Jeremiah Rogers

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How many "keepers" should you expect?

My friend Andrew asked me how many good images I get out of my photographs. Here are some stats.

As of today I’ve shot 14,814 images on my Leica ME. I delete the obivously bad exposures immediately and then rate the rest of the images with 1-5 stars. Roughly the ratings mean this:

  1. Worth keeping around
  2. Might be good as part of a story
  3. Good enough to post to Facebook or Instagram
  4. Would probably go in a book
  5. Would definitely go in a book

Here’s a chart showing how the images I’ve taken distribute into these ratings. (I’m actually surprised that the curve is so even from 1-5 stars, I’d expect more of a dropoff but attribute this to rating the images a little too high overall.)

So about one in four pictures are worth keeping at all1, and 1.5%-5% could be worth putting in a photography book. This seems roughly in line with the hit rate that Kevin Kelly wrote about in the production notes of Asia Grace (one shot per roll of 36 exposures is about 2.7%).

As my photography develops the ratio of keepers to throw away images seems to stay relatively constant. My skill goes up but so do my standards, and what I consider an image worth showing is rising over time. So if you’re shooting a lot of pictures and only finding 1-5 out of 100 worth sharing I think you’re probably doing fine.

One more thing: I’ve almost never had a picture that I didn’t stop and conciously think about taking turn out to be something worth sharing. Few of my pictures where I used a zoom lens or shot without looking through the viewfinder were something I’d want to share. My lesson from that is that if an image is going to be worth sharing it has to be planned.

The thing that holds me up the most from taking quality pictures is not understanding how something will translate from three dimensions to two dimensions. If you want to get better at this close one eye when you look at a scene. It will let you better visualize how the final photograph will look.

  1. One reason for the discard rate is that the meter on my camera is broken. Often I’ll shoot 2-3 images just to make sure the lighting is correct before getting the light right for a session. But this is hard to judge. Sometimes I keep the same light for 50 shots, sometimes just one. I often also shoot 5 or even 10 pictures of the exact same thing, playing with composition and metering until I get what I want. There is fairly little blind shooting on a subject that I won’t want to share. [return]