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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author


“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  


Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 


Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."


I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!


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How much?
Old 11-08-2017   #1
Bill Pierce
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How much?

One of our fellow forum members told me recently that he had spent considerable time sorting his film and digital files - putting them in order and discarding those images he felt were below par. He obviously has a tight and well ordered filing system. On the other hand…

I come close to not throwing anything away. For years a great deal of my work was out of the country. I would ship film back to an American publisher. Once they had made their selects, an agency took what remained and sold it to non competitive foreign publications. Guess what - some of those negatives and slides were damaged and some just disappeared. So, when I did get a chance to gather up my work, perhaps I became over protective.

Over the years, more and more of my film work has been scanned, but I still keep the negatives and slides that have been scanned. I make a rough cut when I first download files from my digital cameras, but I’m beyond forgiving in choosing the ones that are “keepers.” A big RAID system that literally holds every digital scan or image I have made is attached to my desktop. All of that is backed up on two sets of hard discs, one here and one at another location.

Now, who is right - our fellow member who actually knows what is in his files or me, the photographic equivalent of one of those people who never throw anything away until their homes are essentially unlivable?

Our fellow forum member has a much more efficient and effective system than i do for the day to day handling of his images, but I actually don’t think it makes too much of a difference in the long run. Both of us have a large collection of things that folks don’t really look at as pictures, We have boxes of negatives and metal boxes that can connect to computers. You know how I feel about it - make prints. That’s what people recognize as photographs. Hang them on your walls, have albums on table in the living room and fill up that closet in the extra room with boxes of prints.

But, to return to the issue at hand, HOW MUCH OF WHAT YOU SHOOT DO YOU KEEP???
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Old 11-08-2017   #2
Chuck Albertson
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All of it. A page of negs (and now color slides, since I dispense with mounts) takes up the same space whether it holds 36 exposures or 16. Same for digital (except for the forgot-to-turn-off-camera-before-dropping-into-bag shots); external hard drives are getting cheap enough that there's no point in deleting stuff.
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Old 11-08-2017   #3
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I still delete too little, but I've found a way to make it easier: I make a positive selection. Giving stars in Darktable, or whatever you use. Then after a while I can delete all images that I didn't select as worthy of keeping. Much easier for me than selecting which ones to delete.
Btw, when I read the thread title I though this was going to be about the idiots that I've sometimes had just point at my camera (or guitar) and ask "how much?" while I was giving no indication of wanting to sell it. What do these people think? That I need the money more than the camera? That it looks so great from the seconds they looked at it that they also want one? Or just to see if they can afford more than I? Has anyone else had those?
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Old 11-08-2017   #4
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I'm merciless with digital, but keep my negs. I've got tubs of negs that I'll probably never go through again, but can't seem to part with them. As far as digital, I do a Photo Mechanic cut after each shoot. If it doesn't make the PM cut, it's history. Of the PM selects, I further cut and if it's a client shoot, and not something I'd be shooting otherwise, I keep the RAWs of everything submitted, and any other shots that catch my eye, and trash the rest.

For personal projects, I keep much more, but then on personal projects I actually shoot less, because I have more time with the subjects and take more time with each shot. There's something about a deadline, and not being able to go back and pick up shots, that motivates me to shoot more "just in case" shots when working for someone else.

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Old 11-08-2017   #5
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I keep everything... but not real time. All the film is scanned and together with the digital images the files are backed up twice to offline storage. The film is stored by date, film, camera, lens, and short description. The things I publish (around 100 articles a year) are stored online going back five years (images and text). My "important" personal photos are online... seven years (plus selected historical images going back to the 1950s).
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Old 11-09-2017   #6
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Not so much. I'm not a prolific shooter. Unlike Garry Winogrand, I don't shoot a lot of pictures to see how the subjects look in the pictures.

With film, I've kept almost all my personal negatives and transparencies but a large portion of my output stayed with the newspaper where I worked for many years. Since I dismantled my darkroom and since I hate scanning and I no longer have a scanner, the film files don't see any activity these days.

With digital, I am ruthless in editing in camera and I delete at lot once downloaded. If I don't intend to print the shot at some point, I don't keep it. If it's an identical duplicate shot, I delete it. If it's technically bad and I have no personal attachment to it, it goes in the trash bin. If I print it and it doesn't work for me, it's gone.

