How Many Photographs?

Something that’s arisen in numerous conversations recently is the wide range between how many photographs we each take.

A professional photographer might take thousands of photographs per assignment, and hundreds of thousands of images each year.

A casual amateur film photographer might shoot a roll of film a month, and less than a dozen rolls, or just a few hundred images, in the same year.

I imagine most of us here fall somewhere in between in how prolific we are.

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At the height of my film photography around 2015, a busy month would be 15 rolls of film.

A quiet month might be six rolls.

Fifteen rolls of 24 exposure film is 360 shots. Or around 12 a day.

In the last six months I’ve shot almost entirely digital.

A couple of hours walk (which I can usually fit in once a week) might yield 100 photographs.

In between I might shoot up to another 50 in total a week on lunchtime walks, of the family and so on.

So a “typical” week currently I would estimate I make around 150 images. Which averages out to around 20 a day.

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Now let’s look at how many of these get kept.

With film, my general romantic attachment to the medium, and 35mm cameras, mean I didn’t delete anything once they were scanned.

But in terms of the proportion shared and archived in my Flickr, a less successful roll might have yielded one shared photograph. Sometimes none.

A great roll might have given me six or eight out of 24 I then posted on Flickr.

I would say again that, because of my rose tinted view of film, my editing was less harsh than with digital images, which I saw (and to some extent still see) as more disposable and transitory.

So my “keeper” rate with film was between 0 and 30%, and I would be happy with a couple of great shots from a roll of 24, around 8%.

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On the digital front, my baseline aim is one decent photograph from any photowalk. Obviously the longer the walk, and the more images made, the greater the likelihood, in theory, of achieving this.

In practice, many of my shorter walks result in keeping nothing.

One of my best longer walks of an hour or two will give me maybe 30 images out of 100 initially, then further, harder editing might whittle this down to 15 or 20. Then 10 might be shared, so around 10%. On a good day remember, on a bad day, 0%.

The keeper rate seems higher with film, but there are factors I haven’t compared directly, and scientifically.

I know that my aforementioned dreamy view of film made my editing more lenient. I know that sometime I would keep a film image purely because I liked one single element like the colour, or the bokeh in the part of the background.

With digital I generally feel that unless the whole image is worth keeping, it gets culled.

Also, I’m at peace with the fact that, certainly with my Pentax DSLRs, I often need two or three shots to get it right.

This is because, in my experience, the less forgiving exposure latitude of digital sensors compared with colour film say which often had -1 to +3 stops exposure latitude, means I get exposure wrong way more often.

With my Ricoh compacts I sometimes take another shot if I think the exposure isn’t right, but as I have the screen to preview, it’s much less often than with the DSLRs.

Meaning that, as with film, photographs shot with the Ricohs are rarely discarded due to exposure issues, unlike the Pentax DSLRs.

Maybe another reason I love the Ricohs – like film I don’t have to worry too much about nailing exposure.

Unlike film – and in theory this should make my keeper rate even higher – I can see the exposure in the screen before I click the shutter. With the DSLRs the exposure is probably my major concern, as overexposed images (or parts of an image) I see as quite ugly and not salvageable.

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There’s a connected theory here regarding the relationship between the number of photographs you take and your rate of growth as a photographer. 

Some will argue there’s no substitute for taking loads of pictures, then learning from the results which worked best and why, then taking that knowledge forward to shoot better next time.

So steadily and incrementally, you improve, and your keeper rate increases in time too.

Others are more of the camp that by being more discerning about when you press the shutter in the first place (or for each potential shot, asking “what’s the most incredible photograph I can make right here and now?”) will mean you’ll naturally end up with far fewer images, but a much higher a higher quality image, because of this increased thought beforehand.

I think I’m somewhere between the two.

I do certainly take more images on digital than with film, but take far fewer photos than I did a few years ago, because I tend to be more particular about when I press the shutter.

Where do you stand in this topic? How many photographs do you take in a week or month? What dictates how many you take?

