Five Tips to Avoid Overshooting (And Speed up Your Image Turnaround)

Five Tips to Avoid Overshooting (And Speed up Your Image Turnaround)

Since I began photographing events, I've been paying close attention to the amount of images I've shot per hour. Why should you? Because overshooting creates problems.

Why Do Fewer Exposures Make More Sense?

Though I’ve always tried to choose my exposures carefully, such care isn't always practiced in the digital sensor era. Of course, traditional “exposure economy” was rooted in film. Though the digital sensor era was already in full swing when (2006 - 2010) I attended a Chicago college specializing in arts and media, a format-specific requirement of film was still in place — and I still benefit from the lessons of that requirement.

Our photography professors emphasized two key lessons of shooting:

  • Shooting fully manual cameras and developing in darkrooms teaches you the ins and outs of exposure.
  • Film forces you to slow down before snapping into your next cell.

Since film photography limits the number of captures on each roll or pack holder, you're forced to avoid the error of overshooting.

a water droplet splashing over rocks

Film captures require expert timing. Image by the author.

Now that digital space has become cheap and memory cards are more compact, it's tempting for photographers to snap away indiscriminately. The term "spray and pray" is commonplace among photographers who pass judgment on “newbie” shooters who furiously snap away. This habit is viewed as compensating for inexperience, “praying” for catching something worthwhile through mass quantities of captures.

Frantic overshooting can indicate a lack of confidence — even a lack of ability — to capture the right moment. Constant shutter clicks can even become disruptive or irritating to guests at an event. If you or your clients have ever had concerns with such issues, you might benefit from undershooting: simply shooting more selectively.

The Problem with Overshooting

Many if not most of our readers are familiar with this issue. But those who are newer to shooting professionally, or more used to taking nature or action photos, may be prone to overshooting. Such photographers might not be aware that their capture habits can make life more difficult for themselves and their clients.

a night heron diving from a tree branch

Image by the author.

Capturing too many photos means longer edit times, thus creating longer turnaround times for submitting photos. If you consider these and other direct and indirect costs of "spray and pray" in your own work, you might want to put your shooting on a diet.

What steps can we take to mitigate this problem?

1. When Appropriate, Switch your Shooting Mode

If you photograph sports or other fast-paced subjects, burst (or continuous) shooting modes can be necessary to capture the right moment. But if you photograph portraits, weddings, or any other type of event, consider switching to single-shot mode. During a moment of action, you can always switch over to burst mode, then back to single-shot.

For trigger-happy photographers, single-shot mode can take you out of the habit of capturing a dozen photos per second every time you see action.

2. Work on Your Timing

Instead of snapping like crazy every time something photo-worthy happens, be conscious of your timing. Get in the habit of taking just one or two shots where you used to take five. Make exceptions only during the most important moments of an event, such as the kiss during a ceremony or a major player receiving an award.

a couple at a wedding ceremony with their arms raised

Image by the author.

When you slow down and snap less often, you also become more aware of technical problems that may arise in your images. Continuously snapping away after your subject(s) have changed location (which might bring a change in lighting) often leads to a large batch of unusable images.

3. It's Okay to "Chimp" a Little

"Chimping" is a term used to describe photographers who check their rear LCD frequently. This simian slander comes from the hunched look of shooters who check their LCDs to review every shot. That anxious on-site reviewing practice is generally frowned upon by the photography community. The biggest issue is that you might miss an important moment if you focus too much on your rear screen. You might even put yourself or others in danger if your eyes are too glued to your LCD screen.

When necessary, a short audit is appropriate. My preferred method of reviewing is to do a quick image check every time there's a major lighting change, especially if I'm unsure whether I've met the reciprocity with my camera controls. And if you must "chimp," do it when you won't be missing any important action, maybe even (for sports shooters) missing a football to the head.

a plush monkey holding a banana

Image by the author.

4. Take a Deep Breath

The way you photograph says a lot about you. Just like your outfit and professional demeanor, your habits of shooting are all part of your projected style. Think about the energy you'd like to put out in your professional world. Do you want to come across as cool and collected, or an anxious wreck?

While some people might not consciously notice the subtleties of your professionalism, better habits produce better end results. Your ability to nail a photograph in few exposures helps all-around.

5. Culling Is Your Friend

John D. Rockefeller said:

Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.

The same goes for your portfolio. Try not to get too attached to your "good" images. One way of improving your selection is with this standard: You're only as good as the worst photograph you deliver.

