Only one shot

I read this quote from William Eggleston in Image Makers Image Takers, an awesome photography book by Anne-Celen Jaeger:

Interviewer: What goes through your mind when you are framing a shot?

Eggleston: Nothing really. It happens so fast. I compose very quickly and without thinking, but consciously. I take a picture instantly and never more than one. Sometimes I worry about the picture being out of focus, but I take that chance. A long time ago, I would have taen several shots of the same thing, but I realized that I could never decide which one was the best. I thought I was wasting a lot of time looking at these damn near identical pictures. I wanted to discipline myself to take only one picture of something, and if it didn’t work out, that’s just too bad. But it’s pretty much always worked.

I don’t know about you, but especially with digital photography, I’ll almost always take at least three shots of any subject, because, well, it’s free, and what if you’d overlooked something, one was blurry, someone blinked, etc.

And guess what, I’ve found is that 9 times out of 10, the first shot was the best.

Why that is, I don’t know, but a guess would be that too much conscious thought makes the picture less interesting, not more. That what caught my eye in the first place is what’s captured in the first shot.

But it wasn’t until I read this quote that I realized it wasn’t me, it was the idea of taking multiple shots. Now, if you’re on assignment, and taking a portrait, of course you take more than one shot. But if you’re taking photos for the pleasure of both the process and the outcome, art photography, if you will, then it makes sense to just take one shot. Especially because it’s so mindnumbingly boring to look through all those near-identical photos, when you could spend the time taking more pictures, being with your family, writing your blog, or whatever else you fancy.

I love it when people make a realization, and then act on it. So often do we stand there, like I did, realizing the flaws of our ways, but not making the consequential decision and acting on that realization. It’s so powerful when people do that, and stand firm.

1 comment

Branimir Dolički

Interesting. I totally agree that looking through all those near-identical photos is really boring and time-wasting. I hate it. So, from now on I'll try to take just one photo too. Also, turn off auto-preview. Don't look at the photo until you are back home. It seems, though, like Henry Cartier-Bresson needed more than one shot: "My contact sheets may be compared to the way you drive a nail in a plank," he said. "First you give several light taps to build up a rhythm and align the nail with the wood. Then, much more quickly, and with as few strokes as possible, you hit the nail forcefully on the head and drive it in." http://people.cis.ksu.edu/~ab/Miscellany/cartier-bresson.html
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