The Numbers Game

I just found this post which I had written a WHILE ago. Thought I would throw it out there even though some of the material has been covered, some would say to death, in recent months. Don’t hate the player hate the game!

You don’t need to shoot each tree individually.

WARNING: I SWITCHED TO DECAF THE MORNING I WROTE THIS, MY APOLOGIES.

This post is aimed directly at wedding photographers.

Enough already.

Quantity of imagery has never been, until the past few years, a selling point of being a photographer. With the advent of digital technology and the subsequent ability to shoot unlimited numbers of images, came a style of photographer that blasted away with reckless abandon. Soon these photographers were using these insanely high image counts as a selling point, a selling point to clients who really didn’t know better. “More must be better,” the unsuspecting clients would think, as they were handed discs containing thousands of pictures, or online galleries that went on for miles. Suddenly, quantity over quality became a reality.

I just don’t get this at all. I really don’t.

First of all, if you are shooting 5000 plus images at a wedding, it is a CLEAR sign to me that you have no idea what you are looking for. It is clear to me you don’t have a style because if you did you would realize there is simply NO WAY your style of image happens 5000 times in any 24-hour period, let alone the duration of a typical wedding day.

When you sell quantity of images what you are doing, in essence, is trivializing the entire idea of photography. Why do you think that the public’s belief as to the DNA of photography has changed so much in the past ten years. Why do you hear so many stories of clients not having the same respect for what we do? Well, when you hear the photographers themselves operating under the method of, “If I shoot nonstop, something will turn out,” mentality, then why would the clients have respect for this? It’s no wonder people pick up a camera, have a high-school kid build them a website and go into business as a “professional photographer.”

I’ve heard photographers talking about “keeping their image count up,” and it drives me crazy. What are you talking about? So instead of shooting a portrait of the bride, shoot 100 frames of the bride in the same scene? Who does this benefit? You having to edit? The client having to weed through 100 frames in an online gallery?

Luckily, I think these days of quantity are about to implode. I’m beginning to see and hear from clients, planners, locations, etc, “enough already.” When a client is faced with an online gallery of 5000 images, they begin to realize that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Often times, when there is an issue they will go back to the planner, “What am I supposed to do with all these images?”

Photographers, let’s get real. Our job is to create unique imagery, edit that imagery and present that imagery. Our job is not to turn our brains off, keep our finger glued to the shutter, randomly convert a third of the images to black and white, then upload to an online gallery. I’m sorry, that isn’t photography, I don’t care how many jobs you are shooting. And if you use the “Well, my clients aren’t complaining” excuse….that is just sad.

It is very evident today that you don’t have to be a photographer to be a photographer. The days of having to know light, timing and composition have been replaced by slick marketing, advertising and the promise of Photoshop.

But when photographers trivialized the actual photography, regardless of whether they are taking a short-term step forward, as a collective, we all take a GRAND step back.

Learn how YOU see as an individual(Think about actually learning photography), make imagery that is unique to YOU and stop churning out hard drive after hard drive of generic photographs in an attempt to hit some photo-jackpot in the sky.

And before I go any further, I hear the cries of a few, “But my clients want as many images as possible.” Again, find your spine and tell them that is not how it works. If your client asked you to wear a Speedo would you do that to? What is the difference?

If you really edit a wedding, I mean REALLY edit. And you really focus on what you are doing, there are only a few VERY key moments of a wedding day. Very few. It is our job to see those moments coming and record them. You can shoot details of every single person at every single table and every centerpiece and all that stuff that really doesn’t mean much the day after, but it won’t help you create a document of what REALLY happened.

Working this way doesn’t happen by accident. Working this way requires you to deprogram a lot of clients who have fallen prey to this quantity over quality sales pitch. It takes time. Some folks are receptive, some are gone forever. You will not book every client. You shouldn’t book every client.

I’m going to do it. I’m going to throw out the “S” word again, so brace yourself. Is it time to find our collective soul again? Did we ever have a collective soul? I don’t know.

All I do know is that we have created a monster and it is time to put that baby to bed and get back to making photographs not production line nonsense.

For those of you who found this post insulting, rude, etc, that was not my intention, but I see the damage this charade has done and at the core of this is the belief that the CLIENT will be better served by photographers with clear objectives and clear vision.

I think if we are even discussing the amount of imagery we are going to create, it is a sure sign our photography-train is off the tracks.

16 responses to “The Numbers Game”

  1. Smogranch says:

    By the way, that image was shot 6×9 Fuji which has to be, one of, if not THE sharpest lens I’ve ever had. I almost cried when I saw the scans.

  2. mike says:

    thanks for posting this Daniel.

