The handcrafted image

I'm sure you know the moment. You have the image framed in the viewfinder or on the screen, finger poised over the shutter button, and you pause for a moment. The image just isn't as good as you hoped. Do you still take the shot?

We get so used to the 'free' images of the digital world. Our memory cards can hold thousands of photos and we see the results immediately. We notice a potential image that looks ok and tend to take the shot anyway. A quick glance at the screen sometimes, then we wander on to the next place and the next image. Maybe there's a better way.

Every digital image isn't entirely free. The storage cost per image might be tiny (although can quickly start to add up with many thousands of images), but there is also the cost in terms of your time. If you come back with your memory card stuffed with 1000 images it's going to take you a lot longer to review them, find the 'keepers' and process them that it would if you had 50 images to look through.

There is also the temptation to become too easily satisfied that you have captured the scene in the best way. Learning how to 'work the scene' is a great skill to learn, seeking out the angles, light and composition to make an engaging image to the best of your ability. Each photographer has their own methods, and that could well involve taking a multitude of shots as they search for the right one. The best photographers may have a great eye for a good image and have a specific vision in mind, but it may also be that it's their patience to wait or hunt for the shot they want that makes their work exceptional.

Some of the great photographers have been prolific in the number of images they have produced, even with film, so I'm not saying that it's always best to take fewer images. But it is important to find what works for you. That means experimenting, probably adapting over time and certainly adapting to the situation around you. You may have time to wait and explore, or you may have a fleeting moment to capture a one-off event.

Recently I decided to only shoot black & white JPEGs for a day. Normally I shoot in RAW format to give more flexibility in post-processing, but I wanted to give myself a restriction. I wanted to 'think' in black and white, seeing black and white images in the viewfinder, and know that I would only be getting black & white images afterwards.

You could equally restrict yourself to a limited number of images. Find a low capacity memory card and only take that, or set a limit of 24 or 36 images if you're feeling nostalgic. Or even better take a film camera. If you know you can only take a few images, how much more are you going to care about the quality of each one. You might quickly find yourself assessing the potential image more carefully and not being satisfied. Hesitating then deciding not to take the shot. Maybe you'll regret a missed shot occasionally, but I'll wager that you'll also often feel a strange sense of satisfaction because you're using your judgement 'in camera' rather than just deciding later whether it was any good.

As technology advances we can take more and more images, using burst modes that can give us 10 or more frames per second, or shoot 4k video and take still images from it. Technology can do amazing things, but the more quantity it produces the less human care is taken over each individual item. The quality of 'mass produced' can be excellent, astonishing even. But there will always be a place for the master craftsman who puts time and care into lovingly producing each piece of work. There might be imperfections, but imperfections show the real organic hand of humanity rather than machine-generated perfection. I love seeing the advancement of technology and use it extensively, but I hope I'll always want to be that craftsman who takes time and care about the production of each final image.