What I do keep and what is becoming totally overwhelming is the number of prints I have. I have boxes and boxes of them everywhere and, honestly, it's an unmanageable mess.
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Old 11-09-2017   #7
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Dust to dust...I've always been mesmerized by those keeping their digital pics on triplicate servers. In the end, if you are lucky, it's the family pics that will survive a generation.
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Old 11-09-2017   #8
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Negs stored in sleeves, slides from the 70/80s in slide trays, digital on a hard drive.
I keep all the film I shoot but, like others have said, I`m ruthless with the digital
I`ve started to print 5x7 s of anything I like and maybe its the prints which will survive.
Can`t see anyone keeping the rest of the stuff.

My village historical society often makes emergency dashes to the local tip (dump) trying to save stuff being dumped by relatives.

Once you're gone, it's gone, just enjoy it whilst you can.
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Old 11-09-2017   #9
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I am an amateur and I have an archive of under 10K photos spanning a period of time from the early sixties to today (I started shooting in the fifties but those images went lost).

My plan is absolutely to keep all of them and gradually duplicate them in digital (I have an excellent Minolta scanner but it is too low and so I am building a macro photo setup)

First of all my photos are anyway documents and even if they were only of interest for very few people (like my inner circle) my mentality is that of striving for conservation. I am also working at a first photobook, It for my own pleasure, it will take years, and it might remain unfinished.

Besides my rating of images that at their time appeared to me so so has changed in such a long time

And technology may allow to salvage those very rare images that have technical errors.
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Old 11-09-2017   #10
Bill Pierce
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Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
Dust to dust...I've always been mesmerized by those keeping their digital pics on triplicate servers. In the end, if you are lucky, it's the family pics that will survive a generation.
Peter - I keep my digital files on three different hard disc systems. But, between drive failure and information decay, these are hardly “forever” storage solutions. For me, this is another reason to make prints.
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Old 11-09-2017   #11
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I have some negatives from early 1970s but many which have fallen into Never-Never-Land after so many moves and such.

I think I have all negatives from the late 1980s on.

When the mini labs started doing CDs, I copied all of the images to the PC. I keep the CDs with the negatives.

When I started to do digital and finally realized I could just pop the card and put it in the computer, instead of futzing with the cables and the almost-working proprietary software, I keep most all digital files on the main PC and do a DVD just to be sure every so often.

Ditto with the negative scans, from about 2005 or so.

I organize in folders by dates.
My (NEW) Gallery
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Old 11-09-2017   #12
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It is not the problem to keep it all. The problem is the catalog. From negatives taken by Karsh and only systematized after special assistant was hired to current electronic media, where storage cost is not as problematic and having personal doing tags, description and so, with investment into the Media Asset Management system. And it is special profession, not just extra click in the software.

But. If you have time to re-dig, the process often brings something new and valuable for the print
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Old 11-09-2017   #13
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I am lazy and don't delete my digital files. What I do do is edit ruthlessly, print my best images, and save the files as tifs in folders named by portfolio so I can easily find them for reprints. After printing, I rarely go back and look through the digital dumps. Life is too short. If I didn't think an image was worth printing the first time around, it is unlikely I will change my mind later. I spend my time working on new images instead. I did look through my old slides a few weeks ago for the first time in 15-20 years to see if there were any I wanted to scan and print in palladium over pigment, and found just three. I fully expect that when I die, my negatives and slides will end up in the dumpster, and my digital images will disappear when my family gets around to tossing my computer. I am sure they will go through my prints, select the ones they want to keep, if any, and toss the rest. I'm okay with that. I don't photograph for anyone other than myself.
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Old 11-09-2017   #14
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Hi Bill, and, thanks for this.

I divide my pictures into two groups: those made for me and those made for clients.

On the client side, I burn an unedited optical and HDD copy of a any card made. Then from that HDD image, I make a copy to edit. I edit out any BS, meaning lighting checks etc. I burn another optical of this. It will go along with my edit to the client. I then edit down to the few images I will adjust with photo tools. All raw files are cleaned up, fixed, cropped, etc. I burn two copies, one for storage and one for the client. I deliver the 2 opticals, one with unedited raw, one with edited raw, JPG and any layering info to the client. I keep the images, my HDD files, unadjusted optical and edited optical for one year. In a years time, I call the client to ask if they need any copies before they bit bucket. I get the reply in writing if necessary. I then clean the HDD and take the optical disks to my storage room. At some point I trash the unedited optical, unless it contains portfolio grade images.

