Take More Photos - Keep Less

Take More Photos – Keep Less


A guest post by Sam Levy, founder of citifari, New York Photo Tours.

take more keep less.jpg

In today’s environment, with the development and increased mobility of digital cameras, it has become easy and inexpensive to take a large volume of photos. Compared to the early days of photography when it took a couple of days, required gear weighting tens of pounds and cost a couple of dollars for each capture (or rather, at today’s prices, a few hundred dollars), photography today allows instantaneous results, requires less than a pound of equipment and cost little to no money per take… in addition, the photos taken today are often much better in quality.  The future of photography is bright: we today have more than enough tools to surpass the works of the early masters of photography. The bad news is with advanced tools so readily accessible to the average user, much has already been achieved. So what is left in it for you? A lot! More specifically, for many of us in photography, there is still a lot of room for improvement. I would guess that since you are reading this post, you are looking for that self-improvement. Here are two pieces of advice.

Take more pictures

When I first heard this advice, I did not fully understand it. I was backpacking in Mexico and had met with that professional photographer who gave me the advice. We met a few days in a row, which made me feel after that I could do much more with that fancy DSLR than with my small point and shoot. I felt the urge to spend what was left of my savings into that ‘toy’ at the time. From toy it became tool but that’s another story. Before we parted ways, I received a final word of advice: “take more pictures”. It did not resonate with me until much later after owning my own DSLR. Even though my now-wife felt that I was already taking too many pictures, my current view is that it is not so much the quantity of pictures taken as it is learning from the trials and errors of many takes in order to perfect your touch. Multiply the opportunities. And, when you have found a subject or setting that you like, keep on shooting until you lose interest.

Keep fewer pictures

Unless you are naturally gifted, following the first advice will result in a monster inventory of pictures. You will come back from a long weekend with 1,000 or 2,000 pictures easily. But it wasn’t even your wedding – it was merely a visit to Grandma and you shot everything possible in her garden. What to do then? The easy way is to download the pictures onto your computer and leave them there or share them all. While most of us “sort” through them and send 50 of them to your parents, siblings, friends, facebook etc… that number is still too large. Keeping 50 would often mean eliminating the ones that were identical or poorly composed or exposed. But you still have 50! You need to be much more selective. Try to keep 5. Yes 5 out of 2,000! 0.25%! When exercising this best practice becomes a habit, you will develop your critical eye and you will keep only the pictures that YOU really like.

The feedback loop

As you learn to take more pictures and keep fewer, you will begin developing a sense of style – your style. You will start to shoot only those shots that you think you have a chance of keeping. You will begin to understand your tastes and aim for each different shot you take. However, you will still shoot a lot and still keep very few. The feedback loop will feed itself of increasingly better pictures and operate through a tougher selection. As a result, you will have trained a more critical eye and a better shutter finger. In no time, you might keep 1 of 50 photos taken during that weekend with Grandma, but you will love that picture and Grandma will be happy she appeared more interesting than the tomato in the garden.??So, again, what is left for the aspiring photography after the fact that the average camera user can follow these advices too? Well first, this is a disciplined practice that not anyone can put himself/herself through. But, with diligent practice of this exercise, you will certainly improve your photo skills. More importantly, you will develop a better sense for your passion in the way that pleases you.

Sam Levy is the founder of citifari. citifari offers photo tours in New York City. Structured as a 2-1/2 hour practical workshop, citifari tour helps you get comfortable with your camera settings and take great shots in New York City. citifari is launching its newest New York tour: Central Park photo tour.

Images in this post are copyrighted to citifari

Visit citifari at:
email Sam Levy at sam@citifari.com

Read more from our category

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to dPS.
Please see their details in the post above.

Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.

Some Older Comments

  • Ray February 19, 2012 02:20 am

    Excellent advice! My images are never just 'thrown' up for display. One should always 'see' more than just a picture!

