The 10-Photo Challenge

The 10-Photo Challenge

In The Fast and Furious 5 Step Organizing Solution, Susan Pinsky shares tips on eliminating the excess as a first step to organization. She describes a little something to think about on photo organization, encouraging people to take less photos and thus eliminate the need to organize them.

Pinsky says that really only 10 photos a year would still be sufficient--basically one for birthday, one of the family, one on vacation, etc. She points out that from birth to 80 years, this would provide 800 photos of a person's life. This would be more than enough for a thorough documentation of a person's life!

So why do we feel the need to take as much as 800 in a single year?

Why Not More?

So, why not more than 10 photos a year? Besides the obvious issue of having too many photos based on the math mentioned above, there's a few problems with taking lots of photos:

Photos consume time.

Editing, downloading, uploading, organizing, organizing again.

Photos consume money.

Printing, scrapbooking, framing, upgrading equipment--it's pricey.

Photos limit experience.

Having a camera glued to your hand hinders being in the moment.

Time spent on photos can make children resentful.

Studies show negative effects on kids when parents spend large amounts of time on the computer (i.e, the editing, posting, etc. mentioned before). A kid doesn't want more photos, they want their parents' time, energy and focus.

Too many photos can be overwhelming.

10 photos a year is entertaining; 100-1,000 is exhausting.

Too many photos fosters guilt.

The funny thing with "more" is it's never enough. The more photos I take, the more I wish I had my camera to capture this event or remembered to get a picture with that person.

Photos can lead to un-Christian behaviors.

Sub-consciously, and sometimes with full intent, photos are taken and shared as a sort of prideful bragging. Whether you're hoping others will be envious of your life, or you're the one coveting the life behind someone else's photos, the photo-taking obsession can be commandment breaking.

Why 10 is a Sweet Spot

There's lots of reason to not take hundreds of photos, but here's a little extra motivation for keeping it to 10 a year:

10 is easy to back up.

My computer died and I still have yet to attempt getting my daughter's baby photos off of it. If I had only taken 10, I would have easily backed them up.

10 is cheap to print and preserve.

At $0.19 a photo (for 1 hour printing), you could easily print all your photos for $1.90.

10 is easy to scrapbook.

Scrapbooking is similar to photos in the time-energy-money realm; but it could be so much easier and achievable if you only had 10 photos to document for the year.

10 tells a story.

Children growing, vacations, holidays. 10 a year will document the biggies.

10 keeps Facebook uncluttered.

Okay, so no one seems to be concerned with e-clutter. But can we at least admit it can get exhausting looking through 100 photos of one event or 10 variations of the same photo?

10 is fun to look at.

Put a book with 10 photos/year on the coffee table and family and friends will have fun looking through a snippet of your family's life without feeling overwhelmed or bored.

10 is flexible.

There's no science behind 10, just that it's a low number and it adds up. If you end up with 15 or 20, you're still saving time, saving money, and not ending up with 800 in a single year.

Tips for Taking and Preserving Less Photos

How to Take 10, or Nearly 10

There's basic categories of moments you'd want photos, but this is more about what to do instead of taking photos.

Capture the details, skip the mundane.

Daily life is an important part of family albums, but the pictures quickly become redundant and boring when put together. Make it a fun challenge to get a few (3-4) shots of details you want to remember from that year (daughter's blond curls, son's tiny toes, husband's trendy new glasses).

Experience the moment.

When we see our smiling baby, the temptation is to run for the camera to capture the moment. Instead, forget the camera and capture it with all of your senses. Press your lips into those squishy cheeks, tickle those tiny toes, give that little tummy zerberts before he's old enough to object. And if you truly don't have a picture of that cute smile, take one good photo, then put the camera away.

Better yet, video it.

A 30 second video will help you remember that giggle more clearly than a photo will. But remember, just 1 video.

Buy a postcard.

They're better quality than your scenic snapshots, so buy one postcard to remember a place your family vacationed (use the back to write the trip dates or other details you want to remember). Take one photo of everyone that went on the vacation. Then, simply enjoy the vacation! The view, the food, the entertainment. Don't turn a break from work into more work by having to deal with the photos forever after.

Rethink professional photography.

One quality photo of your whole family each year is enough to remember how everyone changed. With cameras taking better snapshots and free editing services like PicMonkey, a professional photographer isn't necessary to get a good family photo. If a professional shot is really important to you, you could always pay to have that one photo professionally edited, or look around and find a photographer that's willing to give you a discount for doing only one pose. (They'd take multiple pictures to make sure everyone's eyes are opened, but only one would be edited and kept.)

Document individual growth/changes.

Instead of trying to capture every moment of each birthday, stick to one recurring photo. Either the birthday girl or boy with his or her cake or with everyone that comes to each party. Or skip documenting the party (wouldn't you rather eat the cake than photograph it?) and recreate the same photo each year--in a favorite chair or posed a certain way or wearing a chosen outfit to see how family members change birthday to birthday.

