One thing that frustrates newer photographers is how hard it is to take good images; they look at the pictures coming out of the well-known photographers and all they see are gems, and they think their photography should be like that.

Photography has a few “well known” secrets that new photographers don’t figure out until later in their maturation, such as that “pristine wilderness” shot of delicate arch that was taken along with 30 other photographers jostling tripod leg to tripod leg for the best angles muttering at each other and cussing at the one idiot who decides to stand 50 feet in front of the rest oblivious to shooting angles.

Another common misconception is that every shot these top photographers take is a masterpiece out of the camera. Nothing can be further from the truth, especially when you delve into the world of landscapes, or even worse, wildlife or bird photography. A typical day’s shoot is littered with dings, obscured faces, bird-butts and autofocus failures.

When I’ve talked to photographers about my entire photography results for a trip many have found it interesting, so in the interest of full exposure, having finished the edits of the shots on this trip, I thought I’d discuss all of my photography on this trip and not just show off the gems as if that’s all that happened.

Here’s how the trip broke down.

I had three days of photography on the trip, a full day offshore pelagic, a half day on a boat cruising the harbor where I also helped spot and ID, half a day birding a few favorite spots of mine in the area, and then a half day spent up shooting at the elephant seal rookery, followed by half a day of taking it easier and relaxing. (I also had a full day up on a tour in Carrizo Plains birding that ended up generating zero photography).

I came home with 1583 photos, or about 77 gigabytes of raw files.

Once edited that broke down this way:

  • Technical dings: 450 (deleted)
  • 2 star images: 1040 (54 Gb): technically acceptable but archived and not edited or used.
  • 3 star images: 77 (Published to my galleries)
  • 4 star images: 10 (Published to my Portfolio)
  • 5 star images: 5 (Published to my Portfolio as ‘best of breed’)

This breaks down to about 28% deleted for technical flaws, 66% were technically acceptable but I chose not to publish or use at this time, so they were archived.

5.7% were published. 0.95% of the shoot was what I considered “Portfolio quality”

I consider 15 portfolio shots out of a trip like this exceptional. I’d be very happy with half that number. Sometimes conditions click and your subjects cooperate and good things happen. (other times you come home and reformat your memory cards…)

28% dings is a good number; mostly autofocus failures. Given I did a lot of work from a moving boat in the open ocean, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that with the birds moving and the boat moving (and the constant vibration from the engine) and the chaos of a pelagic, a good chunk of the shoot is going to be chaotic and broken. On top of that, as my first pelagic, I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was shooting from the hip (somewhat literally) a lot more than normal.

Some might wonder about the high level of archived images. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that I use burst most a lot and I take advantage of it looking for perfect gestures and framing — but that means I’m generating a LOT of shots in a sequence.

The other is that I strongly believe you should only show your best work, so I’ll edit out all but the specific best frames of a sequence. I think too many newer (and not so newer) photographers are trying too hard to generate lots of shots, when the focus should be on generating great shots. The reality of how people view things online is that if you dump 50 images onto your online galleries, almost nobody will look at them. They might glance at a couple, but then they’ll move on.

It’s up to the photographer to edit their work for them. Because of that, my philosophy is not “how many of these images can I post”, but “how few can I use — and still show off the essential moments of the day’s photography?”

The world doesn’t need 17 shots of a great blue heron; but it can always use one more really good one. But if that good one is posted in a group with 15 other ones, people won’t notice it. their eyes will glaze over.

I get asked often by photographers how to improve their photography. One thing most photographers can do today to ‘magically’ become a better photographer is to become more selective in what images they post and show off. If you typically pick ten images from a day of shooting, what happens if you change and only show the best five? you’ve now improved the quality of your photography, because the only person who sees those weaker five images are you. It’s something you can do today, too.