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Sunday, 09 November 2014


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Streetphotographers in the digital age......I rest my case, but I say it is about as cool as rabbit hunting with this little baby (and I don't mean the VW bug in the foreground).


Greets, Ed.

P.S. did any of you know the LX100 can shoot 4K at 30 fps and can produce 8Mpixel shots from the videostream....so you don't have to click anymore and can do your work without anyone knowing.

Write drunk, edit sober.

Usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

I take your points, but it all seem very much predicated for digital/35mm shooting. What about the entirely separate Zen of Stephen Shore's discipline of a couple of large format shots a day?
Working with a tripod and a Rolleiflex, I can just about burn through 3 or 4 rolls a day, but that's my lot - otherwise I'm just consciously wasting film.

I also have read "Leica as a teacher", and I've done a 12-months long project shooting exclusively with a camera and a lens. After the first month, the camera had become so " transparent" to me to being able to concentrate just on the content and not the technic of the shot. And with a very high rate of keepers too.

I agree with your analysis about the different mindsets necessary to achieve the best from shooting and editing. So far in my practice, the best discovery has been prompted by some of your articles: put time between the shot and the steps in the editing process. So much time, that when you look at the photographs to edit, they seem images taken by another person, perhaps someone you might enjoy teaching photography...

So now we have to shoot 800+ images per day or we are not being serious. [David, you misunderstand me fundamentally, which has led you to put words in my mouth, which I very much don't like. This is an EXERCISE I'm describing. It's voluntary and it's not meant to be prescriptive. I never said anything like "we have to shoot 800+ images per day or we are not being serious." That's just a misreading of what I suggested. This doesn't necessarily negate your other comments here of course. --Mike] Photography must be unique as a pastime or profession for the number of rules and recipes which are promoted as the only way to success and - crucially - being taken seriously. It used to be that you had to shoot at least medium-format, or large format, or only black-and-white, or only a Leica with a standard lens . . .

The fact that one or more admired photographers used a particular camera or method or habit of working does not make it a key to success for anyone else. We all have to come to our own way of working, usually after many years of trial and error; a long apprenticeship, in fact. I love the work of Joseph Koudelka and own a number of his books but the way he works is of little or no interest to me; it's the images that matter, not how they were achieved, and - quite specifically - the number of frames he might shoot in a day is of ABSOLUTELY no interest. Whether he shoots 8 frames or 800 is of no importance if he gets the images he wanted; I would be prepared to bet that his daily frame-rate will vary extremely widely, dependent on how many good images he feels are available at the time.

The thing about great photographers is that they very rarely work according to any rule or recipe (HCB might be an exception here) but are free, flexible, ready to act in the moment and respond to any situation and never, ever, thinking about how many frames they should be shooting. Speaking personally, and not as a great photographer but an experienced one, if I am in a new location in interesting light I will shoot much more than if I am in some familiar place under a dull grey sky. It seems pretty logical.

Everyone should shoot the way they feel most comfortable, including how many frames they shoot. What matters is that we carefully inspect our subject and make the best of all image opportunities; how many times we actually press the button is of little relevance or importance.

IMHO, of course.

Once I had an assistant ask me during a shoot if I ever cleaned my cameras because the viewfinders had fuss in them. I think he was trying to be helpful fearing it could have a negative impact on the photography. I told him in all honesty, I never notice it.

When I shoot, the camera is an extension of me. Call it a pipeline directly into my visual cortex because I feel no space. The physical requirements to operate the camera is like breathing, it happens naturally. My eye is on the ball and the camera is invisible until the battery is drained or popping the shutter doesn't fire the strobes.

Was it Jane Bown who said she only took two pictures on a portrait assignment because no matter how many she took the first and last were always the best?

Sure saves a lot of editing.

As a latecomer photography hobbyist, I still don't have a style to call my own. The subjects I like to shoot are spread too thinly to do my photographing much good. But it's a thrill to experience how it's like to be "in the zone" for the first time.

This happened to me last week while on an hour-long Star Ferry night cruise around Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor. I took more than a hundred shots (including exposure-bracketed ones) and came up with at least 20 keepers. My shooting was admittedly gear-driven. I was testing my first 50mm lens (75 mm-e on my camera) that I obtained locally. At f/2 it isn't particularly fast when paired with my camera which isn't high-ISO capable. And I was shooting from a moving and unsteady platform.

