Our History is Lost with Digital Photography

The delete button is the bane of history.

I have memories of looking through old photos and negatives in Grandpa’s shoebox “picture album.” He had lots of prints mounted in the over-sized books with paper corners and black pages. Pictures of Mom’s first day of school, some school dance of Aunt Helen’s, and the family pictures. They were all pretty well composed and properly exposed. They were the good pictures. Presentable pictures. Exactly what Grandpa wanted to show.

But there were a lot more photos that never made it to the family room bookshelf. Out of focus and over exposed snapshots. Family pictures where someone had their eyes closed. A record of what really happened.

Jump forward to 2008. I finally made the jump to digital photography. One of the main reasons I changed from film (slides, primarily) is the immediate feedback on exposure and composition. I can tell right away that the foreground is too hot and the background is too dark. I can see right away that one person on the right was looking down or blinked just at the wrong time. A great tool, indeed.

What also happens is that during the review process, “bad” photos get deleted. No need to take up space on that memory card, right? Why store anything but the best on the hard drive? Here’s the problem. This weeding out process relies on me seeing into the future. A skill I haven’t refined.

If I knew that I accidentally captured 2nd cousin Mary in the background dancing with her dad only weeks before his death, I wouldn’t have deleted because Jim was leaning forward too far. I didn’t even see that straight laced, serious great grandma was sporting a never before seen smile. Delete. Too much flash in the foreground.

There certainly are pictures that are truly worthless but I’m not sure I’ll know which ones they are for a long time.

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