Shoot Less, Better

Hanoi, 2016
Hanoi, 2016

About a year ago, I attended a Magnum workshop with David Alan Harvey. The #1 take-away I got from his workshop was this: be more selective of your scenes, but when you find a good scene, shoot the sh*t out of it.

To explain, imagine you’re walking around all day for 8 hours. In those 8 hours, you might only see 1-2 scenes or potentially good photos.

However when you identify each of those scenes, try to take as many photos as possible (50-100 photos). Do this instead of taking 1-2 photos of 50-100 scenes.

Shoot less, better

Mumbai, 2014
Mumbai, 2014

I think the common mistake we make as street photographers is that we over-shoot boring things. But we under-shoot potentially interesting scenes.

So as an assignment, try this out: be more selective what you decide to photograph. But when you find a scene that you find good, try to aim to take 50-100 photos of the scene.

To me, this is a better strategy than just taking 1-2 photos of everything you see.


Because if you see a potentially good scene, you will never see that scene again. You want to “work the scene” and get the best possible version of the scene possible. Sometimes even a subtle blink of an eye can change the whole scene. Sometimes a random happening in the background can transform a “so-so” photograph to a great photograph.

There is a lot we can’t anticipate. We often discover “decisive moments” in our photos after we’ve shot them.

Just take a few photos, intentionally.

Mumbai, 2014
Mumbai, 2014

Or you can take the opposite approach, take as few photos in a day as possible. But only take what you consider the best photos.

William Eggleston is famous for only taking 1 photo of each scene he finds interesting. So for every “tip” and suggestion — there is always an opposite that works.

What works for me might not work for you

Mumbai, 2014
Mumbai, 2014

Ultimately you want to find which method works best for you. I know that for me, very rarely is the first photo of a scene I take is the best. For me, my best photos often occur in the middle of “working the scene” or towards the end.

A lot of the time, the last photograph is the best shot. And I would have never gotten that shot if I only took 1-2 photos and ran away.

Study contact sheets

One of the best ways to learn how to best “work a scene” — study the contact sheets of the masters. See how many photos they took of a scene, and how they decided to choose the best image.

This will help you while you’re shooting in the streets, and also help you in the “editing” phase, when you’re choosing your best shots.

For a free resource, download my ebook: “Street Photography Contact Sheets”. Also I recommend buying: “Magnum Contact Sheets” (one of my favorite photography books). You can also Google Images “contact sheets” of your favorite photographers, or YouTube “contact sheets” to see some insightful documentaries.

Keep clicking, but click better.


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