Back home in Tacloban, I tried replicating the experience shooting scenes from the Haiyan/Yolanda first anniversary memorial rites. But I never found the "zone" again even when most of my shots were taken during the daytime in fine weather.

It was probably just beginner's luck. Which is why I'm taking Mike's "Power of Two" experiment. Hopefully, my nephew will indulge me.

Or as Hemingway is supposed to have said, "write drunk, edit sober."

I barely know what to say here, to me, this is so obviously correct as to barely need words.

From my own life, this is how I do all my writing, but especially creative writing: I make, then I edit. It is how it is done. If a person ever wondereds why they've never written a novel, despite having good ideas, usually the answer is that they've never given in to the spirit of play long enough to have something to edit down. First you grow the plant, only then can you prune it to the purpose or the shape you need.

When I do ceramics, I may throw a dozen pots at a time, exploring different themes and ideas, responding to the character of the materials. Later, as they begin to dry, I edit down my selection, after they are fired, I make decisions from a different mindset about how to glaze them - process most analogous to film photography.

In art, I think there are only ever two things: a spirit of play that creates possibilities, and a spirit of fear that eliminates them. One works quickly, without rushing (festina lente) the other may rush in nervous haste or work deliberately with concentrated concern.

I am thinking now, of Winogrand, and how he left behind such a massive collection of unedited photos. That is what I think of when I say 'nervous haste'.

(There are also different orientations towards things too: a goal driven orientation like Ctien, and a explorational, savoring orientation like Mike's. They aren't exclusive, but one makes entrepreneur-ship easier, and the other makes teaching and reading easier.)

I've been reading back issues of Photo Techniques magazine and just recently read a article by the late David Vestal (May/June 2002 edition) that really resonated regarding shooting. Many times I've taken colour (film previously, digital now) along with my B&W film gear, and the two just don't mix (for me). I like the delayed reviewing aspect of film, time usually lets you look at the pictures with some objectiveness. Happy to scan the article if that's allowed?

Most of the time I'm pretty indifferent to editing. Shooting digital I might occasionally tweak contrast or brightness a few points or adjust colour balance. In the darkroom I find the best contrast filter and that's it. I'm more interested in actually taking photos and usually they look about how I want out of the camera.

I had a Canon F-1 for 18 years (1974-1992), then got into the AF cameras (faster, better metering, more...). Seems the af focus lock and recompose added a step or thinking I wasn't used to. So did having different metering patterns and auto modes (what is it doing?). Got an F-1 in 2011 and has been eerily like I'm back in a zone. The numerous other cameras owned didn't have an intuitive feel to me (too much thinking).
The E-M5 has been close, more to it's feel like an F-1 (flat front/no grip). After the initial "Cool, this feels like my F-1!" factor, it took 6 months for me to feel comfortable knowing what to change/try and when to trust it as set.

Logically, I mostly agree with the comment, depending on what is meant by `editing whilst shooting'. (Reprocessing RAW in-camera? Chimping including the delete button? Using live-view? Using a viewfinder? All of these involve a conscious decision as to what fossilized photons make it home with you.)

I'm most aware of the separation when shooting with a mobile - possibly because I've internalized it with the real camera.

But I really disagree with its tone. Like a good little anti-authoritarian, I don't like being told what to do, or the idea that an insinuation of getting another hobby is on the cards. My camera, my intended output, my ability to execute, my requirement to organize such that one leads to another, my editing, my timescales, MY RULES. Because, otherwise, it's one thing to do something the same way as HCB because it works, but it's quite the wrong thing to do so because it was him that did it.

Interesting thoughts.

The beauty of digital photography is that it frees any photographer to get into the kind of "flow" or "zone" that in the film era was reserved for photographers who didn't have to worry about their cost per shot.

The problem with completely unfettered shooting, of course, is that it's very difficult to create good art without limits or at least boundaries, even if they "only" involve your recognition of your goals--because that recognition in turn will clarify which things bring you closer to what you're after and which things do not. (If this paragraph makes no sense, read up on any great artists you choose.)

