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Thursday, 18 November 2010


I agree. I only take a photo if the scene catches my eye and I've done a quick-ish check to ensure I've got the best angle. To my mind, taking a whole bunch of photos with the expectation of deleting most of them is not photography.

I do loosen this rule for two situations. One, if I'm taking a shot of something "new" (unfamilar subject or technique). Two, the referent is moving and I've got time for a few shots.

"They take time and energy to edit"

I hear you. I shoot a lot of fiestas here in Mexico, always in RAW. A photojournalist friend convinced me to shoot JPEG for a day so that my ageing camera could shoot bursts and capture the action of the dancers at a particular fiesta. The result? A couple of thousand frames over a long day. After days of editing I ended up with a dozen or so keepers, roughly the same as I would have gotten using my old method (and shooting maybe 200 frames). Needless to say I've returned to using RAW.

When I made the switch from film to digital I found the habits of years shooting film hard to break. I still thought about each exposure. I worried about composition and focus and exsposure and all the things I used to consider, and might only take two or three photos. Friends suggested that I loosen up "digital is free edit later, you might miss something". I tried for a bit, then fell back into my old bad habit of trying to make each shot count. Perhaps the result of those pesky Calvinist roots. In the end-for me-this is more productive, and more (dare I say it?) fun. Perhaps if I was a pro and had to bring home the money shot my approach would be diferent, but I'm not.

I must say, I both agree with, and admire this approach. Personally, shooting medium format (and more recently, large format) film for a number of years has certainly tightened up on the wastage - usually will spend one frame on a subject or at most a couple. I spent a lot of the summer on digital and experienced the same thing as you describe, boring post-processing comparing multiple shots of the same subject, often with all of them ending up in the rejects.

On the other hand, the "what to do with frame #12, I want to finish the roll" conundrum has led to a few pleasant surprises after getting the chromes back from the lab.


I'm very much with you on this one. There is a very real time cost to redundant and repetitive photos that I missed when I first started shooting digital. The inevitable consequence being drives full of rubbish that took forever to weed.

The realisation of the time cost 'informs' my practice very much now and was actually helped when I started shooting film again and had to deal with scanning as well.

I read a William Eggleston quote recently where he said that he only takes one photo of something, because if he takes more he finds it too difficult to decide which is best. That encouraged me somewhat.


Shooting large format for a while, even just as an exercise, is great for discipline. You find yourself spending five minutes to set up and then a few more minutes to study the ground glass and then you think, nope, not worth a sheet of film. Very different from digital snapshooting but it does good things inside your brain....


I've long been annoyed by the often-heard "film forces you to think" cliche, because, to my way of thinking, discipline comes from within, not from the medium. It's nice to hear for once that thinking is possible, even convenient, with digital, too.


$3 a snap forces me to think, all right.


Yeh, six is enough to be tedious. Sometimes I curse myself; why did I take so many?

I looked back at the comments to the column of three weeks ago and found this, which I missed before:
@ Ctein: If I haven't made up my mind after a minute or so, I'm starting to decide that it probably doesn't matter! Just pick one of them arbitrarily and go with it. Either trust my instinct knows which one is the best one, or that there truly aren't any differences that matter.

This advice should give me some relief from my pain.

I'm a nature photographer and observer. That should probably be the other way around or perhaps it should be observographer since, in practice the processes are combined. One of my observations (it didn't take much) is that nature creates through redundancy. Offspring are generated in greater numbers than will survive the rigors of life, often far greater. Nature is a ruthless editor.

I have a friend who won't trip the shutter until and unless everything is just right. He still throws away 90% of what he shoots. I learned photography as a photojournalist where I was taught to shoot what first attracted me and then to explore. If a view looked like it might have merit, shoot it and edit later because once the moment is gone so is the opportunity. In a recent discussion with my friend about preparing a collection of images for a book he said he had 300 to choose from his 40+ years of photography that might be good enough to publish. I had just edited down my choices from the last 5 years to 522.

I don't consider myself a "stochastic" shooter. When I explore a subject I shoot a lot. I average around 150/day for an all day outing, occasionally 200 or more, and I consider each shot as carefully as the circumstances permit but I'm also aware to capture the right moment I must be willing to sort through a fair number of wrong moments after the shoot is over.

Ctein, Your saver is the first image in the fourth row of page 2 (IMO).


It's not even necessary to shoot large format for that -- I often walk around with a 35mm SLR, stop, ponder a subject for minutes, and eventually go "nope, not worth a frame of Superia 200" -- being poor is a good thing sometimes :)

The time "cost" is NOT avoided by your method. By doing the image selection and editing out in the open air BEFORE pushing the shutter, you moved the bulk of the time "cost" upfront rather than at the end of the process. If you love the outdoors, that is definitely the preferred way to work. Who wants to spend hours in a dark stuffy room staring at a monitor when you can spend the same hours outdoors?


I began serious photography with large format. I spent 3 years in the Army shooting 4X5, sometimes using a tripod and the groundglass, but sometimes just set the exposure, point and shoot. I've even done it hanging out of a helicopter so I could point it straight down.

