the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

ROLL PLAYING

By MICHAEL PERKINS

I RECENTLY CAME ACROSS AN ARTICLE IN WHICH A PHOTOGRAPHER BEMOANED the insane volume of images being shot in the digital era. His point was that, while we used to be tightly disciplined in the “budgeting”  of shots back in the days of film (in which we had a fixed limit on our shots of 24 or 36 frames), we crank away an infinite number of shots today in short order, many of them near duplicates of each other, flooding the universe with a torrent of (mostly) bad pictures. Apparently, he posits, it is because we can shoot and re-shoot without fear of failure that we make so many mediocre images.

He takes it further, proposing that, as a means of being more mindful in the making of our photos, that we buy a separate memory card and shoot a total of, say, two “rolls” of pics, or 72 total images, forcing ourselves to keep every image, without deletions or retakes, and live with the results for good or ill. I have all kinds of problems with this romantic but basically ill-conceived stunt.

Our illustrious writer and I live on different sides of the street. He seems to believe that the ability to shoot tons of images leads to less mindful technique. I believe the exact opposite.

Not the hardest shot in the world, but in the film era, I might never have guessed how best to nail it.

Not the hardest shot in the world, but in the film era, I might never have guessed how best to nail it. In digital, I was free to approach the right solution over a series of practice shots. 

When you are free, via digital photography, to experiment, to correct your errors on the fly, you suddenly have the ability to save more shots, simply because you can close in on the best method for those shots much faster, and at a fraction of the cost, of film. You collapse a learning curve that used to take decades into the space of a few years. One of the things that used to separate great photographers from average ones was the great shooters’ freedom, usually from a financial standpoint, to take more bad (or evolving) images than the average guys could afford to. Of course, really bad photographers can go for years merely continuing to take more and more lousy shots, but the fact is, in most cases, taking more photos means learning more, and, often, eventually making better pictures.

Apparently, our illustrious writer believes that you can only be photographically self-aware if you are constantly reminded how few total frames you’re going to be able to shoot. I truly appreciate the goal of self-reliant, experience-based photography he wants to promote. But I contend that it’s not that we make too many pictures, but that we keep too many. It’s the skill of editing, that unemotional, ice-cold logic in deciding how few of our pictures are “keepers”, that is needed, not some nostalgic longing for the strictures of film.

Hey, of course we over-share too many near-identical frames of our latest ham sandwich. Of course Instagram is as clogged as a sink trap fulla hair with millions of pictures that should never see the light of day. But that’s not because we can shoot pictures too easily. It’s because we don’t grade our output on a stern enough curve. As it gets easier to shoot, it should get tougher to meet muster.

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2 responses

  1. I stand on your side of the issue and agree that editing is critical. This is one of the reasons I rarely gang photos into one post. I force myself to select an image that I think is appropriate what I’m trying to do and say and is worth looking at. As to your image, I think it is interesting that you’ve seemed to have focused on the geometry of the subject and have captured the people in motions as almost secondary thought. Together the combination creates an interesting image that is a keeper.

    October 30, 2014 at 11:32 AM

  2. I am always grateful for your kind comments, and for your regular visits to the blog! I think photographers have to be their own toughest critics, and, so, without the ability to edit our output, the sheer volume of shots we can crank off becomes irrelevant…even a disadvantage. You have benefited with your own fine work from your critical and honest eye. Keep clicking!

    October 30, 2014 at 12:58 PM

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