Shoot Less, Think More: 4 Ways to Take Fewer But Better Images


While digital photography has revolutionized the way we take photos by leveling the field for everyone to get decent images, that very revolution has brought with it some frustrating and indeed disturbing new trends. Perhaps the worst of all, is the desire by some people to photograph everything, all of the time. Ever been to a concert, these days? More often than not you cannot see the show for the sea of iPads filming and photographing it. Take a trip anywhere touristic these days and you are likely to be jostled constantly by over zealous snap shooters trying to take a shot of that entirely engrossing piece of Roman wall or Greek coins. Now we as photographers are not so guilty of this, however many of us do take too many photographs. Today we are going to have a look at why you should shoot less, and how that might improve your photography.

Use the Smallest Memory Card

The primary reason that shooting less can improve your abilities is simple, it slows you down and makes you think. With a digital camera, it is far too easy to fire away at a subject, our minds wandering to the next image before we have even taken the last. Now, you might think that to reduce the number of images we take we are going to need a lot of willpower. However, there is one or two very simple tips that will aid this.

The first is to take the smallest memory card you own, you can even purchase a smaller card if you need. In itself, this size limitation will force you to think carefully about the composition and technical aspects of each shot, making every press of the shutter count. It will, of course, still require a lot of will power not to delete images to make space, and that brings us to the second option – use film.
Take only your smallest memory card. Image by James Bowe

Try Film – 36 Attempts Only

There are a multitude of wonderful film cameras on the market these days for stupidly low prices. Nikonistas can buy superb pro level film cameras and still use their current lenses on the old bodies for less than a couple of hundred dollars. Putting a film in a camera and going out to shoot will change the entire way you perceive photography, when you understand every shot you take will cost you money, and that the film in your camera is only going to give you 36 attempts and no deletions, you truly start to put a value on a photograph.

This is something that I believe is truly missing from photography these days. Whilst we will not be able to instill that value to the greater, non photographic public, by instilling it in yourself through taking less shots, you will find yourself taking more thoughtful, better composed and technically improved images.

Film is Captured Forever

Shoot film. Image by Leland Francisco

Switch to Manual Modes

A further aid to reducing you image taking quantities is to switch off all your auto modes. Flip that lens switch from A to M, move from Shutter or Aperture Priority to Manual, put your camera in single shot mode rather than continuous. Now, for some, when you hit the streets or the studio every shot you take is going to seem difficult and this is a good thing.

You will need to think about the light, its type and direction, about the subject and composition, about what shutter speed you are going to need and how the depth of field is going to look depending on your aperture. All of this takes time, slows you down, stimulates the grey matter and greatly increases your ability to understand the true art of photography, the perpetual balancing act between all of these elements to get the perfect shot.
Go manual. Image by m.toyama

Use a Tripod

There is one final addition to help you reduce an excessive image output is to use a tripod. They are cumbersome, awkward things to use at the best of times but not only will they slow you down and reduce the number of images you take but they will eliminate the possibilities of camera shake, improving your image quality further.
Use a tripod. Image by darkophoto

By combining all or some of these techniques, you will find your photography improves noticeably, with the added bonus that you will consume less hardrive space on your computer and have less post production to do.

Lastly, think of the satisfaction that you will feel when one of your peers on a photo shoot boasts about how he or she took 850 shots today and asks how many you took. You can look them in the eye and say, “I took only 24, but each one of them is a keeper”.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

I agree! its different when using SLR and DSLR. when using SLR, every shutter count is important and only 32 times to take picture so we must think before shoot. But when using DSLR, just shoot and shoot, brust mode, and choose the best one later. It make our sense of photography decrease….
Good article…

I both agree in part, but mostly disagree with this article. I understand the need to think about what we are doing before we just run out and shoot wildly and with great abandon. But what you are saying is to treat the art like it is a cumbersome and painful beast. We all start somewhere… and bad photographs are just as valuable in teaching us lessons. They are references… visual references showing us the road to improvement.
Will power is not gained and practiced by denying ourselves the right to experiment. Passion and individuality are the trademarks… the foundation of the willingness to make mistakes, rather than confine and restrict ourselves so that we become so self critical and afraid of waste, that we achieve little or nothing of the passion of discovery by instinct and gut feeling.
We cannot always be so caught up in the science of correctness that we obsess over everything being a keeper.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What harm is here in experimentation? Who judges us ultimately other than ourselves as to what is a keeper.
I understand what you are saying… we learn by careful consideration and examination of the facts and concepts of what make an excellent photograph. But your concept that you present here, appears to me as no more than controlled rigid denial of the passion of artistic individuality. Your concept appears to me as a quest for perfection that dictates failure as the domain of the foolish and wasteful among us.
Of course this is just my opinion… many will say I am talking out of my butt. But I learn visually… by shooting “800 times”. I don’t discard anything until I have learned something from it. I am sure there are others out there who learn and
grow and enjoy by visual experimentation. I buy a large capacity memory card so that I can visually look at the mistakes and more IMPORTANTLY the experiments I have engaged in… whether they work or not. I don’t over analyse to the point where I make the art as difficult as possible to achieve excellence. If I where to do that every time I stepped out to photograph… I would very soon keep nothing at all.