The latter is easier with 35mm, MF and now digital but the tripod, careful compose method is still possible with even a pocket digital camera (I carry a Canon G10 most of the time). Discipline comes from within, not from the camera you use and the tedium of fussing with large format more often than not means photographs don't get made at all.

Dear Ctein;
Before buying my 1DsII in I think 2005 or very early 2006 I had been using a 8x10 view camera. I do use my 1ds II daily (I also use other cameras) but I can´t help going slowly... that's why I´ve only shot 25,000 images with it in the last five years. It sounds like very few digital images but if you think of 25,000 8x10 negatives it´s a hell of a lot!
Is that your Fuji camera in the "contact images"?
Ctein, do you have to wait a while to digest your work as Michael Kenna does, I read he quite often waits six months to start studying and working on them. Or are you a Brett Weston? Shot the images went home and developed the negs, dried them and before going to bed in the evening they were usually printed!

As a young, semi-pro photographer it drives me crazy how other people have an expectation with portraits and weddings that, "dude, pros are constantly shooting, you aren't shooting enough," and no appreciation or respect for waiting for the moment. To me, a lot of what makes photography, photography, is the "hunt," the act of finding or preparing, anticipating, and finally shooting the photo - not just the act of pressing the shutter incessantly to cover your behind.

I was clearing space on my hard disks recently and just found hundreds of redundant, crappy photos, and worthless doubles and triples of the same shot, that were just sitting there hogging real estate. And I was just like, why?

I'm there, too. After 20 years of using a Pentax 6x7 with ten available exposures per roll, I'm similarly frugal with digital. Ctein used a 6x7 too, which may be part of his influence. I bought a new digital camera a year ago and have made a total of 2500 exposures with it. And that includes cat and flower pictures!

If it looks good, I shoot. If it still looks good, I keep shooting. Many's the time I have gone wandering back into my files and found a nugget of pure gold, that I passed over the in first edit. Show pieces, even. Sellers.

Same subject, same framing, shot a dozen times is wastage, surely. The trick is to keep moving, look for the different angle, get a dozen different views of the same subject. This is where digital shooting shines over film. That said, it's ironic that I have to order a new set of hard drives today because I'm all full up and Lightroom coughed and choked on the very last frame from yesterday's shooting.

That's why I like to use a medium format roll film camera. It's forces me to take time before making a photo.


I just bought a Pentax 6x7 recently and am experiencing the increase in discipline alluded to above. I estimate it costs me (not including the camera) about USD 1 to shoot one frame. (In contrast, a digital shot costs me about 5-10c, all things considered). The assessment involved is enjoyable of itself and I hope will lead to improvements.

Mike - my problem with setting up my 4x5 and thinking "nope" is that by the time I set it up, for some unjustifiable reason, I feel like it would be ridiculous to NOT take a photo and burn the piece of film. I find it really hard to be that disciplined and just put the camera away again.

"To my mind, taking a whole bunch of photos with the expectation of deleting most of them is not photography."

How is it possible that that is not photography? It might not be your style, but it's most definitely photography.

Beg to differ, I use are many types of photography which require many images. They can include rapidly changing light-shade landscapes (strong winds before-after a storm), nature (our cats chasing a rabbit through the grass and catching it, catching a starling on final approach using a pre-focus method), and children (action shots on swings and slides). Software such as BreezeBrowser Pro allows very rapid browsing and selection of images, after copying them all before selection.
But I agree completely that good scene selection and composition are intrinsic, and multiple bad images just a waste of time and resources.

Hello Ctein - wow, 36 images in an afternoon! I remember you visiting Scotland in the '90s and I'm sure you didn't take that many on the entire trip! However, it's a discipline that many photographers should learn.

Makes me smile when so many photographers talk about having 200k and more (digital) images on file. I've been shooting digital every day for 5 years and my hard-drive has a few more than 10k on the clock of which 7,500 are also with an agency. I'm thinking my 3,000 or so 'spares' could do with a serious editing out of the system!

I work the same way as you do, so four shots in succession seems like the machine gun approach to me. I just talked to someone, who saw my M9 and said he had heard that the buffer fills up way too quickly and therefore he wouldn't buy the camera. I answered that I guess this might be the case, but that I find it very easy with the M9 to actually take a photo at the moment I want to take it.

I may have offended him, but mind you this was someone who said he used to shoot with many film Leicas. I guess coming from a film Leica, he would need a 1/2 second frame rate and a 36 image buffer. I didn't say that to him since I wasn't out to offend him.

Although I'm not a fan of machine-gun shooting, I also don't see a problem with being more liberal with the shutter when you're shooting digital. How many times have you run out of film and wished you had more at that very moment (it's happened to me plenty of times)? The fact that you can shoot 1,000 pictures in a given outing doesn't mean you have to or should, but if you see something that you think is compelling enough to make a picture of it, what's wrong with pressing down on the shutter button?

I almost always shoot handheld and with digital I have started to shoot three frame bursts even if it's a photo of a tree. One of the three will always be sharper or better in some way than the other two. With moving water it's easy to pick the best of 3, but the best of 10 is a lot of work.

