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Saturday, 20 March 2010


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Wow, I must not be shooting enough. I usually try to keep my photos under 30-50 total per outing (outside of paid jobs.) Maybe I'll give this a try.

Are you writing notes to yourself again, Mike?

Hey Mike, I'll second that notion. The only time I can't follow that is when I'm doing the nocturnal stuff. I usually come back with something usable, but not always. The other night I spent 3 hours getting 25-30 shots and came up with nothing I really liked. A week previous I came away with 3. http://www.pbase.com/theeccentric/image/122660089/medium

Great advice, Mike. Especially the part about getting outside!

Happy Spring to all.

Ok I agree on the warm up.(talking about shooting not the nice spring weather.)Now when do you stop? There must be a creativity peak and a time to call it quits?

Just back from a couple of hours shooting Brant at the beach. Had to scrape frost off the windshield, but sunny and calm at the beach. Fresh herring spawn, lots of bird and lots of action. Wish I was there a half hour earlier...


I love your blog; read it (virtually) every day. Came across a new GigaPan that will accommodate DSLR's. I live close to Yosemite, and saw one of these with a small point and shoot that a photog was using to capture a shot of Valley View (the famous Ansel Adams "Clearing Storm" location.

Scott Oslund

Not sure if it's a hundred shots or even a fixed number of shots. I do feel that the first three or so photo "occasions" rarely yield very good shots. You know you start your walk and those rocks you encounter first aren't that photogenic as you thought they would when you see the on the computer and neither is that little farm or those trees. But then some thing happens and your shot get better. So it might not be a hundred shots for me but I do agree with your line of thinking.
I completely agree with the marvelousness of spring and the getting out more sentiment!

here's to the latecomers! - here in india, temperatures are beginning to reach the 40C (105) mark already. April/May should be a lot of fun- and by fun, i mean broiling in the oven!

Yup - I got out this morning--down to the ruins of the old Sutro Baths below the Cliff House here in San Francisco. Had a 6X9 back with 4 exposures left from last Saturday. Burned those four and another roll over two hours in a Mamiya Universal.

Tomorrow it will be another 2 hours developing the film in the blacked-out bathroom. Then a couple hours of scanning through the week. My relative lack of productivity is manifest. Fun though.

And I do carry a digital camera to and from work. But a hundred images to get warmed up? Not my style. Different strokes, etc.

I'm with you Mike - taking a few shots opens the floodgates creatively, though I don't normally have to get as high as a hundred, one or two normally does it (although maybe I'm missing out and should drive on through a few dozen to see what happens). One of the other things I've learned over the last few years is that it isn't enough for me to have my camera with me at all times (which I pretty much do, despite it being a big ol' FX job), but I actually have to have it in my hand with the lens cap off before I get going otherwise hauling it out of the bag I carry is sometimes the "hump" you talk about and I don't get over it.

I have to get past a barrier too. Sometimes it's a few shots, sometimes it's just stopping the car and getting out, sometimes I never get past it, get frustrated and just return home. I'm always much more at ease when alone, though, that I've figured out. But I've detected no correlation between getting a shot I like and when I took it; sometimes before the hump, sometimes after, I don't understand this.

But all of that happens only when I am just wandering, not when I have a specific idea in mind. I do this for fun and not for a living. If I did it for a living, would it remove one obstacle, i.e., knowing what to take a picture of? If I'm hired to shoot something, someone's old barn say, then the problem is how to make it look good. I don't have to worry about finding the barn or figuring out if I want to shoot a barn at all. I think being commissioned removes one barrier, but it's never happened to me, so I am just guessing. What I can say is that if I have a specific idea in mind before leaving home, there is no barrier, no "warm up", I seem to be mentally prepared.

What I have also figured out is that I should not look at the photos I take for a couple of days, aside from getting rid of the junk. If I look at them too quickly, I tend to get rid of too many and later regret it.

I'm a slow shooter in the digital era as I was with film, so one hundred files is what I usually total in three times out (I mostly photograph still subjects in daylight on the other hand).
But the point here is that art is all about work, technique, method and more work. No masterwork is the result of a sudden inspiration. There can be craftsmanship with no art in it, but there is no art without craftsmanship.
Thank you Mike for your down-to-earth approach. It's the perfect antibody to all the usual romantic bullshit about art making.

Mike wrote:
> ... the temperature soared to 65 °F.
Umm---what's that in real degrees?

