on getting it right and being a merciless viking


Approximately how many pics, on average, do you shoot of your subject before you 'get it right?' ~ jules

1,253. 437. 62. 17. The best answer is "as skills improve, I shoot a slowly shrinking pantload".

One of my measures of skill has always been shooting ratio -- or how many photos out of one session I delete (the nos) versus how many I keep (the maybes) versus how many I share (the yeses). As my instincts have improved, that ratio has improved. But I still take an excess. It's important, when you're in the midst of a scene, to try every possible variation of shooting, even if you think you've captured it. Five more frames, maybe -- overexposed, underexposed, an odd angle, changes of position. I never consider myself finished with a subject until I've tried at least one thing that feels counter-intuitive. It's often those unexpected results that I like the most.

I shoot in excess, for the sake of learning and to shake off creative comfort zones -- but I also delete in excess. My volume of 'no' has always been coloured by a natural disinclination for clutter, my own version of OCD. I am a ruthless deleter. I keep nothing that's marginal. I know people who cling to thousands of images like an episode of Hoarders -- I couldn't work like that, piling more and more images onto a mountain of unnavigable and largely unworkable photographs that will never be looked at, missed, or even processed. If I don't need it (to share it), I don't keep it.

In the first round of downloading of, say, 300 images, I'll delete 150 like a viking on pillage. Unflattering expressions, issues of focus or unwanted blur, general uninterestingness. There's a weird satisfaction in it. I plow through the memory card with the thighbone of a wild pig in one hand and a heavy axe in the other.

In the second round, I decide what's worth converting from RAW into JPG. I might delete another 50-75 shots in this step. Here, most deletions are simply a matter of redundancies, and assessing with a closer eye which shots of a few similar ones have the strongest compositions.

During processing, I'm likely to delete another 15 or so, 'maybes' that don't yield something interesting enough compared to good end results of the 'yeses'.

Of the 60-75 finished images that remain, there are probably 25 or so that I'm really happy with. I'll share them, print them, set them aside for some purpose. The rest are good, and worth keeping, but of a more specific interest to the subjects (other peoples' children, for instance).

At best, I might keep an average of one for every four or five images I shoot. If I'm shooting kids and people, it takes more frames to capture what I want, since the wild cards of expression and timing are added into the mix.

Good editing skills -- and by editing I'm not referring to processing, but the viking rampage -- are important. That's where your eye comes in. That's where lessons are learned about what your camera is capable of, and what you're doing right in terms of the interplay between exposure and depth of field and all the other variables that make an image into something intentional. With every photograph you delete that didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, you learn something.

How about you? Are you a viking or a hoarder? How do you determine what's worth keeping?