Artists rely on all sorts of references to inspire and conceptualize their ideas. Even plein air artists should keep a log of places which may give them a pleasing result. But then past a sketchbook, the oh mighty photograph becomes king.
Artists armed with cameras inevitably become ones with way more quantity than quality. It was always the nature of photography, even back when we were using film and even if the art you produce is the photo itself.
If you carry a camera, you are going to take more photos than you will ever use. Which means you are likely going to become overrun and overloaded with images. I personally tend to over photograph any subject, so this is always going to be the case for me. But photo programs aside, the number of images mount up and I believe can cause a reverse effect for their intended use. In other words, the clog can kill.
As artists, like other living things, we have a limited time here and thus, a limited time to produce the art we want to leave behind. With that time our goal should always be to leave the best quality work we can. At least 10% of what you produce will be in the name of learning enough to be able to produce good work in the first place, and for some, that percent may go way higher. But once you are making art that can count, you want to do your best to really make it count. This, by the other way, accounts for experimentation and other such offshoots of continually learning and developing your craft.
If you are turning to photos to either directly make your art or to influence your sketchbook, you want to be able to treat them somewhat like a funnel, a way of reducing a lot down to a focused point. You don’t want to scan your photos like going into a hoarder’s home and saying holy crap, where do I begin? An artist overwhelmed, is an artist underproducing good work.
Listen, we are all going to have works that hit below the mark throughout our career. But it’s certainly not our intention. So then, if you take and store a lot of photos, take the time to purge yourself of photos clogging your system. The ones that are all about quantity, not quality. The ones that no longer live to your new greater standard. The ones which are likely to derail the train right as it leaves the station. The ones empty of meaning and story. Go to your calendar if you must and schedule a time of the year or even a few times a year to get rid of mediocracy, and focus on brilliance!
For the longest time, I did everything in my power to keep my photo file below 30,000 images. Probably a good 5,000 of those have nothing to do with my career as an artist, which leaves a boatload of stuff for me to think I’m going to get to right? Okay, now let’s reduce that number by 1/5th. So, 30,000 - 5,000 leaves 25,000, divide by 5 = 5,000!!!! I sure as heck haven’t painted anywhere near that number of paintings in my 30 years as an artist, so it’s not likely I will, especially if I’m still taking photos. So, at what point does too many photos become a distraction? At what point are they no longer a focal point? At what point do they overwhelm you and underwhelm your end result? I can share that I’m now shooting to not let it get above 25,000 images which is still way more than I need.
The key is then to reduce by funneling the best into a place that truly inspires your best work and push delete as much as you can on those that do not. Trust me, you’ll always have more than you need even if you are aggressive in your approach. A bad photo will not help you create good art.