focused pine needles suddenly acquires some sharpish and unusual beauty when all those needles become mini ‘objects of desire’ (well maybe that is over-egging it a bit).


Tighter crop of the final image

This is not the first time that I have reprieved images and then subsequently found ways to re-invent or re-invigorate them – reasonably successfully.  So, how does that influence my ‘Trashing’ of rejects? It means that now (apart from total failures) they go through a two-stage process. The first pass moves them to a Folder named ‘For Review’ and that folder is then moved off the Hard Drive (freeing up space) to a memory stick where they sit for a few weeks, maybe longer, and then they get a review.

Reviewing files at some distance from their creation leads to the ability to see them in a new light. I view them not for what they are but for what they might become as a result of some form of digital manipulation. They may then become test beds for playing with some of the more outlandish filters and Presets available in either CS or Plug-ins. Those experiments are often failures and result in a file’s final extinction, but there are occasions when the results are worthwhile. And the other benefit from this approach is that experimentation almost always results in the learning of new skills with software.

What’s your process for deleting rejects? And do you think today’s image benefits from the re-working? As always it’s interesting to hear your views.

About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'.
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16 Responses to Rescued from the Trash Can

  1. A successful rescue mission Andy!


  2. Another interesting post. I appreciate how you share your experiments and inspire others to consider possibilities. Cheers, 🙂


  3. I do that all the time…getting rid of an image that I don’t deem “worthy” then start working on it and hey! not so bad. Great job on this Andy.


  4. ken bello says:

    Interesting post, Andy. After downloading I delete the technically bad files (it happens) and duplicates first. Then I use my finely honed instincts to determine artistic value. Anything that doesn’t meet my high quality standards gets moved to the Recycle Bin. The last step is to empty the Recycle Bin so as to remove all evidence of unacceptable photos. This discipline may seem harsh but, after 40 years of photography, I have 12 really good photos.
    Seriously, I agonize about deleting files, even the ones where I ask myself “Why did I take this?”. Every few months I re-visit older folders and I have a better perspective of the photos and it actually becomes easier to make a determination to delete.


  5. Well, I wondered if I’d ever use the curly smooth preset. This image is the perfect candidate, but I wouldn’t have thought to use it. It worked really well. I like it very much! 🙂 Now, you have a new problem. Should I keep or trash? 😉 I have the same trouble. Except that I never get around to deleting even the impossibly bad ones!


  6. Phillip says:

    I just want to thank you Andy. i thought that I was set with plug-ins for a while, but I may see a Christmas present idea in the future. Seriously, I really like the results from Topaz’s Clean. Good job!


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks for the comment Phillip. Topaz Clean is versatile. In some respects it might be described as Topaz Simplify on tranquillers. It’s effects are rather more subtle, with the exception of the Curly Smooth Preset which is really rather different as you can see.


  7. ehpem says:

    Hi Andy. I upload my images using lightroom, and while uploading make a backup to an external drive as part of that process. Then I go through the images (but not on the backup) deleting the stuff that is not useable, usually the technical failures and sometimes something else that did not work the way I envisioned. I never go back to my recycle bin, expect when I make a mistake by deleting the wrong thing (LR4 sometimes is a bit slow and if you move the cursor while it is still thinking, it can delete the wrong image!). I keep the recycle bin cleaned out as it can take up a lot of memory. If I ever have regrets, I can go to the backup. Eventually, the backup will fill up, then I will have to go through and delete, but that will be whole folders without another look. I still keep way too many images.


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Ephem. The Recycle Bin (or Trash in Macs) does need clearing regularly other wise the space is not cleared as you rightly say. I clear the total rubbish first then save the back up to a separate drive. It’s then the images that are substandard or duplicates or have other faults that can be the problem. Having to go back to the backup to find a file is something I’ve never found very satisfactory – cross referencing the two versions of a large folder of images can be quite daunting. I agree with your final comment totally – There are still far too many files saved!


  8. ShimonZ says:

    For review is a good idea. But it seems to me that working with the photos I shot, and choosing and throwing out always took as much time as the shoot, and sometimes more. It’s definitely part of the work. Sometimes even the good shots have to be left for a while so that we can see them with fresh eyes. I thought the last version here was a little tight on the subject. Preferred the previous one.


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks for your comment Shimon. The final shot was deliberately tight so that readers could easily see the effect of the Plug-in, and for no other reason really. As my skills with software improve I do occasionally take a second look at old processed images and realise how badly they were actually processed and produce a much better version. There are a plethora of problems associated with an accumulation of images over the years. Space being quite a minor one.


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