Does Quantity Lead to Quality?
With memory card capacities continuing to rise, it's easier than ever to take a lot of pictures. And with the spread of social media, it's easier than ever to share them. But does quantity lead to quality?
Back in the old days, a roll of film could hold 36 shots. Yes, we generally got 37 shots out of a 36-exposure roll, and yes, they did make 24-exposure and other sized rolls too. But most of us shooting seriously back then shot 36-exposure rolls. And for the purposes of our discussion here, it doesn't really matter how many shots fit on a roll, my point here is that each roll was quite limited. When the light was changing rapidly, I could burn through multiple rolls in no time flat when working on a promising subject. I used to pack twice as much film I thought might be needed for a trip, but frequently came close to running out anyway. Suffice it to say, it used to be difficult to shoot a ton of images.
Imagine what it would be like today if you had to swap memory cards after every 37 shots. Folks would surely be up in arms. Whether your camera uses SD cards, Compact Flash, the newer XQD format, or something else, I'm betting you can fit considerably more than 37 images on a card. Most of us can fit at least 10 to 100 times that, or more. These days, I don't worry at all about running out of space. And even if I started to come close to, I could always copy the contents of that card onto my laptop and reuse it. Or in a pinch, I could start deleting some of my less successful efforts, to make room for new images.
As a result of all these changes in technology, most of us are shooting a lot more images than we once did. So, it seems worth asking whether all those extra images most of us shoot these days leads to producing better images or not. In other words, does quantity lead to quality?
My answer is that it can, but only if you're paying attention and learning from your successes as well as your failures. Photography is both a science and an art. You may be able to learn all the technical details from books and articles, workshops and YouTube videos, but it's hard to learn to be a good photographer any way other than by trial and error, blood, sweat and tears. Well, hopefully not too much of the blood part.
They say that practice makes perfect. They also say that the way to get to Carnegie Hall is to practice, practice, practice. This sort of thing may not work for everything, but it certainly does for artistic crafts such as photography. You can read a book about painting but still be a rank amateur at painting yourself until you practice. A lot. You can memorize the scales and chords but not be able to play a musical instrument until you practice. A lot, if you want to play it well. And you may be able to point and click, but if you want to take control of your own photography, develop your own artistic vision, and produce your best images, you have to practice.
But practice isn't just a matter of quantity. Back in the days of yore when film ruled the land, before the coming of digital, learning from your successes and mistakes was frustratingly difficult. Keep in mind, cameras didn't stamp each image with the associated metadata such as shutter speed and aperture. If you wanted to keep track of such details, you had to do it yourself. Traditionally, photographers would carry around a small notebook to be used for logging each shot, but that was quite cumbersome. Writing anything took both hands, one to hold the notebook and one the pencil. That didn't leave many hands for operating the camera, if you follow my arithmetic here. Using a small tape recorder seemed more workable. That is, until I was shooting in a public location and couldn't escape the feeling that I must look like a secret agent, talking into my hand all the time as I spoke out the camera settings for each shot. Keeping track of all these useful details today is automatic, but unless you sit down and work out why one shot looked perfect while the next one was underexposed, you haven't really learned anything, now have you?
In terms of composition and creativity, the only answer for improving in this or any era is and has been to practice and learn. It's easy to look at one image and say you like it more than another, but unless you understand why, you haven't really increased your chances of getting a good shot next time. You won't have learned what you could have from what you've already shot. There are countless books and articles available on how to improve your composition skills, but it's doing it that counts. But doing it isn't as easy as it sounds. Getting everything just right wouldn't be so hard if you could focus on only one aspect at a time, but for an image to succeed you have to get everything just so at the exact moment the shutter release fires. Juggling all that isn't too dissimilar from needing a few extra hands to write in a notebook and still take photos at the same time. It takes practice. The more, the better.
Thank goodness for having memory cards with enough capacity to help facilitate all that practice. Yes, quantity can indeed lead to quality. If you are paying attention and learning from your practice.
But there is an aspect of being a photographer where I might suggest that less could be more. If you're really practicing, you can generate quite a few images. It's probably not necessary to share all of them online. Good photographers are seen as good because they share their best work. All those learning attempts are generally best kept to yourself.
A word to the wise.