You constantly take great photos. How many does it take to get a perfect shot?
My brother-in-law left this question (and kind comment) on facebook. The image he left it under was actually a straightforward one for me, where nature did all the hard work (although I had to remove a couple of power lines).
I can’t remember exactly how many shots I took, as I’m brutal with deleting shots that are near identical, but from memory it was only 2-3, and that’s only because my camera pretty much lives in “burst” mode. I was out walking and nearly home when the sky caught my eye and I grabbed a couple of quick shots. Sunset (and sunrise) light changes fast, clouds move quick, and that sky wouldn’t have been there for long enough to get many more.
But I am a “million monkeys” photographer – if I take enough shots, one will be pretty good, right? Digital is cheap. Certainly that was and to some extent is still my ethos, although my camera lives in burst mode because I also love taking photos of birds and other wildlife even in my own suburbs and “shoot and spray” is the only method I’ll ever capture those creatures when walking about.
Being a million monkeys photographer means I come home with hundreds of shots when I’ve been out on a dedicated shooting mission, which then get whittled down to a third or less, and maybe just a handful get seen by anyone else. Learning what to keep and what to junk has been a skill in itself; realising that no-one will ever see the ones I don’t pick helps. What if I need… need what? When am I going to need a near-identical image with a slightly different angle? Choosing which lines, angles, light is the best of the bunch is part of the learning curve. Which has the best composition? Where is it best to have more space? Giving myself options by taking a bunch of similar photos helps my eye and improves my composition skills. Sometimes an image I thought was composed great in camera was actually better in a slightly different composition taken before or after when seen on the big screen.
Looking back over older photos, as I do a lot when uploading to art sites in particular, I have noticed that being a million monkeys photographer isn’t enough. Sure, it’s netted me some beauties, but if the basics aren’t right then it doesn’t matter if I’ve taken one or one hundred or one thousand photos. I cringe when I notice some of the mistakes I made on my earlier work – wrong aperture/wrong ISO are two classics of mine – and sometimes those mistakes have ruined what could have been good images (especially for printing and selling). Some don’t see the light of day as a result, or are only uploaded to my family snapshots smugmug page. I wonder if taking many shots gave me a false sense of security.
So how many photos? Usually a lot. Rightly or wrongly, it’s how my technique has developed. Being more of a purist would mean less time spent in front of a computer ditching the runners-up (and maybe net me a million dollar sale! A gorgeous image, but I bet I couldn’t promise to have only taken one shot), but instead I’ve worked on improving my workflow to save some of that time. It may also mean I may have spent less time at the camera perfecting and checking everything before I took any shot, but I would have missed a few shots in that process as well. For me, having lots of results to review has definitely helped me work out what works and what doesn’t, then apply that next time I’m out and about. I don’t track my ratio of rejects and keepers but hopefully it’s improving!