Shooting Volume and Editing

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by markbarendt, Jun 22, 2014.

  1. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    So I was thinking a bit after watching this video http://www.theatlantic.com/video/ar...afts-how-sam-abell-makes-a-photograph/243936/

    In this instance Sam Abell has a keeper ratio of roughly 1:3,125 (8 photos used of 25,000 shots)

    Given Sam Abell's skill level, I'm guessing that if we were given the chance to look we might find a few more usable shots among the 24,992 rejects but this begs several questions for most of us: Are we shooting enough to get what we really want? Do we expect too much of a given roll of film or 25-pack of sheets? Do we experiment enough?

    There is also in there a very telling moment in the video where Sam Abell talks about the shot he's been searching for, for a year, isn't good enough. That though brings up another good point, good set of questions for us: How many do we toss? How high is our bar? How many are we willing to edit out, even if we don't have a workable shot? Do we throw enough away?

    A similar thought suggesting that volume is important “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson

    So where do you stand on these questions/ideas?

    (BTW, No I'm not suggesting we need to shoot 25,000 shots to get 8)
     
  2. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    Consider the context. This is documentary photography. Take a lot of pictures, use only the best ones. Other photographers, who make deliberate photographs as opposed to taking on sight pictures, might have a different ratio.

    PS: I AM NOT diminishing Sam Abell ...
     
  3. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    no meaning

    How the National Geographic used to do things has no meaning for real people in today's real world. Having "been in some big towns and heard me some big talk" which includes working for the world's largest news gathering organization in their photo division, my take on all those photos is "why did he take so many bad photos?" One reason is that he did not have a clue what the photo editors -- the people that make the decisions -- really wanted. He was just a smal cog in a big, inefficient machine. I used to watch Big Magazine (Life, Time, Newsweek, etc.) photographers machinegun their way around photo stories. They had no idea if the center of interest in the photo should be on the right, the left, down below or up above or whatever. A particular photo for the cover of the magazine might need the center of the photo to be on the right so headlines could be placed on the left of the page. But nobody knew ahead of time so the photographer would spend his time taking tons of meaningless photos. A magazine or newspaper editor is normally a former reporter, not a photographer, and the average reporter has no idea how you go about getting a really good photo. So there is a lot of spinning of wheels and wasting time and film. Been there, done that.
     
  4. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I know you aren't picking on Abell.

    Abell though, in the video, describes how he decided early in the project how he wanted a very specific photo to end the story with, then he spends 1-1/2 years to plan it, to find the spot, to figure out the composition once found, and finally to make another trip across the continent get the right light and situation. To me that's pretty deliberate even if he did a lot of experimentation along the way.

    A local guy in my area, Bill Proud, similarly will plan shots over quite long timeframes. Bill shoots 4x5 and is much more frugal maybe using 2 or 4 sheets for a shot he way have waited for several years.

    I don't think either is wrong in their approach. Each has a system that works for them.

    Personally when I shoot more, I start seeing more. Another advantage I find in shooting more is acclimatizing my subjects to what I'm doing and the inevitability of me getting their photo, this is truly helpful when shooting events for both candids and formal shots. The extra shots also help me "learn my subject better".
     
  5. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I feel like that at work. :wink:
     
  6. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    mark, photography is a weird thing.
    i have photographed the same thing, sometimes for 10 years
    and still not found the photograph i wanted. i have come close a few times
    but it has not appeared on my film yet. sometimes i ride shot gun and
    my wife might say - you are photographing THAT again ? ...
    its like a snow leopard ...

    the makers of that video should have mention
    to stay in the concept of the subject ...
    it took 9 months of 40hour weeks
    to get the footage for that 10 minute video :wink:
     
  7. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    The problem with this approach is that you learn nothing. Whether you get a good shot or not depends on blind staggering luck. Good photographers create their photographs. It's not expensive to run through several rolls of film BUT nothing focuses the mind better than shooting LF. As far as HCB is concerned there are some who would say that he never got out of the first 10,000 photographs. :smile:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 22, 2014
  8. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Damn straight. There is a lot of work that "outsiders" don't see that goes into good work of any type.
     
