The Rule of One

Today’s post is short and stout.  I got the idea for it after an amusing morning at Mesa Arch a couple months ago.  I arrived and took a few minutes to find just the right spot to set up my tripod.  I wasn’t the first photographer to show up and I wasn’t the last.  I took off my pack, mounted my camera to the tripod and settled in to wait for the light.  I didn’t count but I’m guessing there were a dozen of us all waiting patiently in the pre-dawn chill, making small talk here and there.

All was pretty mellow until this little dude showed up with fancy gear, a caffeine buzz and a Lowepro pack that probably weighed half as much as him.  He flitted all around, looking over our shoulders, snapping handheld shots in the waning darkness with an $8,000 camera.  Finally, as the sun crested the La Sal mountains, a cacophony of shutters welcomed the new day. 

Little Dude literally never stopped moving.  He finally had his camera on a tripod but he’d dash from one spot to another to another and back again, pointing the lens in every imaginable direction while firing the shutter so fast I swear it sounded like a machine gun.  The rest of us sat there.  Someone would zoom in or out a bit.  Someone else ever so carefully recomposed an image on the ground glass of their 4×5.  All the while, Little Dude bounced around and probably took 200 photos in 10 minutes.

This was not an isolated incident.  I’ve seen it before.  I’ve even guided clients who have done the same thing.  While fairly comical to watch it really is no way to create masterful images.  I understand that it is difficult to settle on one image at a location you may never visit again.  Our brains tell us that we need to capture the scene from all angles so that if we never get to come back, at least we’ll have 20 GB worth of photos to show our friends back home.

I just don’t get it.  Why not take the time to work the scene, find one amazing composition and just freakin’ nail it?  I would rather sit in one spot, with a killer scene in the viewfinder, and enjoy the moment while creating one stunning photo.  Call me crazy but isn’t one killer photo better than a thousand terrible ones?

17 thoughts on “The Rule of One”

  1. Hahaha that was amusing reading, although I should confess I have seen myself in a similar situation when first starting with photography!
    After a few similar occurances, I started thinking that I felt stupid and that shutter count would dramatically rise before even getting the chance to know my camera! LOL
    So i started moving at spots before sunset or sunrise, do a little scene searching, make myself understand that 1 hour before sunrise or sunset is not that pleasant for the eye, so I managed to self control me, the scene searching helped improve composition and find spots that I would have missed, and finally (but I believe most importantly) it made me actually enjoy the moment, since I had all that free and relaxing time waiting for the light!

  2. Yes, I’ve seen that behavior frequently. He was probably also making a “tour” of all the southwest national parks in 7 days! For most people it is just a temporary “phase” in their evolution as a photographer. For some, I’m afraid, it is just a part of their personality.

    One well composed image in great light makes me much happier than filling all my memory cards with “snapshots”. However, I know I don’t have the personality that would enjoy the “zen” of photography with a view camera.

  3. LOL–what a great post. While not as small as Little Dude, in my foolish youth I had similar habits. I remember one time in the 70s in Spain, my wife and I were driving along the countryside and I wanted a photo of something. So, I stopped the car, stood on top of the car, snapped a few times and left. I have no idea what I was doing, and think how much I have learned with the passage of time, like more than 30 years! Anyway, I just had thousands of slides scanned with Scan Cafe from that era, and after starting to go through them, all I can say is “What was I thinking??????”

  4. Bret, your story about “Little Dude” reminded me that Jack Davis in a workshop in Denver shared the opposite. He was making fun of the photographers with their tripods making serious images while he danced from spot to spot with his point and shoot having fun taking lots of shots.

    Moral of the story, to each his own; like Frank Sinatra.

    Bill Brennan

  5. Hey Bill – Thanks for sharing your story about Jack Davis. Sounds like an interesting guy! I’m not condemning that behavior at all. If it works for someone else, that’s awesome. I admit that I used to be that guy. Now I find it much more enjoyable to sit and wait, watch the light change, listen to the wind blow and just kind of get absorbed by the moment. Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age! ;-)

    All great comments, folks. I appreciate them and the lively discussions on my recent posts. Thank you!

  6. Richard Avedon used to profess that he might shoot 1000 frames to get just the one he wanted. In simpler terms the theory is “If you toss enough *&%$ at the wall some of it will stick.” For the most part I think all or most of us used to be “that guy” but with age comes at least a little wisdom.