  • Patrick Dinneen February 10, 2012 03:04 am

    One problem with extreme deleting is that you can't look back through your photographic history and see how you developed.
    You might have some photos from a kids party from 5 years ago and some from last month.
    If you very ruthlessly deleted then you only see the best ones from 5 years ago. If you keep some more (not 50%) you will see how the same item is shot differnetly by you- look at EXIF data, are you using a differnet composition, framing, background blur etc.

  • Zack Jones February 9, 2012 12:30 am

    @Cathy: I know what you're saying about deleting photos. I have over 17,000 of them in my LightRoom catalog. What I've done to help me better manage them is to create a bunch of collections based on year and month. For example for 2011 I created collections for each month Jan - Dec. Now instead of trying to weed through 4000+ images from 2011 I can easily go through the 250 that I shot in January, the 100 I shot in February, etc. This makes things so much easier to manage. Give it a try if you have a program where you can divide your photos into smaller groups.

  • Cathy February 8, 2012 04:01 am

    I have to say also that the variety of comments and responses are interesting. I don't think that the author was trying to indicate that we should all go out and just take hundreds of useless shots and hope that a few turn out. I think he was saying that, as a learning process, to take in all that your mind sees in the potential of the subject or landscape. Sometimes I get home, look over what I got, and wish that I would have climbed a little further to get that different angle, or turned my subjects face more towards the sun, etc. Taking all you can think of at the time and then figuring out which ones worked later, so there are no regrets. Many times we can't go back and shoot the first kiss, or the bouquet toss, or whatever it is, again to get that right angle or perfect exposure. Taking several at once and figuring it out later gives us a chance to learn the best way to set the camera or ourselves to capture what we want to capture.

    As for deleting pictures...I am very guilty of holding on to everything and never deleting stuff. I started once to go through those old pictures from when I first got interested in photography, but there's so many......

  • Bob Mannix February 7, 2012 10:29 am

    Those that equate "spray and pray" with take more pictures are missing the point. Those that say that you should think more before shooting and take only meaningful shots probably have taken 100,000 or more shots in their past to get to the point that they know what to think about. And, as with all things, there is no magical advice that applies identically to all things at all times. What is" more" depends on the situation but I think that relatively speaking, more exposures will give most photographers a better to get a shot they will want to keep and/or print.

    I shoot a lot of wild life and I set up my shot and fire away. I recently shot killer whales feeding and shot 455 exposures in about 20 minutes. I kept 33. The next time I shoot killer whales I expect I will take a lot of photos again and may keep a smaller percentage since I now have a library to add to.

    If I shoot a landscape I won't shoot 455 shots in 20 minutes but I will shoot more than 1. Playing with settings, making adjustments to exposure, shooting in program or aperture priority, changing location, waiting for clouds or birds or a sail boat, etc., etc. Even in a rather static environment taking more photos is better than taking less-how else can you learn or have a reasonable chance of capturing with the camera what you visualized in your mind?

    I down load my photos each night and go through them following a process of several passes through the shots. It is often the case that there will be one or a few that I want to keep because everything comes together in a particular shot. Things like catch light, facial expression, aspect of behavior, etc. can only be captured through hard work and luck. The more frames you take the luckier you are bound to get.

  • Zack Jones February 7, 2012 05:22 am

    Two things have helped me cull through my images:

    1 - Asking -- Would I print this? If the answer is no then most likely I'll delete it.
    2 - Using 1:1 view in LightRoom. Images that look decent when not zoomed really show their flaws when zoomed 1:1. I especially use this with shots of birds or other animals. If the eye(s) aren't crystal clear then it's no longer a keeper.

  • Wayne February 4, 2012 07:18 pm

    I'd imagine that the next thing to learn is how big to print these things and how the size of the print impacts our perception of the image.

