Thursday, March 11, 2010

Q and A: How many shots is too many?

Another common question: How many shots do you take on location? And how do you choose which will be processed, and which will be thrown away?

I generally shoot lots of images - but as I shoot, I delete. Let's say it's early in the morning. Here I am at Graveyard Flats in Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada). Lovely mist is rising, and the world looks positively blue. The sun isn't up yet, so I set up my camera for a long exposure. I take my first shot... maybe it's a little underexposed, so I take another to correct the damage. I will compare the two images, and then delete one of them. I might take another shot or two from a different angle. But each time I shoot, I compare the tiny image on my monitor, check the histogram, maybe even zoom in to check the focus... and delete any image that isn't quite right. When I get home, I choose the one that looks the best and delete the others after I've processed. The shot you see at the top of this post is the one I chose from that set. (ISO 100, 20 seconds at f/7.1)
The light changes as the sun nears the horizon, and I want a shot that shows the strange landscape surrounding the lake. So, I set up my tripod for another shot. I follow the same steps, and I'll pay close attention to my histogram. I need to make sure that I'm capturing the entire range of light as the sky gets brighter... and that my shadows aren't too dark. The histogram shows me that I need just one image for this photo - but I take two anyway... one a little brighter than the other, just to make sure. In the end, I don't need that brighter shot, so after processing, I delete it.
While I'm waiting for the sunrise, I try out a couple of compositions. This one survives because of the mist still hanging around the mountain, and the appealing curve of the lake... but I'm hoping for something better.
Now the sun is rising over my left shoulder. I've been waiting for the sun to light up the top of the mountain because I want to capture its reflection in the lake. My tripod is already set up with one leg in the water at the edge of the lake. I've found these interesting stones that make appealing foreground objects, and I have my camera set up low and as close as possible. I'm glad to see a little bit of mist still hovering at the base of the mountains, and although the sky is clearing, I still have some pretty little clouds hanging over my mountain.
At this point, I might have 10 or 15 shots from this location. A few bracketed images, a couple of different angles and compositions, and shots from different times. When I get home, I'll pull the images off my card and compare them at a larger size. In this case, I end up processing four images. And then, I take this last shot and convert it to black and white. Everything I haven't used gets deleted. In the end, the file for Graveyard flats contains 9 files... four RAW, 4 processed color tifs, and a black and white tif.

Five processed shots. Four will end up on my website - one might make the showcase gallery if I'm feeling generous - and the last will never see the light of day. (In case you are wondering, shot number three doesn't make the cut.)

I know so many photographers who shoot hundreds of images every day - and if that's what works for you... by all means, keep doing it! For me, the problem with that approach is that I can't process all those photos. So, if I shoot and keep that many, most will never get any attention. Worse - the good ones get lost in amongst the rabble. On an average day, I'll leave a location with 2 to 5 images (maybe as many as 18 or 21 if I'm bracketing). Even if I visit several locations in a single day - and get great skies all day long - I won't end up with more images than I can handle.

So the question is this... how hard is it for you to delete photos as you shoot? I know lots of photographers who won't delete anything until they see the image at full size on a good monitor... and others who don't delete at all. Ever. Do you come home with 50 shots? Or 5000?



Anonymous Barry Hamilton said...

A lot more than 50!!! :-))
My camera's LCD won't let me determine accurate focus, unless it's very bad, then I will delete. Bad histograms will also be gone.
Many will be bracketed, either for exposure or focus, or both.
It's not uncommon to come home from a day's shoot with 100-200 shots, depending on how long the session was. On a two-week trip last summer, I came home with over 2000, which I pared to @1500 immediately on viewing on the computer.
Gives me something to work on when things are slow.:-)

March 11, 2010 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger Paul Marcellini said...

I only delete in the field if something went awry. Even with the nice sized lcds on the cam, I sometimes get surprised with sharpness or lack there of.

I also have this problem of trying to capture the wides to the macros. =) So lots and lots of images come home.

Looks like I have 539 from our out west trip. 60 psds.....

March 11, 2010 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Wow! That's a lot of photos, Barry! :) Of course, now that we are shooting with digital cameras, there's really no need to delete the way I do. :) Unless you are short on disk space.

My only problem is actually finding a time when "things are slow!" :)


March 11, 2010 at 2:55 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Oh boy, when I start shooting macros all bets are off, Paul. ;) Sometimes I end up with stacks of detail shots - but, unless the location is incredibly diverse - like the Vermillion Cliffs spot we photographed last year - I almost always end up processing only one or two. I tend to compare one with the next and decide I like one better. In that case, there's no reason to keep the other.

March 11, 2010 at 3:01 PM  
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March 12, 2010 at 1:34 AM  
Blogger Jigar said...

Great post about not just limiting your photos, but *focusing* your mind to get the shots that you actually want. Event & people photography is very different than what you've described, but when it comes to landscapes, I tend to come back with 10-15 shots from a particular spot then narrow down to 1-2. Of course, my quality is nothing like your's Jay :)

March 12, 2010 at 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've come to distrust the LCD for more than culling the obvious (OOF, bad composition, test shots). I tend to keep most of what I shoot to improve the odds of a productive outing - too many times I've discovered focus wasn't sharp... or I need "just one more frame" to clone a cleanup from... or I later discover the frame I almost deleted has some detail that makes it the best of the set. (That said, ~50 shots/hr is my idea of "a lot"; I generally don't bracket.)

However, I've countered that by rating photos on-the-spot by using the image lock feature - I've customized my workflow with ExifTool so "locked" images become color-tagged when Lightroom imports them. Field rating isn't a perfect process (due to the LCD viewing quality), but helps me keep most shots while quickly finding the most promising ones during post-processing.

March 12, 2010 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger "Scoop" said...

I take loads of shots. as many bracketed as possible. I never delete and usually fill up 8 gigs in a few hours. I figure i can afford an 8 gig card. I usually take about 3 of them with me when i'm out in the field.

March 13, 2010 at 7:57 AM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Thanks, Jigar. We definitely shoot a LOT more when we're doing events or portraits. For landscape photography, we can usually take a few seconds to examine our results immediately, and we don't need hundreds of shots from one location.

It also generally takes more time for us to process our landscape shots. If we shoot 100 images at a reception, we can process them as a batch, since lighting conditions are generally similar if we're in one room the whole time.

March 13, 2010 at 3:16 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Hi Richard - It's true that it's not a good idea to rely on the LCD for focus checking. I think at this point, I tend to trust my lenses and focus - perhaps simply because I do it so often.

I love your tagging idea! I'm sure others will find the suggestion helpful! Thanks for posting!

March 13, 2010 at 3:24 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Scoop - WOW! What do you do with all those images once you get home? Do you have time to sort through all of them? And do you delete once you are home?

I'm curious because I know I would find myself terribly backlogged if I brought home so many images. Time is short around here. ;)

March 13, 2010 at 3:27 PM  
Blogger G.Ancuta said...

good job :)

March 15, 2010 at 5:44 PM  
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March 18, 2010 at 9:40 PM  

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