Long Read: Why you should take fewer pictures. A photographer’s guide to slowing down

First published:
May 15, 2024
Updated:
May 22, 2024

Long Read: Why you should take fewer pictures. A photographer’s guide to slowing down

First published:
May 15, 2024
Updated:
May 22, 2024

Central Station, Skopje, North Macedonia. All images by Philip Mowbray

In many ways, it's an excellent idea to slow down and stop taking so many pictures. Learn how and why it can significantly benefit your overall photography practice with this in-depth read from Focus Editor, Philip

1 frame out of 36. Bitola, North Macedonia, April 2024. Teaching myself to slow down and limit myself to 36 pictures was a worthwhile exercise in slowing down with your photography which I would highly recommend. See the full album

Why should photographers take fewer photos (and why it pays to slow down)?

All this may sound counterproductive...

I’m about to tell you that you should take less photos when growing as a photographer.

What’s all that about?

Hear me out on this…

I believe that if you take fewer photos rather than lots, you'll grow as a photographer in a far more fruitful way.

You’ll become more mindful of what you take pictures of, have a much smaller, manageable workflow, a more tightly curated, visually enriched portfolio, and you'll enjoy taking pictures a lot more.

Your customers and admirers will prefer it, too, as they are far more likely to remember a select handful of your best images, rather than an expansive, watered down collection.

I’m saying the above from experience; as a photographer of (almost) 15 years, one thing that I’ve come to realise over time, and more apparent than ever (mainly when I’m in one of those cycles where I’m pretty active with my photography as I can go troughs and bows with my practice), is that by nature I feel compelled to take pictures of everywhere and everything I find visually interesting. Or, if I’m photographing a specific scene or subject, I feel the need to take multiple images at different angles, times and settings to find the absolute perfect shot within all.

Does it sound like you, too? You wouldn't be alone, many photographers can become overwhelmed when taking pictures.

Taking lots of photos all sounds fine for learning, developing and documenting the world around you, but in reality, you can end up with a huge glut of images that, over time, will continue to build up and just begin to feel like it's too much to deal with…

Simply put, for me, I reached a point where the sheer number of pictures I’d taken had become too much to handle. That included just looking through them and working out which ones I like the most, never mind even getting to the point of working on them in post-production, or ever, dare I say it, trying to make some money out of them, by licensing them of offering them up as prints on the way or another.

My personal image library is in the tens of thousands (there could even be more I wouldn’t even know where to start counting), and that’s coming from many sources, my old film archives from my uni days, the thousands and upon thousands of images I’ve taken on my DSLR and Mirrorless cameras over the years, and not forgetting my camera roll too. I’ve still got images from 2018 that I’ve been meaning to look at, but I just haven’t. I can’t even figure out how to back them up effectively with this many pictures.

I found I wasn't enjoying photography as much as I used to. You may have felt this before also?

"Simply put, I reached a point where the sheer number of pictures I’d taken had become too much to handle."

So, I’ve had to teach myself how to slow down, stop taking so many pictures, and become more mindful when behind  the lens. For me, this has hugely paid off.

Learn how it can pay off for you, too!

Note:

All the pictures used in this guide are from a single film roll of a recent trip North Macedonia, as a challenge to take just one film roll with me.

I talk about this challenge more in the article below, but you can see the full set of images in my Picfair Store.

What are the benefits of taking fewer photos and slowing down with my photography?

Here's a very straightforward set of reasons as to why you should slow down and take less pictures:

- Your workflow is so much more manageable

- By slowing down you'll train your eye to really think about the scene in front of you. Your images will improve

- Viewers will only remember a very select amount of your work; not hundreds of your pictures

- You'll be able to dedicate more time to the images you really care about

- Your collection of images will be much more tightly curated

- You'll feel less overwhelmed with a huge camera roll of images

- Your images will be easier to administer and back up

- You'll have more time to do things with the images you care about (i.e. enter them into competitions, sell them, publish them, etc)
The Makedonium (pictured) is an exceptional structure, and I was tempted to take hundreds of images. But, with my single film roll, I managed to take a step back, slow down and take just two pictures!
Makedonium image #2

How to slow down and limit your photo intake

If you're reading this guide and agree that you're taking too many pictures and/or want to slow down, or give something new a try to be a little bit more mindful with what you're photographing, read on with this example below...

