Dumpster Diving

Off the Beaten Path

We all have them, though we don’t show them to people. Instead, we keep them shamefully tucked away, hidden in dark places. They are the unprocessed raw files from photo trips past, not good enough for public display, but not obviously bad enough for disposal. They exist in virtual limbo, a purgatory for photos known as the digital dumpster. There, they await their fate, daring not to hope that they will ever see the light of day, expecting instead eventual deletion as the hard drive on which they are stored fills up.

There is hope, however, for at least some of these lost souls. I am a firm believer that the occasional session of “dumpster diving” pays off. Although you might find that most images in the dumpster deserve to be there (in fact, they likely deserve to be deleted), every now and then you will find some images that, although overlooked before, really should be called up to the major leagues. There might be many reasons why they were bypassed before: they were too subtle, or seemingly not as good as other similar shots, or for some other reason they just didn’t catch your eye. Often, images will grow on you over time, revealing their beauty the more you look at them. Or, your personal vision has grown, and you are better positioned now to realize how good a shot truly is than you were a few years before when you originally made the photograph. For whatever reason, a trip into the dumpster will likely reveal a few diamonds in the rough, waiting to be polished.

On a recent foray into the dumpster, I found a number of such images, one of which I will share here. This is an image made over a year ago in the Nevada desert. I’ve never processed the image before because I’ve been on the fence about it since I first created it. I really like the scene and the soft, colorful light of twilight captured in the file, but for some reason the image has never seemed worthy of public display. It has grown on me over time, and so I thought I’d finally give it a chance. I call it “Death of the Dragon,” as the sandstone formation looks to me like a giant stone dragon, its massive head layed to rest in the foreground, its mighty bulk splayed out into the distance.

Dumpster diving is a good creative exercise, requiring you to take a critical look at your image files and to think carefully about why a photo works—or why it doesn’t. To see more dumpster diving images, check out my most recent personal blog post, Desert Dreaming and Spring Cleaning. It contains three desert images taken over the last year, all of which have been rescued from digital limbo in the past week.

– Ian Plant     

P.S. Here are some tutorials and eBooks on my website that you might find helpful: 

Chasing the Light: Essential Tips for Taking Great Landscape Photos: A 62-page downloadable PDF eBook filled with informative text, stunning full-color images, and plenty of insights and inspiration. 

Selecting the Best White Balance for Nature Photography

 How to Photograph Rainbows

 Using Live View for Nature Photography

 Preparing Photos for the Web Using Photoshop