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

14 thoughts on “How Many Photographs?”

  1. Beautiful shots, though I could have wished for something warmer-looking – the weather is cold and miserable where I live.

    “How many photographs do you take in a week or month?”
    I guess that a bad month will be one where I take fewer than ten rolls of film – about 360 photos. A good month I’ll get through over 20 or 30 rolls.

    “What dictates how many you take?”
    Some of my projects are very heavy on film – my self-portrait work I often shoot ‘blind’ and tend to be very trigger-happy. Weather is also a factor – I go out photographing less if it’s too hot or the light is too harsh, or, in Winter, if it’s too miserable or there’s just not enough light for the film I’m using.

    I must admit that I like getting through film – I was reading about Garry Winogrand this morning (http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/08/20/10-things-garry-winogrand-can-teach-you-about-street-photography/) – he got through film faster than a movie cameraman!

    1. Julian, thanks for your input.

      I appreciate your comments on the photographs, yeh it’s pretty cold and miserable here too currently, but with occasional days/periods of crisp frost and beautiful light.

      I knew Winogrand was prolific, I didn’t realise quite how much he shot!

      This was one reason, but certainly not the sole reason, why I cut down on film, I just couldn’t really afford to shoot even 10 or 12 rolls a month anymore, but I was keen to shoot that much, and more.

      I think I’ll embrace it again as a rare treat once in a while, but more for the experience of using my Spotmatic F or Contax 139 Quartz than the final image.

  2. I agree that with digital you can keep recomposing and reexposing until you think you’ve got it right in camera. I do that all the time with my digitals. I don’t do it much with my film cameras *unless* I’m doing a project and *need* to get it right. Then I’ll deliberately shoot each subject many times. Gosh, how the costs add up when I do that. That’s the big thing that keeps me from doing that on a casual photowalk.

    1. The main reason I might shoot again with digital is down to exposure. It seems much more sensitive than film, where you can lean towards overexposing a stop and get away with the exposure being roughly ok. Though I’m learning more with experience and that the (digital) compacts I’ve been using tend to lean towards blowing highlights, so I underexpose a little usually.

      I had a Contax 167MT which was a magnificent machine. It had continuous shooting, and exposure bracketing so once I was experimenting with a roll and how different exposures affected the final photograph, and used the bracketing. I ripped through a roll of 24 exposures in a matter of minutes! Kind of thrilling, but expensive!

  3. These days, I probably shoot about 4 of film a month, and I tend to get a lot more keepers than seems to be the standard – 70-80%. Some months I will only get through 1 roll, and my DSLR will make up for the shortfall. Of course with digital I tend to take more photos (100-140 per session) but end up with far fewer keepers (5-10%). I tend to only go out shooting once a week for a few hours, although I can also spend a lot more time out in spring and autumn. I don’t like shooting when the sun is too high in the sky and winter is too cold and barren for my tastes lol!

    Costs prohibit me from shooting more film, as I don’t develop my own film either, and not sure when I ever will. I have 2 cats so pretty sure my negatives would get ruined by cat hair all the time if I tried to do it myself. That’s my excuse anyway 🙂

    I think cost is also the reason I seem to get more keepers, because I hate having a frame to go to waste, so if I don’t think an image is “worthy”, then I won’t take it! However I do want to be more adventurous with my photography so I’m going to try to get fewer things “right” in-camera, and just shoot how I feel.

    1. Thanks mellonicoley for your comments. (Your name always reminds me of that flawed masterpiece by Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness…)

      Why do you think your habits from film (if an image is not “worthy”, you don’t take the shot) don’t seem to translate to digital? Overall I calculate from one session (say, one 36exp roll of film, or 100 digital shots) you get 25-29 keepers on the film front and only 5-10 with digital. That’s a huge discrepancy. Why are so many more digital shots discarded do you feel?

      I’m intrigued by you saying you want to get fewer things right in camera, as I’m going the opposite way – I want to get the in camera shots as good as possible so there’s zero processing afterwards! Can you expand on this plan?

