High Volume Photo Management

When my eldest child started swimming on a team at at 6, I brought my camera to the meet, like a good dad. Since I had invested in good lenses (Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L and 70-200 f2.8L) I was getting some pretty good shots. It took some time to develop my skills and figure out the timing to anticipate when the swimmer will be breathing, but I kept getting better by simply taking photos of more than just my kid.

Darien in 2006

Didn’t take long to be designated the team photographer and, since I was at the meets already with my gear, it wasn’t a big lift to start shooting all of the swimmers. Following a typical meet, I would have between 500 and 700 photos to sort through and this also required some new skills – metadata tagging and photo culling.

With video-game like reflexes, I can go through a set of photos and quickly identify whether there’s anything worth keeping – no face, no sale – and mark it for removal. Then the more difficult task – delete everything marked. Trash it. Delete from disk and don’t look back. That drops the total to 200-400 or so shots remaining. So, I’m done, right? Not quite.

Another Craig swimmer takes to the blocks

Shooting kids, ages 6-18 or so in bathing suits, both in and out of the water adds a higher bar for publishing. I have no intention of publishing or keeping anything that’s embarrassing or inappropriate. Teenagers have a hard enough time dealing with their body image and bullying and there are too many opportunities for these to mix in these situations. That, and I’m not a creep. Another pass through the remaining photos, slower this time, looking not just at the primary subject, but all around the photos. If it feels wrong, it’s gone. Delete from disk and don’t look back.

The rules of the process for dealing with a large volume of photos will change, but the process needs to be simple and definitive. The triggers to keep/delete will be different for a model shoot or other situations, but for a lot of photos, you’ll bury yourself in photos and never find the real keepers if you don’t make the effort to clean out the losers early.

My nemesis, however, is the GoPro. I used it heavily for one season, taking burst photos (10-30 at a time), which simply gave me more photos than I could handle. I never really developed a good way to differentiate and decide on “the best” of any given burst. Picking out the obvious duds or obviously inappropriate ones was pretty easy, but that still leaves many, many more that should be dealt with. Problem still unsolved.

I’ve been shooting swim and some dive meets for twelve years now and have about 17,000 photos in the collection. You can visit the galleries and decide how well my skills have developed over the years. Most are taken with the 100-400 lens because it allows me to shoot reliably from basically anywhere around the pool. A monopod is an absolute must have option too. And I always shoot with a flash to pick up facial features as well as get some good reflections off the water.