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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

On this morning’s BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme there was an interesting piece about holiday photographs. The interviewees first commented on the vast number of photographs that are taken nowadays, then went on to advise listeners to take fewer photographs and instead to enjoy the moment for what it was. Well actually they urged us to take less photographs, so we corrected their grammar for them.

The piece was directed at amateur photographers, not the pros and semi-pros that make up the fotoLibra membership, but there were still Lessons To Be Learned for us all. For a start, they urged listeners to do what we’ve been asking you to do for years — try and photograph things that are ephemeral and change, such as streetscapes. Photograph your bread. Photograph the baker’s shop. It may not be there next year.

It was worth listening to, and for the next seven days (ending Monday 5th August) you can hear it by clicking here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b037gxx1 Click where it says ‘Listen now 180 mins’ and scroll through to 2:23:56.

Some years ago in Assisi we saw two gay men photographing a stuffed toy bear in front of the cathedral. Intrigued, we asked what was going on. “This is Hector,” they told us. “He’s been photographed in front of the Eiffel Tower, Niagara Falls, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Tower Bridge — he’s been all over the world.” And they had a photographic record of his travels. I have a sinking feeling that they went on to publish a very successful book about Hector’s travels.

We never know what’s going to sell. That’s why we don’t impose our tastes on what members upload to fotoLibra. But we will ask this:

  • • Don’t photograph sunsets, photograph things seen in sunsets
  • • Don’t photograph the Taj Mahal, photograph the hawkers and vendors in the street leading up to it
  • • Don’t upload 20 photographs of the same object at fractionally different angles — ‘sisters & similars’, as they’re known in the trade. Upload only the best
  • • Please take more photographs of people — not just portraits, but people doing things
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20 Responses to “Take Fewer Photographs!”

  1. John Cleare says:

    Indeed !
    I often wonder where the REAL Picture Editors have disappeared to. There are not many left.

    Seven times out of ten the much-vaunted Sunday Times Spectrum folio is full of … meaningless fluff. And all often technically incompetent.

    Years ago I was invited to exhibit at the Photographers Gallery. Concurrent with my show – a powerful, moody, action-packed set of large b/w prints of rock climbing on sea cliffs – was a collection of small colour prints of Mexican dustbins…no people, nothing but dustbins in Mexican backyards. I did wonder what for, and I still do.

    Did you see the film of McCullin ? Years ago I spent some time with him in Germany, a gentle, thoughtful and very inspiring man who became my hero. I was very interested to hear what he had to say about how and why he was forced to change course when Murdoch took over the Sunday Times and effectively killed meaningful photojournalism – emasculated the Sunday Times and its magazine in fact. And the virus was infectious…if retrospect I think the four decades 1950 > 1990 were the great years for still photography, we were lucky to be there.

  2. Totally agree with it. It is so annoying people photographing everything they see and do when they’re away. There is no need for that at all.

  3. Linda Wright says:

    A very interesting and thought-provoking audio clip. It is so true that in the process of trying to capture the moment, a photographer may be the only one not to enjoy it… probably depends on how long the moment lasts! However, it sometimes depends on why you are taking the photo. So often, people assume that a photographer is doing what a non-photographer would do – ie collect a record shot for the family album. (Not sure that there is such a thing as a non-photographer but some of the stuff on Facebook indicates there might be!!)
    Sophie Grove seemed to be suggesting this. I find that part of the enjoyment of travelling with a camera is the continual quest for a stunning capture of the ordinary. That may involve meeting the challenge of strong contrast, accurate timing for the best moment, wriggling around to get the best angle – that sort of thing. For me, the purpose of an outing is often the images it affords and if the trip is good, that’s a bonus. Photography has become a science, art and sport in its own right and adds richly to the experience of a holiday, especially when things go quiet.

    The digital era has turned many, of all abilities, into enthusiasts. The quality of the equipment has turned some of them into amateurs with professional standards. I enjoyed listening to the programme but I do think that unless someone has been bitten by the bug, it is easy for them to think that eager photographers are wasting their time in taking lots of pics. Even a professional will often find that the stunning shot is buried amongst the average ones.

    Unfortunately, I find I have no talent for landscapes and many failures have led to that final resignation that it is better to watch a sunset than to photograph it… In that respect, I agree with Sophie Grove and if I had been on that boat in the Indian Ocean, I would have been watching too – but Martin Parr’s remarks definitely resonate also.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      As a non-photographer myself I can only look in awe at the work of people like Linda Wright and John Cleare.

      But even as a non-photographer I do have an idea what the few remaining photo editors are looking for. They want fewer choices, not more. They want to hit the nail on the head as quickly as possible.

