Here’s a common question: How many shots do you take on-location?
I generally shoot lots of images – but as I shoot, I delete the ones that aren’t worth keeping. Let me walk you through a typical morning shoot.
I’m up bright and early, ready to shoot. 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. (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. Typically, just one will end up on my website – and the rest will never see the light of day… unless someone asks specifically for an image from this location.
I know so many photographers who shoot thousands of images at each location – 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 junk. On an average day, I’ll leave a location with 2 to 5 images (maybe as many as 20 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?