    For my part I definitely took too many exposures of the same thing when I was first starting this photo thing. I eventually tempered my waste of film but when digital came around I again lost my senses. What the heck, I can delete the bad ones, right? Now I’ve settled back to a more relaxed manner.

  7. One way to overcome the over-caffinated-squirrel mentality is to bring a chair, a blanket and a Stanley of hot chocolate or hot buttered rum.

    *noddle*

    Works for me.

  8. I’m of two minds on this.

    1. It pays to be selective.
    “Enjoying the experience’ argument aside… those starting out in digital photography have no reason to be trained in the art of selective shooting. Digital cards are a bottomless pit of storage holding hundreds of exposures and more if you can offload the card to a backup solution or laptop. The old timers who started in the era of film and worked in an arena of 12, 24 and 36 exposure constraints know all about being selective.

    2. It pays to be open minded.
    It would be interesting to know what his end game happened to be. Perhaps it was a scouting trip and he was going to be doing more the next day. Perhaps he just enjoys the act of taking photographs. Perhaps we’ll never know. As long as he didn’t hurt anyone or himself… or create a problem for other photographers in getting their shots I’m not sure I see the harm. Granted I’d have been just as annoyed, but not having been there its easier to try and rationalize this person behavior.

    Funny thing about photography, it’s all things to all people.

  9. Yes, I see that kinda shooting with those compact digital cameras where instead of actually looking thru the viewfinder and finding your shot, you just sort of aim & shoot, hope for the best, and record as many images as you can before the A:batterys go dead B:card fills up

  10. I have some sympathy for Little Dude. Often times I’ve found most of the good spots already taken by experienced photographers when coming to a sight a little late in the game. Maybe he was just making the best of a missed opportunity.

    Or, maybe he was just a type A newbie. :-)

    Fred

  11. Nothing wrong with taking multiple shots at different angles. As “Little Dude” becomes more experienced, I’m sure his shot count will come down. What’s really important is, “was he having fun?”

    1. Hey Phil & Pam,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t acceptable to work a scene. To the contrary, I will often walk around an area looking for just the right composition before I settle into a spot to make the image that I envisioned. Nor do I think it wrong for a new photographer to take lots of photos at a scene as it’s a great way to learn to see. I don’t think it beneficial to do what this guy did, which was literally bounce around taking photos as if there were no tomorrow. He didn’t take any time at all to actually study the scene. He just pressed the shutter as fast as he could from dozens of different vantage points. I don’t see that as being at all useful.

      Of course, these are only my thoughts and my opinions and everyone else is welcome to have their own feelings on the topic. What a boring world this would be if we were all the same!

      My biggest beef with “Little Dude” was that he just bounced around so much and would literally kneel right behind you and photograph over your shoulder. Then, he’d maneuver in between two tripods that didn’t have room in between them for another photographer, even a little guy. From what I could see we were all using wide angle lenses and I found “Little Dude” in a couple of my compositions. Frankly, it’s just rude to lean over someone’s shoulder and squeeze in between tripods without even so much as asking for permission. I guess I didn’t make that point in my post and for that, I apologize. No offense was intended. I should have been more clear in what it was about him that annoyed me.

      1. Ah, shooting from over someone’s shoulder is distracting and somewhat rude in that type of environment. I’m a little woman and would never do that permission or not. In fact I never shoot where others are shooting.

        I agree that once the digital=free images wears off the time consuming pain of editing many, many images is enough to make someone curtail their shutter enthusiasim.

        Because I have had cameras in my hands off and on for the last 50 years sometimes it disturbs me to hear the arrogant undertone in many photographers now. I’m sure that many don’t intent to be read that way but it sounds that way many times.

        The great “master Adams” himself freely admitted that while he was fussy about getting his “one” great shot he printed hundreds,and sometimes hundreds more of that “one” great shot to get the print that satisfied him, and if that didn’t work he went back to the darkroom and tweaked it some more and made more prints.

        No offense was taken, it just seemed that there was a whole lot more to your reason for being bugged by this person than you first commented. Nice blog, and very nice images on your site.

  12. http://f3-2images.blogspot.com/2010/03/windy.html

    I drink caffeine, and probably some tall willowy person might describe me as short and stout. If you are not condemning this behavior – rewrite the post or get over the passive aggressive elitist attitude.

    All of the images of the Thornless Hawthorn were taken very early in the morning with wind. I am pretty satisfied with them. When you get out of the desert and around the real abundance of nature you realize the incredible abundance of the natural world. Just imagine how many grains of sand when into one of your “one” of a kind images.

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