A little over two years ago, a few months after my temporary (but currently active) retirement, two things happened:
- I started taking many more photos (as a direct consequence of traveling more and having more time to dedicate to photography).
- I spent more time processing each photo.
I made the deliberate philosophical change that remains active to this day: to produce less, but better, work.
I had a tremendous opportunity in front of me, to be able to spend my time where and when I wanted to, and I decided to use it to improve my photography. That meant I had to slow down. My days of breezily processing an entire trip the day after returning were over.
This philosophical change also meant tossing the majority of photos that I had previously processed (I wasn't happy with most of them and there were far too many). They would exist as RAW files ready to be revisited in the future.
Thus, my photo backlog grew on both ends: older photos that needed to be reprocessed, and newly taken photos that had never been processed.
The inevitable consequence of this decision meant that my backlog (which was at zero when I decided to quit my job) would grow faster than my ability to work through it. It soon became apparent that there would be no way for me to get through my backlog in any reasonable time, and now, a few years later, it has become apparent that I will never get through it with any amount of time.
And that's just fine.
There are no prizes awarded for having an empty backlog.
Don't get the wrong idea. It is still important to produce quality and consistent work on a regular basis. A photographer must, after all, produce photos. Further, producing photos is a critical part of the feedback loop and necessary to improve over time.
But it's still OK to have a backlog, in fact, I think there are many benefits to waiting before processing (or choosing to process) a given photo. By divorcing yourself from the emotional experience of capturing the image you are able to evaluate it on more objective terms. You can decide if the photo communicates what you want to communicate independent of how you felt when capturing it. You can be honest with yourself and know that the tremendous amount of work that went into capturing the photo doesn't mean the photo is any good. This postponed evaluation works in both directions, some photos you thought were great at the time of capture may end up not being good and some that you were ambivalent about (such as the Zion winter photo above) will rise to the top, as your personal aesthetic preferences and style will change. It's also likely (or it should be!) that your standards will increase over time, and photos that may have made the cut before will fall short now.
I have visited Yosemite on three separate occasions, and yet have zero Yosemite photos on my website. I spent a week in the Smokies and another week in the Columbia River Gorge this spring and have yet to process a single photo from either trip. In the Yosemite case, I know there are several worthy photos, and in fact I had processed some before but threw them out and I haven't felt inspired to reprocess them. For the Smokies and the Gorge, none of the photos immediately jumped out to me, so, again, I decided to postpone processing them until I have more distance. The same can be said for many other locations. I have absolutely no feelings of guilt from this huge backlog nor do I feel the need to immediately share a photo from every place I visit.
I still have been processing photos (most of the last few months have been dedicated to Iceland, Death Valley, and Colorado and related projects), but all of that work has only slightly reduced my backlog. I no longer care nor expect to get through it all, or even a majority of it. My only goal is to be happy with that with the photos that I do process as ultimately that's all that matters to me.