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Slow Photography

1 December 2012

  • First published on

“Take lots of great photos!”

That was the most common farewell comment before I embarked on this journey. While I appreciate the well-wishes from friends who appreciate my photography, I’m very consciously trying to shoot less.

Why, you ask, would I want to shoot less when I’m on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a faraway land?

It came from a bit of reflection before I left. I often feel as though I’m drowning in photos waiting to be processed and shared with the world. So much so that I often just do the editing part and don’t get around to the sharing part.

So I made a decision before I left to try to shoot less and (hopefully) shoot better.

I call this “slow photography” as a bit of an homage to the slow food movement.

Several years ago, I took a photography workshop from John Paul Caponigro (highly recommended, BTW). He said something that’s been rattling around in my brain ever since:

“I’d rather have you make one great photograph while you’re here than a whole bunch of almost-great photos.” — John Paul Caponigro

It’s taken me years and a lot of seeing my own “almost-great” photos go in the never-to-be-shown folder or deleted outright, but I’m finally taking his advice.

This photoblog series that I’ve been doing since fall of 2011 was the first step in this line of thinking: I’ve limited myself to at most one photo per day since I started it (with very rare exceptions). I think that limit helps me think more clearly about what I’m sharing. It forces me to discard or delay that which isn’t up to snuff. (That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes lay an egg. There are clearly some that haven’t been as well received as others, but that feedback is helpful too!)

Now I’m applying that same line of thinking to this trip. I’m avoiding shots I know I’ll discard later. I’m looking at what I’m shooting and making sure I’m happy with the results before I move on. And if I come home with fewer photographs, but they are of higher quality, that will make me happy.

How minimal am I being? At the end of the fifth day of my trip, I have:

  • 4 photos I’ve shared on the photoblog
  • about 6 more that I’ve shared with friends only on Facebook
  • 8 photos in the edit queue (i.e. likely to be shared, but I haven’t committed to them yet)
  • 32 photos in the not-to-be-shared queue

I’ve probably outright discarded another 50 or so photos (I don’t keep count) for lacking technical or artistic merit (i.e. badly out of focus or badly composed).

Room with a View · Hotel Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

And that’s it.

So what benefits do I get from going slow?

The editing process is pretty relaxed this way. I shoot for a few hours, have a drink and edit for a while, and I’m not up all night getting it done. And, hey, I even have time left over to write blog articles. 🙂

There’s enough Internet bandwidth from where I am (not a lot, but enough) that everything so far is fully backed up at home and elsewhere, so even if (shudder) I lose the laptop or camera, the pixels will survive.

And I feel really happy with what I’ve created so far.

Slow food may or may not appeal to you. Similarly, slow photography may or may not appeal to you. (And there are certainly cases — sports and fast-moving wildlife come to mind — where it makes sense to shoot fast and furious.)

But, for this trip, where my subjects aren’t moving fast, I’m liking it.

If you’ve enjoyed this …

You can see more of my thoughts on photography without having to check back randomly to see if I’ve posted something new.

Thank you for following along!