The Exceptions

Of course, there are times that 10 photos a year just isn't practical.


Wedding photos should still be kept to a reasonable amount (do you really need all of the group combinations possible, or would a few basic group shots suffice?), but you'll probably want more than 10.


For some people, 10 photos is not enough to cover new babies and multiple kids. For instance, my daughter's 10 photos wouldn't be the same as mine because she wouldn't care as much about photos that don't include her. Although, I think 10 for our family is still enough, even if my kids end up with less than 10/year that are of them. Of the handful of photos I've gotten of my childhood, I'm thankful for and content with what I have and glad I don't have more.


Photos enhance a blog. Take lots, edit and post the best ones, and delete the extras. If the purpose of the photo is only for blogging, then it's okay if it isn't backed up somewhere else.

Sharing life long distance

So you moved into a new place and people are asking to see photos. Take pictures, share them (Shutterfly, Facebook, e-mail), then delete them. Photos like this are specific to a certain time and audience and don't need to be kept or preserved in any way.


If you're a minimalist photographer, well, I'd love to hear how you do it! This is one area where you can have a little extra grace to have more photos than the rest of us. Just let go of the shots that didn't turn out.

The 10-Photo a Year Challenge

When the 10-Photo Challenge isn't for You

So, deleting all of your current photos except 10 from each year seems a little impractical and harsh. Start with this tiny mini challenge:

Create a folder called "Snapshot of [given year]," open a file of photos from last year (or older, because those are often already neglected), and copy ten of your most favorite photos--the photos that tell a story, were framed perfectly with just the right lighting, that you want to keep in your memory for life. After a month, open your snapshot folder and enjoy. Take note of that experience and how you feel when you're done looking at them. Then, open your full folder of photos from the year and look through all of them noting how you feel when you're done.

Which experience do you like better? Was the folder of 10 photos a refreshing glance down memory lane? Was the full folder of photos an overwhelming and time-consuming blast from the past? If you really don't see the benefit and aren't convinced, stick to your current photo taking, editing, and organizing habits. At a minimum, consider cutting the guilt if you leave the camera behind just this once.

What About the Photos Already Taken?

The photos saved on your computer or stored on a hard-drive, and even the pre-digital collection already printed, how should they be edited down to an average of 10/year?

Transform your current photo-taking habits. Leave the camera behind. Be proactive about the photos you choose to take. Be critical about the photos you choose to keep and preserve.

If you haven't yet, do the mini-challenge described above but do so to each year. Do the same for your printed photos, putting the selected photos in an album and leaving the others in a photo box.

After you are successfully keeping your yearly photos to a reasonable amount (10 or whatever number makes sense for you), and when you're happy with the photos already in albums and convinced of the necessity to simplify your stash of photos, either...

1 | keep them for a period of time without worrying about preserving them (because you're upkeeping only 10/year), and after an adequate amount of time not ever looking at the photos (6 months, 1 year, 10 years), delete the extra digital photos and recycle the box of printed ones,


2 | keep them for an indefinite amount of time until they become destroyed on their own (fire, flood, crashed computer) and don't worry about mourning the loss because you already have the photos you really cared about keeping.

Snapshot of 2010

Curious of what just 10 photos would look like, I did the above mini-challenge and opened our 2010 photo albums. Knowing that I wasn't deleting the other photos made it a pretty quick process, and I ended up with the 10 photos shown in this post. Here's a few things I learned by doing this:

You are in charge of you.

At first I felt bad that I wasn't pulling photos that included all our family and friends. Then I realized the point is to keep quality photos of our family and other's are responsible for doing the same for their own family.

Plan photos ahead of time.

Knowing that I'm not taking photos of anything and everything, it'd be good to have an idea ahead of time of the photos I'd like to have. While taking photos of other people isn't necessarily my responsibility, it would be nice to have some good candid shots that include the people we love.

Take photos with depth.

Instead of lining people in front of a white wall for a smile-at-the-camera photo, aim for shots that tell a story. Either candid shots of the subjects doing something, or photos with a background that tells about what's happening.

Overall, I'm a little bit surprised these are the 10 photos that I chose for 2010. But I'm happy with them. They tell who Brylee is (she's a girly girl in her pink tutu, brave on the longboard, not afraid of people and loves to read). They tell about our growing family, showing our current house and that Daniel and I went on a cruise. They also tell about our summer travels, visiting friends in Missouri, helping my mom pack for her big move, and hanging with family in Lincoln. And that's 2010 in a nutshell.

Of course, that's not all that happened. And those aren't the only good photos we got from the year. BUT... when I'm 80 and sharing my photos and stories with anyone that will listen, they're going to be glad this is all I had of 2010, and I'm going to be glad I got my photos under control so I could keep up with preserving these precious memories.