With portraits it seems like for most people one in three is usable on account of blinking or something like that, and maybe half of the usable ones are good. Of course that means that for two sitters it's one in nine usable shots and one in 36 where both look good. For a group of five lawfirm partners it's one usable in 243 on average , but who wants to take chances with five lawyers so you take maybe 500. If one in six are not just usable but good it will take 7776 on average to get them all looking good or maybe 15552 just to be safe. They are lawyers after all.

I don't disagree with the fact that a bit of shooting discipline at the time of pressing the shutter will save time in the workflow later on. However, I want to bring up the point that we shouldn't go back to the stinginess the good ol' films days because we're afraid of editing. One of the advantages of digital is that it allows for chimping, err, instant review. And that allows for exploration - e.g. how would something look from a slightly different angle, with a slightly different exposure, etc. Yes, an accomplished photographer could 'pre-visualize' all that, but for the less than accomplished, exploring a subject or a scene by taking lots of (different) shots will create better shots. Oh, and one more point - chimping is a great way of eliminating losers before they even make it to the computer.
I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle - take enough photos to refine your vision, but don't use your finger pressing the shutter to act like your photographic brain.

I think about this alot. When I shot film I was disciplined to shoot 24 to 36 frames, if needed, and because I was cautious I thought I did well.

I think I still do that today with digital.

Yes I have the large card to fill up but why?

I'm definitely of the "less is better" approach. Really got into photography with my Oly C4000Z and the limitations of only owning one of those awful SmartMedia cards. Maybe 50 good quality shots, tops, before having to retreat to the PC. Assuming the batteries didn't die before I filled the card.

It's why I now shoot film, because the camera cost next to nothing and by the time I shoot enough frames to cover the cost of a new DSLR, they'll be up to 5 or 6 digits on the model numbers.

I agree with the comment on large format, Mike.

To that, I add that it also helps one to compose upside down (and reversed). To this day, I often turn my small format photographs upside down (on the screen and/or in print) to see if they work that way; otherwise, usually something is just a bit off.

I can't draw worth a darn. But, I once took a class that used the book, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," and it included an exercise to draw an upside down portrait. To my astonishment, the result was actually fairly decent (for me). I couldn't have done it right side up.

When I first became interested in photography, I used to take a lot of versions of essentially the same shot, which I saw as a kind of insurance againt a missed opportunity. I think I started doing it on the advice of some book or other. I found that nearly always the best ones were either the first one, or maybe the second or third in the series, and a lot of time was wasted looking through all the variations. The later shots just seem to tail off into 'let's see how it looks like that' or some other lazy approach. Sometimes there was gold in the later shots, but often this would be unintended or accidental. Now I tend to take the same approach as Ctein, unless approaching a difficult subject like low light, or something unpredictable like the birds or water. This approach works for me, but I can fully understand how different approaches suit different styles, subjects and techniques. For me, though, even when I get a good shot through shooting many versions of the same subject, I value the ones that came to me that way less than ones that were considered and taken deliberately.

Mike "Very different from digital snapshooting but it does good things inside your brain...."

I agree, even medium format. But Ctein won't like it - he's left film firmly behind

I don't put any rules on it. I just shoot till I think I've got it, or until I'm convinced it's not there.


"my problem with setting up my 4x5 and thinking "nope" is that by the time I set it up, for some unjustifiable reason, I feel like it would be ridiculous to NOT take a photo and burn the piece of film."

In my opinion no matter how you work, you've got to be prepared to say "no" a lot. But that's just my opinion.


Mike: it appears I might disagree with William Eggleston. I think you can learn more from the choices made determining which of 2-3 photos are best *and why*.

Ctein: something I did earlier this summer, and is worth trying if you have 10mins spare: take 3-4 of your Minneopa Falls frames and combine with HDR, panorama and stacking algorithms. Sure, it's unconventional to use a moving subject and one unbracketed exposure: that's the fun of it. You still gain from alignment and having multiple source-images to compute each output pixel, in all the above recipes, and you'll find they behave differently, too.
I present this as an alternative half-way house between two extremes: on the one hand, all frames very deliberate (but even LF is still subject to some rejection ratio, and you only get to know what you've missed on a multi-month timescale); on the other extreme, no frames deliberate (painful editing); with this, the scene choice and shooting parameters are deliberate but potentially more than one source image might go into your final chosen result.

I still shoot digital like it's film, pretty much: my memory cards each hold @72 Raw and jpeg. The notion of a pro 'machine gunning' a session is counter to my approach, when, as a pro each frame mattered. Partly why I stopped doing weddings was because of the newly digitised rear gunners (firing at anything that moves, scared s******s that they will miss something) who decimated the market in about two years.
Now, in my more leisurely approach to photography I still want to make nearly each frame count, otherwise I don't consider my abilities to be particularly valid. I can't subscrcibe to the averages approach because part of social photography is being, well, social and a measured well timed couple of shots wins over 6 fps for me. This isn't the right way, but it is for a percentage of folks carrying their film baggage, and glad they are for it.

I'm always amazed when I see people advertising or advocating "right way up" finders for view cameras. To me that's giving up one of the best things about shooting with that kind of camera.


Wasn't it Jane Bown who said she noticed that the best shots are always the first or the last, so now she always just takes two?


