Visual Cleansing

It has been an incredibly busy but rooted summer. At the beginning of 2016 we made no plans or visual resolutions but wanted to “keep shedding our photographic skin.” It is remarkable how this constant foraging into new ways of seeing has kept us motivated and fresh. If there is one commonly repeated misconception about photography is that you have to find “your own style.” NO, you don’t. I know too many photographers who “found their style” and their photography became static and sterile.

Mind you, from a commercial perspective, manufacturing the same visuals is probably a smart thing to do. After all, there are so many good formulas and presets for popular imagery. If you want your seeing to evolve, however, you need to operate closer to the cliff. That’s why I cherish going through the work of young, emerging photographers. Even though their craft may need some refinement, their ideas and seeing are so fresh, individual, bold and edgy. It is even more stimulating talking to such new artists – there is no ego, pretence or brand – nothing to cherish or protect but everything to change and disrupt. The question is: How do you retain the visual mindset of a start-up photographer?

A few weeks ago, someone (sorry, forgot who) came up with a bold idea: What if a photographer decided to delete all her/his images? I mean all of them (the entire catalogue) and start anew. This includes all imagery on social accounts! This brave idea has shaken me up. No, I am not ready to do that just yet but the concept reinforced my belief in “visual cleansing” – abandoning your comfortable way of seeing and pioneering new ways of seeing the world around you. This includes erasing all the preconceived ideas of how the imagery is observed and crafted.

What do you think?

I am writing an extensive article about this topic which should find its way to this blog shortly. For now, here is some imagery from our recent seeing session in San Francisco – all taken with the X100F.




2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

13 thoughts on “Visual Cleansing

  1. Greetings Olaf, and all the fellows:

    As far as I can understand, “erasing complete past library” is a strategy to begin radically fresh in seeing, from scratch, as a child. For me, it implies:

    1. Realizing your more deep, automatic and “naturally yours” ways of seeing (difficult, difficult…)
    2. Once detected, being able to overcome them by developing new habits of seeing through effort and repetition.

    I never reached second stage; but for first a strategy that works for me is just the opposite of erasing: revisiting a few of very very old images. They pull me through a tunnel of time, some of them really shock me:
    1. My God, how did I shoot this, and this way…?
    2. Wow, look at that… there’s really something in here and now I can see it…
    3. And of course, past emotions, feelings, and personal livings that shake me and pulls me to make some evolution.

    Then I can see myself in with a new distance. Sometimes it’s frustrating, I feel more in a no-way street, sometimes it becomes a real push.

    Hope it helps

    Robert M.

  2. Eric Kim talked about, and did, both concepts. I’m wont be surprised if there are others too.

    I consolidated at least 6 hard drives with photos in serious disarray into one catalog and then deleted half of them as being useless. My catalog went from ~115k photos to ~55k photos. I was inspired by an article I read by a photographer who went from 50k to 25k to 5k photos. I need to thin them again, for the same reason as before. The best editors are the best photographers. This concept is different, but related to yours.

    1. Dave,

      Your solution to the problem is exactly where I am right now. With “the best editors are the best photographers” line you hit the nail on the head. Thank you so much for sharing.

      All the best,


      1. Dear All,

        These posts made me finally understand why I feel so sad for something that used to bring me so much happiness and has now changed to something else… First… I’m a 100% amateur and taking photos was my way to relax and enjoy life and new places. One day a pro photographer told me ‘I love your photos but… why do you not edit them…’ Those 2 sentences changed everything. ‘Seeing’ and ‘looking for something special’ and enjoying was replaced by something totally different… Editing something nothing so special/average to something awesome became more important than taking the photos that used to be why I walked with a camera in my hand. Enjoying/seeing something special was replaced by ‘performing’ something in Lightroom in front of the computer with the help of a lot of (bought) presets etc… Just made my decision to go back to my ‘roots’ and enjoy what brought happiness in my life and stop ‘making’ photos on Lightroom.

        I wish you all the best!
        – Peter

        PS. Thank you a lot for an unbelievable inspiring website with something really honest and special that makes me want to ‘grow’ and get better as a hobbyist photographer!

      2. Peter,

        Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I found it so interesting I would like share some of your thoughts with my readers.

        Appreciate your kind words. Looking forward to your future feedback,


  3. As someone who did take the drastic step of deleting all my photographs some time ago in the attempt to start anew I would advise caution.
    Even if the images no longer exist in a physical form they are still embedded in the mind and memory and I found myself unable to really move forward as I had planned but also ignoring photographic scenes in the mindset of ‘been there, done that already’.
    Computer memory has never been cheaper and my suggestion, for what it’s worth, to anyone contemplating this course is to buy an external hard drive, load all your pictures onto this and then put it away and start again with an image free computer drive. If you then change your mind in time to come there will be no lasting damage, no regrets.

    I’ve followed your blog for a long time now and would like to thank you, not only for the stunning images, but also for the many times your thought-provoking posts have set me on a new way of looking and thinking about things.

    1. David,

      It is so intriguing and thought-provoking to read comments like yours. Your perspective adds so much to the subject and I am sure I am not the only person who benefits from reading your note. Great idea, indeed!

      Thanks you for your kind note about the content of my blog. You made my day!

      All the best,


  4. Not only are your thoughts worthy of a lot to thought, your photographs, especially the first one in the series, are terrific.

  5. Hi Olaf, I think it was Tomasz Trzebiatowski who talked about erasing his complete photo library and starting fresh. Truly a daunting prospect, but completely in-line with the notion that we need to keep evolving as photographers. Sometimes I feel that it would be great to wake up one morning without all my accumulated baggage and truly see the world with a fresh set of eyes.

    1. Chris,

      Thank you for pointing to Tomasz – I remember now. You are right regarding your observation about “seeing the world with a fresh set of eyes.” Sometimes it is important to be aware of our own accumulated baggage – in itself it may well be a step forward. I really appreciate your input. Looking forward to your future notes.



Leave a Reply