Speaking of "humps," changing lenses is another. Getting started is no problem for me; definitely don't need 100 shots to get going. But if I see a shot that requires a lens change I'll often pass it over because I couldn't be bothered, even though I have the required lens in my bag. Not good. Something I need to work on. This is one reason I prefer shooting with a medium zoom rather than fixed focal lengths these days ... once I get up off my lazy a**, that is.

Interesting. In college, a friend of mine and I decided to do a portrait project with friends. We invited about 25 friends to sit for us in ones and twos. We found that it took an average of 100 pictures before the subjects really relaxed and we were really seeing well. Interestingly, when we each chose images to print the images were TOTALLY different. Same lighting, same film, same shoot. Slightly different POV's as we were not on top of one another; but in an instant where one of us saw something alluring, the other would see something drab . . . the resulting collections of pictures (that is, our edits/selections) were much more a meta-view of each of our personalities and styles than anything else. But 100 pictures? that was the magic number.

Ben Marks

I just returned from my afternoon walk on this fine first day of spring. The dog's stomach was dragging through the snow and the wind blown snow was stinging my face. I thought, Damn, why did I leave Hawaii!!!. Took three pics, nothing very good. There is a PJ who works in south Texas who once wrote on his blog that the paper requires a minimum of 100 shots per assignment. 100 must be a good number.

Here in WI from GA this weekend. I thought it was dreary in GA this winter. I have forgotten how gloomy winter here could be. Ive been trying to do some shooting Ill bring more gear from now on.

Amen, Mike. 75 degrees in the mountains of VA today, just perfect. I was on the playground with my daughter and had two cameras with me: my DLSR and my Olympus XA2, which was loaded with $1.89 worth of Legacy Pro ASA 100 B&W film. Good times. I took 25 pictures with the digital, 11 B&W, and 3 with my cell phone. Oops, I guess that means I had three cameras with me.

After reading about your imaginary camera, I realized what I want is a hybrid film/digital body.

Aside photography, walking is one of my passions. Either in a foreign city or just around the block from my house, to take a camera and one lens and go for a walk is always a pleasure and very rewarding. Sometimes I shoot a hundred frames before I feel that I'm "seeing"; sometimes I shoot one frame and surprise myself. It's funny - after thinking about this every day for the last thirty years, I still can't figure it out. It's mysterious, the creative process.

Can any of you guys remeber who it was that said: it doesn't matter how many photos you take on a shoot, it will always be the first or the last one that you end up using ? was it Jane Bown? I find that even with digital, that it is often very true....

I probably will do the 100 today, as I have joined a local photography competition for a prize of, well, "glory and fun" (and nothing else).

We will take photos from 9 to 5 for a day with 5 topics, 4 to be selected today by judges. It is a good way to force you to photos and as the judge will only look at print at 7:30, print as well.

Not sure it is for arts as obviously we have to use minilab to print our digital. In fact, restrict to XP2 and color negative as not enough time to develop my black and white or slide etc. But we will see how a Sony digicam / iPhone compete with a D3x with 24-70, as some members use this level of equipment. It would be nice to see how these will play out on Jpeg on minilab print of 8R/8F (8x10 or 8x12) size. Really regret not get the Olympus Mu Zoom.

It will be my 100 prints day in fact. (I find it hard to see past the XP2, VC160, Etar 100 and, well, Gold 100 without printing to judge a photo).

"what's that in real degrees?"



"I actually have to have it in my hand with the lens cap off before I get going otherwise hauling it out of the bag I carry is sometimes the "hump" you talk about and I don't get over it."

My big epiphany of the truth of what you say is an experience from many years ago now. A friend from CompuServe, Kent Phelan, got tickets and pit passes to the Michigan 500. I took just a Leica and a pocketful of film, but *all over* the infield there were guys walking around with great big giant bags with tripods strapped to the top of the bag. Most of them didn't have a camera in their hands and most weren't shooting; occasionally I'd observe one of them kneel to the tarmac, get out a camera and lens, take a few shots, then carefully put it all back. It really made an impression on me--there were cameras all over the place and just not a lot of shooting going on.

I got closeup shots of A.J. Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Roger Penske. (Oh, and Michael Andretti was a total douchebag and ruined what would have been a great shot. So it goes.)


That's fascinating, because I used to notice the very same thing! Most people in portrait sessions--I did hundreds of them--would be very nervous at first, but I found that the nervousness would be over after three rolls of film. They just would get used to it. That, or they couldn't keep up the energy it took to be anxious.