That's when it comes back to where it always does: does the artist have something to say? The results--the images--will reveal the answer to that question, regardless of how many or how few attempts it took to get there.

I think this advice makes the mistake of assuming that one person's wisdom is applicable to another. It isn't necessarily, but can be in limited situations, or for some people.

Personally, I find that the more I slow down, the more I think about each image, the more I censor what I allow myself to shoot, the better my output is. This is in complete contradiction to what Paul wrote.

I think the post would have been better if it had been ended with YMMV rather than sounding so absolute.

That sounds very street-centric. Or maybe event-oriented.

When I practiced nature photography, before my daughter was born and I had Free Time, gear did not get in the way of being "in the zone". I'd have all my gear in a backpack, no camera "at the ready", tripod slung over my shoulder, and walk around, looking for potential photos. When I found something, I looked around some more. I figured out where to setup my tripod, then chose a lens. Slow, methodical, thoroughly enjoyable.

Nowadays, I'm shooting people - friends, family, kids at my daughters school - at parties, concerts, recitals and so on. Typically, I carry no more than two lenses, and avoid changing lenses. If/when I do change lenses, I shoot for a while with the new lens; I don't switch back & forth. Gear definitely gets in the way for this kind of shooting. I can understand why event photographers carry two bodies to avoid lens changes. (I'll often use my RX100 in place of a second lens).

I can generally be successful going out with a single prime, or a wide range of focal lengths. I just get into a mindset that works for either. With multiple focal lengths, I'm more open-minded, looking for anything with potential. With a single focal length, I look for things suited to that lens. Both modes can be very satisfying.

I agree about editing in the field, or even having to muss with settings a lot. I like to have my camera setup so that I'm not mucking around with settings too much. I have my DSLR customized to my liking, so that whether I'm shooting candids in low light or landscapes on vacation, I can get at the exposure & focus controls I need. One of the things that keeps me so addicted to reports/tests/announcements of new gear is the quest for the "perfect camera". I'm not looking for better image quality than I have now (I'm already a generation behind) or for new features; I'm looking for that camera that I'll pick up and become one with; a synergistic blend of hands, eye, camera, brain. (I think every manufacturer claims to already make that camera, but I think it's a different camera for every photographer).

Most of my photography is documentation, intended to share with others a place or an event or a particular time that has moved me. I try to make the images notable and pleasing or arresting but they are rarely Great Art. (I sometimes contemplate publishing a collection of my photographs under the title "No Cliché Left Unturned.") With a long history of film and not much money, I have never been a profligate shooter, and that habit has carried over into more affluent days and digital cameras. However the 30 or 40 or even 50 exposures I might take in a day require culling down to 3 or 4 or even 6 that have merit.

But on the rare occasion when I get it right, when I capture a photograph that will stand on its own as a genuinely valuable image outside any context, there's no selection or editing required: I know I've got it at the instant I release the shutter. As with the arrow in Zen in the Art Of Archery, that photograph takes itself without any effort from me.

So as a novitiate to Zen photography do I first practice with a camera with no film in it?

Tony Collins

This discussion is rooted in the approach of the 35mm film or digital photographer, where speed and spontaneity are of the essence. It ignores the work of all large format photographers, be they Adams or Weston, working more slowly and deliberately (as the view camera requires), or even current large format photographers such as Crewdson or Skogland who may spend days or more setting up a single image.

Like many things in hobbyist photography there is a lot of rhetoric, mostly wrong, about how much you should or should not shoot. In what I think might be the spirit of David Vestal my rule would be: shoot enough, edit a lot.

There is one particular class of commentator who will rail against people who engage in the so-called "spray and pray", confident in the fact that if they were in the same situation they could take just one (or two) perfect shots and move on. I've never been sympathetic to that ideal.

For the sort of photography that most people do (terrestrial, mostly natural light, stills) there are an enormous number of variables that determine how likely a situation is to produce a nice picture. People tend to overestimate how often all of those things come together for them and undershoot when it happens. But when it does happen is exactly when you should shoot a lot. Not just so you have a many versions of the same shot to edit down, but so you have many versions of many shots to edit down.

