Repost: Quality versus Quantity

I’ve got a few software reviews up my sleeve for both Windows and mac, but ratehr than rush them out the door prematurely, I’d rather postpone that material in the interests of sharing some rather thought-provoking content on the question of quality versus quantity.  I’d written this post before, and the first publication got a few interesting email responses – so we’ll see if the debate is still holding true.  Tell me what you think:  Does quality trump quantity or vice versa?  Here’s my take:

“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 fair 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.  Ten shots of each pose was enough.  I have photographer friends who still take 25 shots of each pose with only negligible differences in lighting or facial expression.  Can you see it when blowing up to 200%?  Sure, but who looks at pictures that close?

Nevertheless,  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!

Before signing off today, just a couple closing thoughts to share that are non-related to this article:

  1. Some link-love from two friends who are doing some cool 365/blogs (a picture a day for a year: very creative minds at work and so inspiring!
  2. Don’t forget the Numbers Contest – only 4 days to go for your chance to win a $500 software package:  Flickr Thread for submissions

Happy shooting all, and watch those apertures!

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10 comments for “Repost: Quality versus Quantity

  1. MariaV
    July 28, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Unfortunately, I have to shoot more because I’m not that good. I hope to get to where you are one day.

    • July 28, 2009 at 7:57 am

      Good point Maria – more shots are needed as you dial things in while still figuring things out. I guess the only caveat to that is that you still wouldn’t process and work up all the ones where you are still sorting out exposure and composition, right? So, in the end, it’s still only a small amount you would show to the client… 🙂

  2. July 28, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Excellent article, Jason. The idea of quality versus quantity is a mentality that we as photographers need to promote. The alternative is for all of us will continue down this other path and get lost in a sea of “throw away” shots as cameras and memory allow for more and more folks to “spray and pray”.

  3. July 28, 2009 at 9:23 am

    A book that completely illustrates your point – The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. Obviously it can be found on Amazon. There is also an amazing NPR radio show that podcasts called RadioLab that can be found at that aired a show called “Choice” that discussed this exact topic.

    A great point to make for photogs today. When you have to turn a profit based on the amount of time you spend working for/on each client, that includes postproc work. 500 images take significantly longer to work-up. Unless you are shooting a wedding with a massive wedding album expected at the end, 500 shots tends to deliver the same amount of quality proofs as 50.

    I completely agree, once you have enough images to give the client a choice, stop! Ten images is a choice, 50 is debilitating.

    • July 28, 2009 at 10:05 am

      Hi William

      I LOVE RadioLab! The most recent one was kinda creepy (The After life), but such a great show. I’ll have to go back and find that one. Thanks for the book info too – will look that up! 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the info in the comments!

  4. July 28, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Nice article Jason. If I were to ever shoot portrait or wedding (highly unlikely) I’d fall into the less is more camp for sure.

    Thanks for the mention…very much appreciate it 🙂

  5. July 28, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Another thing to consider is that although pixels are free, sensor wear and tear is not. Camera sensors are not made to last a lifetime and throwing away lots of captures just because you can will wear down your sensor faster.

  6. Tye
    July 28, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    Don’t let the person who photo’d a friends wedding read this one, they took maybe 50-60 photos, missed all of the important shots, and over processed the ones they did take. There are some people out there that just need to take 40x’s more than everyone else (wish they would get off their high horse and actually give a damn & learn what it really means to be “pro quality”).

    But you are definitely right, QUALITY is far better than quantity. If said “photographer” had actually taken 50-60 great shots, they might be forgiven for missing every shot the bride had requested.

    I guess my main suggestion is to really learn how you are and shoot accordingly! Go for the quality and don’t worry so much about the quantity, because in the end the person paying for the photos is only worried about how good the photos are that they are paying for, not whether it took 50 or 500 photos to get it right!


  7. July 29, 2009 at 2:06 am

    An excellent article Jason. Wedding photography is a point in case. Clients ask questions such as “how long will you stay?” & “how many photos will I get?”. Well, actually, the time spent and the amount of photos are not relevant. Its the quality of the photos and the accuracy of the coverage that counts.

  8. July 29, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Good one Jason! You know, I’ve noticed that my shots have been slimming down on quantity even on all day shoots. HDR takes a ton of space (3-6 frames for one image), so I’ve really keyed in on getting the right setup first, then firing.

    I remember on my trip to Bisbee, AZ as part of my Ghost Town Quest I shot my favorite Taxi piece early in the day, and I knew that was my “it” photo for the day. Very few frames were shot after that, I knew I had what I needed that day. And putting the camera down let me explore the area more and get ideas for the next day. 😉

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