  • ColininOz February 4, 2012 08:00 am

    Cannot agree with the 'spray and pray' approach. Perhaps my age is showing but most of my early photgraphic life was in the 'film era' and cost made one think before pushing that button. It is great to be able to relax and use bracket shots, burst mode, and to review before moving on. But just to throw a lot of mud and hope some of it sticks ? If you cant be bothered to compose a shot or cant 'see' the shot you need practice - but thoughtful practice. Here in Australia there is a disparaging expression for the shotgun approach to anything - "She'll be right" . Meaning 'maybe it's not perfect but what the Hell - it will do. ' The trouble with this philosophy is that it is habit forming not self curing.

  • Beejay Dubya February 4, 2012 04:01 am

    This is such good advice. Having cone fro the film camera era when every frame cost time and money you worked hard to get a good shot, but, and it is a very big but, invariably you found yourself back in the darkroom working hard to rescue a 'nearly great shot' because it was costly to shoot so many shots. Now you can shoot away and the process of choosing the ones to keep and print up is a really valuable learning tool. Just 'remember' to add 'purpose and objective' in your mind as you're shooting and your pictures will improve beyond your dreams no matter how good you are now.

  • OzMercan February 3, 2012 09:40 am

    Hmmm, in two minds here. Certainly helps to churn out the shots through the early days and when breaking in a new piece of equipment. For the old puppies (dawgs and dawgettes) like myself, I would benefit in reminding myself that all these numbers are going to require time to evaluate, so the FEWER the numbers, the less time taken to deal with. I'm coming from a point of view of "creative" snaps taken while on holiday.

    As per your own comment, "As you learn to take more pictures and keep fewer,..."

    I would benefit from taking more time (not pictures) thinking, "will I keep this shot?"


  • wendy February 3, 2012 09:18 am

    I was surprised to see such a variety of feedback, and impressed at how well the author responded to everyone individually. Having an open mind when reading an article like this means I might actually learn something, instead of reading it critically and looking for ways to disagree. I LIKE to know the approach other photographers take and hear what path they took to arrive at the place they are in. As I was reading, my mind travelled through my own experiences from shooting to processing to saving, and just that exercise alone was productive for me. By considering new ideas, my own approach to photography will continue to evolve. Thanks for sharing your methods and advice!

    Going to NYC this summer; a Citifari is #1 on the itinerary!

  • Butch Davis February 3, 2012 08:28 am

    Promoting "Spray & Pary"? No thank you! While taking more shots that one would using film is reasonable, shooting without regard to composition, exposure, etc, after the fact is frankly amateurish at best. Who would want to go thru those 2000 shots in the first place, when a little knowledge and forethought results in less wasted shots. An hour or two learning the basics is cheaper in the long run...plus, a shutter does have a finite life span....you must work for a Camera Company!

  • sam levy February 3, 2012 04:17 am

    Thanks everyone for your good comments and a quick answer when appropriate:
    @lisa: just do it
    @tim: definitely a good advice that i forgot in the article, go back to your (saved raw) pictures and reprocess them, a year after, 5 years after
    @tia: true but look at the fact that last year you shot 10,000 pics - what are the chances that you will go back at these 10,000 and re-select this year (in addition to the 10,000 of this year). rather, if you only kept 250, it looks like a less daunting task and you might still end up with great new results
    @david: we all do that and once you have 50 best pictures sets, we work on best of best and then best of best of best, etc... :)
    @katie: we exist because we are able to make that choice for our clients/audience/... they don't want to see all your pictures anyways, they want your eye to tell them the ones you preferred, which is why they selected you - they agreed with your eye at first.
    @jai: there will probably be more locks when you go :)
    @brett, rag: thanks
    @jim: definitely - and most of the work is and should be the capture (it's more my philosophy at least)
    @astig: you developed the style you are happy with
    @jore: thanks - true if you are gifted enough to see what the camera will see at first but in order to develop this vision you need a trial and error process, with time - and the feedback loop - you will develop those skills and will be better at it
    @ron: i can't agree more, one way or another, in order to pay attention you need to be active, either through research, on location etc... our way is to take pictures and to remember the places when we edit. When posting pics, on say, flickr, i like to give the background of the place (research on wikipedia) etc... i eventually learn more after (when i was not on an assignment)
    @ccting: how did it go?
    @kartik: true no need to actually delete if you feel so bad about it but placing where you will never go again is fair, if you feel better about it.
    @fuzzy: you are just ahead of the curve... point which i hope everyone here will reach after applying this advice this is where it should take us
    @nikie, laurie & alex: don't delete the one pic of your grandma because the background is overexposed... try to pay more attention next time you see her!
    @brice: it's ok to be wrong and thanks for the feedback on the pictures. however, I am not American but French (I believe, like you) and after living in NYC for over 13 years, I can say that some we all have to learn from other cultures...