Knowing how and when to take advantage of these situations takes practice and stamina. The things that keep us from taking as many pictures as we should include external attachments (like impatient friends), other commitments (like whatever event you might be walking to when the great light hits), lack of practice (a constant problem) or just fatigue (taking pictures is tiring).

Anyway, I sympathize with Mike's dilemma here. I usually don't shoot enough, even when I've told myself that I should shoot enough.

The hardest thing for me when I'm shooting (urban landscape w occasional street) is to have a split mind. You have to be locked in with respect to the general subject, but you simultaneously have to be able to step back and check for little things like where the edges of the frame fall, or intruding elements, and so on. That's what think of as being in the "zone." I've had so many potentially great shots turn out just OK because in the heat of the moment I didn't check the edges of the frame and framed a little too high (or vice versa). I'm not a fan of shooting huge numbers of frames and later seeing if anything worked - to me that's just 1000 monkeys at the typewriter.

Those with news and photojournalism backgrounds may fondly remember an editor yelling across a newsroom "Get me a Shooter" to dispatch a photographer to a breaking story.

You mention a couple of landscape photographers as being good at both aspects of photography; do you suspect that's because landscape work can be done slowly and methodically to a much greater extend than something street photography?

I dunno, large format shooting does tend to put you into the editor's mindset. My favorite times shooting involved being very picky about camera position, movements (never anything wild), and of course framing. Not having very many sheets of film helps to get into this mind set as does the sheer pain in the assness of shooting with big cameras.

The reverse argument could also be made. Going out and shooting requires you to "edit" reality, selectively capturing only those moments when everything comes together.
Later in the darkroom/lightroom/photoshop you creatively tweak contrast, tone, colour, even possibly composition (via crop).

It's interesting to read of the working methods of various photographers and notice how they differ. The photographers who shoot massive numbers of images, like the Magnum photographers mentioned by Paul Parker, get a lot of attention these days. But there are other photographers whose work is equally laudable that follow the opposite practice. Large format shooters would, of course, be in this category. But this group also includes William Eggleston who says he only shoots one frame per subject. Although this proves to be an exaggeration to anyone who has studied his work, he remains a conservative shooter. In an interview with Robert Adams several years ago, Adams stated at that time it had been over a year since he had taken his last photograph. He apparently doesn't see the need to shoot every day to remain proficient in his art. Different strokes, etc.

I can't say much on the subject of editors. I've always been a pretty ruthless editor of my own work. Based on my past experience, a good editor sometimes seems about as rare as an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in downtown Tucson.

[Hi Dogman, I don't think you're right about Eggleston. He once claimed there were 70,000 photographs in the complete "Democratic Forest" project. (I may have the number wrong--I don't remember numbers--but it was a huge one.) He is, or was, a very prolific shooter. --Mike]

My problem is that whenever I get into a Zen zone, I have a kid inside who really wants to get home an unwrap the presents. The kid often wins. I'll stop shooting after I get a good batch, and rarely keep pushing for hours. I don't mind. It's a hobby. But I do admire those with more willpower, and I know I would get better shots if I kept it up at greater length and with more intensity.

The digital age has allowed what is termed "chimping." I do not know the origin of the term nor do I approve of what it may or may not advise the photographer.
You have a camera, good. You are able to take photographs with same and record these images these days on a digital chip. Also good.
You can review the images as you record them, "Not Good!"

The object of the exercise is to record images, not review them. Wait unti you get back to where you can review all of them at once. And with the capacity of recording chips these days, easy to do.

I think " how many?" Is the wrong question, it depends to much on what you are shooting as several commenters have observed. That said I have zero keepers from when I did not press the shutter. In fact if anyone has one I want to hear that story, it has to be a good one. Personally I tend to shoot quite a few images, especially if I am feeling stuck. Just going out and shooting seems to draw me into the mindset and next thing you know I have shot some stuff I really like. I never phrased it that way but "zen of shooting" is probably a good way to describe it.

For me, photography is a contemplative art from shooting through post-production. A thousand photographs of autumn leaves I don't need.

Dear Mike,

Well, I'm going to assume that Paul was trying to be emphatic rather than prescriptive, because if it was the latter we'd have a squabble. The way I work and view what I do is about as antithetical to his way as one could imagine.