I think as long as you take the time to edit your pictures and properly deal with them (e.g., archive, rate, tag, etc), that is the best cure for taking too many. It worked for me.

When I started shooting 35mm film again 6 months ago, I was very conservative. Every single frame was precious. Now I'm back to shooting about as much as I was with digital and I think my work is better for it. Sometimes 1 frame is enough, sometimes I need 6. It just depends on the subject, how rapidly the light conditions are changing, and a bunch of other factors. It's quite hard to generalize.

I can't help telling this story once again: my old friend Jim Sherwood tells of the old pro he apprenticed under who did everything with a Speed Graphic and *three* holders. And he was a *photojournalist*. He'd go to cover a news event with six sheets of 4x5 film. According to Jim that old guy thought rollfilm shooters were real wussies. [g]

Love that story.


"SIX?!? You're saying your 'spray and pray' method means taking SIX frames of the same subject?"

In the pre-digital days this would
have meant firing and winding the film six times.
Technology changes so the same six images are rendered by the singular push of a button for digital imagery. Sort of a newer form of an electric thumb (auto-winder).

Dear Sven,

So very much do NOT agree. It's about working style, nothing more. Making more or fewer photographs does not in any way make you less or more of a photographer. Nor, in the aggregate, a worse or a better one.


Dear James,

Interesting choice-- we'll see if you're right.

Probably should mention that I "proof" my digital photos the same way I would make a proof sheet from film-- keeping the contrast and saturation low enough that nothing clips, so I can see what I have to work with. Consequently, as portrayed here, all the photos are quite flat by intent.


Dear Jeff,

Not sure I buy the time argument-- I really don't think it takes me LESS time to make MORE photographs outdoors. But I agree that regardless of the amount of time, the time spent outdoors is a lot more enjoyable than the time spent editing down photo series.


Dear Paul,

All these photos were made with the Olympus Pen EP-1. I'll know right away which ones I like, once I have the time to sit down and look at them. Unlike Weston, I'm always behind on the printing part, but that's an only-24-hours-in-a-day thing, not because I can't instantly tell once I put my "artist head" on.


Dear Tudor,

You can't really disagree, because this column is descriptive, not prescriptive. No where do I say or even suggest how YOU should do YOUR photography.


Dear ed,

Ah nonsense; that would be a gross exaggeration-- I made at least 100 negatives during those 10 days in Scotland. 28 of them were good enough to make dye transfer prints from, true....


Dear Tim,

OK, that sounds just weird enough I shall have to give it a try.


Dear Pieter and Mike,

The very best photograph I made of the 600+ when I was photographing "Jewels of Kilauea" in Hawaii in 2002 was the very first frame I exposed, and I knew it as soon as I saw it on the light table at the custom lab in Kona. In fact, I said jokingly to Paula, "OK, I'm done now we can go home." This one:


pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

I think that the point is clouded somewhat - I can go for months without taking a photo (no editing required) if there is nothing I want to take a photo of. Looking at Ctein's first contact sheet I think I'd not even have taken any of those photographs. But there are times that there is a lot that I feel is worth photographing and may have a hundred shots. Not 100 of the same thing, but a try or two (or 4 if it is something moving) of a multitude of subjects.

Becoming a better photographer is to a good percentage based on experience, and there is no better way to get experience than by trying things out. Changing view points, photographing at different times of day/night, working in changing weather, different locations.

Musicians don't just practice a piece one time perfectly and leave it at that. They keep at it - not at random, but with intent (sometimes subconsiously though)

Just because Ctein has reached a point where this is the amount of practice he needs, doesn't mean that it is right for everyone.

Well for a change of pace, I went out last Saturday afternoon with my 1967 Rolleiflex and 3 rolls of 120 Delta 400. Didn't miss a frame and have posted 25 different images on the web.


Very therapeutic and a very different experience from filling up SD cards.

If it's moving, take a few. If it's still, take care.

Yep I am with Ctein on this. Mike I remember reading the post where you advocated taking 100 pictures to "warm up". Aside from when I am doing bird photography I doubt there would be more than one or two days per year in the 25 years since I got my first SLR that I would have taken a hundred shots.

"I can go for months without taking a photo (no editing required) if there is nothing I want to take a photo of."

"Musicians don't just practice a piece one time perfectly and leave it at that. They keep at it - not at random, but with intent..."

Uh, but, Jack...aren't those two things you just said diametrically opposed? Musicians don't just practice every few months when they feel like it, do they?


The truth is contained in your two examples. Sometimes it's good to shoot a lot of exposures; sometimes it's not. Experience will tell you what's right for a given situation.

Deleting bad photos isn't especially difficult or time-consuming ... I do it all the time!

Browse http://flickr.com to see how the general public does it - just take about ten, almost identical, bad photos, then post them all. Aargh.

Just as an aside I was shooting at Minneopa Falls some years ago and the spray from the falls ate through the coatings of a prized filter.

I'm not saying that water is polluted but I don't know how to finish this sentence.

Ctein --I wonder how much of your slow shooting style derives from your interests, rather than from some other personality trait?

