Last week, fellow Fstoppers Writer Ty Poland wrote an article called "The Power of Overshooting." Ty is a great photographer, and he made some very valid points, but I must respectfully disagree. To me, undershooting is what advances your skills as a photographer.
Before I jump into my rebuttal, I must say that Ty has a great perspective; in particular, when doing a professional job with a time constraint, overshooting can be a lifesaver in that it ensures you get the shots you need. It's better to have too many to choose from after the shoot than too few. That being said, I think there are inherent dangers in such a shooting style, namely a stagnation of creativity and overlooking crucial details.
Personal work is your time to be creative, to explore, to experiment. You're free from obligations to produce a certain number or kind of images. If you're a good photographer, you've already mastered most technical aspects, and this time is to explore subtle characteristics of your personal vision, lighting, posing, etc. And to explore something subtle takes time and careful thought. Rarely is the first iteration of an idea as good as the second or the third, but if we don't allow ourselves time to reach those latter iterations, we're cheating ourselves.
When you're just starting out in photography or anything for that matter, everything is new and novel, and I think shooting a lot makes a certain amount of sense in that scenario. However, once you've gained a certain level of competence, your task shifts from exploring and simply understanding global ideas to manipulating increasingly smaller nuances of your work, because those tinier details are what set you apart from the rest of the throng. There are thousands of competent photographers out there who can make a well-crafted, technically sound, aesthetically pleasing image, but there are far fewer photographers who have a distinctly recognizable look — some intangible that makes their work immediately recognizable upon first inspection, and those reputations hinge on such details.
I'll never stop shooting film, no matter how economically impractical it is. In fact, that's part of the reason I shoot it. Every time I line up a shot, particularly with a medium format camera, a thought flashes across my mind: "This costs you a dollar every time you press the shutter. Is this shot worth it?" And most of the time, it isn't, at least not for the moment. Because then, I'll ask myself: "What can you change to make this shot worth taking?" And suddenly, I begin to notice more details: that stray wisp of hair, the not-quite-perfect neck angle, etc. And after changing ten or so of these sometimes easily overlooked facets, the shot evolves into something entirely different from what it was before, and I feel more confident in pressing that shutter button. Of course, there's also the inherent limitation of quantity: you only get so many shots. I'm a huge believer in limitations benefiting the creative process. And what better limitation than quantity itself? When every shot counts, you're automatically more in tune with the process. The advantage is two-fold; not only does it make that specific shot better, it exercises my eye for detail and my creative mind in a way that makes it more intuitive in the future, so when I'm in those time-sensitive situations, I notice more and have a greater bag of tricks to draw upon, which is very important when doing professional work, particularly when under a time constraint that doesn't allow one the luxury of constructing such ideas from scratch.
Continually developing this eye for detail has made me more confident in my shooting, and that has translated to my clients' experiences as well. Just this morning, while shooting a posed group photo, I asked the cellist to shake out her hand because her fingers looked tense, and she held it up to her face in disbelief and exclaimed: "how did you even notice that?" I laughed and told her that it's my job to notice such things, and it was clear it had gone a long way in giving her confidence in my abilities and easing her anxiety about the shoot.
There's a real psychological aspect to this. Clients are often very unsure of themselves in front of the camera, and they look to us to direct them and make them feel comfortable. If we're detail-oriented and methodical, not only does it help them by giving them the direction they need, it has a calming effect by demonstrating the control you have over what you're doing. This is particularly important during high-stress shoots such as weddings or simply with a client who has a certain amount of anxiety in front of a camera. Overshooting makes it difficult to have a conversation with your subject, to connect with them, and to really meet them on a deeper level of understanding, so you become more of an artistic partner and less of a stranger with a hunk of metal and glass pressed to your face.
It also makes me quite a bit more efficient in post-processing. No one likes to cull hundreds or thousands of images, and that can take a significant amount of time. Furthermore, I've found that when I overshoot, I very often end up approaching my shot selection by trying to pick the images with the fewest errors, and that's a very frustrating place to be in. When I shoot methodically and purposefully, I end up selecting from the images I like the most, and that's a much more pleasant and encouraging place to come from.
I've found that nowadays, I take far less shots, but they're better shots. There's a balance, of course; there's a difference between undershooting and missing shots because you're waiting for some form of perfection that'll never arrive. There are also times when overshooting is called for. With that being said, though, I approach shooting with a "less is more" philosophy, and I've found that I'm working less, and I'm happier with my work. My clients are happier too; I've noticed a marked shift in both our interactions during a shoot and their satisfaction afterward. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!