  4. Spot on with the topic as always Dan!

    As you know, I’ve pushed the boat out as it were, and started including ‘the print’ in my photographic life. My recent ‘camera’ activity comes down to 3 rolls of E6, and 2 rolls of b&w about 8/9 weeks ago. I’ve not even shot or processed any sheet film THIS YEAR! However, I have made about 20 proofs (I’m making salt prints using POP contact method)… and all I need is ONE single 5×4 negative. That one negative where I feel I’ve laid the ground work for coaxing out what I want to say about ME

    Maybe it’s OCD, but I feel I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible with image making. My heroes have changed, and they’ve poked me into seeking new routes to continue my journey. I’ve stopped asking how many, and now I ask, how do I feel about what I’m shooting, and try to learn how I can further express myself.

    1. Thanks Anton! You seem more into prints than virtually anyone else who comments on 35hunter regularly. I’m intrigued and inspired by this direction.

      I read this post just yesterday and it seems to fit right in – http://streetshooter.net/january-14th-2014-thoughts-photography/

      I’ve only made a few prints (aside from those of family) and even these have been sent off to a photo website, nothing specialist. I have been really happy with the results, but I just don’t really know what to do with them after.

      I tend to obsess about numbers and stats, I love them, always have. But I don’t rate my photography by how many photographs I make, more by how much they make me feel proud and pleased about them, and excited to share them.

      1. love that article. Thanks for the link mate

        I am not knocking, and have never doubted the euphoria one feels when taking a photograph. Or, more correctly ‘making’ a photograph. Recently I’ve even rephrased that… I am in the business of making images. (I know, rather pretentious) I remember, very vividly, the feel of a ‘new’ camera in the hand. Using the film advance lever gave me such a buzz. The anticipation of releasing the shutter, and the joy of hearing it fire. The focus, and cycle through it again. All very visceral…. and that is how it should be!

        But then, one day you realise that there might just be more. You look at a photo, and hopefully you form a connection. Not an subjective connection… but one without bias as you find you can begin to remove yourself from you own images. Then, you ask yourself : ‘how can I improve this?’ Your image is seen through the eyes of all those who have gone before you…

        As you stand on those shoulders, you realise that a camera is just a light-tight box with a timed opening at one end, and a light capturing ‘device’ at the other. What I have tried to do is be just as brutal as I can be with regard to the results of using the little box. Without being your own worse critic, you have no motive to advance, to look for more.

        btw – LOVE Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Great album!

      2. This is why I think I’m coming to appreciate digital compacts more than anything else, specifically the Ricoh GRD III, GX100 and Pentax Q. They do offer a depth of function, but once set up, I pretty much switch them on, point and shoot. They get out of the way and let me focus on the composition.

        I want to get to the point where I don’t care which camera I used, the image stands on its own (I have n article in draft about this) and can let go of my rather comprehensive tagging in Flickr.

        I also like the physical act of using an old film camera, like a Spotmatic say, but it’s not enough of a draw anymore to justify the expense of film.

        The act of making pictures is still very important but it turns out that the difference between using a film camera I love and a digital camera I love (including the final image) is very little.

        Re the Pumpkins, I first discovered them when Siamese Dream came out, a superb record. Even more impressive when I read years later that although they toured as a band, for the album Billy Corgan was such a perfectionist he played everything himself on it!

        Melon Collie is one of those albums that didn’t quite work (when it’s good it’s fantastic, but at least a third is a bit messy and filler-ish) but you love and respect the fact that there artists out there prepared to try something that ambitious.