That is, once you've figure out the rudiments (ISO, exposure time, f-stop) of shooting a waterfall, you'd have say, six or a hundred shots of more-or-less the same thing. But they aren't *quite* the same, and the differences are so subtle that it takes time to choose one.

If, on the other hand, you were shooting a riot, and were running with the rioters, and there was a different strong shot every few seconds, but people were twisting you around, and you were excited and shaking, then, if you took six shots, you might have nothing...but if you took a thousand, you probably would have some great stuff. And to edit that thousand down to the great stuff would take you, probably 2,000 seconds -- because with that kind of shot, you either got it, or you ain't got it, and there are no minute differences.

In other words, maybe you're slow because you shoot photographs that *require* slowness, but when you start taking "personality" shots - birds -- you suddenly rip off a bunch of shots...and if you were in some kind of fast-developing and interesting situation, that you might take many shots.

Okay: Suppose you'd borrowed Mike's brand new great-high-ISO K5 and were standing outside in East Velveeta, or wherever the hell the TOP Tower is, in the middle of the night, and a fireball flashed overhead...would you wait for the one shot, or would you go for the machine gun?

Funny story...last summer I found myself on Mount Graylock - the highest point in MA - preparing for my closeup. I've balanced the Pentax precariously on a rock (no room on the motorcycle for a tripod), have set the intervalometer to take 20 or so shots of me contemplating the landscape, hoping that at least one of the 20 will be print-worthy.

In the midst of this jiggered photography, I hear over my shoulder the telltale clack-clack-clack of a dSLR trapping photons in rapid sequence. I turn just in time to see an older gentleman lowering a Canon cannon with the requisite extra zoomy white bodied L-glass from his face. Why he was taking such rapid-fire photos of a slow-moving landscape I'll never know....

I come from a film background as well. Not as storied as most here, but I am famously cheap and used film judiciously. For my part, I've tried exploring the creative potential of free, limitless film (aka digital). Not in the common "spray and pray" mode, but rather in the potential of overlaying or layering several images in order to create a different interpretation altogether; something between still and moving images I guess.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hockneyed or Hackneyed?

I'm not sure if I have anything that sticks to the wall quite yet, but it's been an interesting journey at least...

"standing outside in East Velveeta, or wherever the hell the TOP Tower is"



My first camera (1979) was a Nikonos III that I used while SCUBA diving. This imposed discipline: you did not want to finish the roll before your compressed air ran out, since changing film meant getting back to the surface (boat, beach) getting out of the water, drying your hair so you would not drip salt water into the camera, drying the equipment, reloading film, checking the O-rings etc. On the other hand, you did not want to be left with much film at the end of the dive, because you wanted to start the next dive with a full roll of film. Inevitably, either a great potential shot would appear at the end of the dive when the film was finished, or one would end with several blank frames at the end of the dive. That must be one arena where digital cameras with giant cards are at an advantage over mechanical film cameras. On the other hand, on the occasion when my Nikonos flooded (it happens eventually to any camera/housing taken underwater – Murphy's law), I just rinsed it in fresh water, air dried it overnight, and used it for the remaining week of vacation before having it overhauled. Try that with an electronic device.

I don't see where any one approach is best for all subjects or circumstances.

I've sometimes been surprised, maybe even appalled, to discover that I took only one shot of something I knew was going to be excellent. But what the heck, I knew I'd done it, usually even without chimping.

But I'm walking on the new boardwalk of the Jessup Trail in Acadia NP and find that the wooden trail disappearing in the woods in the distance is enchanting - so I take a shot. Further along, the canopy arching over the trail is nicer, so I take another. Then the formerly straight trail becomes a snake, undulating through the woods. I'm supposed to skip that?

I'm walking back down the Mitchell Creek Trail in Mt. Diablo SP. I see a quail standing right out in the trail ahead of me. With each slow, very careful step closer, I take a shot. Carol stays back and manages to stop the dirt bikers coming down the trail. The quail holds its ground (decoying me from the nest in the adjacent grass.) for several careful steps, and shots.

When it finally breaks and runs, the last two shots are the closest and best. I'm supposed to see how close I can get before taking one, carefully considered shot?

At Bodega Head, I'm shooting along the shore. A turkey vulture flies from behind me directly overhead. I sense movement or the shadow, point the camera up and take two quick shots. Why only two? 'Cause it was already too far away. But one of those two? It's looking right back at me - wham!

I'm taking pics of a friend's kids in our front yard. Guess what the ratio of keepers, where movement expression, etc. work, is to failures? But oh, the keepers!

So doesn't the appropriate technique depend on subject and circumstances? Relatively unmoving target, obviously best angle, maybe I've already set up the shot and come back another day to get the right light? One shot and Bob's your uncle.

Walking several miles, even on a trail I know well, the light is changing, different flora is in different stages than the other times, a bird or animal may show up, the clouds are different. I don't see any better approach than to take the good looking shots as they appear. Sure, some will be upstaged later. So What?

The shots for my book, Three Days in Brooklyn, are classic examples. Almost all of the static shots of buildings and such are single shots. But there are many more street shots of people that didn't make the cut than did. This person turned her head toward me just as I took the shot - perfect! That one turned the wrong way - oh well.