  9. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I might suggest that it's a different way of learning. :whistling:
     
  10. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Took a walk and had a bit more time to think on this.

    One thing that has been very true about volume in my world is that it gets me better at the mechanics and the craft, as well as the art: this follows HCB's thought more than NG's way of doing business.

    With my Nikons, film and digital combined, I'm probably significantly over 300,000 shots in the last 10 years and the grand majority of those came in the first 3-4 years. One thing that this volume has done is eliminate any guess-work with my cameras and lenses. I don't have to look at the camera to find anything I normally use. When something stops working, I know why/what step I missed or what got bumped, and how to right it.

    A huge percentage of these shots have simply been to test something: How does this feature work? What does the DOF look like in this situation? Do I get more reliable results with AF or manual? What happens when I place mid-tones at x vs y? What do I have to do to use an FM2's meter to place subjects as reliably as my incident meter does. Does a subject look better centered or at 1/3 high or low or left or right? Backlit, cross lit, or front-lit? HP5 vs Delta 400? Incident vs spot? Matrix balanced fill flash vs A mode? Bounce vs fill? How far can I over/under-expose Portra, XP2, FP4... Does this composition or that one work better.
     
  11. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    the last sentence says it for me mark
    the more you shoot something, the more you understand it
    whether it is the equipment, lighting, film, developer or subject.
    i have a thing for shooting underpasses as i go under them. different times of day
    piers, plank buttresses, drainage infrastructure, blinding light no light slow fast shutter flash
    through windows out sunroof or windows different formats lenses, seasons traffic &c and the more i expose the different things
    i realize or see or understand. so while i may have exposed 300+ views and not gotten the one i want,
    i might not know what i want until i can't shoot that subject or that bridge or that light or ? anymore
    and i will be forced to look at all the frames and pick out the one that i think IS the bridge.
    if my background was an engineer or construction or inspector i would look for 1 thing (maybe)
    but as a bystander i look for something else .. and luckily i havent found it yet so every time i photograph it it
    is almost a new experience.
    as someone with a camera i learn by seeing sometimes,
    and as a historian i learn by asking questions
    and i find nothing wrong with questioning and seeing at the same time ( if that makes sense )
     
  12. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I thing digital shooters have more out takes because they're not limited to 36 exposures before reloading AND shooting more doesn't increase the cost of the assignment. Am I wrong? There's more time for the photo editor sifting for the Heros.
     
  13. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    volume shooting has been part of the NG ethos before digital was invented ..

    when i was in college my roomate's friend from home was a well known NG photographer
    i can't remember the name, and even if you say " its so-and-so" i wouldn't have had a clue who it was
    so i would just say " okay" ... anyways this was in about 1986? or so and i was told by the daughter
    that for every 1 keeper her dad shoots about 10,000 exposures ...
     
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  15. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I think the machine gun technique has nothing to do with good photography, or capturing a good shot.
     
  16. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    A local photographer did a wedding for a friend of mine, had three people shooting and the shot count for the day was 5,000ish as I remember. After the wedding the photographer gave my friend a disc with all 5,000 sized small, similar in size to what the gallery uploads here are and said "Call me when you have your faves picked out". Last I heard that was as far as it ever went. No album no prints.

    It was a true dis-service to dump 5000 shots onto the client, this is especially true given that the norm for total shots used for a given wedding was about 40-60 shots when I was trying to make a living at it (6-8 years ago). Even today it is my understanding that a truly huge wedding album will only have 100 shots in it.

    I do understand why that photographer dumped that work onto the client though editing 5000 shots is an overwhelming and daunting task. I had one wedding hit 2000 and the editing time killed the next week.
     
  17. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    And I agree. I do though see the value in say burning through a whole roll (or 4 sheets) for each subject/setting/situation/sitter. Even if we know darn well we can get what we want with a single shot, IMO forcing ourselves to experiment a bit has real value even if it doesn't turn out every time.

    There have been far too many times in my life where I decided to save a couple sheets/frames and later looked back and said, should'a burned more film or should'a tried xyz.
     
