Working the numbers - How many photos should I take?

I was listening to episode #653 of the excellent Lenswork podcast that brought up a very important point about the quantity of images needed to find the "one" image that says it all.

In Motojournalism Book One  - The Edit chapter says to take many and show few. But how many?
It depends on the situation. There's no magic number, any situation with fast action will require more exposures than a landscape would.  The idea is to give yourself plenty of options to choose from, so when you get down to the edit  you can narrow your photos to the one image that captures what you saw, and how you felt when you saw it. It took five shots in a couple minutes to get one good image of this gravestone in El Salvador.

Here are two more examples of photographic situations that I've been in.

30 photos in ten minutes

Sunset in the cloud forest of Costa Rica. I had to rush to find a place to sleep for the night, but I knew I'd be kicking myself If I passed-up such a great scene.

The light was changing fast and there were a lot of things to try:

  • I used exposure compensation to make some images lighter and some darker. 
  • I walked around 'till the silhouettes of the trees framed the image. 
  • Some photos were shot vertically, some horizontally. 
  • Some were shot directly into the sun, others off to one side.
  • Some featured the fence in the foreground without the cows, another featured only the cows.

Like Brooks Jensen says in the Lenswork podcast, I didn't know what image was going to work, and I didn't worry about it. I just knew I had plenty of material to work with once I got to the editing process.

This one image worked for me because it captured the glow of light, the haze in the air and the rich colours in the landscape. Just the way I felt it when I was there.

Two photos in as many seconds.

In Antuigua Guatemala I gave maestro Carlos - my Spanish teacher - a half-joke gift, he was using his Bic pens till the absolute last drop of ink, so I bought him a nice pen.

I had my compact camera at-the-ready, snapped two photos, and the moment was gone.

Technically the photos aren't wonderful - the light is not great and the horizon is plenty crooked - but the expression on Carlos' face nails the moment!

Make 'em count

One thing I think is important when shooting many photos, is to make a real effort in each shot you take. Carefully consider what's in the frame and how you are shooting it rather than blasting away wildly. Make each shot count!

How many photos do you take?

4 Response to "Working the numbers - How many photos should I take?"

  1. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    I should also mention that the subject are shooting has a bearing on how many photos to shoot! You'll shoot a lot more photos per hour at a motorcycle race than at the Grand Canyon!

  2. Dr. Benny Says:

    Great advice! When I'm traveling, I always wish I had taken more photos. That shot just never seems quite perfect - someone is blinking, the composition is slightly off, that cow isn't looking at the camera... Digital is cheap. Take lots of photos!

    Recently I've been playing around with my GoPro helmet camera (although I use it in many more places than just my helmet). It has a setting to take a photo ever 2, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds. I'll ride while it takes hundreds of photos. Most will be junk, but I'll get one or two that really sing.

  3. Craig Says:

    The nice thing about digital is this ability, to take oodles and oodles of photos trying to get the "right" one. Without, I might add, by the back of the brain material/benifit calculation going on. The "Do I have enough film to finish the day?" questions...

    I find myself bitten by the same problem I used to have in the film days - How to organize the work! With the abundance of great photos you take, I can just imagine what your sorting pile looks like. I think it would be interesting to see how you organization workflow looks. Mine, right now looks like a kitchen table mounded with "stuff."

    Cheers and keep up the good work!

  4. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    I really like that helmet-cam idea, it gives you a point of view that you really can't get when you park the bike.

    Hey, workflow... Sounds like a great blog post idea!
    You're right about having to deal with organization, gotta keep on top of it! I've got a simple system that works for me, I'll show what I do sometime soon...

    Glad you brought-up the film thing too, I think there's still a place for "special" film cameras to compliment the digital. I sometimes carry a small LOMO LCA with grainy B&W film, and I've seen some riders do some amazing things with medium format cameras. Another post?

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