The One-Gig Card Challenge

Had an interesting conversation the other evening with the delightful Raina Kirn, the “Raina” half of the famed Raina + Wilson photo team (Wilson – worry not, you’re delightful too). The occasion was a west-end Toronto photographer’s pub night, and we were bemoaning the loathsomeness of sorting and organizing images digitally, the endless toil and drudgery of file management, the indentured servitude photographers must now endure as pawns in the palm of the evil god that is Computer. We glumly agreed that there’s really no way to avoid it. You just have to grit your teeth and slog away, like wading through mud — completely unpleasant, but necessary if you want to escape.

When I used to edit from contact sheets, the good shots would literally leap off the page, like when you see your name misspelled in a field of text. I’d check those frames with a loupe, ignore the rest, and get on with my life. I could breeze through a whole editorial portrait shoot, five or ten contacts, in like ten minutes. Five sheets, that’s, lets see… sixty frames. Wait a second, what? If I was to shoot just 60 frames now, I’d feel like I was slacking off. I tend to churn through eight gigs at least, 280 to 300 shots and usually many more, even on the simplest jobs. It’s just so easy to snap away, and that’s what bites you in the ass.

But has my photography improved with all those extra images? I would argue not. If anything, it’s diluted the faith I have in my photographic convictions. I used to work much more thoughtfully, knowing that I had a mere dozen frames available before I had to change backs. I would see something and then decide, no, I’m not going to waste this next shot — a thought that almost never crosses my mind anymore. Granted, I sometimes get great stuff that I never would have with a more careful approach, but for the most part I’m just generating garbage disguised as pictures. By shooting all those redundant, useless digital images I’m simply passing the buck to my future self, the one sitting despairingly in front of the computer.

The conversation with Raina concluded with some joking around about how maybe it was time to start shooting jobs in something akin to the “old way” again, ie. by taking a single one gig card to the shoot, and then just stopping when it was full. That’s still 36 frames or so, a decent number of shots ten years ago, but good luck selling that to the client. Laughs were laughed. More beer was ordered. And then, on my way home, I remembered the circumstances behind the image above. It’s a portrait I shot recently of musician Sam Roberts, an outtake from a magazine assignment. The brief did not in fact call for a portrait, but the opportunity arose; alas, I’d been shooting all day, and hadn’t dumped anything to the computer yet. All I had left was… a one gig card.

I went up to where we would be working and planned out three different setups. I shot a handful of frames in each spot, slowly and methodically, and we were done in fifteen minutes. I ended up with 26 images, the rough equivalent of two rolls of 120. And I got the shot I wanted.

So here’s the challenge. On your next assignment, take a one gig card, and nothing else. When it’s full, stop shooting! You might be surprised by what you learn. Just don’t tell your client that I put you up to it.

About the author: Derek Shapton is a Canadian photographer who works for a wide range of advertising, corporate and editorial clients. Visit his website here and his blog here.

  • Simon wardenier

    I do it a little different, I have 8GB cards and even though I have a backup of all the pictures on the card, I keep enough of them, so I have got room for 36 pictures, that forces me to stay on edge. Comes down to the same thing though. And if I need more space for a surprise shoot, I still have enough space on the card.

  • rye j

     i use a 256mb card sometimes when shooting on the street. the space restrictions make my shots count and treat it like a film camera, letting me get more keepers.

  • Gary Simmons

    First of all… where am I going to get a 1gb card now?  You may as well say I have to shoot on a floppy disk!

    Second, and more seriously…  I applaud the concept, as I think slowing down and making each shot count is what we all need to do more often.  But I always dislike the artificial limitation of a small card (or shooting film, or whatever).  Technology moves on for a reason… 

    For an experience photographer to come away from a session with just 36 shots might not be a problem.  They know what they need and when they try, they can nail it quickly.   

    Less experienced photographers need to experiment more with settings and compositions, and evaluating those setups should be done on the computer… Where they can really see the effect of changes they made.  I would rather someone had to wade through 300 shots to find a keeper, than to just delete all 36.

    Just my 2 cents…  

  • Gary Simmons

    Oh yeah, I just LOVE this line:

    “By shooting all those redundant, useless digital images I’m simply passing the buck to my future self, the one sitting despairingly in front of the computer.”

  • robmurtha

    they teach this at wilmington university – great thought

  • Slobit75

    That’s great but I’ll just keep shooting film, thanks.

  • Blueeyedpop

    That is the credo of my photo group at work. Take the time on each shot.
    “This isn’t about statistical photography. Take a minute per shot. Take 5. 
    Get a really small memory card, or pretend every press of the shutter costs you money, like $5.00 per shot. 
    Bonus points for shooting film, double bonus points for doing your own enlargements. 
    If you feel you must go statistical, then at least spend a few minutes deciding why you do and do not like what you keep and discard.”

  • Tman1966

    Hmm. Let’s see. I’m shooting a Nikon D800 with a 1GB card. Great! I’ll be done in about 3 minutes.  