  18. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i used to bring 1 roll of 24exp tmy with me to every newspaper assignment to take a portrait.
    i would use the whole roll easily trying to get what i needed. at first i thought, this is insane 24 exposures for 1 view
    but then it was go-time and i had to deal with cranky people bad expressions trying to coax something nice
    different poses, different scenarios and i sometimes went into a 2nd roll. when i worked for the portrait photographer i allude to
    she would give me 3 full holders of split 5x7 film ... 12 exposures / client/sitter.
    it isn't machine gunning by any means but it certainly isn't 10thousand exposures ...
     
  19. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I've known various portrait photographers that use a six-shot set or something very similar like a roll of 120 in an RB. Each shot having a different pose or adjustment to the lighting, wasn't a bunch of repeats.

    I don't think machine gunning is what Abell/NG necessarily did though. My impression from the video and from other places where I've read Abell"s suggestions is more about planning, experimentation, and refinement.

    Machine gunning, IMO, is when somebody doing a group photo just holds the button down for 5 seconds on fast auto-advance just to make sure they get a usable one of the group saying cheese. One shot of "say cheese faces" is bad enough, doesn't improve no matter how many shots you take.
     
  20. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    110+ years ago, Clarence H White was shooting as much as he could afford; one plate a week, and the results took him far. He was a named member of the photo secession and taught a who's who of modern photography.

    No we don't experiment enough. We should experiment as much as we can afford. Money and darkroom time is the constraint with film, computer time and storage is the constraint with digital.

    Sometimes I go shoot a roll of 120 and have 6 photos I'm really pleased with. Other times, I go shoot a couple rolls or a half dozen 4x5's and not be pleased. Light, inspiration, and skill all have to collide at once.
     
  21. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    That's a great example jp498. As I remember Weston worked similarly, even eating some of his most famous props.
     
  22. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    It's all in one's approach, and that differs for each person. I expect more "keepers" when I'm shooting medium format, but I experimented more with 35mm. I almost gave 35mm up about a year ago, but I took a camera on two recent trips (with no expectations) and I may have to rethink that decision. I found on this last trip that there is a certain liberation (for me) with 35mm. :cool:
     
  23. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    HCB disliked doing darkroom work and used a company to do his for him. He also seems to have disliked bothering with correct exposure. In turn he was disliked by the technicians of the company who were forced to make prints from impossibly difficult negatives. So practice does not always make perfect.
     
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  24. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Just because Abell only settled on 8 photographs doesn't mean there were only 8 good photographs there.

    When I photograph a subject or a place, in some cases I end up choosing between several "keepers" whereas in other cases no "keepers" seem to be willing to show themselves.

    I also tend to discover more about a subject as I photograph it. So later shots may benefit from earlier shots. In other cases, one photograph doesn't do the subject justice, whereas a choice of a number may tell the story. And in many cases, different choices tell different parts of the story.

    There is nothing wrong with taking lots of photographs, if each shot is approached diligently, and with a sense of searching and discovery.
     
  25. Chris G

    Chris G Member

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    Probably should define "keeper"...

    I go back through my slides and find keepers all the time... maybe it depends on ones frame of mind at the time, or maybe it is time itself that has a way of tempering a persons view as to what was really important at that time.

    That said, lately I have been switching between a Nikon F5 with provia 100 and a Nikon D4 to shoot kids soccer games... definitely more conscious of frames with the F5!

    Also toying with the idea of shooting mountain bike and dirt jumping action type shots with a 4x5...
     
  26. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I shoot digital too, but prefer film. I think from decades shooting film, I developed good habits. I do chimp, but stop when I've got the shot. I think shooting a lot, playing the numbers game and shooting "just to make sure" are for photographers that are unsure of themselves. My last grip and grin assignment for an award ceremony for 12 recipients, I only shot 3 shots per. I have to edit the pictures and I hate sitting it front of my computer sorting and adjusting the pictures. It's just as bad as sitting in front of a light box sorting chromes after an assignment. Less is more.