The better you are, the fewer pictures you take

When photography required an investment in film and processing, you were always aware of the costs, which acted as a break on shooting wildly in the hopes that “something” would come out. Now that digital photography is the norm, it is far too easy to shoot willy-nilly, bracketing all over the place, in the hope that something will look OK, or perhaps memorable.

This point was made crystal clear to me when I attended a local group that went out on photo expeditions to do landscapes with their digital cameras. One person, the leader of the group, set up her camera on a five-exposure burst for every picture she took, and she took a lot of pictures. I calculated that in the space of a few minutes, she had sent over hundreds of pictures to her memory card. How many of them were suitable for hanging on a wall was another matter.

CanonP-snowI took just two views of this winter scene on my deck, and the image is presented uncropped. It has a quiet feeling, and is a natural subject for black-and-white film. I used a vintage Canon P rangefinder on 35mm Kodak Tmax 100 film.

I think it must be a natural tendency to blast away, especially in the digital age. It’s the old story of trying to make up in quantity what you lack in quality. But as your personal vision becomes attuned, as years of experience tell you what works and doesn’t work photographically, the number of pictures you need to take goes down, often by a lot. I have gotten to the point that I know in advance of clicking the shutter whether a picture has a chance at greatness. The editing process takes place before I snap the shutter, not later at a computer monitor filled with hundreds of pictures. In short, years of film photography have trained my eyes to see photographs ahead of time.

I wonder if the ability to pre-visualize has been lost in this age of instant viewing on the camera screen. The instant preview cuts out the thought process that goes into making a photograph. Instead of thinking about the end result, you can just keep changing something at random and hope that something wonderful pops out after dozens of exposures. Regrettably, I am seeing this pattern in photographers who call themselves professionals.

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