Shoot Fewer Pictures

by James Duncan Davidson

One of the memes that's been going around the circle of photographers that I chat with is that the better your original RAW files, the better your final files. The whole idea of "Fixing it in Post" is somewhat flawed from the the word go. Sure, you can rescue a bad shot to some degree, but if you start out with great data, you'll end up with a better final result. There's a corollary meme that I've started hearing a bit about, and one that I'm really going to start preaching: If you shoot less pictures in the field, you'll have less work to do in post. After all, you might like working in Aperture, but you'd probably like to spend more time behind the camera, wouldn't you?

Edward Kozel and Tim O'ReillyThe problem is that we regard the act of taking a picture with a digital SLR as being "free". The problem is that it's not. Every RAW file consumes disk space, but more importantly it consumes time. For a while as I've been shooting various conferences, I've been trying to shoot fewer—and better—frames. The reason for this is that when I get to the end of a day and I've still got hundreds of photos to chug through, I usually get really grumpy. The prospect of working for hours on end after everyone else goes home just isn't appealing.

This was driven home to me today while shooting at the 2007 O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference in San Diego. For the first time in my event photography career, I have an assistant on site. It's a wonderful experience to have a capable assistant to help out with things. Things are moving nicely and I might just be able to be asleep before midnight tonight. As nice as it is to have somebody else to help with the mass of images moving through the pipeline, watching and guiding somebody through the process of winnowing down my photo collection is making it even more apparent that I should concentrate on getting the right shot while behind the camera rather than snapping off a few of a bad shoot hoping that one might just come out anyway. It's the kind of thing that you can ignore when it's just you dealing with things, but when you watch somebody else deal with the mass of images, it becomes even more apparent how even just immediately deleting a bad shot on screen can add up when multipled by tens or hundreds of bad images. It's like torture by water drips.

Shoot less. Produce better images quicker. That's my mantra for the next few days.

By the way, if you're interested in seeing photos from ETech, you can check out the Etech Flickr set as it builds up over the week.


2007-03-27 11:45:17
You won't keep it up - as Parkinson's law states, you'll keep shooting till there's no more space / time to fill. Of course, if you shoot *fewer* pictures in the field, you'll have less work to do.
2007-03-27 16:22:57
Shoot better, yes. But not taking a shot? I don't know about that. Esp. With auto-stacking and lift & Stamp, why not? Maybe you get "Just the right angle" or "Just the right expression" with a few more. Might not pay off every time, but if you don't take the extra shots, you won't know what you MAY have gotten.

I like the "Take Better Shots" mantra, but I don't think I can get behind the take fewer shots fiasco.

James Funkhouser
2007-03-28 18:26:51
For the last year or so, I've been trying hard to get myself to take *more* pictures. I'm trying to get out of the "film" frame of mind. In fact, I just ordered a new 4GB CF card and I'm planning on using "blasting-on" (continuous-shooting) mode more often. I figure that I can always stack similar images and only process the pick, so I don't have to do anything to the extras if I don't want to. I know I've missed a lot of good shots in the past because I was being too stingy with the shutter release.

Of course, I don't plan on shooting blindly and hoping for a good shot. More shooting won't compensate for laziness or lack of attention.

2007-03-29 04:41:35
As I've arrived at mid-career as a newspaper photographer I tend to shoot less frames during each assignment. I study the scene and am more aware of what's going on, which is hard to do if you've got the button mashed down.

I look at the take from an assignment from younger staff members and see that they shoot a LOT more than I do. While they're talented and do a great job, you've got to get through a lot of chaff before you find the selects. In my opinion, it's a function of their relative inexperience and a lack of confidence in their own decision making.

So, right on - shoot less and take better pictures.

James Duncan Davidson
2007-04-03 09:38:52
Anthony: I think you misunderstand me. I'm not saying don't take a shot. I'm saying don't take an obviously bad shot. I cull out way too many bad shots for my taste. Shots that are obviously not going to make the grade. I'm all for 10 frames per second. But I'm also interested in only pushing those shots when there's a good chance I'll get something good.

James: Right. The problem is on the process side of the house. That's where the time suck is. Also, if you always blast away and just process the pick, you've still got all those pics on your library requiring backup and taking up disk space. At some point your tools slow down a bit and you start trying to figure out how to manage a half terabyte or a full terabyte of data.

Joeapp: Thanks, and yes, I think that's exactly the transition point I'm working towards.