  • John Milleker

    Or shoot a roll of film..

    Or better yet – borrow a 4×5, 8×10 large format camera. You’ll be surprised at your percentage of keepers when it costs a few bucks per shot and takes a few minutes of setup per exposure.

  • Paul Gamba

     I preach this everyday at my shop, lab camera store.  Its great to have the freedom of shooting away but 10 shots of the same thing are exactly that 10 shots of the same thing without much difference between them.  But take a breath and think about it before you gently squeeze the shutter and you will be surprised how different your shot selection was and many times you evolve the shot into something else because you stepped back and looked at the subject and not the back of the camera.  I agree its difficult to find 1GB cards but thats not the point get a 2GB and start there.  Or yes as John Millker just said “Or just shoot a roll of film…” yes you can still buy it and yes it can be developed and printed, we still do even 120mm and we’re in Vermont. 

  • Photojohne

    Excellent concept.  Just a thought though, make sure you’re billing for editing time.  I always add an additional hour and sometimes two in my billing.  I know I’ll be editing after each shoot for that long.  That time isn’t free.  
    It’s our job as photographers to educate our clients and make them aware that post-production comes with an additional price tag. Would you do the retouching for free?  This is the same concept. 

  • Mihály

    So tomorrow I have that wedding…:)Let’s delay that challenge a bit:P

  • Jackson Cheese
  • Gary Simmons

    Literal’net strikes again…  I was kidding.  I actually know where to buy floppy disks too!

  • ennuipoet

    I see this in a studio setting, but on the streets, in a crowd, I want the freedom to take multiples of the same subject.  Frame 1, eyes closed, frame 2, iphone in shot, frame 3 iphone holder in shot, frame 4 BAM keeper! When I want the rush of going out with one roll of film, I go out with one roll of film. (Even as I write this, I am scanning film I shot today.)  The rest of the time, load that 16 gig card and hit the ground running.

  • Michael Godek

    absolutely…you want to learn how to slow down and make your shots count…shoot large format!  not only will the quality of your images FAR exceed anything digital or 35 but you have to take your time, you have to consider everything you do!

  • Ralph Hightower

    I recently went to a rock concert (Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Beethoven’s Last Night).  I took two rolls of Kodak T-Max 3200 36 exposure with me, I left the 3rd roll of 3200 in the fridge to use on another occassion at ISO 3200. 72 frames was my budget. I paced myself, looking for dramatic photos; I shot 60 frames that night. I also pushed the film 2 stops to 12,800, which maxed out my camera’s ISO range. Film grain is evident in the photos, much like I reckon digital noise is in high ISO ranges.

    This year, I am using black & white film exclusively. Last year, I used a roll of B&W film for night shooting, the final Space Shuttle landing, and I rediscovered that B&W has a classic look about it.

  • Sean Israelson

    Take it one step further: don’t allow yourself to review the images on your viewfinder and prevent yourself from cheating by cutting a black card 2.25×2.75″ and placing it under your screen protector.  This forces a trust in your photographic technique and more importantly in yourself as a photographer. I tried this first this weekend and have never had such a rush and passion to shoot digital over film.

  • Zippy3

    What the hell, I’m still using film. :-) Ok granted I have the same feeling when shooting digital but these days I am shooting more film.

  • Dude163

    I find using manual lenses slows me down enough that I don’t take that many shots. Also 1 GB can still be a lot if your camera is only 10 MP like one of mine is. Heck the other one is only 12. I prefer quality of shots over quantity , I find the machine gun effect of modern DSLRs has a tendency to make photographers lazy

  • Wil Fry

    I guess I missed the point. You can still shoot only 36 images (or just one), no matter how much capacity your card has. And just because your camera can shoot 10 fps, there’s no one forcing you to use that feature.

    “When I used to edit from contact sheets, the good shots would literally
    leap off the page … I could breeze through a whole editorial portrait shoot,
    five or ten contacts, in like ten minutes”

    That seems like a lot of time to me. With digital, it’s much faster, especially with an equal number of images. I press the arrow key and move through the images in split-seconds. The ones that catch my eye open in the editor in an instant, ready for processing.

  • Nathan Caulford

    Wil, this is geared toward those who have no self control; those who will use “every tool in the bag” unless they are forced to behave otherwise. :)

  • Guest

    Any kind of restriction will achieve a similar effect.  I have sometimes just said to myself, “I’m losing the light, so better move on to something more promising”

  • Info

    I agree with Nathan. This is more about the photographer and not the technology though the posts phrasing implies otherwise. Everyones process is their own. Knowing ones weakness and taking steps to address it is fine, but lets not blame the technology. Imaging if you were able to approach the shoot the same way as you always did but, but were able to shoot more because you weren’t limited by the budget and expensive film/processing. Wouldn’t it be fair to conclude that at least some of the time you would end up with a better image?