The Most Incredible Photograph You Can Make

Shooting film, where you have a finite (and small) number of exposures on a roll, greatly helped me become more effective as a photographer. It encouraged me to take my time more, and make each shot count, as far as possible.

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Now I’m predominantly shooting digital again, I’ve tried to retain some of the best aspects of shooting film.

One major one is the vintage lenses I use.

I can’t see myself using a modern AF lens on my DSLRs anytime soon, I’m so attached to the experience and the resultant images gained when using vintage glass, from Takumars to Pentax-A.

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Arguably the second most significant shooting trait I try to carry over from film to digital can be phrased simply.

At the moment I’m about to take a photograph, I ask myself, “Picture the most incredible photograph you can make, with this subject, with this equipment, in these lighting conditions. Would that ultimate realisation of the scene before you be worth capturing?”

If the answer is no – and it often is – then I either try to adjust some aspect (focus, aperture thus depth of field, my position) to make it better, or just walk away.

Because if the very best possible outcome isn’t going to be that good, then why waste a photograph on it? 

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Yes, I know with digital you can potentially have hundreds or thousands of images on your camera at once, so you could take seven or 77 variations of the same scene and then decide later which to keep.

The technology is there for continuous shooting and exposure bracketing and so on, that mean it’s far more likely that one shot out of a rapid-fire blast of them is going to be ok.

But that’s really not my style. Again this was honed by shooting film. 

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I’m all for frugality and efficiency and would rather get it right with one shot in camera than be sifting through dozens afterwards. (My post processing with digital is very simple and virtually non-existent.)

And by asking this simple question – Would the most incredible photograph you can make in these conditions be worth taking? – it significantly reduces the likelihood of sifting through seven or 77 versions of the same scene, where none of them are any good because the lighting or the composition or the focal length was all wrong anyway.

Or the scene was just too dull to be worth capturing (yep, I’m still getting of this one pretty often!)

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How do you decide in the moment which photographs are worth taking? Does this process and thinking change between shooting film and digital? 

Let us know in the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “The Most Incredible Photograph You Can Make

  1. Well, usually I do not invest much time in evaluating motives and different perspectives – this is not the way it works for me.

    Usually, when walking/hiking/driving around, I ‘see’ a motive worth capturing and try to guess a valid perspective … then take the shot.

    On digital, it might follow a second one, if the immediate check doesn’t satisfy me.
    Like on my last journey to Ireland, I shot 3 films, i.e. 108 pictures and in parallel 600 digital ones.

    However, even if I have both cameras (analog and digital) with me, I more and more try shooting only the one or the other over one day. This also keeps the weight of my camera bag down.

    1. Interesting ratio of film to digital shooting Reinhold. I’d be interested to hear what the relative “keeper” rates were with each?

      I hardly ever shoot film and digital on the same shoot either, they still fill really different processes and states of mind to me, even though they’ve been slowly converging in the last six months or so. Very occasionally I might be out shooting film or digital and take a snapshot with my iPhone in between, just to see something in a different way.

  2. “Interesting ratio” … haha, indeed, but let’s make a rough calculation …

    Well, subtract 185 iPhone shots from the 600 digital ones, which I use mostly to have a GPS tagged image from the location and … believe it or not, iPhone shots sometime look quite pleasing … and you’re down to 415.

    Calculating further, that we had more rainy than sunny days – 10:5, I used my digital cam as it is sealed and I do not have to worry about getting wet. The more sunny days, the more often I would have used the analog cam. For me it was a daily unbiased decision in the morning after checking the weather forecast – or simply looking out of the window.

    Furthermore … seeing the slightly different process “analog vs digital” – as you mentioned – with analog you have to consider the fixed ISO and the limited amount of shots. So indeed, I still make more digital shots – even if I’m on a way to reduce, as also minimum of postprocessing and sorting takes a lot of time / too much time.

    So finally concluding … the ratio is not so bad at all 😉

    Regarding the keepers (which IMHO is nothing absolute) … I’m still sorting out … so far the keeper ratio is quite high for both – analog and digital. For me the final judgement day is, when I make the selection for my yearly calendar of our trips of the year, where I have to eliminate all but 12 pictures. This is sometimes quite painful … but the remaining 12 are simply the best of the year … for the given calendar orientation. This way I get the topmost rated pictures, even if I shot hundrets of them 😉

    … damn long reply 🙂

    1. I like a long and thoughtful reply!

      Yes, iPhone shots can be brilliant! I do keep toying with the idea of going for a month using nothing but my iPhone. But I like my vintage kit too much.

      That’s a great idea about 12 pictures a year, much like the famous Ansel Adams quote – “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop”… I have no idea how I would choose these!

      Completely agree about trying to be more choosy in taking photographs with digital especially. I too dislike the post processing time so obviously if you take fewer photographs you have less to process. The balance I struggle with sometimes is not all photowalks are equal. One day, the weather and surroundings might mean you could get 50 keepers in one shoot out of 100 shots, another day with different weather, you could take 100 photos and only get one or two worth keeping. The sorting and post processing of the 50 shots might take ages, but if their 50 shots worth keeping, then it’s something we need to go through.

      1. Again what learned … as we Germans say 🙂

        Didn’t know that the great Ansel Adams already thought in calendar terms. But indeed it is brilliant. I like the idea of having my best 12 shots hanging on the wall for one year and having something to remember the past years highlights.

        Selecting 12 out of many hundreds is indeed not easy.
        After weeks of thoughtful selecting I finally have around 100.
        These 100 then go into a speed dating, where decision has to be taken instantly … which is a very tough job, as many good ones have to leave.

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