Oh, occasionally there'd be someone who would be relaxed from the get-go, and once I shot a very charming young woman who was a friend at the time, and she just never loosened up. I shot nine rolls of her--more than I ever shot before or since--and she never relaxed.

But I agree, with many people 100 shots is the magic number, give or take. I would ordinarily shoot six rolls, and the good ones almost always came from the last three rolls.


I think it was. And she decided to stop taking all the pictures in the middle!

I know a number of photographers who have definite opinions about which shot is most likely to work for them in a sequence of similar pictures.


i think the 'shoot a lot' and 'make every shot count' crowds sometimes fall into the nikon/canon, apple/pc pattern of ships passing in the night. there really are differences between all these approaches, and reasons to favor one or the other, but basically, whatever works, works.

a lot of people i talk to, however, want to get advice/secrets/the key to improving their photography. i think the one thing in this respect that is always true is that you need to make more pictures, and learn from them, to improve. the problem for a lot of people definitely seems to be making enough pictures. in the film days, few of us could really afford to 'waste' the necessary amounts of film, unless you were lucky enough to shoot for a newspaper, or make portraits for the navy, or whatever. obviously, because of digital, that particular hurdle is no longer on the track; once you make your basic investment, it costs essentially nothing to make lots of pictures. (and the learning feedback loop is shorter and more positive, too.)

yet, still, a lot of people have trouble just making the exposures. i certainly do sometimes. one trick/exercise/technique i have found useful is, besides carrying your camera everywhere, to pick some rules about something you will always shoot. you could set a watch/cellphone timer and take a photo of whatever you're looking at when it goes off; you can pick a color and take a photo of anything that color; you can pick a semi-common object and commit to always photographing that object whenever you encounter it.

the point is not necessarily to make great photos with every exposure, but that when you force yourself into the habit of actually clicking the shutter, not only will you learn something about light and composition in spite of yourself, you simply get faster and better at operating the camera. when something really compelling arises, you have a better chance to be ready to meet it.

(i've done this, for instance and among other things, with manhole covers. sure, it's a bit of a cliche, but not only does it work to get me in the habit of actually making exposures, i've also assembled a collection of manhole covers which is, well, awesome.)

anyway, i realize there are folks out there who believe that the biggest photo problem today is that there are too many (photos). if you're to that stage, fine. but i think a lot more of us would benefit from the sort of exercise mike suggests, and/or what i suggest here. most of you will know who you are.

For me it's the other way around. After 100 shots, nothing good. The first feeling and pictures are the best.

JCB said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”. And I totally agree with that. But not in one day ;-)



Walker Evans is someone I admire, and have studied. His book, Walker Evans at Work, reveals much about his work habits. I was pleased to learn, for instance, that he routinely cropped his photographs in various ways to achieve his desired end result. Of course, he had a superb eye, but he also was not averse to tweaking.

At an AIPAD show in Washington D.C. in the early '90s, I had the opportunity to buy a pristine vintage photograph of his, Main Street, for $7000. I decided to walk around the room first, see some other work, and then return to the dealer's booth. However, when I returned, it had sold. I couldn't touch that print now for anything less than ten times or more that price.

I 'see' photos at the most inopportune times, in traffic or other times when I can't stop. Several frames hang in front of me, (for 24X36) 35mm, 50mm, 100mm etc. I use to think, 'oh, I'll remember that and come back later' but seldom did. So now it's keep a note book handy or I write it down as soon as I can. A dull pencil beats a sharp mind. I usually have a camera with me at those times but either I can't stop or don't have the right lens. I don't care for zooms but sometimes, due to a limited shooting position I'll use one to get the exact framing I want.

I don't think I've ever shot 100 frames in a day in my life ... even with my Hipstamatic 150.

Hi Mike,

Here under the Southern Cross in Sydney we're enjoying a beautiful autumn with this weekend going from an overnight mmum of 20C (68F) to a daytime maximum of 30C (86F).

Your "two or three rolls" to get shooting resonates with a similar statement made by Galen Rowell in his June 1997 column for Outdoor Photographer, where he said:

When I don't take pictures for awhile, my ratio of keepers in my first rolls goes down until I get the feel of it again. Early in my career, I saw this as a personal failing. Then I attended a National Geographic photographer's seminar and learned that such performance swings are universal. Editors and photographers alike acknowledged that early rolls shot on assignment by people not recently in the field were usually inferior.

