Had an interesting conversation the other evening with the delightful Raina Kirn, the “Raina” half of the famed Raina + Wilson photo team (Wilson – worry not, you’re delightful too). The occasion was a west-end Toronto photographer’s pub night, and we were bemoaning the loathsomeness of sorting and organizing images digitally, the endless toil and drudgery of file management, the indentured servitude photographers must now endure as pawns in the palm of the evil god that is Computer. We glumly agreed that there’s really no way to avoid it. You just have to grit your teeth and slog away, like wading through mud — completely unpleasant, but necessary if you want to escape.

When I used to edit from contact sheets, the good shots would literally leap off the page, like when you see your name misspelled in a field of text. I’d check those frames with a loupe, ignore the rest, and get on with my life. I could breeze through a whole editorial portrait shoot, five or ten contacts, in like ten minutes. Five sheets, that’s, lets see… sixty frames. Wait a second, what? If I was to shoot just 60 frames now, I’d feel like I was slacking off. I tend to churn through eight gigs at least, 280 to 300 shots and usually many more, even on the simplest jobs. It’s just so easy to snap away, and that’s what bites you in the ass.

But has my photography improved with all those extra images? I would argue not. If anything, it’s diluted the faith I have in my photographic convictions. I used to work much more thoughtfully, knowing that I had a mere dozen frames available before I had to change backs. I would see something and then decide, no, I’m not going to waste this next shot — a thought that almost never crosses my mind anymore. Granted, I sometimes get great stuff that I never would have with a more careful approach, but for the most part I’m just generating garbage disguised as pictures. By shooting all those redundant, useless digital images I’m simply passing the buck to my future self, the one sitting despairingly in front of the computer.

The conversation with Raina concluded with some joking around about how maybe it was time to start shooting jobs in something akin to the “old way” again, ie. by taking a single one gig card to the shoot, and then just stopping when it was full. That’s still 36 frames or so, a decent number of shots ten years ago, but good luck selling that to the client. Laughs were laughed. More beer was ordered. And then, on my way home, I remembered the circumstances behind the image above. It’s a portrait I shot recently of musician Sam Roberts, an outtake from a magazine assignment. The brief did not in fact call for a portrait, but the opportunity arose; alas, I’d been shooting all day, and hadn’t dumped anything to the computer yet. All I had left was… a one gig card.

I went up to where we would be working and planned out three different setups. I shot a handful of frames in each spot, slowly and methodically, and we were done in fifteen minutes. I ended up with 26 images, the rough equivalent of two rolls of 120. And I got the shot I wanted.

So here’s the challenge. On your next assignment, take a one gig card, and nothing else. When it’s full, stop shooting! You might be surprised by what you learn. Just don’t tell your client that I put you up to it.

Do you have any tips or advice on editing digitally? If so, please leave a comment, it’s a thorny issue and I’d love to hear what you think.

And be sure to tune in next time for a follow up on the tissue box promo project

 

 

27 Responses to The One-Gig Card Challenge

  1. gabe says:

    good post derek.

  2. Raina says:

    Derek! I love this challenge. I’m going to take you up on it….Most likely tested out on a creative first, rather than a commercial assignment…So does that mean Wilson and I have to split the 1G card, or can we each have our own?

  3. anna says:

    I love this idea–am not in the industry, but this could apply to us lay photographers–except use less memory. I take way too many photos now with the intent of sorting through later….except I don’t and then end up with piles and piles of photos. The storage alone is a serious problem.

  4. Tony Fouhse says:

    When the opportunity arises I sometimes take only my 4×5 and 6 sheets of film. No Polaroid, either. And I don’t care what anyone says, a scanned 4×5 neg has certain qualities digital just can’t approach. Partly to do with the format and partly to do with the juju of the process and shooting 6 frames in total.

  5. I think I’m going to try that. “One gig on my next assignment.”

  6. jean-francois says:

    Brilliant post. After chain smoking we now have chain shooting. 10-15 gig photo outings, bigger & more powerful garbage truck to process & store all the crap.

    Got my old Nikon FE out of a box. Meter is dead, focus is manual, ISO is unautomatic. Garbage comes in pack of 24 or 36. We’ll see!

  7. Jan says:

    I totally relate to this. When I can I actually enjoy shooting film even today for that very reason.

    What has changed over time somewhat is the perception that perfection can be achieved. If you only have 30 film exposures, and one leaps out at you, you enjoy the overall impact of the exposure, and not fret that in this frame maybe the hand was slightly off, or something wasn’t perfect. A certain amount of imperfection came along with the limited choice. But there’s some beauty in this.