  • keith bruner February 3, 2012 04:12 am

    Different strokes for different folks. Overall good advice. I shoot manually about 90 percent of the time. I use 2 different cameras. Shooting lots really helps the technical side. I want my camera usage to be as unthinking as possible. Familiarity does not always breed contempt.

  • Greg February 3, 2012 04:10 am

    I don't agree , it will be much better if you think before you go shooting what kind of pictures you are looking for and they try to active that, thinking wise before you press the shutter.

    Going from here and there shooting pictures is not the way to learn, sometimes less is more and this is the case. try to make your photography personal taking 1000or 2000 pictures on a week end, only means you have no idea what you are looking for, so you will never arrive there unless you are very very lucky.

    We are not talking about lucky here we are talking about photography.


  • CAFN8TED February 3, 2012 03:07 am

    A good rule except when it comes to family, friends, pets and anything else that you care about. My husband and I lost our dog a few months back (hit by a car) and now the only way we can see him is through the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of pics I took of him. Even the blurry and unfocused ones are a treasure :)

  • Brice February 1, 2012 06:24 pm

    I think you're so wrong.
    It is important not to advise photographers to take more photographs, all that is going to cause a decline in quality of the photographs.
    It saddens me but I am not surprised to hear that from an American: "do more thinking later" way.

    Moreover, it does not seem to work for you, your photographs are terrible either.
    The colors of the fountain completely wrong exposed, no work on the long exposured water.

    The reflection on central park is good but the buildings are overexposed...

    The photo with the padlock is not terrible either, the bottom deflect the eyes of the main subject.

    The last of central park, a tree on the right side, another tree on the left side, the forground with people completely in the dark, the water in the middleground and buildings are too far away to be apreciated.

    So before you give bad advice takes you some time to review your photos and learn the basic rules of composition and exposure.
    And instead of filling your memory card with photos, filled them with good pictures.

  • Dewan Demmer February 1, 2012 06:09 pm

    I really do try to cut out the photos I do not want or are below the level I consider acceptable or useful. Sadly I have dont always followed through, which now means I have a very full hard drive. Ah well with the new year comes time to spring ( or Autumn in my case ) clean and archive.

  • B January 31, 2012 05:31 am

    I disagree completely.

    Especially while you're still learning what your tastes are, if you ruthlessly delete photos I guarantee you'll ditch ones that you later would have gone back to and liked. You just aren't a good judge yet.

    This is the only side effect of the move to digital photography that worries me; that photos are now disposable.

  • Alexander DiMauro January 31, 2012 04:18 am

    I agree with Laurie. I have tons of family pictures that, even if they are not well composed or exposed, I just can't dump them due to the memories attached to them. I should probably sort through the others better, though.

  • Laurie January 31, 2012 02:29 am

    The only time to keep lots of photos is if they each contain different people, and the memories are valuable. Most of the time, when trying to get artistic shots, even the best photographers can learn from throwing away more photos

  • Niki Jones January 31, 2012 01:15 am

    I find getting rid of shots really hard, even ones I know aren't great. This is sound advice, treat your hard drive like you treat your wardrobe.