The article (Nature or Nuture?) explores the reasons for the phenomenon and can be found on the Mountainlight website at:

Given that today is the first day of spring, this is a timely comment. Having just purchased a DSLR, Nikon D5000, and yes did click thru TOP to purchase, I am leaving behind film. In addition to less expense, I'm really enjoying the almost instant gratification of snapping a 100-300 shots in a session and then downloading and working in digital darkroom. Learning a new camera, new processes has re-invigorated my interest in photography. Been doing some amazing shots of honey bees working flowers, experimenting with lens, new and old. Trying to shoot everyday. Been in the 80's here in San Diego area. Thanks for the all the work that goes into TOP.

If I'm going in a new direction, I largely agree.
For regular exercise, I use the same route for a while. Takes less shots to get into the groove and I don't try and take every photo I might see - leaves some for next time. This way, once a week over a couple of months, I can really explore a small area, get in regular shooting and keep my photographic reflexes tuned.
It's something I learned to do with physical exercise years ago, and the practice translates quite well.

It's really odd, you know, this spring thing. It's not just temperature, or remembered decades of springs, or the scents or the light. All you know is that you must get out in it. Odd, that.


Haven't posted for a while.

Warming up never took me as long as you describe, not because I was a quick study so much as I had to get to it fast, being poor, and each exposure cost at least a buck. I trained myself to know when it was the right time to pull the camera from the bag. On a good day, a day with good light and an interesting sky (auspicious phase of moon and decent breakfast?) I could start right in on the first shot. In fact, I was good.

Not so much now. I'm not as poor, and digital is "cheap".

The problem with me isn't starting anyway. As MJFerron suggests, it's knowing when to stop.

When I sense I'm feeding on the excitement of a good run it's time to stop. At that point I'm not responding to the scene and my state of mind anymore. I'm thinking "I'm soooo good", and like a gambler on a lucky streak it's usually all down hill after that.

Today was a good day (I live in the same neck of the woods as Rusty) but I left my camera in the bag. Nothing was happening, nothing continued to happen, and my lovely '73 MB 280 was running so sweet I couldn't stop anyway. It's emerald blue.

That picture's worth a thousand words and some days it's just better to talk about it.

Wow. I am no old-hand at photography, but I find this post amazing. 100 shots! Just to warm up!

100 shots would cover several 'shoots' for me. I often go out and taken only a dozen or so images and end up using 5 or 6 of that set. Sometimes I will go out an make a single image and some of those have ended up being among my best: being published and/or sold.

I have considered this a very good thing for quite a while now as I have been thinking of moving to large format film and couldn't bear the expense if I shot more than a few sheets at a time.

Generally speaking, it might take me about a week to amass a hundred shots. One of the great aspects of digital photography is that even if you just take a few shots you can process them right away. With film you have to wait until you finish-up the roll (unless you don't mind wasting film). I recall times when I had thirty or so exposures on a roll and I had to decide if I should look for something else to photograph or just go ahead and process the roll. I used to dislike starting a new project with a mostly exposed roll of film, plus I was always eager to see the pictures I had taken.

Anyway Mike, thankyou for the uplifting and hope-filled message on such a sweet spring day.

Fall? We do don't do fall under the southern cross, not even this time of year ;-)

We are passing the autumnal equinox, which will lead us into the season of "autumn".

Fall actually doesn't even describe the season very well here in NZ either, since it is really only the exotic trees that shed their leaves. All bar one of the natives are evergreen (and even that one only loses leaves in the cooler parts of the country).

What is nice here is that the short of storms, the weather's quite photographer friendly - never too hot, never too cold, but sometimes too windy (it is sometimes jokingly said we only have two seasons here - spring and autumn).

I took a train to see a pal last week and crammed my rucksack with camera gear and took it along with me. It weighed a fair bit and I'd broke a sweat by the time I arrived at my pals door.

Didn't take a single shot. But you never know, right?

Patrick Dodds,
I agree with you about having to have it in my hand with the lens cap off before I get going.
I put the lens cap in the drawer. :)

I agree about changing lenses. I passed up about 80 frames one day last week, because I couldn't be bothered to switch to the lens in the bottom of my bag. I thought about it briefly, and decided that spending five minutes on that subject wasn't worth the attention cost. (Or the risk of dropping one the lenses.) I'm okay with that.

