Tuesday, November 23, 2010


A while back in an article in Digital Photo Pro magazine, long-time National Geographic photographer, Jim Richardson, admitted he snaps between 20,000 and 40,000 images for a given assignment. He does this, he says, in hopes of capturing a very small number of amazing photos.

Generally, Richardson's assignments take 8 to 12 weeks to shoot. A lot of those days are spent doing things other than capturing the twenty to forty-thousand pictures he mentioned. According to Richardson, about 20% of his assignment time is spent with cameras in his hands. The rest of it is spent on logistics-- planning, coordinating, researching, and more. Still, 20k to 40k photos is a whole lot of images to shoot then edit!

None of the above is intended to infer that photographers of Richardson's caliber are employed by businesses like NatGeo simply because they are sprayers-and-prayers. It isn't about luck and it isn't about how many pics he snaps. NatGeo doesn't employ proven photographers like Bill Richardson because the odds are in favor of him getting lucky and capturing a few great photos out of thousands. They hire him because he's good. Really good. And because they know he's going to deliver great photos, whether he shoots hundreds or thousands.

I would imagine many of the subjects Richardson shoots for NatGeo aren't "directable."

"Could you lower your head a bit and cheat your trunk to the left? I'd like to see both tusks in my frame."

In fact, the numbers of images Richardson captures for his assignments probably has lots to do with him being, as a photographer, more of an observer documenting what's in front of him than a photographer with much control over what's in front of him.

Someone like me, a glamour photographer, has plenty of control over what I'm photographing. That's why I don't shoot anywhere near thousands of photos for my assignments. I can control not only how my camera is capturing what's in front of me, I can also control what's in front of me... if that makes sense. You know, I can control my lighting, I can place the model where I want her, I can direct her pose, her expressions, her emotional projections... that sort of stuff. I imagine someone like Bill Richardson shooting for NatGeo doesn't often have those luxuries.

Still, I see and hear about photographers shooting models and capturing thousands of images during their time with those models. In other words, they're spraying-and-praying. When I've been in the presence of sprayers-and-prayers, I've noticed they tend to be shooters who communicate less with their models than someone who, well, who isn't a sprayer-and-prayer.

I don't know about any of you but I refuse to depend on luck or prayer to help me capture good images. Sure, sometimes I do get lucky and capture something with unintended elements and that unintended capture results in an amazing photo. But I can't count on that sort of thing happening with any sort of consistency or dependability.

Besides, most of the time I don't have time to capture thousands of images... not that I'd want to. Who wants to edit through thousands of images if you don't have to? I know I don't.

Glamour photographers have two options: Capturing excellent photos by design or capturing excellent photos by luck. The choice is obvious if you ask me.

The gratuitious eye candy on the stairs is Brook, captured in a location house near Los Angeles.


John said...

I agree, but am embarrassed to admit that, when shooting, I start by directing and end by spraying. Just too excitable, I suppose. Or too infrequent a shooter.

Anonymous said...

I agree too. I can count on my digits the number of times I've sprayed and prayed to capture a good soccer picture in the last 7 years. In my opinion, in the case of shooting soccer, it is about knowing the game and anticipating what will happen. Same goes for shooting humans - finding the right composition and then capturing the image.

Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

Jim in Huntsville said...

I think back to my film days, where a roll of Kodachrome 64 would cost between $3-4 a roll. Nobody could afford to shoot 20,000 images for the 10 or so that would end up on Nat Geo's pages. Film taught you to plan and execute to get the picture right in the camera.

Mike Dooley said...

Great article, and great blog! The talk about how much time the NatGeo photog spends on planning made me wonder how much time you spend on that planning? What types of pre-shoot steps do you go through in order to get what you are looking for? Thanks!


jimmyd said...

@Mike: Generally, my pre-shoot activities involve loading my gear into my SUV and driving to a studio or a location. I don't mean that to be facetious. Because most of my work is shooting on production sets where something else is going on (i.e., they're making a video) I don't always know who I'll be shooting, how many models/performers, or where this will take place. (Other than an address) When I arrive, I scout the location for, what I think, might be the best places to shoot. Those "best places" often takes into consideration where the video crew is working, i.e., I need to avoid shooting near them. (sound, strobes bleeding onto their shooting areas, etc.) This, of course, often means I shoot in the less interesting areas of a location.

Anonymous said...

I think at least for glamour/Pretty Girl shooting, it takes some time and experience before one tends to not fall into the "Spray and Pray" mode. Once you have shot this type for awhile and have gone through the looking at/trying to process countless images you will tend to focus more on each induvidual shot/pose to get what you have pictured in your head as to the outcome, and the number of snaps will start decreasing. This is based on my experience and some of my fellow photogs that have about as much time under their belt as myself.

Thanks again Jimmy

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