With my personal work, I'm the client. I copy cards to both HDD and optical. This includes film scans. I edit and print anything I think is good. With film, it may be 1-2 frames in a 135 roll. I often bracket when possible. If the print makes the cut, after looking at it for a week or two, I send the negative for a professional scan and ship my print with the scan on optical to my printer. We make work prints, if we both think the image is a knock out. I do a few a year..not many make it to final prints (expensive).

With film, I clip the important frames from the roll and store them in photo envelopes. The remainder go in the shredder. I burn a couple of copies of the Creo scans and store one off site. One is with my printer, so that's 3 copies of anything important.

That's it. I'm ruthless about editing my personal stuff. I make a lot of useless photos and get rid of them quickly so, they don't interfere with my work. No regrets so far. Nothing trashed that was important.

I think the lack of good editing or any editing has eroded photography.

Thanks again Bill, pkr

In thinking about this, I should add, that I've sometimes received client requests for an additional edited copy, because the one delivered has gone missing (I never had this happen when delivering film). The client fails to copy these. I always ask for the number of copies needed before they are delivered. I sometimes make three for one big client who looses them. The images are often needed by different people and a disk will vanish from a desk as it was needed for a late meeting or something.. who knows?
I rarely deliver on thumb drives, as they can be written to or lost more easily. I always get a signed conformation of delivery. This became important once, and once was enough.
The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. Dorothea Lange
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Old 11-09-2017   #15
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All of it these days, since it's digital and it's easier to buy hard drives than to decide I'll never, ever, change my mind about a foto I don't like today.
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Old 11-10-2017   #16
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Originally Posted by Chuck Albertson View Post
All of it. A page of negs (and now color slides, since I dispense with mounts) takes up the same space whether it holds 36 exposures or 16. Same for digital (except for the forgot-to-turn-off-camera-before-dropping-into-bag shots); external hard drives are getting cheap enough that there's no point in deleting stuff.
Same for me compared to the cameras and other stuff the photos take next to no space.
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Old 11-10-2017   #17
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I have all of my slides and negatives, all the way back to when I started shooting at age 10. They are in a combination of Nega-File envelopes and boxes, Archival Methods sleeves and boxes, and PrintFile pages and binders.

After shooting film for 48 years I switched 100% to digital for about eight years. I switched back to film in 2010 and transferred all of my digital photos from that eight year period to my wife's Apple account. She is using Photos these days. I made prints of the very few digital images I wanted to keep and gave her carte blanche to delete everything else as she sees fit.

I still take digital photos with my iPhone. I make 4x6 prints of the keepers for family and friends and dump all of the others into my wife's account. I don't know, and don't particularly care what happens to them there.

Since 2010 I have digitized all of my negatives and made inkjet "contact" sheets of them that reside in boxes in the front room for friends and family to peruse. The negatives are in PrintFile pages and binders in my workroom upstairs where I make inkjet prints to display and give as gifts.
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Old 11-10-2017   #18
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I've been taking pictures for many years. Many would think I would be set in my ways, composition wise. This isn't the case. I found that with film and some with digital, I have loosened up a lot in my compositions. None of this was planned. I noticed it over time, during careful editing of my work. I'm tending toward a 28 more for personal work but, still carry a 35. My work related stuff is still pretty tight, composition wise. Work is mostly color, personal is mostly b&w for now. Watching these changes in my noodle is one of the benefits of careful editing.
The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. Dorothea Lange
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Old 11-10-2017   #19
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I'm a film shooter who scans.
I only scan the keepers, but as my tastes change I sometimes go back and scan a frame I might have initially discarded. I keep all my sleeved negatives, I have less than 1000 sheets so I'm not swimming in them. Yet.
I keep them because like I said I sometimes go back to a roll and scan a different shot, or rescan an older shot as my skills improve.
The end product, and the only thing that will be looked at are my prints, and of them I expect the only ones that will be kept are of family. I don't expect anyone to go through my negatives or files once I'm gone.
I think I'm rambling here though.
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