Multi Mode Moose

"Uh, but, Jack...aren't those two things you just said diametrically opposed? Musicians don't just practice every few months when they feel like it, do they?"

My points are actually orthogonal:
Some situations call for more photos than others.
Practicing photography makes you better.

Sorry if I wasn't clear. I'm not claiming to be a photographer so I
have the luxury of practicing when I feel like it - or not.

"I can go for months without taking a photo" "Musicians don't just practice a piece one time perfectly and leave it at that"

"Uh, but, Jack...aren't those two things you just said diametrically opposed?"

Might not be. Much can still be happening during that interval: LOOKING, feeling, judging, deciding.

We may train ourselves and stay alert in the course of taking a lot of pictures. But we can also be training our attentiveness / restraint / selection / judgement every time we see, consider and then hold back from taking.

Regret at taking the wrong picture is educational: provided we can visualise what we should have done, such as for example, held back. But so is regret at failing to have taken the right picture: identically, provided we have visualised what we should have done.

That sounds a lot like a musician's practice scales, to me - the more time and tiring focus expended the better; even though the full tune is not yet being played. Practicing or performing, it ALL has to be purposeful and attentive.

MJ: "I don't put any rules on it. I just shoot till I think I've got it, or until I'm convinced it's not there."

Often the first shot of a series is my best, particularly with social scenes where the look that attracted me comes and goes in a moment. But with scenics I tend to shoot until the light is gone, if I have time. I take more pictures, but also more often catch the best light, as compared to when I used film. And I no longer run out of film just before the shot of the day walks into view. The bottom line is that with digital I make ten times as many photos and get twice as many keepers, and that's what matters.

Dear Gary;
Fantastic set of pictures...hope you keep up with the "Therapy".

Gary - Rollei shots are superb. The great DOF you get so easily with medium format. Small sensor cameras cannot compete. The same was apparent in the Afghanistan portrait shots that TOP featured a few weeks back

If I may add to my earlier comment. Take as many photographs as YOU need to feel comfortable, but try exercising more than your shutterfinger. Read George Barr about realy working a scene. And try one of the lessons I learned; turn around and look behind you, sometimes there is a better picture there.

The time I get really frustrated with myself is when I see three or four frames of a person in exactly the same pose and expression in a row on my camera. That happens when I'm just not paying attention. I think it's happening less often, so that's good.

I think my willingness to burn film, back in the film days (often bulk-loaded 35mm Tri-X) was one of my more valuable bits of attitude. I often got shots other people didn't because they gave up too soon. I've only extended this as I went digital. (My basic approach is journalistic; though I'm doing more attempts at art these days.)

What's "right" is what works for you in the particular situation. A lot, a little, film, digital, whatever.

I'm pretty sure that chiseling a representation of something out of a hunk of granite "isn't photography". I might even go so far as to suggest that spreading oil paint on stretched canvas isn't photography, either. But if it involves making images using light-sensitive materials (including digital sensors), then it IS photography. And while we have to make practical decisions about what techniques to use in our own photography, I also don't think there is any technique that can reasonably just be thrown out in general (as opposed to for your own work).

Apparently I'm not much of a prescriptivist about photography. This is one way in which photography differs from grammar :-) .

If shooting a group of 50 lawyers (I mean, with a camera), it's worth considering head transplants. It's actually fairly easy, usually, to bring in a couple of heads from other shots in the group to the best shot, to get everybody with a good expression at once. I've also done eye transplants to solve "closed eye" problems. That's even easier (the eyes never overlap other faces in a decent group shot). Don't tell the client, though; I had one that got a bit grossed out at the idea that I ripped their eye out of one picture and stuffed it into another.


Completely off topic:

On the one hand: I use my Rolleiflex for "street" shooting all the time. People actually come up to me and say "Cool old camera". They don't seem as intimidated or suspicious as they would be of a big black DSLR.

On the other hand: I have NEVER gotten that many keepers from 36 frames. Not ever.

You rock...

"Back in the oughts, we thought in terms of frames, not minutes. A top end reflex camera back then could get you at most a thousand frames a day. Two thousand if you were sleeping with your nose on the shutter release. And at most maybe 50 to 100 frames at a time that were actually in a row due to these things called 'buffers.' People actually used to buy cameras that mechanically could only take a hundred thousand photos or so before they failed.

Now-a-days all you kids argue about whether you should shoot seconds, hours, or days in order to get that one perfect exposure. Next someone will start selling one print a year as the single best frame out of 24/365 footage."
-- Comment to a similar thread here in 2021.


Dear John and Moose,

I'd not call it a personality trait; I don't think it's about my personality. But it is inherent in the way I work, I think, more than circumstantial:

"Polaroid Made Me The Photographer I Am Today"

Consequently, my instincts are to make very few photographs... and I thinking chimping is god's gift to photographers.

There will be exceptions to my rule; I wrote about one three weeks ago. But my idea of an exception (vis the exchange that began this article) is still probably far from what others would consider profligate photography. Further, they really are the exceptions.

As examples:

** I participated in, and photographed, the anti-war protests in San Francisco at the start of the Iraq-II war. Over the course of the day I made, I think, 38 photographs.