  3. Ken Burg says:

    How synchronistic. My mind has recently been going in this direction. Not that my partner and I ever shot 5000 photos, not even combined and over the course of a three day destination wedding. But even 3000 edited down to 800 seems like too much.

    • Smogranch says:

      Well, when you think about it, I think most of these trends are photographer born, perhaps technology born. There really isn’t much of a reason for shooting this much. Heck, I’ve done it, not for a while, but I’ve done it.
      Looking back on it, I feel somewhat depressed for allowing myself, even for ONE minute to move in a direction that was so against how I learned to be a photographer, and what I believe being a photographer means.
      It’s a battle for me. Portraits were the same, for a much shorter time, and now I rarely make any portrait that isn’t completely designed by me.

  4. My last wedding was a 12 hour, dual shooter ordeal and we turned out I believe 3500 images, but that was culled down to 525 or so images.

    I have taken to limiting and choosing for my clients. I don’t let them choose what images they get on the DVD (Yes Dan, i know your feelings on DVDs) and I have not been hired because of this. But in the end I want control of what my business produces and that means not letting clients choose or even see every image.

    My image count could be better, but it has nothing to do with taking 20 pictures of the same scene at different angles. I actually look through the VF and plain the image, but I do take multiple frames of the same image just to make sure it’s sharp….what can i say, I need glasses and AF sucks sometimes

    • Smogranch says:

      David,
      These are just my opinions, but I think you are doing great. You’re thinking, editing tight and controlling what your clients are seeing. All good amigo.
      What I’m referring to is the shoot 5000 and edit 1000 method, random conversions, gimmicky effects, etc. I just don’t dig that at all.

  5. Aaron says:

    I must confess, I shoot a lot of images during a wedding (8 hour wedding=1500 images tonight). What’s worse is I typically give back like 200ish (ouch on the math).

    BUT

    Tomorrow I am taking my first big step: an all film wedding!!

    The Leica and a Nikkormat should slow down that trigger finger, right? It was amazing to talk to my client who had full faith in me shooting film at his wedding. He was even excited about the idea.

    • Smogranch says:

      Oh man, you are in for a fun day. I think you might be surprised, and as for the client being excited about the film….I would say that %99 of my clients are the same. In fact, most are looking for film.

    • Aaron says:

      Dan, the wedding went surprisingly well (though I still have to send my film off for scans to make sure I didn’t blow the whole thing). I learned a ton VERY quickly. My only concern is that I shot mostly Fuji Reala 100 during the outdoor wedding, but most of it was under trees and whatnot. I just hope the color temp isn’t too blue.

    • Smogranch says:

      It’s film….it will handle that no sweat. Also, the color temp could be influenced by the scans.

  6. Michael Erb says:

    I would be curious to hear some of the reactions that you have seen from your clients when they receive your edited version of their day.

    I know why this is important as a photographer but I would like to hear why it is Important as a client.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Michael,
      The reactions have, knock on wood, been 100% positive. But, the idea of getting an edited take is two fold. It comes with proofs and with the book. The book, for me, is key, and the idea from the beginning, the idea that I work on with the client is for me to do the edit and make the selects. If there are pictures they absolutely don’t want or want, then sure, let me know, but otherwise they are hiring me to shoot, edit and present.

  7. Rene C. Toyer says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more!!! I’ve done some weddings myself and to me our job is about capturing the moment yes, but not every single detail!!! Get to know your client and by doing this you would know what moments would be important to them apart from the obvious moments… 5000 pictures are a waste of space and time!!! Where I’m from clients are good with 250 solid photos! meaning photos that reflect them and their special day! not thousands of pictures like if a child went nuts with a digital camera in hand!!! so I completely agree and I always say to my other photographers Conceptualizing your shoot is better than just going with the flow, because taking pictures is not dancing in a club!

    • Smogranch says:

      Rene,

      That is great, “taking photos is not dancing in a club.” I think you are right. I’m not sure when it became standard practice to photograph every single detail of every single detail of a wedding. However, the wedding magazine formula us FULL of this stuff. All shot at 1.2, flower arrangements, and table settings. Man, if I never see another spread like that again it will be TOO soon. Thanks for writing.

  8. Paul Gero says:

    Michael,
    To add to what Dan said…if they have a clear idea of what to expect…and why it benefits them, then I think you’re going to be fine..

    Paul

  9. Smogranch says:

    And also for Michael,
    I’ve never worked with anyone who asked me about image quantity. If someone asks me about that, I direct them elsewhere, so when I client gets my edited view of the day that is fully what they expect. Quantity is never a part of any plan. They are hiring me because of the way I shoot, not because of how much I shoot.

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