Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don't be Greedy

Quality, not quantity. Let me say it one more time. Quality, not quantity.

Ansel Adams once said "Twelve significant photographs in any year, is a good crop."

Twelve. One per month.

Now Mr. Adams definition of "significant" and your definition of "significant" are sure to vary wildly, but this is for certain, you shouldn't be shooting 36 frames on a Sunday, and be thinking that 8 of them are suitable for framing, display, or sale. You need to be much more stringent in the way that you look at your photographs and in the way that you perceive photography in general.

Digital photography should make it easier for photographers to be better editors, since it costs nothing to delete the 150 horrible images you shot yesterday and go back out and try again today, but it seems to have had the exact opposite effect for many people with cameras. They think that they can go out and shoot 150 shots today and 15 of them are good enough to show and then they can go out again tomorrow and shoot 150 more frames and have 15 more that are good enough to show. This leads to an abundance of mediocre and bad photography being displayed and watering down the pool of images available for viewing.

I once had a person with a camera brag to me about going out in the field and shooting 300 frames an hour. All I could do was laugh. It's impossible to go out walking around in the woods or in a city, and properly visualize, compose, and shoot 300 frames in an hour.

300 frames in one hour equals:

5 frames per minute, or one frame every twelve seconds. Do you see how ludicrous this is?

The rationalization for this, was that this persons photography instructor had told them that digital photography was cheap so that they should shoot a lot. Now either one of two things occurred here. The student was saddled with a well intentioned but misguided photography teacher, or the student simply misunderstood the intention of the teachers comment. Sure, digital photography is cheap, and that allows you to shoot a lot, and by a lot, I mean all day long, or every day, or as often as you would like without concern for the cost of film and processing. What it does not mean, is attaching a camera to your face and just running around tripping the shutter every 12 seconds. If that's what you were supposed to do, you could just get a 35mm motion picture film camera, turn it on and shoot 24 frames per second wherever you went, and cull through the resulting garbage looking for the one or two decent images that you might stumble upon. Even a blind squirrel will find a nut once in a while.

Every frame should be pre-visualized. You should see in your mind what you want the final image to look like and use your camera accordingly. Pointing and clicking isn't going to cut it.

There are three phases of competence in any skill:
  • 1. Learning
  • 2. Knowing
  • 3. Owning
Applying this to photography:

You first are LEARNING how. You meter a scene for light to calculate an exposure and look at a chart to get the proper combination of shutter speed and aperture. You look up how the depth of field is affected by the aperture and adjust your camera accordingly. While composing within your viewfinder, you run through the compositional rules in your notebook, applying different ones and viewing the results.

Secondly you are KNOWING how. You step outside with your camera and look at the light. You know the proper aperture and shutter speed that you will have to use for a proper exposure and you know how the depth of field will be affected by the f-stop you choose. You hold up your camera to your eye and you move the camera around, knowing that a certain composition will work better than another one, all the while running through this information in your head.

Finally, you are OWNING the process. You pre-visualize what you want your final image to look like and you instinctively set your camera and compose your image to get the desired outcome. Now you might decide that this image isn't what you had hoped for after all, but at least you aren't operating with a scatter-gun approach.

Vase and Flower, Scott Bulger Photography

"Wooden Vase and Flower"


Anonymous said...

I have to agree the shotgun approach is no the way to capture "significant" images. With advent of cheap digital photography has been both a blessing and curse.

A good idea beats a bag full of pro-gear any day

Arty Allsorts said...

You are so right - I've been guilty of the 'keep shooting til you get it' gang BUT I was learning and changing settings etc almost the whole time. I used to read the exif data of the various shots I liked to see what it was I was doing.

Now I know a bit more, I have improved my 'hit rate' - the ones I like as opposed to the ones I bin but if I get 5 good ones and 1 fab one in a day, I'm pleased with myself.

Alison Du Bois said...

Thank you for your insight...I couldn't agree more! Most of the fun of photography for me is composition and experimentation, so I try to make the most of opportunities to photograph and take my time to get the most of out of each scene. Keeping a rythm and being engaged with the subject is what makes me happy - frenetically shooting takes all the fun out of this beautiful process.