    In the days of 60 variations of the same pose, and 800 exposures from a few hours of shooting, the difference is in the details in the search for the perfect exposure (I don’t like the angle of the thumb in this one…). Much akin as the need to Photoshop everything to achieve something that’s beyond even nature’s best.

  8. Some of the best advice I ever got, and continue to work into my mindset, is to just be quick and brutal in culling. Keep it or reject it, and move on. Digital makes that even more important.

    I didn’t really like it at first, though I may try again, but Photo Mechanic is the fastest solution for culling a shoot, period. I’ve heard from a few volume shooters that it’s the end-all when you need to scan through a large number of photos quickly. I tried Aperture, learned it well, and loved it deeply, but it just ate too many resources when my library got large. Lightroom is quite a bit faster and lighter, but still likes to chew on the import a bit before it gets fast. Photo Mechanic is purely import, meta, and sort. Fast from the start. If you are shooting for SOOC delivery, you can’t beat it.

  9. we now have chain shooting. 10-15 gig photo outings, bigger & more powerful garbage truck to process & store all the crap.

    LMAO +1 Oh how I feel for that. My garbage truck is measured in Terabytes. That’s just wrong. I’m about to have a seizure and just offload a giant amount of junk that I will never really miss.

  10. Rob't McCann says:

    I don’t own a card larger than 2GB. Even that seems too big usually.

  11. Ian says:

    I’ve toyed with this very same idea and talked with others about it. We all have old Cf cards somewhere, would be fun to try. Break out of the “spray&pray” style of shooting even us old film guys now do.

  12. Lenn Long says:

    Great post. I think it was photographer Seth Resnick that I heard say he never trusted putting more shots on a memory card than he used to be able to put on a roll of film. Somewhat of a valid point and another way to think about your shooting volumes. Amazingly, many of us shoot away all day on a 8 or 16 Gb card risking hundreds if not thousands of images that took hours to produce. And we call ourselves the professionals.

    (Although I’m pretty sure my mom has the past three Christmas holiday photos all on one 2Gb card….)

  13. Elias says:

    I’ve also been feeling the fallout of going digital. As a dedicated film shooter for my career up until the last 2 years, I was accustomed to economizing shots which made me emphasize the shots that I did make. Using a 4×5 lends a feel to the process that is more artistic, thoughtful, and patient than when I’m snapping away in RAW. I’m waiting to feel much attachment or emotional investment with the shots from my FX camera; they all feel a little cheap.

    Digital of course opens up many avenues and these are indeed exciting. The use of video in DSLRs has had a big impact. The low-light capabilities are miraculous. And cheap! No lab processing, no waiting.

    But…the dreaded file management. And all that extra time spent in front of a radioactive screen instead of over a lightbox. What about the myriad adjustments to make in the camera, and then in the computer? I don’t like that I’m paying so much attention to the camera in the field, as opposed to the subject. To quote george carlin…too many choices people; not healthy.

    I believe the limitations of film helped to make better photographers, and limitations are good things. Film forces you to work harder at the “pre” stage of shooting, the visualization. And while it doesn’t work as easily as digital for every application (weddings, journalism, etc), it does lend itself to easy editing – and maybe better shots – as was stated.

    I look at it as a parallel to music. Before digital, the Beatles made Sgt Pepper, Robert Johnson laid down his magic, and many other artists made incredible music within the limitations of the analog recording technology of the day. Nowadays, with digital, we have so many more options but IMHO, the quality of music overall is nothing like yesteryear. Same with photography.

    If all it took was unleashing the number of photos we could take, then where are all the incredible photos to be seen today compared to 20 years ago? The digital revolution has modernized us all but it’s what’s lost that may be more important.

  14. John says:

    A couple of years ago, bitten by nostalgia, I decided to buy a camera that reminded me of how I used to shoot back when Rodinol was a familiar smell. It was a voigtlander Bessa III, a decidedly uncomplicated way to get light on some celluloid. It felt right, it smelled right, I loved the sound of the shutter. So I took it with me on a trip to France.

    It was a nice feeling, tooling around the country side, a pocket full of film and a simple camera around my neck. I shot how I normally do, not worrying about how many frames or over-thinking anything. In ten days I shot 27 rolls of 220. Nothing drastic, under 500 frames. When I got home I dropped off the film, excited about waiting a few days until I could collect the film and low-res scans. Anticipation, where have you gone? All that crumpled when I got the bill: $1,100.

    I’d love to keep shooting film, but I can’t afford it. I’m hoarding 4×5 like a criminal, waiting, just waiting for someone to hire me to use it. I bring it up with art directors and photo editors all the time – “Hey, I got a fridge full of film just waiting for the right project…” On travel gigs I make sure I bring some, just in case, but the pressures and timelines of shoots rarely afford the time to crack it out. Maybe I should push myself harder, but the people who hire me (and Derek) don’t have that kind of money anymore.

