Quality vs. Quantity

At the risk of dating myself, I remember when loading film, be it 35mm, 120mm or sheet film, was a tangible expense to consider, for every photographer; amateur and professional alike. Not only was there an up front expense for the film, but the lab costs could also be substantial. Now, I’ll be the first one to laud the convenience of digital photography, but the perceived savings have, in my opinion, had a negative effect on the quality of most photographs generated. I say most, because like any tool, in the hands of a knowledgeable craftsman, technological improvements can push the creative boundaries and improve the consistency of the final work. In the hands of those less critical, we end up with more saw dust on the floor than picture frames on the wall.

In the olden days… it was not uncommon for professional photographers to expose Polaroid film to confirm exposure and composition prior to proceeding with film, but the results were, despite all the experience in interpreting a Polaroid, still a bit of a guessing game. Instant digital feedback, however, has arguably helped to improve the results that many photographers are able to produce today. We are now able to make small adjustments to composition and exposure that, in the past would’ve been overlooked.

Earlier, I wrote that shooting digitally has brought with it a perception that it’s FREE. Consequently, the average consumer with a digital camera has adopted the point and shoot approach literally and many computers are drowning in virtual rubbish. Now before anyone accuses me of sounding pretentious, let me be clear and write that I too generate photos of family and friends that will rarely be shared let alone submitted to any contest, but it’s not just the quality that should be improved, it’s also the quantity that should be reduced.

This is true even among Professional Photographers. I’ve photographed my share of weddings and when I hear the outrageous number of digital images now being produced during an average eight hour wedding, just because we can and it’s FREE, I can’t help but shake my head. I know that styles have changed and that a journalistic approach, demands more images to choose from, but certainly that shouldn’t be at the expense of quality. Clients and customers alike seem to be fixated on how many exposures will be delivered rather than on the quality and content of those images.

Here are a few simple questions that I ask myself each time I raise the camera to my eye. Would I rather spend thirty seconds walking over to pickup that candy wrapper now, or spend fifteen minutes in front of the computer removing it later? Does what I see through the viewfinder tell the story or will I need to sift through a hundred images later to pick out the two or three that do? And finally, will I ever share this photograph, or is everything so dark and blurry that I’ll have to use words later to explain who was in the shot. In short, would I rather spend more time with my family and friends, or sitting by myself in front of the computer screen?

Having said that, don’t confuse variations on a theme with throwing darts, blindfolded. There’s a carpenter’s adage that encourages one to measure twice and cut once. As photographers we might consider something similar, to the effect of, look twice and expose once.

Calm Waters, Sitting on the Shoreline,

One Comment

  1. Jose Quiroz 2011/04/03 at 1:42 am #

    Nice Blog Miguel, keep writing. I’m 100% with you in the Quality vs Quantity issue. When I was working as an architectural photographer assistant I used to sweep the sidewalks before the shoot so I could avoid “cloning” later. I miss the 36 exposures in a roll, the challenge of making a good picture with only a 50mm. Now as you say, everything is about gadgets and lots of meaningless pictures. I’d like to challenge the photographers put there to take their DSLR, set them to M and go to the street and shoot 36 pictures without checking the LCD. How many will be good? how many will be correctly exposed? how many will be real photographs able to tell a story? JQ

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