  • Fuzzypiggy January 30, 2012 06:45 pm

    I have found I naturally stopped doing that after a few years. I used to just snap away and I would come back from a days shoot with around 300-400 shots, then I would have to spend time sifting them, picking out maybe 1 in 50. These days I go out and shoot maybe 50 over the course of 7-8 hours. It's not something I have consicously done, it's just my mind seems to have locked on to the fact that I usually end up pulling 1 in 50 out of the stack, so it seems to step in at shoot time now and help me decide if a shoot is working or not. If not, I'll move, try filters, change lenses, whatever it takes. If I am out of ideas, I may take a quick snapshot for records and then let it go.

    As photgrapher Ben Long says, sometimes no matter how hard you try, the shot will not work. The harder you force something, the more likely you are to get frustrated and come away angry, just let it go. Keep the scene as a snapshot or simply remember the idea for another situation and another time.

  • Kartik January 30, 2012 04:15 pm

    I would generally keep more than 0.25% but its good to know and I will be more selective in the future.

    However sometimes its difficult to 'delete' the un-necessary photos - out of focus, wrong exposure etc are easy deletes, but not one of the 100 expressions of your baby you capture.

    One solution is to download ALL and then process only the ones you need to keep. With storage so cheap you might find innovative uses for the photos you wished to throw away (delete permanently). eg: Think videos, animated gifs, slideshows (which I do a lot) as well as time lapse videos, etc.

    My Flickr Photostream


  • ccting January 30, 2012 03:58 pm

    LOL.. going to delete some photos tonight..

  • Ron Phillips January 30, 2012 02:56 pm

    I do take lots and lots of photos.....and I never regret it. I can flip through hundreds if not thousands of photos of a trip ....say to France.......and those zillions of photos bring back memories I would never, ever be able to recall in a few years. Yes, there are some photos that are simply not worth keeping. Trash those. Also, some critics keep preaching that we that take lots of photos are not paying attention to what's going on around us, and that we should put our cameras down and use our eyes and minds to take in what's around us. I disagree. I know lots of people who go on big, expensive trips and take a few snapshots with their point and shoot camera. Many of those people hardly knew where they were to begin with.....much less what they were looking at. So, when you ask about their trip, you get very little detail about anything.....and they simply do not remember much about their trip except that they were "in London"...etc. So, depending on who you are and what you want to recall, it's entirely up to the person with the camera on what they want to do with it.

  • Mridula January 30, 2012 02:46 am

    I am a follower of this school as of now :D


  • John Deir January 30, 2012 01:11 am

    Photography is on the edge of a major change and these methods will not be as we think now. Check out what the future holds:


  • Bharat Justa January 29, 2012 11:03 pm

    Taking more and more pictures with the same camera helps us to learn the way our camera works...after taking about more than a thousand pics on my P&S, now I can just really point towards a scene and shoot it. And it has become a lot more easier to know what kind of results will come with what kind of settings without even taking the picture.

  • Jore Puusa January 29, 2012 08:14 pm

    Worse advice ever. Pictures start in the mind of photographer. One can take pictures even without a camera. Just walk around and look actively. That way You start seeing. Seeing does not start ever if You go around and use Your camera like a machine gun and then go home and count "casualties" later.
    Shoot more is "techgraphers" era advice. It trusts on technical and mechanical world but not the humanist and intelligent way of thinking.
    Forget the cam, start seeing and stop being blind. Slowly add the cam and take only some, very few pictures.
    Only way to make You a photographer, not "techgrapher"
    (sorry for the bad english)

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com January 29, 2012 07:46 pm

    I would have to agree to this. When I first started, I always shot gatling gun style. Someone once told me, walk 3 steps forward, shoot 4 times as much. Hence, this is what I did. Especially in my line of photography - Automotive and Motorsports.

    I shoot car and motorsports photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    Before I knew it, I had boat loads of photos I didn't want, and ended up choosing only a few photos out of thousands. But that way I learned the proper angles, exposures, and details based on the photos that i kept, so that next time, I already knew what types of photos to take per car, where the light should be, the proper angles, everything. Now, I consider myself a better photographer, though still constantly improving.