** When I photographed the Flying Karamazov Brothers "L'Universe" ten years back, I made a grand total of 45 photos.

** Scotland, 10 days in 1995. Something like 100 photos, 28 of which were dye-transfer-worthy.

In more extreme situations:

** I made over 300 photographs over a week's time span covering the first Space Shuttle launch. But I was nervous 'cause I was photographing for three different publications and wanted to make sure I had enough different stuff for each one. Still, 45 photos a day felt like a LOT to me.

** I made about 650 photographs over 18 days in Hawai'i in 2002, photographing for my Jewels of Kilauea book project. 350 of them were good enough to be publishable. Serious overkill for me, but I knew I'd need around 100 photos for the book, and I would have to have the right balance and mix of material and I wasn't going into the project with a fleshed-out design; I needed to see where the art would take me. So I overphotographed and culled later. But, again, making nearly 40 photos a day felt excessive (and would have been, save for the constraints of the plan).

** Last Sunday I photographed the FKB when they were in San Jose. I made 220 photographs. A huge number for me, but there was a lot of "let's see what happens" because it was the first time I'd tried photographing them digitally and I was working with a complex (for me) kit (one fast prime and two moderate speed zooms, total focal length range 28-400 mm equiv.) Most of the photos are keepers; next time I'd skip the experimentation and make less than half that many photos, I suspect.

That's just me.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Gary,

Oh, you are my kinda guy.

pax / Ctein

this is a subject just fraught with subjectivity, circumstantial contingency, and every other sort of individual difference. i always say, whatever works for you, go with that. ctein seems to feel he knows what works for him. (though i have to wonder about that statement regarding the birds... how can you possibly know that if you'd taken another 25 or 50 photos you wouldn't have gotten something worthwhile? but it's a decision you have to make yourself.)

but, this notion that there's some inherent superiority or benefit to shooting as though you're using film, or to only shoot when you're sure of the result, which crops up in the comments, just annoys the heck out of me every time i hear it. (again, if it works for any of you out there, more power to you.)

for one thing, all the photographers i admire most who learned on film did so in situations where they could burn through reams and reams of the stuff. (the fact that i mostly am interested in documentary type photography obviously is a factor here, though even a portraitist like avedon learned his craft doing thousands upon thousands of id pics for the military.)

now, maybe you've already learned all you have to learn about photography, but i haven't, and frankly i doubt anyone serious about the field has either, no matter how successful or famous they might be. i often take hundreds or thousands of pictures in a short period (albeit usually in situations which will never be repeated). editing them on the computer a) doesn't take very long; if i wanted to, i could (and sometimes do) glean 97% of the keepers out of a batch of 500 in under half an hour--and that's editing 20+mb raw files on a laptop. on a serious computer it would be even faster. but, b) usually i don't do it that way. instead i go through every frame, and spend long enough with it so that i learn at least one thing before i delete it, if i do, or more often, relegate it to zero-star rated obscurity. (btw, i /do/ sometimes go back and look at the raw sequences i shot, sometimes even years later. it can be helpful to have for documentary purposes, and even to jog my memory. and occasionally i have rescued an overlooked frame which went on to live a happy and productive life. the fact is, moore's law pretty much keeps us on top of the archive of photos most of us are likely to shoot at minimal extra expense and effort. maybe not zero, but insignificant as far as i am concerned, especially balancing the benefits of possessing the archive.) i've learned a lot. and relearned it over and over, which i personally find i generally need to do. and guess what--even this doesn't take all that long. more than a dozen minutes, perhaps, but then i clearly don't take nearly as long as ctein does to actually process my files and print them. which is fine by me--i find that part of the process far more boring, and less to do with the/my essence of photography than the editing--which is exactly the same /kind/ of activity as shooting is, unlike much of post processing.

there are other factors in favor of shooting more, in addition to the stochastic one (which is always a major factor in photography out-in-the-world, however much some practitioners would like to deny it). i constantly shoot test frames as i walk, judging the effects of my settings from the histogram and the lcd so that when something materializes i am already ready for it. (i consider this a significant advantage compared to film, and believe me, i love film.) as for the approach of one commenter who is annoyed by customers who think he should shoot more, again, whatever works, but especially if your clients expect it, rather than arguing with them, why not just snap some more photos? besides the fact that you never know when you might catch something worthwhile, you set your subjects at ease in more ways than one--they can stop worrying about you doing your job, and soon enough they will also stop noticing as much when you /do/ take the photos you know will be the winners, which translates into fewer missed opportunities for you (both when you snap that frame, and in terms of faster recovery time for your subjects to the next frame). that last part applies to anyone making unposed shots of people--there are benefits to shooting more frames, precisely because it bores most people.

so that's at least a part of my take on this. insofar as this blog is useful to many amateur photographers, i would encourage all of them to at least experiment with shooting more, rather than less. maybe i misunderstand how most people work, and actually the majority of you would be better served by cutting down on your exposure count (but, given that i have years of experience teaching photography to groups of inner city kids, i kind of doubt that). there's a false opposition happening here--the notion that working in a careful and considered way means shooting fewer frames. it needn't be that way. sure, we should all put as much effort as we can into finding the best pictures and make the most of them. but we should also take more photos. there are so many wonders around us, i think it's incontrovertible that anyone who can't make at least a hundred frames a day is missing a lot of possibilities (as i certainly do, as we all must). if you don't see them with your eyes, let your camera help you--it sees things you don't. that's part of the point. give it a chance to do it's thing.

