The Footprints We Leave

As we walk through life, inevitably we make an impression on the world and the people we come in contact with.

Personally, in many areas I try to be “light on my feet”, leaving an impact of minimum detriment.

For example on an environmental front, recycling more than I send to landfill, being cautious with energy and water usage, riding a bicycle for my daily commute instead of taking the car, trying not to buy anything I don’t really need, and so on.

On a relationships level, I try to be as supportive as I can, to be kind and encourage people, and to minimise any negative impact I have.

Obviously it’s impossible to be a saint, but if your karmic balance is far more in the black than the red, I think you’re doing ok.


Then we come to photography.

Each photograph we make adds a little more to our overall collective footprint as a photographer.

Put another way, it increases and further shapes the legacy of images we’re creating.

Here, I feel I could do better.

I know that I still probably make and share too many “good” rather than “great” photographs, and save too many that aren’t worth keeping at all.

If someone was looking over my entire photographic footprint (I would guess I have perhaps 30,000 photographs saved in some form, including family photos), it would be difficult for them to find the treasures amongst the dirt, so to speak.

These days with affordable and near seamless automated online storage, it’s easier than ever to just save everything, without any regard to editing and any kind of objective discernment.

But what is this doing to us? How does it affect how we consider the value of a single photograph, not to mention the importance of selecting and sharing only the very best we can make?

When images are so easy to make and to save, surely it vastly cheapens their worth compared with 30 years ago when it took much longer and considerably more effort to make a photograph?

So it’s ever more difficult to find that discipline to be ruthless in our editing and even more discerning with our sharing.

What do we do?

How about you? What kind of photographic footprint are you leaving? Are you happy with it?

Please let us know below, we’d love to hear.

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.

13 thoughts on “The Footprints We Leave”

  1. In the old days when I was very blue, I found it impossible to think of anyone or anything else apart from me, me, me. Not great. Truth be told, rather self-absorbed. However now, things are different. As I type I’m on my way to my mother in law who is poorly and I’m going to go and sort out her garden for her. I’m a gardener and I love it so it’s no great shakes, but more importantly, I know how happy it will make her. It’s not a lot, but it makes a difference to her. I’m no saint, but I try to be kind if nothing else.

    1. It’s lovely when it’s something you know will make a positive difference AND something you enjoy yourself anyway. Win win!

      I have more difficulty when it’s something I really don’t want to do, even if it is for someone else. I can be quite selfish at times.

      1. We all are I’m sure of it. I’ll probably do it because I have a tendency to be a people pleaser, but will do it with bad grace. Then I’ll be cross with myself for either offering/being roped into it and worse still, for being grumpy about it. Thankfully, I love to do gardening. If it was doing someone’s paperwork, I’d be grumpy AND weep!

  2. I am afraid to be ruthless in my editing because I’ve experienced it over and over again: coming upon one of my old images and being pleased with and even sometimes astonished by it — one I didn’t think much of when I shot it. If I had been ruthless, it would have been lost.

    1. That is very interesting Jim. What do you think is behind this?

      My initial thoughts, if applied to myself, are –

      1. Our moods and tastes change over time, so what we discarded a year or two ago we might appreciate in a new light now – and vice versa.

      2. That sometimes we reach a kind of saturation with editing – we’ve edited so many photos in one go that we gradually lose objectively, and delete pictures just to get to the end of the editing process, rather than being consistently objective from start to finish of a large batch. I can remember having half a dozen rolls worth of film photos sitting on my hard drive for months because I couldn’t summon the motivation to sort through them…

      1. I have grown a lot as a photographer and my eye is more refined now. Also, yes, my moods and tastes do change!

        Perhaps I should just edit out the boring and failed images.

      2. Yes I can’t see any value at all in keeping images that are duplicates, missed focus, blurred (unintentionally) and just more dull in the final outcome than you hoped they’d been when you made them (I make far too many of these still!).

        Once you’re then down to a batch of images that worked on some level, you can choose the very best from those and keep or delete the rest.

  3. Dan, I have a long box of physical photos from all of my life. I have many journals full of photos documenting my journey and passion for art and expression and self development. I have a small number of folders on the computer with photos of my travels and my life and enjoyment since 2005. That’s my footprint

    1. Susan that;s a lovely story, thanks for sharing. I still love the idea of physical things, like a photo album or scrapbook. Just somehow easier to connect with and treasure than anything digital on a computer… I need to make more prints!

      1. Dan, I am so pleased when one of my comments inspires you as well. I hope my joy of photography helps you too as you do mine

  4. When my father started taking pictures in 1936 he had the camera store develop the negatives and make 2″ by 3″ prints. Very few of those little prints survived to this day. I don’t know if the missing ones were culled or lost in his many moves in the following 70 years. Fortunately, most of his negatives did survive and I am scanning them and making inkjet prints from them today. My father had no way of knowing that someone would be interested in his negatives 80 years later but he obviously took care to preserve them.

    I take a similar approach to my own film photography. I keep all of my negatives. I scan every frame, make a contact sheet of every roll, but print only a few of the images. So my film photo footprint consists of two fat ring binders of negatives in PrintFile pages, two fat ring binders of contact pages, and several boxes of prints. I have no illusions that the scans will survive for even 8 years, much less the 80 years my father’s negatives have survived.

    1. Wow Doug, did he have a 2×3 print made as a matter of course for every negative? How did he keep them, I mean physically, were they in albums or just stacked in boxes?

      There is a huge question mark over how many of any of our digital images will survive 5, 10, 25 years from now. Formats will change, hard drives will fail, and many will be lost.

      With physical photos, you can find a collection in a shoebox in an attic that hasn’t been seen in 50 or 100 years. They need no ongoing maintenance.

      With digital though, someone needs to actively take care of them, file them, back them up and so on. It’s much easier to lose them.

  5. Hi Dan, It’s a bit of a mystery, really. Until my sister started sorting through my Dad’s things after he passed away neither of us had seen more than a few of the little prints – some in a couple of little albums and some in envelopes from Central Camera in Chicago – and no negatives. I’d have to look to be sure but I doubt there are more than 50 prints. The real treasure trove was in an unopened Mayflower Moving box. Twenty three rolls of 35mm film rolled in the original canisters, About half 20-exposure rolls and half 36-exposure rolls. Based on the apparent ages of the people in the pictures they date from 1936 to no later than 1945. All of the little prints we have are from negatives in the cache which makes us believe that we have all of his negatives from that phase of his life.

    I am pessimistic about the long term viability of digital images. My oldest were shot in 2002. They started life on floppy disks. The floppy disks are gone. The images have moved from computer to computer and program to program and now reside online in Apple Photo. I should probably get them back into a non-proprietary format.

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