  • raghavendra January 29, 2012 03:51 pm

    Take more photos is indeed a good thing
    One may not like the picture, But others may like it!
    Opinion differs

    For other tips

  • jim January 29, 2012 02:55 pm

    Not bad advice at all. I'll add get it right in camera first then your post will be much easier.

  • Brett January 29, 2012 07:15 am

    Agreed. Take more, take more, then delete at home. Great post.

  • Jai Catalano January 29, 2012 06:10 am

    When I shoot my headshot clients I show them everything and we delete the ones we know we didn't get right. Aside from technique, one knows in their heart what is good and not and those are the ones to keep. Great article because it just reinforces that need to be specific.

    On a side note I need to go back to the Brooklyn Bridge and see those locks. I LOVE THEM...

  • Katie January 29, 2012 05:21 am

    When I was in photography school back in the film days the instructor said you don't even start developing your skills until you have shot a least 10,000 pictures. That was a small fortune back in the film days and a huge number to comprehend!

    With digital we can easily and cheeply capture that many or more pictures. What has made me a better photographer overall is being very selective on what I give my clients. I do at least three passes on a session so that I only give my clients the very best. It makes me look really good to have such awesome pictures to present and it helps the client easily pick their favorites instead of wading through duplicates. After the session has been ordered from and archived I go back and delete everything but my favorites which means I am only keeping 60-70 Raw files from a session instead of several hundred. That makes my hard drives happier!

    Now I just need to do that with our family pictures as I am nearing the 50,000 mark! That is such a daunting task!

  • David C January 29, 2012 03:55 am

    I think this is great advice but photo editing is probably a great skill than capturing. Knowing which photos to delete is my biggest photo stress. I post my best of a set to Flickr then post my B grade photos a week later and my B photos end up in Flickr explore whilst my A list sit with 1-2 comments. It is the biggest challenge.

  • TIA International Photography January 29, 2012 03:47 am

    A very good article for both amateurs and professionals alike. I used to shoot in both RAW & JPEG. Three years later, with an external hard drive of 3TB (massive!), I have deleted all my JPEGS, as they are not necessary to have anymore -- plus, you save a lot of space in your hard drive. I do keep the RAW images, which may counter the advice of “Keep Fewer Images”. My reasoning is because as photographers become more seasoned and sophisticated with their body of work, it is important to still review previous images to see the progress. Also, an image from your collection that did not grab your attention back in 2009 or 2010 might suddenly stand out to you in 2012, making you wonder, “How did I overlook this?” I think a photographer should delete only the images he or she knows will never be looked at again.

    Additionally, Tim made a good point in his response about reprocessing images. I have discovered that the method in which I used initially to process an image two or three years ago is *not* the same way I would do it today by any means. I believe this comes as a result of the skills, knowledge, and technique a photographer acquires over time. I think it’s a great measurement of the growth in one’s own style.

  • Tim January 29, 2012 02:25 am

    Perhaps the other advice, to file in the `feedback loop' section, is to always ask yourself, "would I have this on my wall?". If not, why waste the time post-processing it? Then why waste the time shooting it? :)

  • Tim January 29, 2012 02:18 am

    `Take more' is good advice, as long as it's with a view to learning, experimenting or capturing image-data (think: variations such as panoramas, HDRs, 16:9 or square crop, or simply variations of the placement of a particular moving element, such as spray off a waterfall).

    `Edit more' is definitely good advice; my mum recently sent me a photo-company's photo-shoot she'd been involved in, and I could tell how they'd obviously staged it and simply fired through in 5fps burst-mode with no selection after the event.

    The other thing to do is to come back to your work after a year and reprocess it from RAW. I'm increasingly leaning toward the opinion that one should be able to remember most of one's work by title; that means a portfolio of *very* few shots (10?) where you have quite a lot to say about each of them.

  • Lisa Newton January 29, 2012 02:03 am

    Great advice!! I know which photos I should "throw away," but often have a difficult time doing it.

    Part of me thinks, you never know, and the other part knows I'll never use them. :)