Lessons from the Scene: Are You Shooting Enough Photos? by Stanley Leary

 by Stanley Leary


Half-Filled Contact Sheet

My #1 observation when viewing portfolios, students are not shooting enough photos.

Kodak has pushed this bit of advice for years.  With film cameras, every time you pressed the button, money left your wallet on its way to the company’s coffers. With digital, that’s no longer the case, but the advice is truer than ever. With digital cameras, it costs nothing to shoot all the pictures you could ever need of a subject.

So why do so many people, even photography students, shoot so few photos once they have found a subject that interests them?


It started with film


Back in the day of film cameras and contact sheets (an 8 x 10 sheet of all the photos on a roll, gang-printed), it was possible to actually see how a photographer thought or approached a subject. With good professional photographers, one could even chart the progression of creativity as the exploration of the subject played out on the page.

First, there was a fairly decent shot followed by similar shots improving on the first view. Next, the contact sheet showed a change in angle or lens and more exploration. Usually, by the third or fourth approach, the photos became more fine-tuned. Just a few frames before the end of the roll would come the best-looking shots, with an immediate and obvious drop in the creativity. The goal was met. The best photo had been made and the moment was over.

So many people see something that catches their eye and shoot a picture. That’s where most people start and stop. That mentality is correctly called snapshots. Whatever piqued their interest is rarely the best possible view.


Think like you're at the theater


When we go to a play at the theater, something has piqued our interest in the show. Maybe it was the ads or reviews or friends’ comments. If our interest is high enough, we may buy a box or orchestra seats for the best angle to the stage or close enough to see the expressions of an actor’s faces.

In theater, the director uses lighting and staging to help drive the message of the story. The director maps or “blocks” locations on the stage he wants the action to take place. He directs your attention to where he feels it needs to be for the play to have impact.

Buying a seat for a play is like picking a good angle for making a photograph. Find a position where you have good light and where you can direct the attention of those who see the photos to what you believe has impact. Make a few photographs and let the action build.


Shoot, Shoot and Shoot


One of the greatest advantages of the digital camera is the ability to see what has just been shot.  Not to mention the freedom to delete those frames you don’t want anyone to see.

To create your finest pictures, shoot until you “know” you’ve got it. That usually requires a lot of exposures. It’s not like shooting a burst of photos with a motor drive hoping at least one will capture the moment. That’s luck.

Shoot a variety of images, then edit for the best one. By shooting till you feel good about it, you’ve allowed your creativity to guide your ability, seeing as only you can see.

If most people watched plays like they shoot pictures, they would leave after the curtains are raised.  So shoot and shoot and shoot!