Quality versus quantity

“Okay, I’m done.”

“That’s it? You’ve only been shooting for ten minutes!”

“Yep, got about 50 shots, I should have 4-6 proofs for you from that bunch.”

“So we’re done?”

“Pretty much…I mean I can keep shooting, but there’s really no point, it’ll just be duplicates of the same stuff.”

This was the dialog I had with a co-worker a short time ago when I went to take pictures of her son for her. It is indicative of a mentality that exists in society…not only is size king, but so is quantity. If you were to take two photographers and set them side by side, who would you think is a better photographer: the one who took 40 shots or the one who took 400? Many of the general public would probably respond by saying the latter, without giving it much thought. Yeah, I took 50 instead of 40, because I have not been a pro shooter for 20 years, so I gave myself a little bit more of a margin for error. Having checked ISO, white balance and histogram settings though, I was pretty confidant that all that was left was composition – so I went with my instinct for what would make a good composition, took 3 or 4 different angles and was done.

Even photographers fall victim to this mentality of delivering a massive quantity of images. I know of several studios that just inundate their clients with hundreds of shots to choose from. They can’t understand why these clients never get any prints or very few prints from the studio. They think that people like to have a choice, and that the more choices you give them, the better. While the idea is not without merit, (because choice is a good thing) it can go to an extreme… and I think that’s where it’s going. The reason why they’re not getting prints done is because too many choices can also be paralyzing. If presented with 4 options, it is very easy to pick out which one you like best, whether it’s cars, cameras, televisions or photos. Presented with 400 cars, cameras, televisions or photos, the choice becomes more difficult and time consuming, primarily because you become concerned over picking the “wrong one”.

My perspective, in contrast, is to deliver just a select few shots. It makes the choices easier for the client. In a world where time is an increasingly valuable commodity, getting bogged down in sorting through hundreds of images trying to find one or two to print and hang can be more frustrating and lead to inaction. In essence it’s like you are transferring the process of elimination part of the work flow from your hands to the client. This has several downsides with minimal upsides. The one upside is that “Hey, the client chose this, not me.” can absolve you of responsibility for getting a bad shot framed. I would venture to ask though: why was a bad shot among the choices?

As I told a friend via email recently, it also comes to one of work flow management. Which would you rather deal with as a photographer – a work flow where you process 50 images or 500 images? The argument that “it’s digital, so what’s the big deal?” always seems to get under my skin a little bit. For me, the big deal is that some are going out there and not putting much time or thought into capturing the essence of a scene. They just lift the camera, point in the general direction of what they want and just fire away. I’ve actually heard the term “spray and pray” used for such shooters. The idea of slowing down and taking your time to both enjoy the moment and to really take into consideration all the nuances of things like lighting, shadows, and minimizing distractions has benefits. For me, the benefits far outweigh the downsides. Firstly, it is a much more enjoyable situation to be in. Not only do you have fewer images to process, but you can really take your time, pay attention to the detail, and get every nuance of the image pegged!

Secondly, you will probably find that you are less stressed yourself. You’re not worried about missing the shot because you didn’t have time to consider all the aspects – primarily because you are considering the nuances. Third, and most importantly, when you relax and aren’t stressed, your clients aren’t stressed either…a photographer and their subject often feed off each other. I have so much fun when taking pictures of subjects, I often forget that I am there for a specific reason – we’re enjoying the moment.

That’s right…we are enjoying the moment – client and photographer! We’re laughing, and having fun, and I just happen to have a camera in hand recording it. Yeah, the first shots are often always a little awkward for them, but once they see my mug grinning over the camera at them and laughing and joking around, the stress level decreases by a factor of ten! When your client is less stressed, they photograph better! They are more willing to strike goofy (in their eyes) poses! You can capture the shot!

So, that’s pretty much it: taking fewer shots will do three things for you:

  1. Cut down on post processing (both for quantity and quality)
  2. You stress less, and thus, your client stresses less.
  3. You increase your keeper percentage!

Having said this, I realize that there are some situations where you have to mass produce images. Another friend of mine talked about a basketball or softball tournament where they had to take pics of every person on every team over the course of a weekend. With 50 players per team and upwards of 30-40 teams, that is 2000 shots to process – and that’s a small regional event even if it’s only one shot per person. Take it on to a national event, and it just ratchets up another notch. While the quantity is there, it’s also a different shot every frame. This is also not a fine art or a studio environment. This is a very fast-moving, fast-paced environment and is not applicable to the type of photography I am talking about here.

I would venture to guess though that most of us do not fall in that category…we’re shooting far less than this on average, so the quality versus quantity rule does apply in most scenarios. Now, if only I could take that principle and apply it to the writing here on the blog!

Happy shooting all, and watch those apertures! (I’ll be back tomorrow with a video tutorial – had some plumbing issues today that hastened pulling from the archive for a daily post.)

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2 comments for “Quality versus quantity

  1. May 27, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Couldn’t agree more.
    I know I tend to shoot more than I need to, but then again, I’ve only been doing it for my photo album.

  2. May 27, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Hey Erez,

    Thanks for the feedback – and for stopping in! 🙂

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