First of all, I’d like to thank Scott and his team for inviting me to write a guest post. I’ve used the tips, tricks, and advice from other photographers’ posts here for years. It’s an honor to be asked to share.
I’d like to discuss a shooting technique that I’ve been using in my practice for years and believe has helped me develop as a photographer and artist. That practice is limiting the number of frames I produce.
I come from a film photography background where I was limited by the number of frames on the roll and how much film I could afford to buy at the time. Before going out, I would calculate the cost of every frame in my mind. This would make me hyper-focused on nailing my exposure, and concentrate on my framing. As I moved from a 35mm camera to a 4×5, this practice became even more critical.
As I moved into digital photography and memory cards got larger, I found myself shooting thousands upon thousands of frames. It wasn’t unheard of for me to come back from a days assignment with a 1000 images. I wanted to cover my bases to make sure that I got the shot. While shooting a lot gave me coverage of the assignment, I wasn’t as happy with the work. First, I didn’t want to sift through thousands of images. When I was shooting film I was excited about every single picture. Second, I felt my work was getting a little sloppy. I was so focused on shooting that the connections with my subjects weren’t as sharp and my framing wasn’t, in my opinion, as dynamic or exciting.
One day I sat down and thought about my practice and made a list of things I needed to improve on (this is something I think everyone should do this at least once a year). Something that came out of this list was how I missed the limitation of film. I thought about how silly that was, because nothing is stopping me from limiting myself. This new limited image approach had to be tested on a personal shoot, not a paid one, and I had the perfect event coming up.
Armed with a Crown Graphic 4×5 and 30 sheets of film, I drove clear across the country from New York to Nevada. I removed the capability of compulsively documenting the entire trip and forced myself to select particular people, interactions, and experiences. In the end, I loved the limitation. I was back to spending half a day with a potential subject (some I didn’t even end up photographing) and waiting for just the right light to fall on the scene.
I continued the practice in India, a location that I knew I could quickly rack up tens of thousands of images from. For a month-long trip, I brought ten rolls of film which left me with 360 frames in total to make. My friends and colleagues thought I was insane, but I was excited to take on the challenge, and in fact, I brought back one roll unused.
After that trip, I was feeling comfortable making fewer frames and started to incorporate the practice into my paid assignment work. In the end, I re-sparked my creativity, and I think I’m producing better photos than I was before. So I challenge all of you to limit yourself on a trip, or project. Start off with something simple like a weekend adventure and limit yourself to 10 images. I think you’ll surprise yourself with how focused you become. If you take the challenge to let me know how it goes!
You can see more of Alan’s work at AlanWinslow.com, and keep up with him on Instagram and LinkedIn.