When I make photographs (my preferred verb, I don't “shoot” or “take,” but whatever floats your photographic boat), I pretty hardly ever make anywhere near a thousand photographs on an entire trip let alone in one session. The only time I made that number of photographs in one session was once photographing roller derby with DDB, which is entirely a game of percentages so when the photos come cheaply…

When I photographed the very first space shuttle launch-- on assignment for three different publications, no less-- I made a total of about 300 photographs over the span of a week. That was an uncomfortably large number for me. I feared I was losing my focus, but I felt I had to make more photographs so I would have different material to send each publication. Fortunately, I didn't lose my focus, but generally making more photographs does not mean I'm making better ones.

I've loosened up a lot now that I don't have to process film and photographs are so cheap to make, but I still try to restrain myself. On my 2-1/2 week trip to London and Paris in August, I made about 1300 photographs, give or take (edited down to about 1000, after getting rid of the unquestionable technical fails or redundants). That was anomalous. In fact, far too many for comfort.

If I had to sort through 1000 photographs to find one that was portfolio quality… or even 500… I'd shoot myself (not with a camera).

I *DO* edit while making photographs-- I chimp and I review and often delete on the camera screen, and it doesn't in any way interfere with me making new photographs. I'm not even bothered changing lenses. I tend not to do it because of, well, lazy. Easier to work with what's on the camera. But it doesn't get in the way of my photographic head if I do. Mine just doesn't work the way Paul's does, I guess.

Frankly, if I thought making art was about pain and hard work, I'd find another hobby/profession. I do it because it's fun. Editing is a tedious necessity. Making more photographs just makes it more tedious. If I were going to be prescriptive, that would be my prescription–– do photography because you find it fun. If it feels like hard work, and you aren't compelled to do it, maybe you should think about finding a use for your time that you enjoy more. But, I'm not convinced prescriptive is at all helpful.

Important note: this has nothing to do with teaching/training exercises. Those should feel hard, I think, because it's about stretching oneself. While I wouldn't be likely to do Mike's Power of Two weekend exercise, because I don't really have anyone here to do it with, I could totally get into it, because it would be so very different from how I normally work and would feel so uncomfortable. It would make me think hard about what I was doing photographically, it would exercise artistic muscles that don't get exercised, and, oh heaven forbid, I might actually learn something from it.

Maybe the next time I'm in Minneapolis. Hey, DDB, would you be up for trying it? Or does it sound too much like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer? Or too easy (DDB can edit like a demon–– he has awesome sk1lz)?

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Thanks for these reflections. They mirror my experience. When I was doing anthropological fieldwork in Sri Lanka I soon discovered that I could either work with a camera, or work with pencil and notebook, doing interviews or recording some event, but I could never ever do both on the same day. Two different kinds of concentration.

Perhaps this illustrates your point as well: for me writing is quite slow and sometimes painful, because the writer and the editor are always struggling with each other to take over. If only I could do a bunch of writing one day, and do the editing the next.

A single mindset approach is the contemplative pre-visualization and careful selection or construction of images. The famous works of Weston and Adams come to mind as examples. Perhaps it's a mindset division as ancient as farmers versus hunter/gathers?

@ Paul Parker: "Mistakes don't matter because you're shooting from the gut. (and) If you can't be bothered to edit 1,000 images to find one—yes, one—amazing image, you might as well try another hobby."

@ Me: "A screen full of almost identical photos to choose from fills me with despair, so I try to get it right in as few exposures as possible. I aim for 'do it once, do it right.'' (my featured [partial] comment from the last post)

I do not believe that these two statements are mutually exclusive. Shooting from the gut doesn't mean that you are not trying for the best possible photo; if the subject is not under your control you may have to take many photos in an effort to get what you want. That is not the same as taking a huge number of pictures hoping that one will be good enough.

Editing 1,000 images of several subjects is a different matter. I can and will edit that many, always hoping to find even one image that absolutely hits the spot. But I can't imagine that very many photographs require one to be chosen from 1,000 versions, nor do I think that is what Paul meant.