      So when I say to fL members, Take Fewer Photographs, I DON’T MEAN THAT AT ALL! I want you to take LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of photographs, then discard 90% of them, then upload 10% of what’s left to fotoLibra.

      John does it. Linda does it.

      But then they are professionals.

  4. Hakim says:

    Great, this is a good idea that can be brought back to life, So the question here is what about the people who are not willing to share there photographs to the rest of the world ?

    • Rajinder says:

      Very well said. Showing the right path to Pros. even. Those who don’t want it, leave them alone, may be they enjoy that way. Good luck to them.

  5. anup bose says:

    I admit you-thanks for your mail.

  6. adam swaine says:

    MMMM very good, i always shoot to sell, alway take my images that wont date this means no cars or people so the image can be used for a long time, this applies to landscapes and villages etc.
    regards Adam Swaine

    • John Cleare says:

      Yes indeed, Adam – I do agree. A professional needs a reason to take a photograph, though that reason may well be fairly amorphous. ( less so since the advent of Stock Photography )

      Taking a photograph is the result of a conscious decision, maybe a swift reaction due to long experience, but however handled, it’s a planned, meaningful action with a raison d’etre.

      It might even be said that shooting a picture is an emotional experience. I have fifty years of pictures in my files and I would challenge you to pick one out that I’ll be unable to tell you when, where and why. I’ll know exactly why I shot it because I had made a positive decision to do so.( sometimes when film stock was in limited supply )

      And it’s also likely to be very evocative for me personally : I bring up an image on screen and back comes the smell, the sounds, the weather, how I was feeling, what else was going on, what the chap said and what happened then. Much more telling than any diary.

      But of course there’s no record of what was going on when there was no reason to take pictures – then my mind is blank.

  7. Ian Garfield says:

    I have to agree on this. I went to Cornwall at Easter and took lots of photos only because I hadn’t been since 1996 and not with a DSLR and took many lovely photos. Many I thought were good at the time were rubbish and I did miss a fair bit of the holiday. So we’re going back with our dog in a couple of weeks time so I will be able to take much more in.
    I have been to several airshows recently and I have to say the same thing is prevalent. People I see on facebook and flickr groups have boasted that they’ve taken 6,000 images over three days yet they’re only amateurs and most of the pictures are rubbish! (there is some skill in photographing fast moving aircraft!) Yes, they enjoy the show but you miss one hell of a lot when your face is glued to the viewfinder all day – I know! I was at Fairford last week for the Air Tattoo and I took about 300 pictures of things I wanted to capture, the rest I just watched. One of the aviation forums I am part of has hundreds of threads with photos on, all of the same thing and most of which I ignore apart from those who I know take cracking photos! I am wondering whether I am getting disillusioned with photography seeing as everyone is taking photos these days!

    • Martin Power says:

      I know what you mean about disillusioned with photography. I have been a keen photographer for 30 plus years. I used to take weddings. I now find that by the time you show the bride your photos she has already seen them because every one else had a camera on their phone. They take phots’s that I have set up and then posted them immediately on face book. There are no surprises left for the bride. I no longer take my camera with me when I go on day trips and feel totally liberated as I can now enjoy the day and soak in the atmospher whereas before I only saw the day through my view finder. Digital photography has destroyed my love of photgraphy.

  8. peta says:

    It’s not just non-photographers who need to take fewer pictures. I was at sister-in-law’s wedding at the weekend. Very tasteful do in an ancient restaurant / venue at the top of a mountain. Outside, everything just right. No amplification…

    The so called professional photographer was like a pig at the trough, he had a big Nikon with a magnificent lens suitable for astronomy, yet… he felt the need to stand next to the registrar poke his lens across the table, with a the loudest shutter sound I have heard since a mate’s practika which he had dropped a few times.

    I have no doubt the photographer has some sensational shots for his portfolio, how ever if he showed a video of himself taking the pictures no one would hire him.

    It was a wedding ceremony not his personal photo shoot, you would have thought that the bride, groom and guests had been hired by the photographer, like some semi naked tart at an am-camera club gang bang.

    The right in your face incessant clicking was completely outrageous and fully distracted from the precious moment.

    If a so called professional wants to tout for work doing weddings then he or she should choose a quiet if not silent camera, bring a step ladder, and make use of the stupidly long lens to get those intimate shots without practically standing on the ceremonial table. Okay, fellow snappers may discuss zoom compression, and how you need to get into the subject etc. Personally I just wanted to take the idiot’s camera and stuff it where the sun don’t shine

    For what it is worth the bride and groom did not even want a photographer and had to be persuaded. I was offered the job but declined.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Even my cheapest (now stolen) camera had a volume control for the artificial shutter sound. But then you don’t buy a Maserati if you want to creep up on people, do you?