    As a comparison, I was recently at a post-production house that was hosting a night to compare the latest digital motion systems against traditional film stock. Alexa, Red, all the buzz brands. And guess what – there was no remorse from all these established DPs. They were not lamenting their 320T, they were like giddy children talking about how this technology was going to make them so much more nimble on set; free of the limitations of traditional film.

    And then a few days later, I was with a film editor friend, drinking some beer. As I passed on the details of that evening’s digital cinema kool-aid fest, he fixed his wizened stare on me. “You know,” he explained, “All those guys are going out and shooting six hours of footage on four cameras, and I have to wade through all their crap and turn it into a 30-second spot.” Oh, I said.

    And there we were, stuck in the gulf of the great analog-digital divide.

  15. Great article. Will try this crazed idea shooting on 1 GB (if I can find a 1 gig card). As for not telling your ‘client’; what is this ‘client’ of which you speak? I used to have nice people who paid me for licensing my photos but they all seemed to disappear when the new business model, ‘free’, become all the rage…

  16. Paul O'Mara says:

    This is a noble idea, but I would suggest that bringing this philosophy into a work situation will only work for the loftiest and most in demand of us. Think about this for personal work. I’m doing this with film on my personal projects blog http://www.twoeightproject.wordpress.com . Only 24 frames, no meter and manual focus. It rocks.

    I recently sold a print for a tidy sum, which has covered my expenses for the project to this point.

    Shoot CN400, take it to CVS and ask for processing and a CD. I’m working with a 50 year old digital camera! Thanks Derek for sharing.

  17. Libby says:

    Douglas I have a few 512MB cards you can have ;-)

    Actually I’m forced to use a 2GB on my aging Kodak DSC Pro SLR/n which I still take out on jobs. Anything larger or “high speed” and the camera goes haywire and I have to pull the battery to stop the mayhem.

    It’s a good feeling – I think more, shoot less. I have less throwaways and less Digital Glut.

  18. I love this notion Derek 10% photography time compared to 90% post.
    So often everything I shoot is a “Plate” for something else.
    It’s a no brainer these days.
    But I don’t know if I miss the days of sitting on location dawn to dusk waiting for the perfect moment or waiting at the lab for the perfect tranny.
    I would not change a thing I guess, but it would be great to challenge yourself every so often and prove to yourself that you could “just do it”.
    Dan Couto had the challenging Naked in the House contest, maybe we could ask him to help us revisit that idea and see what we could do in a 1 gig card and with no Photoshop.

  19. [...] The One-Gig Card Challenge: I’m sure many photographers can relate to Derek Shapeton. [via A Photo Editor] But has my photography improved with all those extra images? I would argue not. If anything, it’s diluted the faith I have in my photographic convictions. I used to work much more thoughtfully, knowing that I had a mere dozen frames available before I had to change backs. I would see something and then decide, no, I’m not going to waste this next shot — a thought that almost never crosses my mind anymore. Granted, I sometimes get great stuff that I never would have with a more careful approach, but for the most part I’m just generating garbage disguised as pictures. By shooting all those redundant, useless digital images I’m simply passing the buck to my future self, the one sitting despairingly in front of the computer. [...]

  20. [...] riga da questo bel post del fotografo canadese Derek Shapton (grazie a Rob Haggard di A PhotoEditor per averlo segnalato). [...]

  21. Gavin says:

    Love it! Sadly a lot of my work calls for a large amount of images, but I have recently done similar and cut down to a single 2gb card (from 4gb) and it has seriously made me concentrate on the individual shots. Shoot, look, amend, shoot. made me pay attention to the small details much better.

    Great article, thank you.

  22. Guys, having worked in a professional lab back in the day, lets not kid ourselves here. The one gig challenge is a great idea, but I used to process hundreds of rolls from a single photog from a single commercial shoot. I’ve tried to go back and shoot film. It’s great for nostalgia, but not so great for the environment or the wallet.
    I’ve always believed that a great photographer can get their shot in a few frames. A monkey shooting on a rapid shutter speed will eventually get something! I never use more than half of my 8 gig cards. I know in my gut (even before I see it in the back of the camera) that I got it and it’s done.

  23. Alexi says:

    I’m with Jeff Singer on this one…just shoot film!

  24. Ravi Bindra says:

    A group of us meet up and shoot one roll of film (or 36 shots) with one camera and one focal length (or better still one fixed lens) in one hour. Then we submit one image for voting on. The last 5 shots have far more care lavished on them than any others.

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