I must admit that the harder I try to control photography the further away from satisfying images I get. My best have always come along when my thoughts are on anything other than tha doing and more about the where and what (usually the light) of photography. Have you ever looked at your best work and divided it into the controlled manufacture/random inspiration columns? I wonder what you would find.
Some clearly do their best work (as Kirk Tuck once said if memory serves) as "made" not "found" compositions, but not I.

"I often shoot too lightly, and don't give myself enough to choose from later. And yet trying to compensate for this sometimes gives me trouble too, because I "scattershoot" and don't give each exposure acute attention."

I know these poles all too well! And I think Richard Tugwell gets at what it's about: my photography is mostly "about" how I experience the world, which naturally entails a reluctance to interrupt or influence the experience or its development by activating the camera.

On the other hand, I've often found myself shooting rapidly and mindlessly--without meaningful seeing--just for "coverage".

Frankly, I think my best results come from a middle ground--seeing "with" the camera in the first place--a kind of partnership, if you will. I'm probably not seeing or experiencing the world in exactly the same way as I would without the camera, but I am fully engaged.

This symbiosis, in turn, leads to preferences for certain tools, or at least to more success with certain tools. These preferred tools aren't necessarily better in an objective sense, they just seem to be more compatible with my vision and/or working methods and/or expectations and needs. It's an unpredictable chemistry, too. For example, I should have hated the finderless, controls-deficient, sluggish EOS M, but after a while I had to admit that we were working well together. It's probably the wondrous little 22mm, and the Canon "look" has always appealed to me...

At the other end, though, it's almost the opposite. What a sense of relief and peace when I select a single photograph and settle down to work with it! As long as I'm in the right mind-set, of course. If I'm not, I'll rush through so I can get back to shooting. (More often than not I'll take away something that informs my shooting, but in that state shooting seems to be the point of it all.)

The famous writing teacher Peter Elbow says something very similar: Writers have in his opinion what he calls a "generative muscle" that allows them to get a lot of ideas on paper, and a "clenching muscle" that allows them to go back and critically edit what they've written. Elbow claims that trying to use both muscles at once is what led to his early, nearly catastrophic to his career, experience of severe writer's block.

Just a thought or two:
Why should a Westerner hope to get more, or even any genuine, photographic inspiration out of a fairly enigmatic work of Eastern philosophy, probably in translation, than out of all that has been written in his or her mother tongue about art and philosophy? It seems a bit pretentious to me and yes I have studied a bit of Mandarin and hope to learn more before I die.

Just because our current technology makes it possible to capture frames by the hundred or the thousand instead of by the dozen does that necessarily lead to any greater artistic inspiration? If there is something which appears to others to be a nugget amongst all the dross, surely it's a 'found object' rather than the product of the photographer's creativity. It seems a bit like the old joke about myriads of typewriting monkeys and works of literature.

Whatever the benefits that can be derived from carefully study of other people's work, surely hunting for nuggets on a card with 1000 or even 500 images isn't the best use of anybody's time.

In the previous post, no one in the comments section addressed
the following thought I had. With leaf, mechanical, and electronic
shutters and various combinations of them in modern digital
cameras able to shoot extended time lapse as well as 4K photo
and high speed bursts, what would be the shutter lifetime?

Let's see. 1000 photos in a 10 hour day (no breaks for coffee, lunch or calls of nature) would require a photo every 36 seconds. An 8 hour day would require a photo roughly every 29 seconds.

Of course you can easily shoot that and more by putting the sutter on servo and blasting away, a technique that serves sports photographers well, but is that really "inspiration" or just luck. Perhaps a knowledge of your subject that allows anticipation plus a dab of luck.

The idea that you can't combine the editor mind with the inspired mind flies in the face of work produced by Adams, Weston, Porter and many other great photographers. That applies to portrait and most studio work as well as landscape photography.

Yes, some photographers, notably sports and street photographers work(ed) that way but not all. That proposition reminds me of the typing monkeys that would eventually produce Shakespeare. There is an inevitability that someone who shoots profusely will occasionally come up with 1 or 2 good images but personally I don't think of that as inspiration.

I'm of the mind that the photographer who edits, at least some, before tripping the shutter is no less inspired and is probably saving him/herself or an outside editor a lot of wasted time post shoot. The truly inspired photographer will have more than one good image in a thousand.