  5. Many great artists follow that method… Prince was famous for playing everything himself as well. Being prepared to step outside the box is something that should be celebrated, and encouraged. You learn to swim at the deep end 😉

    Do you think that our modern lifestyle, and how we’ve ‘had’ to embrace social media has affected how we view images? Others, and our own? Do you think there is any value in looking (mainly online) at other people’s images? Or should we look for a ‘favorite’? – likening their vision to ours. I sometimes feel that trying to get somewhere online is like shouting in a storm

    Just playing devil’s advocate here, but….. #justasking

    1. Great questions Anton, as I would expect. 🙂

      I can’t fully imagine how my photography might have been different had I been born a generation sooner. Not just the sharing aspect the internet provides, but the availability of equipment too. This might be an interesting idea for a future post.

      I do find it difficult to find interesting and inspiring photographs online now. This is why I’ve withdrawn from almost all “social” outlets, except for a handful of blogs, and Flickr, which I use mostly to archive my photos and make them easy to share on WP. I used to visit Flickr daily and find inspiring photographs and conversation but it’s virtually dried up.

      I should probably buy more photography books of the masters, or at least view their work online, or see if I can get some out of the library.

      I do think my own perception of what makes a great photograph has been skewed by the overwhelming saturation of mediocre photography online. (I have an upcoming post that deals with part of this.)

      I think there is still value in looking for images that inspire us online, but we do have to be prepared that 99% + of images we see aren’t going to do that. Do we give up entirely and bury ourselves in the books of the old masters, or persist for that occasional gem of brilliance amongst oceans of dross?

      Would this time spent searching be better spent just getting out and making more photographs ourselves?

  6. sad to say, but the overwhelming majority of the (global) photography community (now this is in MY opinion) have embraced mediocrity as a virtue! I used to be one of those who shouted every day : Look at this I took yesterday… I didn’t have the time to refine what I was saying. As long as I said it loud enough, and often enough. That was as the creator.

    As a consumer, how can anyone have enough time to explore (and enjoy) an image? I think I’m just tired of wading through the swamp of sameness to find those occasional gems. Just because we CAN, doesn’t mean we should. Because I can create images ‘straight-out-of-the-camera’ and upload them to the interwebs virtually instantaneously, doesn’t mean I am (significantly) adding to the canon that defines my art, culture and time in space.

    To quote a blog I follow “Would this time spent searching be better spent just getting out and making more photographs ourselves?” 😉

    Maybe I’m just becoming ‘that old fuddy duddy’ #VictorMeldrew #Idontbelieveit

    1. I don’t think you’re becoming an old fuddy duddy, well not unless I am too. Oh hang on…

      Seriously, I love the “swamp of sameness” phrase, so true. “Street photography” is probably the worst culprit as a genre as such a huge proportion seems ill thought out and pointless.

      I wonder if you recall an image I posted in a Google+ group some years ago, deliberately vague of I think a girls foot and a cycle rack, where the angle of view made it a heart shape. One of the regulars nearly had a meltdown over it, despite the best he could offer being close up shots of the backs of pretty girl’s heads. Bet they were really challenging to make. I think you were the only one that understood my point, and the irony and attempted humour of my shot.

      At least in a genre like say flower photography or landscape photography, even mediocre shots can still look quite pretty and aesthetically appealing. Street photography needs something so much better to make it stand out.

      Having said this, I am guilty of posting something new in my Flickr more days than not. I’m quite picky with what I share, but it is usually only a day or two after shooting so it’s not always the most objectively edited photograph. Sometimes I wonder why I do, but I’m comfortable enough with Flickr that it is for multiple reasons, and none of them are the kind of “please look at my photography I took and uploaded via my phone’s WiFi 30 seconds ago” attention seeking angle. I hope.

      I used to run an online community for various artists, and it’s hard balancing being encouraging, with your own personal critical view of other people’s work. If someone enjoys making anything and wants to share it, then good for them. I like to encourage the exploration and the desire to create, because I know what a fundamental drive that is in me. But if their work is (in your opinion) very average yet they’re hoping to make a living from it, how do you tell them?

      I’ve rambled a bit, but I completely agree with your point Anton that the vast majority of photography shared online is depressingly dull and mediocre.

      I think you’ll enjoy a post I have scheduled for about a week’s time, “Spare Us Your Shutter Speeds…”

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