Case study: Taking pictures with a single film roll

On a recent trip to North Macedonia, I challenged myself to take only one roll of film with me for use with my film camera, which was a fabulous exercise in teaching myself to be more mindful. Basically, a 10-day trip with only 36 frames to use, it really forced me to think about what I was taking pictures of.

Contact sheet of images from my single film roll. Kodak Gold 200, processed at the wonderful Gulabi Photo in Glasgow
When holding up the camera, ask yourself the following (this is what I did):

1
Do I need to take this photo?

2
Do I already have a similar picture?

3
Am I going to look at this image or edit it later?

4
Will I want to print it and publish it?

5
Does it add anything to my portfolio?

6
Does it add to the story of the overall series (in this case, a document of my trip)?

If the answer is a no to any of the above, step back and put my camera down. It meant I only took an image and used a frame if it absolutely felt worthwhile.

This method helped me hone in on the idea of what I wanted to do with these pictures and the story I wanted to get across.

If you're struggling with taking too many pictures, give the above a try for yourself. If you're using a smartphone, or your mirrorless, DSLRs, whichever you use. Give yourself a daily limit, for example, tell yourself you're only going to take 20 images on one day, 10 on another.

Write it all down or keep a note of your plan in your phone, it'll help you stick to the plan. The most likely result is that you'll end up with a series of images that are far more relevant and interesting compared to taking hundreds of pictures.

Then, spend just an hour taking a look through them all, and editing the ones you like the most. What you'll find is that you'll end up with a nice, neatly defined set of images, and that you've taken some quality time to work through them. After that, it's onto whatever you're taking pictures of next, and you don't end up with a huge backlog of photography work!

All of the below were images I could have taken in many ways shapes and forms, but I really forced myself to take just one frame, these are more of my favourite shots from the film roll:

Ship, Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Monastery Saint Naum, Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Leftover tiles, Skopje, North Macedonia
Cross, Prilep, North Macedonia
Kitty Cat, Ohrid, North Macedonia
Painted Mosque, Tetovo, North Macedonia

As mentioned, this is just a handful of my favourite images. See the full set in my Picfair Store. Also, it's worth noting that it's not perfect, I did inadvertently end up taking the same picture twice (that was a lapse on my part), see if you can spot it!

How can fewer pictures result in better picture sales?

Simply put, taking less pictures, editing less pictures, and making fewer of your images for sale means your customers have a better quality selection of images to choose from–and it'll help you keep their attention too.

In this day and age you're competing with (very) short attention spans, particularly online. So you want to give your visitors and potential customers a spectacular first impression whenever they see your work. That means not having thousands of images they need to sift through, and only showing your best work, a handful of it.

My North Macedonia film roll album as seen in my Picfair Store

From experience, I've found that your customers and/or admirers of your work are only ever going to remember a handful of your work, while you can likely remember what's in your portfolio and back catalogue, someone else is only going to remember the pictures that resonate with them the most, and that'll only be a few images.

So, with this in mind too, spending hours and hours working through a huge back catalogue can be time wasted when it's only ever going to be a select number of images that will have commercial success. Some photographers may argue that it's more about quantity rather than quality, I disagree, plus with a smaller amount of images you have more leeway to charge more too, in my opinion too, because it's so much more selective.

Of course, at the end of the day, you need to do what's right for you, and this approach may not work for you entirely. I'm simply giving you my opinion here, but I would encourage you to at least consider.

What to take away from this guide, final thoughts

If you've got to the bottom of this guide, I hope it's equipped you with some great reasons as to why you might want to consider slowing down and taking fewer photos.

If you're going to take anything away from this guide, think of it like this; taking fewer photos means you'll have far less in terms of workload, you'll take more time creating and composing images behind the lens, and over time you'll find you'll get far stronger images.

What all that means in turn, is that you'll be far more productive with your photography, and have a far better chance of selling your images and gaining commercial success with your practice.

So, give it a try, challenge yourself to take less, see what rewards it can reap for you!

And if you haven't already, you can sign up for a Picfair Store in less than a minute!

OFFER: Save 50% on Picfair Plus with code UPGRADE-50
Click to Redeem