This post made my day; it totally resonates with me.

It doesn't matter how many rolls you shoot for a particular subject and many photographers have different approaches to this.

As long as I continue to LOOK at the subject, imagine shots, angles, approaches, sample some of those shots/angles/approaches, without shutting down and moving on, I can exhaust that subject as directly as if I just continued shooting. Often, hammering away at the shutter, the same mind continues to control you. If you, at times, STOP and BREATHE, a new mind may take you and the shot you were looking for all along may present itself. (Of course, it may not present itself until you're editing and realize you didn't get it.) I try to look anew as I shoot and that requires pausing and just looking. You do have to be ready, though!

If you think you understand the Tao, you don't.

Mike, you are both a writer and an editor of your own writing. How does this play out in your blogging?

"If you're editing whilst shooting you just ain't in the zone."

When you are in the zone you are seeing and shooting clearly and instinctively. You are editing instinctively too because you just don't take the shots which will go straight in the trash. That's what being in the zone is about - everything flows without your usual cock ups.

What you end up with will still require further editing after the fact, but being in the zone when shooting means it's going to be tougher to sort the wheat from the chaff.


I can't remember the moment when putting my camera in my bag became a habit: it's just there with my keys, wallet, and phone. When shooting, the same thing applies, I look at the world eyes open and shoot liberally when inspired, less so when not.

On editing, I let my criteria dictate my actions. Firstly, technical values: is this printable (i.e. in focus, exposure, etc.)? Secondly, does it fit into my project / artistic tastes? I cut through great swathes of photos in minutes, normally aiming for ~50% rejection rate with about 2 seconds a photo, then a 90% rejection rate with 30 seconds a photo thereafter. This is independent of number of photos taken. Classification and metadata tagging only applies to the final set - it gets in the way of my thinking.

This two pass approach gives me guidance on a couple of things. Firstly, if I'm shooting badly (having an off day) in general that 50% number is more like 90%. If I'm not shooting fluidly, that 50% over 10 photos is over really quick, so I think about why wasn't I taking more photos / seeing the world better with my camera? Finally, if I take minutes, looking over that final 90%, I know something is going on, something special was there, and I think about how I got the photo. In closing, it's my way of instituiting a self-reinforcing feedback loop to keep me motivated, thinking, and in check.


When I shoot for fun, I never find that I take too many. When I go shoot at a car rally or bicycle race, I end up shooting a lot more. By the end of the day, I start thinking, "Damn, I have to edit all this stuff", and then I start shooting less. Zen interrupted.

If the question is "does the artist have something to say?" and the way of getting there is, as Paul says, shooting 1000 images to find one amazing one, the answer is clearly "no".

"When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself." - Shunryu Suzuki

"Shooting and editing require completely different mindsets. If you're editing whilst shooting you just ain't in the zone. You've got to 'let go.' It's exactly the same in all arts."

All of these statements are completely wrong. An art might traditionally have had different roles for different activities (choreographer and dancer, let's say) but this is a product of a time when people had only one "job" in life for reasons that were largely economic, social, and a matter of technological necessity. We can use the example of film developer and street shooter, if we wish to stay closer to your examples. You would have to admit that photographers today integrate both activities, except in edge cases. Likewise dance and choreography have changed to admit of less hierarchical roles, that do not embed the same power structures.

Getting into "the zone" is a matter of incorporating the habit of one's practices into centres of the body other than conscious thought. This can involve "unconscious" thought, muscle memory, or what-have-you. Such an explanation needs no need to appeal to "Zen" or other Orientalism. (Though one could read Aristotle on habitual learning.)

This "incorporation" can aid in any activity, Photoshop editing as well as portraiture. It is a well-studied phenomenon in computer programming, to choose a field not commonly thought of as an aesthetic activity. A range of complex, inter-related, and synchronic activities are integrated into a smooth field of thought/activity which engenders productive results. We do the same in photography when gathering images, thinking about ISO, lenses, framing, light, our stance, and a million and one other things. Depending on how we use our tools, digital photography means that there are fewer dividing lines between activities than ever before.

