Reflections: How can I keep shooting? I only have 36 images left on the card?

© - American Bullfrog

Towards the end of a recent photo shoot I looked down at my camera and saw that I only had 36 images left on my memory card.  It was the only one I brought that morning for reasons that I think I talked about in that post.  The number was a bit jarring because at the start of my walk it displayed 432 images left on the card after I had reformatted the card and started fresh.

36 images left.

There was something about the number 36.  As I was walking back to the car (and multiple times since), I reflected on the fact of how much photography has changed (both in general and for me)  in just over 5 years or so.  I bought my Canon 10D, my first digital SLR, in the fall of 2004 (a camera which at 6 megapixels is still a very fine backup body, by the way…).  I purchased it as the Canon 20D was coming out so I got a good deal on it. The primary reason for picking it up was that I was tired of feeling violated every time I had to take film into Keflavík to be processed.

Please don’t get my wrong–I loved my friends at the Kodak store in Keflavík.  Wondeful people who did marvelous things with the images I made and were always exceedingly kind to the young American who had no bloody clue what he was talking about.  If I needed an image done right, I knew I could trust those folks without hesitation (as opposed to taking them to the Navy Exchange, where I knew they would make lousy prints and might destroy my negatives in the process).

But with exchange rates being what they were, I was paying about $25 a roll to get single prints and my negatives (in 2 to 3 days).  In my American “double prints in an hour for $7.99” mind, $25 a roll should have come with 3 minutes of snuggling and a kiss.

And then when I got the images home, the prints would go into a drawer and I’d pull the negatives out and scan them with my film scanner.  That in itself was another hour or so wasted that I could use spending time with the family or going out and making more images.

I bought the 10D for right around $1000 and dropped another $100 or so on a 1Gb card.  My math told me that 45 roll equivalents and I would have made my money back on the deal.  By the time we left Iceland 18 months later, I had shot the equivalent of about 110 rolls.  I think my return on investment was a good one.  For what it is worth, I’ve exposed maybe a dozen rolls of actual film in my old Canon Elan 7e since.

Back in film days, the largest canister available (unless you rolled your own B&W) was a 36 exposure roll.  On a good day trip in the back roads of Iceland I would probably go through 3 or 4 rolls of film.  So maybe on a really busy day of shooting I would expose 140 images or so. When I got my 10D, I treated it like a film camera.  I would stop at a church and make 7 or 8 images and then drive away.  Maybe a dozen if I really wanted a wide variety.  Part of this was because memory was still pretty expensive (and I only owned two 1Gb cards).

Flash forward to today.  If I don’t shoot at least a couple hundred images in a morning of shooting, I’ve probably had a really unsuccessful morning.  Much of this is a change in shooting style.  I’ll blame a Canon pro rep for pointing out that if I shoot in burst mode, then the mirror goes up and stays up until I’m done shooting my burst, meaning less vibration and theoretically a sharper image after the first.  And it isn’t like I’m exposing film that I have to have developed.  Of course, his tacit agenda is the more you shoot, the quicker that shutter mechanism is going to wear out and the sooner you’re either going to have to send it back to Canon for servicing or the sooner you’ll talk yourself into a new camera.  But I digress…

For the shooting that I do, it makes sense to make multiple shots at a time.  If I shoot three or four, I may get a change to that bird’s expression that will make the difference between a ho-hum image and one that will end up on my wall.  Three or four may make the difference between being steady with my monopod with 2 or 3 of them rather than take the chance that I’m going to miss the shot entirely.

But what it also means is I can make a number of images and experiment with aperture settings, speed settings, and exposure adjustments and get a better understanding of what my art is capable of without the limitations of life in sets of 36.

36 shots left.  Holy cow, what am I ever going to do? I did what any respectable photographer would do.  I saved a few for the ride home, but I made a few more images while the light was still being kind to me…


~ by Jim Miller on Friday, 9 July 2010.

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