      • peta says:

        Indeed Gwyn, if you want to creep up on people you buy a more expensive Tesla!!

        I tried to be charitable I really did, I thought, well it is a DSLR, so there must be some mechanical noise. It is not just about the sound, it is about the sense of entitlement or rather the impression that the twit appeared to think he was invisible and inaudible.

        I just hark back to the old school, where you had 12 shots on a 120 film and or a leica with which you can take pictures anywhere unobtrusively… technology sadly would appear not to have improved the situation.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-23490926

        On my cheap camera I have the sound turned off… seems like a no brainer, people paid fortunes in the past for just that!!

        http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20130726-leica-shoot-to-thrill

  9. G.KESHAV RAJ says:

    it is only quality that makes sense not quantity

  10. Mike Mumford says:

    “Take fewer Photographs”, is good advice you have to acquire tasteful eye, what do I mean by that, you are asking? This is how I see things of quality by a lifetime of practice, just by looking, most professional photographers will understand. That special moment can happen anywhere at any time. By studying photographic history, our Victorian master-craftsmen in black and white and hand colour glass slides like James Valentine & Co. These can be seen in the archives held by the University of St. Andrews: http://www.st.-andrews.ac.uk/library/specialcollections/photographic Or the I.F. Grant’s “Highland Life Collection” at http://www.ambaile.org.uk. I own a 4 inch coloured pre 1890’s glass slide in perfect sharpness of 6-8 Crofters cottages next to Loch Duich, with extra magnification you can read the name of the crofter’s boat. I will put it on my web site http://www.mumfordbooks.co.uk/cat.asp?CATID=41 in the next few days. Good luck in finding that “special moment in time”.

    • peta says:

      well said Mike, as I as saying to my daughter (who just finished a summer photography course, sporting a blinking expensive spanking new mid range Canon DSLR)

      “Look at the mountains” (which are quite something this year after all the spring rain)
      “I never look at the mountains” quoth she
      “I thought you were a photographer, you should be looking at everything”

      Well over 800 quid for 500 pin sharp “selfies” (please keep up) a week. Well at least she does not need a model release. To be fair she has mastered depth of field, so the selfies are a tad more arty than they were.

      A girl after your own heart Gwyn, thankfully you won’t be seeing any landscapes from her. Truth is she has an excellent eye… could develop into a great photographer. If she takes anything with sales potential I’ll upload them ;-)

  11. Johan says:

    I really, really, really, wonder about the artistic knowledge and competence in anyone who clearly can’t see the content of such obvious and effective scenarios such as a single sunset, or perhaps even worse (!) the Taj Mahal!!

    These pictures are always the most effective when it comes to communicating a message. Who cares what people do outside the Taj Mahal? And who cares about details other than the sunset itself?

    Seriously rethink your ideas. Learn why pictures are taken in the first place.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Artistic knowledge and competence? We’re talking commercial picture sales here, not submissions for prizes in the local camera club competition.

      Since the rise of the internet photographers have faced stiffer competition than almost every other profession or calling. If you’re a Slovenian novelist digital change probably won’t affect you greatly, but if you’re a photographer trying to sell images you now have competitors on every square metre of the globe.

      And I’m afraid pretty pictures don’t hack it any more. It’s the metadata that sells an image. Ignore it at your peril. And on fotoLibra, pictures are presented for sale, not necessarily admiration. That’s why they were taken in the first place.

      • Johan says:

        Yes, but your reference of what a good picture is clearly defies everything that makes a picture truly speak.

        You can not understand the message of a sunset? You can not understand why the Taj Mahal gives a certain picture, and therefore also a certain message?

        Pictures like those speak to a very large crowd, and therefore many of those are needed.

        It’s still down to your artistic knowledge and competence that you do not understand why these images are highly valuable.

        If you do not understand why a picture must -speak- you do not understand the language of picture.

        Who cares what people do outside the Taj Mahal? No one. Absolutely no one.

        If it’s the metadata that sells the picture, simply add that data to a good picture, and make it sell. Don’t try to sell a shitty image of random people doing nothing.

        If a photographer’s been to all the way to the Taj Mahal, sorry, but if all he brings back is pictures of people outside it, he clearly needs to reevaluate his work, authority, and certainly his artistic knowledge and competence.

        If you can’t make a picture speak, you can’t take a picture. Magazine folds are plenty. Those with a good picture are few.

        Just delete all the nonsense you have on your hard drives in terms of meaningless pictures of people doing everyday things, the food you have on your plate, and what not.

        If those are your preferences, really – take a picture of your own feet and post it on to Facebook. That’s where those images belong – if at all.