Are we less thoughtful in judging our moment to moment shooting than we are careful in our crafting of a perfect tonal curve in Lightroom? No, there is no such dichotomy. There is no basic "necessity", as you insist, to switch mindsets. In fact, there are not different mindsets at all. You have generalised from your own approach to sermonise on what is, in my opinion, a rather regressive and unhelpful point. In fact, my life is dedicated to demonstrating that such dangerous dichotomies are dead wrong. But space prevents further analysis and everyone else has stopped reading long ago.

If I can add anything to Paul's comment it is that there can be many "zones" to be in. This can depend on the job at hand. Certainly while I am shooting for a story I am in something of an "editorial zone," where I am thinking both about the subject and how it will be presented in a coherent story on the printed page. (You can bet I think about where the magazine gutter will fall on a picture that I hope will run as a double truck.) Both of those things are present in my mind while I have camera in hand. This is not a constraint! It is liberating. It helps me identify which subjects (from the plethora that the world presents every day) I can ignore. And by inference which subjects I need to pay excruciating attention to. This filtering is one of the necessary tools. It is how I get "in the zone." But it is by no means a simple existential "zone." It is a very thoughtful zone, one highly structured and purpose driven. It's how I seek to elevate the imagery. Getting into the zone is important. Picking the right zone to get into is also important.

As a person with a lifetime of experience in music, I want to add something to the important point in this post. I would not say that it is exactly "improvisation" (though it can be in photography). Rather, it is more about working intuitively, and letting go is an important element.

But behind that intuitive "letting go" is a whole bunch of prior work — what we call practice in music. The idea is to make the mechanical and technical stuff so familiar and so automatic that it essentially disappears when you photograph and your attention moves to visual issues rather than technical. (This is almost never a perfect thing, but you can get close.)

Composition in the field is a wonderful example. New photographers often are very concerned with the "right" way to compose an image or with following "rules" of composition. Yet I and virtually all experienced photographers I speak with agree that during the act of composing and photographing, for the most part we "just know" when it is right.

Quick note — one of the "friends" I mentioned in my previous post is, in fact, the very same Charlie Cramer mentioned in the article. :-)

Shooting, photographing, picturing... Who cares. But I'm totally sick of "the zen of anything..." Frankly noboby that uses it knows what the hell they're talking about.

"But this group also includes William Eggleston who says he only shoots one frame per subject."

Dogman is correct. Bill Eggleston does not dwell on a scene and takes only a frame or two a subject, kinda like a dog peeing on stuff.

But Mike's rebuttal is also correct, at least in its meaning. Eggleston's bladder has been nearly inexhaustible. Shining a UV lamp on the streets of Memphis at night would provide ample street illumination.

"Adams stated at that time it had been over a year since he had taken his last photograph. He apparently doesn't see the need to shoot every day to remain proficient in his art."

I'm surprised Robert Adams used the terms 'taken' and 'shoot', I would have thought he'd have said 'made' or 'make'?

I was taught to 'make' photographs whether 35mm or large format and never questioned it. The idea of aggressive macho terms like 'taken', 'shoot', 'grab', 'capture', etc. have always seemed a bit comical especially said in earnest. I'm not saying it's like going out like a later day Viking bent on smashing heads, rape, and pillage, but isn't photography a bit more refined when you consider a gentle landscape has neither been shot, taken, or captured in actuality?


I didn't mean to imply Eggleston doesn't shoot a lot of pictures. What I meant was that he doesn't shoot a lot of pictures per subject. He obviously shoots a lot of pictures based on his "democratic" concept of all subjects being of equal value. He shoots each subject conservatively but he has a lot of subjects.

John Krumm - I may be the opposite of you here. I like to shoot, I can keep on shooting for hours on end when I get in the zone ... but I don't have a whole lot of interest to review the results on computer later. In fact, last time I went on a dedicated trip to do some landscape work, I did not load the photos off the SD card for a week, and didn't actually start reviewing them for another week.

It takes willpower to actually do something about the files ... (trying to print eventually gets me interested).

The digital age has allowed what is termed "chimping." I do not know the origin of the term

I don't know who coined the term, but allegedly it was from someone watching a group of photographers reviewing their shots on the LCD and going "oooh! oooh! oooh!"

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