To throw an odd wrench into this conversation, I shot much more liberally with film than I do with digital. I liked having lots of contact sheets to deal with, and I do not like having lots of computer files to deal with. I also liked the idea that a physical rectangle of film was a tangible and permanent record of where I'd been and what I'd seen. I always realized that at least half the pictures I took were just record shots, like a visual diary, and I'm aware that a digital file is evanescent, unlikely to survive a decade or two, and highly unlikely to outlive me. Someone might get some pleasure and interest out of discovering my negatives and prints a hundred years from now, but no one will ever be discovering my digital files, which will be gone, gone. I'm sure that doesn't matter at all to a lot of people, but it has an affect on me.

Although it's probably not helpful that this discussion has devolved to a film-vs-digital thing again. It really isn't; it's just about working methods, regardless of the medium.


First of all, I'd like to thank Mike for publishing the link to my Flickr site in my post above. The daily maximum has gone from 500 to a mere 11,200 since it hit TOP. Amazing to observe, but also very rewarding to get such attention for personal work.

Secondly, I'm thanking all that have visited from TOP and left comments and made me a Contact. I'll be coming back and do the same in the next week.

All this is confusing for me. There I was paying a small fortune for the best sensors and lenses in the business and being continually frustrated into buying more. All the time in the drawer was a Rollei that I paid £350 for in 1980 with the best sensor of the lot. Ha.

The 3 hour shoot was fun, the processing was ermm ... enjoyable and a very pleasant surprise, but the attention since I started posting them has been incredible and a delight. It's put a capital F into Fun this week.

Thanks again Mike.


The scatter-brained machine-gun approach to photography reminds me of the guitarist who rifles-off a million notes during a solo thinking that some of them are bound to sound good, and yet I can name players who bring me tears with three or four notes.

To me it comes down to how good of a musician or photographer are you? The best players don't play unnecessary notes (and I suppose words and writers apply here too), and the most accomplished photographers take just the amount of exposures necessary to capture the subject, no more, no less.

I find that different subjects and situations require different shooting styles.

If my subject isn't moving, and the light isn't changing, for instance many of the landscapes and architecture I photograph, then I can take the time to make sure a single exposure gets what I need. I have learned that I'd much rather spend my time in the field viewing the scene than spend my time viewing the scene in ACR.

On the other hand when shooting a rock band on a dimly lit stage, as they amp up to the finale and start bouncing off the walls I may end up with 200 shots in 2 hours of shooting. Most of those will be discarded, but the ones I keep will be much better than the shots I used to get when I was using 12 shot rolls of 120 film shooting live music.

Once at a show I overheard a guy toting a big, old Polaroid telling his friend "...he gets as many shots as he wants. I have to make do with a lot less..." Taking fewer shots may impress other photo-geeks, I used to say that stuff too, but over the years I've learned that the band is only interested in getting some exciting photos of the show. They really don't care if it took one shot or 1000, and I've learned that when it comes to looking at finished photographs hanging on a wall I don't care either.

@ mike: no, it probably isn't helpful if the discussion devolves to film-vs-digital. i didn't mean to take it there. but otoh, there are material, phenomenological factors that do depend on qualities of film and/or digital, as your archive concerns point to. as you allude to, more often, i think i see it going the other way, as people get a bit nervous about that little square of plastic they have to kill (albeit with the prospect of possibly creating new life) with each press of the shutter in film; there are consequences when you shoot film. shooting digital invites us to imagine that there are no consequences to pressing the shutter button, about which frankly i have to wonder if it isn't a factor in the photos which showed up from abu graib, etc.; would so many have emerged, were it not such an insignificant little act to take them?

@ player: at the risk of belaboring the point, the conclusion you reach ("the most accomplished photographers take just the amount of exposures necessary to capture the subject, no more, no less") based on your analogy (of the guitar soloist who plays too many notes with the "scatter-brained machine-gun approach to photography") is wrong both empirically and conceptually. empirically, it is a fact that most of the best photographers i know of in the world take many, many more pictures than are 'necessary' from the point of view of the finished project. take nachtwey as an example, if you want to consider a specific example of a 'most accomplished' photographer. conceptually, comparing taking photos to a guitar solo is completely wrong; the solo is a performance, the culmination of the process, while taking photos is part of the early preparation for the process, not the performance. you'd be right if you compared profligate soloists to photographers who fill their books or gallery shows with superfluous, uninspired images (but then, that makes a very different point). extending your analogy, would it make any sense to say that a great guitarist never practices, because he only needs to perform the music once correctly on stage? of course not.

i'm going to reiterate what i think is the most practical position on the best approach everyone should take to photography: whatever works. everything else is either a suggestion for something new to try (to see if it works for you), or empty posturing.

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