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February 23, 2012

Why less does not mean more

An ongoing quip in the film versus digital debate is  "film makes you think".

Which implies that in shooting digital, free of resource constraints film imposes, somehow reduces or hampers creativity.

A medium does not make you creative

Films low storeage capacity versus ever increasing GBs of memory no doubt gives film users more reasons to be conscious of action and intent — you’re using a finite non-resuable resource.

What I don’t buy into is that by taking less shots this makes you a better photographer.

Is a watercolour artist more (or less) creative than an oil painter? The medium doesn't makes your creative, it’s how you apply the tools.

Provided there is intent in making an image, then I have no problem making lots of images in it’s pursuit; even if they are of the same composition.

In fact you can use it to good effect.

Make lots of (well thought through) shots

Once I’ve centered on a composition i tend to making minor alteration,  fine tuning until I reach 'the one'. Landscape photography is about exclusion, and a good deal of this time is spent moving and removing elements through small positional or focal length changes.

Now you don’t need to take lots of shots to facilitate this, there are details in the landscape than whilst you can envisage them, they present themselves so fleetingly that capturing them requires an element of luck — and that luck can be improved by increasing your shot count.

Trail & Error

This shot of sunset over the Brissions in Cornwall is the product of 21 shots of the same composition tinkering with various shutter speeds until I caught the right level of movement in the clouds.A year int he making, this was the product of several visits, building to the short window when the sun sets immediately behind the Brissons.

Sunset, over the Brissons, Cornwall by Paul Marsden

My initial start point was a 5 second exposure – aimed at turning the incoming tide to mist.

Then as the light changed as the storm front cleared i progressively increased it. Several exposures later I’d found a shutter speed that didn’t capture too much cloud movement — resulting in too exaggerated a blur / streaks of cloud -- nor captured too little movement — which didn’t achieve the desired motion in the clouds to act as a diagonal lead in to draw the eye toward the twin sea stacks of the Brissons.

Knowing the right exposure to achieve this in a single frame, or even a few, wouldn’t have been possible. I needed to experiment.

Unexpected moments

There are interactions of light and land that are so subtle they are impossible to predict no matter how much time we spend in the landscape.

I spent 3 days in at Elowah Falls in the Columbia River gorge tinkering around in varying spots in the river trying to create a pleasing composition.

Elowah Falls, Colombia River Gorge by Paul Marsden

Flat overcast skies helped control the contrast in the surrounding forest, though it robbed the scene of subtle definition.

During a sequence of exposures, unexpected gaps in the clouds poured direct sunlight into the narrow gorge, side-lighting the rocks and providing much needed definition to the scene.

I could see small breaks on the clouds, but predicting the moment it pour into the gorge was very tricky. Taking numerous exposures of the same composition allowed me to compensate for this and ensure I caught the moment as it broke.

Luxury is not laziness

I see no reason to be ashamed (or chastised) by the luxury that digital memory capacity affords.

We should use it to explore the nuances of a scene, or of our camera settings, within a desired composition to find that frame that achieves our aim / visualisation.

When used with fast-moving and constantly changing subjects such as a waterfalls, seascapes or storm fronts, the technique can capture nuances that would be missed otherwise in a single exposures of that scene. With water, even with a single shutter speed, each of your frames could be unique.

Not spray and pray

Some might see this as advocating a shoot and pray technique.

I’m the first to agree that we should all think more before clicking the shutter. And I wouldn’t support utilising GBs of data storage to aimlessly point and shoot with no thought for the subject, lighting or composition in the hope of a eureka moment.

But if we have thought our shot through, using multiple exposures to help achieve that shot shouldn’t be frowned upon.

You are simply using the tools you have to achieve what you want.

Paul Marsden

All Rights Reserved. 


  • Paul, your analogy of film versus digital is one of the best I have read. It always amazed me that the people who talked down digital where missing the point that you so are making in this blog. The camera is a creative tool and should be used to its full potential.

    by Brian Clark on 19th June 2013 ↵

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