film ends up costing around $90,000 per 400,000 shots at around $8.00 per roll for developing compared to a 1DX which gets around 400,000 shots average lifespan costs around $6000- and a computer which is around $2000 or so, and photoshop which is around $100-600 depending which version you get- Even if you can get great deals on film developing, at $4.00 a roll, which is pretty dirt cheap for film developing- it will still costs around $45,000 dollars for film compared to around $8000 or so for a digi setup

I forgot to add- you can get really cheaop digi cameras and practice practice practice with it without losing too much- but yeah- shouldn’t just fire away- but should take your time, frame the shot several different ways in a careful and deliberate manner to include htings like leading lines, shadow patterns, colors, light etc- try many different compositions, then review and keep the ones that work compositionally, color-wise etc- then later, the shots you really like, you can return to that spot with a better camera if you want a better quality photo and you’ll know what angle to take the photo at, what time of day, etc-

Sure, film is so expensive that you should really take your time, but my feeling is you only have a shot or two because yo76u have to make every shot count, but with digi- you can keep trying the shot working out angles, looking for htigns you didn’t see at first like distractions, etc- and keep working until you get a pretty good shot- then next time you will know what to look for, watch out for, how to frame etc- whereas if you can only take a shot or two- it’s easier to forget what you did to get the shot maybe-

I love the look of film, but after figuring out the developing cost, the cost of the film itself, etc- Digitial looked like a pretty frugal alternative to me- especially IF you learn with cheaper digitals around $700 or so gets you a really decent ‘cheap’ camera- and you can even get cheaper decent cameras than that and memory cards are pretty cheap these days too-

Just one m ore quick point- with digi you can experiment on a scene till you find just the right angle, light etc- make sure there are no distractions etc, then if you like film better, take the film camera and make the shot as well- you’ll know the aperture, f/stop shutter speed etc- and have the photo all worked out ahead of time- saving lots of trial and error with expensive film

I totally agree with the need to think about one’s shot (previsualize) before engaging one’s shutter. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer shots. It depends upon the subject and how quickly lighting conditions are changing. Eg, my current personal photo project is “the shape of water”. I try to capture unseen wave shapes by slowing the shutter speed, and because every wave is totally different, I have a new subject every 5-10 seconds. And, each new wave may need a different exposure depending upon the speed and volume of the surf, amount of white foam produced by a specific wave and the previous wave, plus the changing cloud cover. Granted, after being at a particular site for an hour and taking 100+ “discovery” shots, my shooting tends to slows as Ive determined the general exposure range necessary for to capture my vision. My point being, slowing down to “feel” a place prior to shooting is a critical practice, but it won’t necessarily translate into fewer shots. That will depend upon the the number of possible subjects and the changebility of those subjects’ exposures.

film or digital?

I started as photographer shooting film rolls.
When the digital era arrived there was a drastical diferente between film and the digital file created.
In addition to the image quality (much better in films) i also noted that my photography was going down, sometió ha had changed, doubts that I didn’t while shooting film, etc, etc
Digital Camera industry has growed que digital image quality to the same level as with films, in addition to edition and process software.
Then What to do now?
I am a wedding photographer, and my experience and loving for film photography has a result, I shoot 90% digital and the most creative and pen photography using digital cameras.
With this method I regreat to my thinking in film, composition, framing, lighting and patient.

So shoot Digital RAW + Film.

And I recommend you send rolls to the best digital labs available, one of this labs is Carmencita Labs (Spain), who will care your rolls with a personal and direct contact to give you What you exactly need.

I have several flash cards form a recycle business- I wonder – what do they fit? A phone? I read that the boost the mail function in order to post photos via telephone, but they do not seem to come with instructions. Though I have 2 new ones, there are several types and sizes- here again, I don’t really know how or where to use them. DO you regularly use these?
Thanks for the article, by the way. I take photos of everything about 4 times over to check various sensibilities.

Warm Regards, Sue

Interesting article and interesting comments by people who really care about their photography. Overall I go along with the author because his ideas make you think about each shot but going over to film would be a step too far for me.

Never thought in the late 1970s that someone would have to write this article in the year 2020. Well, I did not even realise that I could see the person in the DRC on my phone screen when I talk to him 30 years later.

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