Additionally I usually wait to publish a photograph until after I have lived with it for a while - some of the ones I am currently posting are two years old! I do an immediate cull, then I pick some possibilities, then I re-visit them after I have had time to gain some perspective on them, then print them and if they at least do something for me, I copyright and put them out for public consumption.

I'm still a student, so this process is almost certainly much faster for a professional, but I want to be certain that I am proud of my work.

Thank you for the opportunity to learn from you, I love this blog!

Laurel J. said...

Excellent advice! I'm always reminding myself to "edit fiercely", by which I mean if I get one shot I'm happy with on any given day of shooting, I'm happy. I pay no attention to how many frames I shot or how long it's been since I got one I consider good or how badly I wanted this one or that one to turn out better than it did. At the end of the day, the only one that counts is the one I'm completely happy with.

Erin said...

So true. This is something I've been working on lately. I can't wait to get a camera that will give me more control!
Btw, great squirrel reference, lol!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm getting into photography more and more...I'm so glad I found your blog! I look forward to reading it more.

kim* said...

I take photos a lot and are not any where close to professional lol but even to put them on my blog, takes a few tries to get anything next to decent. i can't imagine selling photos. those are so much work!

Beki - TheRustedChain said...

I kind of like shooting with the scatter-gun approach. ;-)

But then again, I'm certainly not trying to sell my work. That would put me in an entirely different category.

I generally focus on capturing moments, rather than fine art photography. (as a mom, that kind of makes sense at this stage of my life) And out of 150 shots, I may like one or two. So paring down is definitely a good thing!

Tasha Early said...

Agreed. But still guilty...heh.

Liz said...

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must be just to get to the knowing stage. the skill and effort shines through a good significant photograph even to those who know nothing of the secrets of photography.

I am unknowing, and alas must teke like 30 shots of the same item for my blog and etsy even though I use photoshop too. Light is my enemy lol

pollyhyper said...

Agreed... but only to an extent. There's something to be said for frequent shooting when dealing with action shots, while there's no excuse for it with still lifes, landscapes, etc., unless for bracketing.

My first photo teacher said something similar - that for every roll of film, you'll be lucky to get one good shot, if that.

I like to take lots of shots, and severely cut when I'm done.

Anonymous said...

direct and truthful! many tnx for your text!


Judi FitzPatrick said...

I sometimes find myself in all three categories on the same day - I'm still learning every time I go out, sometimes I know although seem to have lost some of that since going digital, and occassionally (read rarely) I own the insight to see how it will likely turn out.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.
Peace, Judi

DreamON said...

Your comment on my blog inspired me to look at yours. Thanks for the link. I will be back. Your tips are great.

Freida said...

Well said, my friend :0) I, of course will apply your insight to my own line of work - it is aptly suited to so many art forms!
I appreciate your entries so much, and can only hope for you to have more time to entertain, educate, and critique.

ara133photography said...

This is a really great post, I'm learning a lot from reading your blog and posts. :)

Sus said...

I've started going back to shooting on manual in order to keep my skills sharp for I noticed that digital made it far too easy for me to just shoot without thinking, look at the screen, then shoot again till I got what I wanted. i.e. it made me lazy. *lol* said...

Hi Scott, thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my blog. You are so kind to critique fellow etsyians pictures.
Take care,

Anonymous said...

MyMother had your blog book marked because she admired your work. She is working ever so hard fighting cancer and I know if I bought her that vase she would just about it still for sale??? I also have a pretty wild, over the top, insane blog if you ever need a good read. They are turning it into a book if I could ever get started. Thanks a mil and let me know about the vave pottery

Anonymous said...

Nice blog Scott. Love the photos!

Anonymous said...

I know someone that is very guilty of this behavior. The worst part of it is that he has fans telling him every day that he post's how great all of the pics are. When the truth is that they all suck. He doesn't believe in your philosophy at all. He doesn't even care for compostition or exposure and people still tell him everday, "OMG, you are so talented. Your pictures are the best I've ever seen!" It makes me sick!!!

I have heard the Ansel Adams quote before. I actually heard it from you when I first got into all of this. But, Ansel was speaking of film photography. Do you think that the quote still stands with digital involved. Now I'm no master and I don't know near as much as you but I hope that once I get better that I will be able to produce more than 1 (sell worthy)image per month. It seems like the invention of digital should AT LEAST double that number. Know what I mean?