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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.