Photography – The Single Shot Versus The Series

Most of my photographs are single shots, independent of any other.

However, over time, a few projects have evolved, that consist of a collection of photographs.

I haven’t set out to create these themed collections – or series – of shots, they’ve come about mostly by me realising I’m using a particular tag in Flickr repeatedly, then using it further more consciously in the future.

Once beyond this realisation, it does change slightly how I photograph, in that if I see a potential photograph that might fit an existing, ongoing project or theme, I might be more inclined to make more effort in capturing it.

So the collection builds more quickly than it might do if I wasn’t aware of it.

A useful analogy of this for me is music.

There are certain tracks that exist beautifully in isolation.

You don’t need to know of or hear any other tracks within that artist’s body of work to appreciate that single track.

Of course if this is the first piece of music of theirs you’ve heard, and you really enjoy it, you’re likely to then want to explore more.

But the pleasure of that first track can still exist without any other music.

Then there are albums.

Even though I’m a sucker for a killer pop song, for me, most of my favourite listening experiences involve immersing myself in a collected body of work, tracks written around the same time and arranged in a certain order by the artist, to increase their impact, compared with hearing any one of the tracks on its own.

As music fans, we can also curate our own collections, outside of or in addition to each individual music artist’s choices.

It’s easier than ever to create playlists and mixtapes, music that we find more pleasurable grouped together than scattered separately.

As photography lovers, we can do the same, and the most obvious version of this for me is my Flickr favourites.

Here I can create an ongoing collection of photographs by others I love enough to want to bookmark them to view again.

My favourites is a simple list, collected in the order I’ve stumbled across each image.

I know it’s possible to have more specific and focused collections in Flickr, and other apps and sites, I just don’t really use them.

Back to my own photographs, whilst I have collections (by a common tag, like “those places in the woods” or “gravestone”, or by album, eg all photos taken with one particular camera), I don’t really do much with these collections, or have any plans to.

It’s more a way to gently acknowledge the patterns and commonality in some of my photography, rather than it being an unrelated and almost arbitrarily snapped set of images.

A way to make some kind of sense of how and why I photograph, perhaps, which can then inform future photographs.

How about you? Do you have series of photographs within your body of work, or is it made up of single, unconnected images?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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13 thoughts on “Photography – The Single Shot Versus The Series”

  1. Good observation Dan. Yes, the single shot is my thing. If there is a series it comes from the single shots. When I was a student at Columbia College Chicago studying composition, one of the things I learned is to take a photograph and put a grid on it. Then go out an make a new photograph of each box on that grid. This showed me how the single shot can say so much more than the series, and the series comes from strong composed single shots. (did I say that right?)

    1. I like very much that idea! “one of the things I learned is to take a photograph and put a grid on it. Then go out an make a new photograph of each box on that grid”

    2. Thanks Frank (good to hear from you by the way!). I’ve never heard about that grid exercise before, very interesting. I think much of my photograph is so close already that this would result in abstract images of simple lines and textures. No bad thing!

  2. Quite an interesting read, thanks! I must confess I seem to navigate between both: I may sometimes try to get a series on a specific theme, and then, other times, the only thing linking my photos will be that I took them during the same outing.

    With time, though, I realize reflections (puddles, rivers) have become quite a big part of my work. Lyon and Paris, in France, also. I may be able to take photos of many other cities, but I always feel like there’s something from these cities that’s meeting in my current collection of photos.

    However, I also find this can become a trap. For instance, I know some people follow me for the reflections I capture. So it makes me very hesitant to change topic for a month or two, since I know I might lose a part of my audience. This is a hurdle to creativity, in a sense. I like creating series, but I want to remain free from them, somehow.

    I like your idea that series might build up in the long run, not thanks to a momentary obsession, but out of curiosity, and the occasional thought that what you see might actually fit with a photo you took some months ago. As some say, trust that the dots will eventually connect. Series might also become more evident later, when they’re almost complete, and yet, you may never have seen them before.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Pierre. Yes of course every photograph we make is part of the same ongoing series in a way, with us as photographer being the common theme.

      What you said about being trapped reminds me of another photographer blogger and regular here. I discovered him a few years back (as did many others) after he was featured in the WordPress Discover blog feature. He’s written since about feeling trapped into sharing the style of photo that got him that recognition initially, even though he prefers other styles more.

      I guess here I was talking more about our own personal themes ans series that develop, rather than what we share. I don’t think they’re influenced by a social media audience, or at least shouldn’t be. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get caught in a loop of trying to photograph to order, depending on what others like. Do it for yourself first and foremost!

  3. I consider myself a flâneur photographer, and I have a strong preference for posting photo sets from my daily walks on my blog. So these are a kind of mini-series. The connection between those photos – which don’t have to be brilliant apart from each other – is that they’re taken with the same state of mind. Whatever camera I used, colour or black and white, abstract or moody, human presence or “sans people” – it just tells me something about how I felt that day. Others will not always be able to make that connection, but I primarily shoot for myself.

  4. The single picture is usually what I go after, but I have done series of pictures as well.
    It depends on the subject, and I should say the series takes more work to get right, which is probably the reason why most of us don’t focus on it as much… photography starts to become hard work! But it’s worth it once you have a good one.

    1. Yes I guess my series of more accidental and organic, so I don’t see them as work. But if I had some artificial brief like “make a series of 12 photographs of cars” then I would find that far more difficult. And not so enjoyable and following my own whims as and when.

      1. Speaking of series… I know you probably aren’t crazy about projects like the 365 project (one photo a day) or the Project 52 (one challenge per week of the year). Any project you would do?

      2. Well, thanks for asking Chris, maybe one day I might try using just one camera for a month or something. ; ) I don’t really like projects set by others, but happy to do my own.

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