When you shoot a session or event, you might wind up frustrated by the hours spent slogging through your duplicate images. Those late nights in front of your computer can feel defeating.

Develop a system for rating or culling, minimizing your number of candidates for deliverable photos. Your clients will be happier with 50 excellent images than 150 excellent-to-pretty-good images.

a screen capture of Lightroom's rating systems

Lightroom has hierarchical rating systems built into its interface.


Honest admission: I still have the occasional event session that I overshoot. As you probably know, that can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the venue is extremely dark and I know that my auto focus isn't going to nail a good amount of frames. Or maybe I feel inspired with the subject matter or environment and get carried away. It happens.

But if you slow down on-site and stay consistently aware of timing, you'll wind up with more "keepers" and less digital clutter to cull through later. That also means more  happy clients and maximizing time with family.

What tips do you have for avoiding overshooting? Feel free to share them in the comment section below.

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Christian Lainesse's picture

I think overshooting is a necessary first step when you start taking photos. After a while, you start seeing what works for compositions that fit your own photo style, and eventually you start photographing an event, and you can predict a photo opportunity and take it. Later you can tell when you have this or that type of photo, and move on to get the next one. I find this process has a streamlining effect on my workflow.

Patrick Smith's picture

I don't agree with ever switching to single shot mode and I have not had any of my cameras in single shot mode for over a decade now. I don't ever want to miss a shot or that moment, that perfect moment, etc. Memory cards are cheap, but missing that shot is sometimes devastating to your soul lol. I have learned even on my D4s bodies how to take a single image even when in 11 fps CH mode. Very seldom do I accidentally take two when I meant to take one, now that I have mastered the quick single shot, but regardless I'd rather have two identical images of that moment than missing it while switching to continuous. I also have always shot with back button focus, therefor eliminating the need to ever switch between continuous focus and single shot focus. I know everyone is different and you prefer single shot mode at times and I get why you're trying to convey the message you are here in the article. I guess I just disagree, which is fine, everyone has a slightly different way of approaching situations in photography.

Chris Duzynski's picture

I came from the film days and long ago when I subcontracted for a wedding guy, we shot medium format. RZ 67, 220 rolls yielded 20 shots per roll. I always had 2 pre-loaded 220 magazines in a shoulder bag ready to go. I don't miss those days! The guy I used to shoot for screamed if I pulled the trigger on more than 2-3 shots of a specific scenario, because every time I pulled the trigger, our cost was about $1.25 per shot, including the cost of the raw film, processing, and a 4x5 proof. Was a terrible way to shoot, but normal back then.

When I shot 120/220 transparencies in controlled corporate situations, I'd get a good exposure using a flash/exposure meter and fire away. I had a second magazine reserved for "snip test scenarios" and would label the snip rolls, cross referencing roll numbers/frame numbers back to the snip test roll that I'd have processed first. Any variation (+- 1/2 stop; hopefully spot on of course), I'd have the lab push or pull process the offending roll. OR, I might have the lab push/pull to achieve a different level of contrast; subtle but different. That degree of precision was invaluable in my eventual move to digital, now eons ago.

Fast forward to digital, when I shoot an event where a segment might be fast moving, like a grand march at a wedding reception, or someone walking up to a podium accepting an award etc., I "used to shoot single shot af" shooting fast, but carefully timing my shots to expressions, body positioning etc. With my long-gone Canon DSLR system, I never missed focus; shooting multiple segments of the same couple walking quickly.

With my current Sony system (A7RIII, A7III), under similar scenarios I "always" shoot continuous low and just hold the shutter & back-button down until that scenario is completed. The Sony never misses even when follow-focusing at a fairly high rate. Seems counter intuitive, but unless my Sony settings are wrong, shooting single shot with the Sony had been met with a terrible sharp AF rate. Maybe it's the mirrorless viewfinder blackout. Not sure but problem solved. It took me many failed attempts and out of focus frustrations (that the client never saw) to realize this different way of shooting (for me at least).

For more static scenarios, I do usually revert to single shot. For corporate & architectural camera-on-tripod and tethered scenarios, I'm always manual focus using either native AF lenses, or my 4 manual focus lenses.

tony cao's picture

that's the "issue" with digital cameras, where you can just shoot 100 frames in less than a minute without thinking and pray that 1 turns out good. i remember my first "pro" camera, the Minolta Dimage A1. the first thing that my photography class teacher told me was to never spray and pray, instead calm down, think about the composition, and capture it with your heart. never go to your computer and look at 200 images that are almost 99% the same and banging on the table having a hard time choosing which one to keep.