Posted by: cindystephenson | June 10, 2010

How many photos does it take to get that perfect shot?

If you’re a photographer I wonder if you can relate to this?

You’ve shot a roll of film and taken it in to get developed. Anticipating some great shots, you eagerly flip through your prints to see what they’re like.

More often than not, I’ve come away with a few I really like, but for various reasons, many just don’t cut it.

Digital cameras have certainly made things easier, in terms of getting immediate feedback. You can take your picture, “chimp it” through the LCD monitor, and if you don’t like it, delete it.

Since switching to digital, I take many more pictures, but I’m not sure they’re better than the ones I shot with film. So a few weeks ago I enrolled in a photography class taught by Mitch Stringer at our local college.

In our class last week, we had an interesting discussion on the percentage of shots pros take that they consider to be keepers.

Mitch recounted how for last years Super Bowl, an event that lasted 2 1/2 hours, Sports Illustrated recruited 12 of the very best sports photographers. On average, their equipment was worth $50,000 – in other words – lots of very expensive long lenses. Collectively, those 12 photographers took 16,000 shots. Of those, how many were considered Sports Illustrated quality? 75!

Image of Tracy Porter, New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl XLIV

Shooting sports is tricky – you’ve got to know where the play is headed and when they’ll be there. According to our instructor, if you’re shooting a baseball game, include the baseball in the shot. Same with tennis. Hard to do I know.

Image of Rafael Nadal, 2010 French Open Final

When you’re flipping through your prints, or scanning through them on your monitor, be aware that on average, pros will consider 1.5 – 1.7% of their photos to be keepers.

I came home from class that night feeling inspired to get out there and practice. I also know that this is a journey and the more I progress, the fussier I’ll get in terms of which photos I keep and which I delete.

Photo credits:

Heinz Kluetmeier/SI (photo of Tracy Porter) and Bob Martin/SI (photo of Rafael Nadal)



  1. Humbling Question!

    Just arrived back from an three week trip to Italy. I took almost 2, 000 photos. I’ve reviewed them twice and I identify about 20 great shots.

    • Welcome back!

      And I’d love to see the photos of your trip. Sounds like you had a great time.


  2. Ansel Adams is said to have left behind many hundreds of negatives that are not what we would regard as Ansel Adams sort of quality. So even a great like Adams, far before the digital revolution, took many more shots that he discovered were not up to standard than ones actually published.

    I love digital. I’ll pair down to 20 shots out of a few hundred and then use the modern computer equivalent of darkroom work on those few to brighten, lighten, adjust colour and tone and crop, just as I once did in the darkroom. In the digital age we’ve lost sight of the fact that half of the art of photography was darkroom work.

    • Hi Terry,

      Thanks very much for your comment. Just wanted to say I’ve learned a lot about digital editing from you. Thanks for showing me some of your tips and tricks. Do you also find the more you learn, the fussier you get?

      Take care, and hope you’re enjoying the nice weather!


      • Yep. Fussier. Perhaps that may reverse when I am old. Who knows. 🙂

  3. This are excellent photos. You made good points and generous in sharing them with us. they will benefit many individuals.thanks

  4. There are some wicked photos here. As an amateur photographer myself i can really appreciate the importance of light and timing!!1 If you are looking for casual work you should definitly visit, and get your work out there.

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