I envy Mr. Trent his dog; my dog has made the image stabilization on my E-P1 indispensible. Picture a (tall) grown man, with both knees and one elbow on the damp ground, trying to shoot a close-up picture of a little white flower while a deeply stupid beagle trys desperately to drag him forward. Not exactly like shooting from a tripod...

Very interesting. I would love to see your list of exercises. Might actually do some of them. One of the things I did in an effort to improve my photography was to take a drawing class at the local art college, on the theory that it would improve my ability to see. I think it helped, but I'm biased. :)

I got a real education years ago on a trip to Europe. In a little place in Cyprus that used to be a Roman town, I shot 36 frames, using one of the early 'auto-everything' film cameras. It was like I was almost in a frenzy.

As the bus pulled away, I looked back and asked myself 'What about that place was worth a roll a film?'. I had no answer, and having a two week trip through Greece and Italy planned on very little money, it was not an academic issue.

After that, I started thinking more. Do I like this view? What happens if I move over there? Should I come back here at sunrise/sunset? etc.

I couldn't change lenses, aperture, or shutter speed, so the only thing I could do was evaluate one point of view and then walk over to another perspective and look from there. In short, I spent far more time thinking, and far less time actually shooting. I still, over the course of 14 days, shot 18 rolls of 36 exposure slide film. I preferred slide film on that trip because I could buy it, processing included, for about $10 a roll, so there was no big bill to deal with when I got home.

I had so much fun doing that, that I bought Pentax ME Super shortly after I got home, and never looked back.

So while I might try your warm up idea sometime, I would say my experience is a bit different. I'm usually happiest when I think more, and look more, and shoot less.... :)

Back in my "drive around with a view camera" days (which I'd like to get back to). I noticed that it was tough to find something interesting enough to stop, assemble the camera, and get that first shot. After finally taking that first shot, I would often stop at some spots I had bypassed on the trip out. I learned to stop almost right away and get over the hump of taking that first shot. This certainly made for a less frustrating day.

Not quite the same point, but one of the more memorable magazine articles I ever read was by Jim Elder in Camera 35 entitled "The filter factor of inertia". His point was to carry a camera whenever possible and to use it as often as possible. You would get better pictures than if you did neither. :)

Take care,

I know what you mean about the "barrier" - sometimes I start out and I'm just not in the mood to take pictures or see photographically - and, yes, taking several "crap" photos to warm up does help get things moving.


The problem I have is junking those extra, crappy warm-up shots afterward. Warm-up shots drastically increase my post-processing load, and that makes me even more hesitant to shoot and add to my already large backlog.

Any tricks for getting through that barrier?

"Warm-up shots drastically increase my post-processing load, and that makes me even more hesitant to shoot and add to my already large backlog. Any tricks for getting through that barrier?"

Not from me, unfortunately. I hate it too. I have a hard time dealing with lots of shooting, a hard time editing. I'll have to leave that dilemma to other people to help solve.


Mike, Rana,
I also have a hard time dealing with my backlog. Right now, I put off looking at the results til the following day. (Looking at them the same day is interesting, but often heartbreaking, in the "darn, I didn't capture what I thought I did." Film is much worse for this.)

Anyway, the following day, I skim through them, as fast as my old computer can render the jpegs, and I star the interesting ones - for this I use Picasa. Then I switch to view only starred, and hit 'slideshow'. This produces a hit rate of about 10-20 keepers per 150. I'll usually go back and check to see if an adjacent frame is in some way technically better than the one I've starred. (Not often the case.)

Sometime that day, or the next, I ask someone else I trust to page through the slideshow, just to see where my vision overlaps with theirs.

In the weeks following, I pick a few from that set to post to flickr, and start thinking about which ones I might want to develop from RAW. I've decided to not be particularly thorough at each step. I never delete anything*, so the risk is pretty low for relying on my gut feelings.

I don't know that this laissez-faire approach would be helpful at all to anyone working with tight deadlines, or huge backlogs. My goal is to create a situation where I don't have to make too many decisions of the same kind every day. I also try to never mix decisions - to never ask myself is something is interesting and technically correct and well composed and popular with my audience at the same time. I start with the question "Interesting? Y/N" because it lends itself to blink type judgments. Also, deciding if any one of a dozen pictures has a serious technical flaw is far easier than deciding if any one of a hundred pictures does.

*except misfires(i.e. black bear in a cave type shots) and setting checks (i.e. is white balance actually working?).

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