When I lost the portfolio and learned to let go

January 22, 2020

Every photographer’s nightmare involves an unexpectedly unresponsive hard drive. The photographer opens his editing software like Adobe Lightroom, and suddenly sees the RAW image files are no longer available, then with further investigation, the photographer discovers the worst case scenario.

Sunset photo at Cathedral Rocks in Arizona
Warm light bathes Sedona’s Cathedral Rocks.

This is why you back up your images. Always.

This is why I have forever lost the portfolio of images I took during the first six years of my photography experience. One day, the hard drive holding thousands of landscape, macro, travel, nature, and long exposure I made between 2012 and 2018 went kaput. Just wouldn’t turn on. The machine buzzed but would not connect to my main computer.

Many of the images were bad but there were a few gems. What it chiefly represented, at least to me, was my development as a photographer.

From the first awful shots to the basic flower-in-a-vase to boring beach pictures to awkward attempts to get rain drops on leaves. But if you look at it like a story, you begin to see one hobbyist photographer grow into someone lucky enough to learn a little more than basic photography skills.

I treasured the totality of that portfolio, a reminder of how far I journeyed. Then, gone. And for the most part, never to come back. I had to let go because there was no choice.

Every now and then, as evidenced in this blog post, I find an JPG copy of some of those images. I must’ve saved a copy for some reason to some obscure folder on my computer. And so I’ve managed to salvage about a dozen of my favorites, which gives me some comfort.

I remember the first “ah-ha!” moment, when almost by accident I created a stunning image. It was dawn in North Myrtle Beach, where the shoreline bends eastward, putting the sun in this perfect position. Looks like the early morning beach combers are walking into Heaven.

Travel photography in North Myrtle Beach
Sunrise is simply the best time to be in Cherry Grove, North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

You can then imagine my euphoria when I discovered that one buried deep in my computer.

A funny thing happened though, and it counterbalanced my lamentation for losing this valued collection of bad-to-good-to-amazing images. I feel surprisingly calm about it.

Losing the whole thing might’ve been one of the best things to happen to me. Yes, if given the choice, I’d take them all back, but I don’t have that choice. All I can do is revisit many of my favorites and try again, only this time, as a learned image maker. Not perfect, but as someone who knows more now than he did the first time I tried long exposure of a waterfall.

Amusement park ride in Ocean City, NJ
These swings in Ocean City, N.J. are among my favorite things to photography.

Life went on. So did my photography, and it excites me now to know building a portfolio is more ahead of me than behind.

And this time, I’ll make sure to back up the files. Please learn from my mistake.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer. He lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three children. You can contact him at dave@pidgeonseyeview.com.

More about Dave Pidgeon

Dave is the author of PidgeonsEyeView.com and lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three sons.

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